For those hoping to avoid a crowded mega-resort experience, the Maldives is definitely the right place. Boutique resorts here are the rule, not the exception, with many properties offering fewer than 100 — or even fewer than 50 — rooms. Add to that the fact that almost every resort is located on its own private island, and your peace and quiet is all but assured. These small resorts are among the best of the best.
Gili Lankanfushi is widely considered to be the top resort in the Maldives, and for good reason. This stunning, 46-villa, eco-friendly resort just 20 minutes from the airport succeeds in delivering truly unpretentious, relaxed luxury. Bare feet are encouraged (shoes are removed as soon as guests get on the boat from the airport), and each guest is taken care of by a personal butler with the title Mr. Friday. The spacious, charmingly simple overwater bungalows are made of several types of wood, and have outdoor (and rooftop!) decks with views that might induce tears of joy. On land, the beautiful island with 683 palm trees offers a range of activities and dining options. This special gem in the Maldives has more authenticity than other brand-name resorts of the same price point — just ask tennis pro Novak Djokovic, practically a regular here. If private pools and air-conditioning in every room are a priority, though, consider another option on this list.
Located on a small island 35 minutes from Male, this luxury resort has 33 high-end water bungalows and a peaceful, all-natural vibe. Cocoa Island is primarily geared towards couples, and children’s facilities are sparse. Property highlights include gorgeous beaches, an infinity pool, on-site reef, excellent a la carte restaurant, and a pricey spa with a hydrotherapy pool and free daily yoga classes. Rooms come at a fair price for this caliber of property, but food and extras can add up fast. Still, it's a popular and less expensive alternative to Gili Lankanfushi.
It’s hard to top Taj Exotica when it comes to food, romantic atmosphere, and convenience. Located on a private island just 15 minutes from the airport, this 65-room resort is one of the most luxurious destinations in the Maldives. Highlights include personal butlers, spacious guest rooms with private pools, gorgeous beaches, and two gourmet restaurants. Rooms and food are among the priciest in the Maldives (for good reason). Most of the villas here have private plunge pools -- unlike those at Gili do not, giving the Taj an edge for travelers who value a private dip.
The 65-room Soneva Fushi is one of the top luxury resorts in the Maldives, and the lush jungle interior and charming Robinson Crusoe-style decor make the private island feel like a camp for wealthy castaways. Highlights include personal butlers, spacious beachfront villas (most with private pools), top-notch food, an observatory, outdoor theater, and plenty of free perks. Rooms and food are among the priciest in the Maldives (for good reason), but guests should be prepared to bicycle barefoot through the wilderness and get a little dirty. It's very comparable to Gili Lankanfushi in its vibe, level of luxury, and celebrity cachet, but lacks Gili's communal swimming pool and overwater villas.
This luxury boutique resort from Thailand's Banyan Tree is slightly bigger and more expensive than sister property Angsana next door. Each of the 48 spa-like villas offers direct water access from the front (beach privacy varies), and in the rear, the pièce de résistance: a walled-in plunge pool and jetted tub area. Large bathrooms that have indoor and outdoor showers, which helps compensate for the slightly cramped bedrooms dressed in neutral decor. The walkable island has plenty of white sand and free non-motorized water sports; scuba divers have access to a shipwreck nearby. Spa lovers will adore the large Thai treatment rooms and professional staff, all of whom are trained heavily at Banyan Tree Spa Academy. In the evenings, couples -- and yes, a few families -- stroll down the long jetty to spot reef sharks after dining on contemporary cuisine. The resort provides 24-hour boat transfers from the airport, a 25-minute speedboat ride away, as well as free Wi-Fi.
Peace and quiet is the name of the game at this 45-villa resort from Singapore-based Banyan Tree, one of the world's most luxurious hotel brands. It's run by a thoughtful staff sporting colorful uniforms, as well as an omnipresent General Manager. Guests have access to one of the best house reefs in the Maldives' — literally just a few feet of shore — for snorkeling (free!), as well as scuba diving (there's a PADI center on-site). Two categories of stylish, modern thatched-roof villas include one with jetted tubs in huge open-air bathrooms, and one without; all villas have bathrobes, sandals, and thoroughly stocked minibars. Quality food and drink are served at the restaurant, and guests should expect light pressure to book appointments at the excellent Thai-themed spa. To mix it up, a free ferry runs to the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru next door for use of the restaurant, bar, and spa there, as well.
Popular among European couples, this adult-only resort is small, romantic, and a great value for the Maldives. With just 65 rooms, it is plenty intimate. Highlights include a beachfront infinity pool, nice on-site reef, excellent food, and plenty of free perks. Komandoo’s biggest drawback is its location (a 45-minute flight from Male Airport), which occasionally translates into long layovers; however, it’s significantly less expensive than competing resorts near Male.
For an ultra-hip, exclusive, and millennial-at-heart Maldivian experience, the five-pearl W Retreat & Spa Maldives on a gorgeous private island is the place. Its 75 large and trendy rooms -- many of which sit over the ocean -- come along with a picture-worthy lagoon and beach, small infinity pool with hot tub and cabanas, casual gourmet restaurants, chic bars, and the Maldives' only underground club (with a resident DJ, no less). But being this cool comes at a price, so be prepared to shell out for the resort's many, high-quality features from dining and drinks to private yacht hires and solo trips to the W's own exclusive island.
Located on one of the smallest islands in the Maldives, the 37-villa Mirihi Island Resort has a personal feel, yet is stocked full of the luxe and convenient features you'd expect from any large luxury resort. From a beach cinema to a Balinese-style spa, free non-motorized water sports and modern gym to a teeming house reef with its own shipwreck, and tons of events, excursions, and on-island activities, there are plenty of alternatives to just lying on the soft sand beach. This small but casually luxe spot is ideal for couples and small groups looking for top-notch dishes and impressive selection of wines and over 40 dive sites in a relaxing environment. All-inclusive options are available.
Only accessible by seaplane, this top-notch five-pearl luxury boutique is home to 30 villas, all featuring private sundecks, outdoor showers, and sea views. Surrounded by a fish-filled house reef and close to good dive spots, it’s a good option for underwater lovers -- and it offers various packages, including an all-inclusive plan. This small, screensaver-come-to-life island has four a la carte restaurants, a relaxing beachside bar, spa, dive center, library lounge, and state-of-the-art gym. Favoring couples, this idyllic private island is set up for seclusion and relaxation. Upscale and contemporary styled rooms are outfitted with all the trimmings -- from fluffy towels to wine fridges -- and can feature outdoor bathrooms, private beach areas, and personal dipping pools.
Maafushivaru is an all-inclusive boutique luxury resort on a beautiful and verdant island in the South Ari Atoll, with white beaches and active lagoon. The 48 villas have sophisticated decor, espresso machines, minibars, private decks, outdoor showers, iPod docks, and comfy king-size beds; some rooms have semi-private pools. Sandbags, crabs, reef sharks, and fish are common sights in the surrounding lagoon and the island's location is ideal for spotting whale sharks and dolphins year-round. Standout and unique features include a chic airport lounge; beachside infinity pool with cabana beds, loungers, and a large bar; laser light shows; large overwater spa and gym; and small wine bar.
With thoughtful and clean design elements, chic and modern decor, and luxe amenities like L'Occitane bath products, Velassaru Maldives is a luxury property with a lively, casual vibe. It's also got one of the most impressive infinity pools we've seen. The 129 rooms come with features like polished coconut shell accents, personal wine fridges, plunge pools, outdoor showers, and private beach areas. There's also a large and wide stretch of powder soft beach and a house reef that's popular with local fish, overwater spa, dive center, watersports center, and five restaurants and two bars -- and it's only 25 minutes via speedboat from Male.
Nika Island Resort is the sole hotel on a small but beautiful island with a house reef and slightly wild (and thus beautiful) jungle grounds. The Italian-owned, Maldivian-managed resort has 43 huge garden-set villas -- most with massive floor plans and private beaches with whirlpools, hammocks, and loungers. An island-elected two-hour time difference maximizes sunlight hours. The resort also features a spa, PADI dive center, free Wi-Fi, and meal plan options are flexible (but restaurant service times are not).