The Maldives is considered one of the most romantic destinations in the world, for good reason. Guests can expect stunning white-sand beaches, turquoise lagoons, unparalleled snorkeling, gorgeous rustic-chic villas over the water or on the sand, and fine dining. What’s not to like? It’s no wonder honeymooners flock here in droves. But we know selecting your special retreat can be a lot of pressure — that’s why we sent our hotel investigators to discover which Maldives resorts offer the most privacy, the highest levels of luxury, and the prettiest settings.
It's hard to top Gili Lankanfushi for romance, thanks to its high level of privacy, rustic-luxe vibe, and pampering service (each couple is taken care of by a personal butler). The gorgeous wooden bungalows are all overwater, with direct access to the turquoise Indian Ocean, and are as big as houses. Some are so private that they can only reached by boat, not jetty, giving couples as much alone time as they could desire. The Underground Wine Cellar and Chocolate Cave has a private dining table and cellar with 400-plus wine labels, and guests can make a reservation for special dinners and tastings from the sommelier. In addition, guests can arrange dinner in the villas, or eat in the one of more than seven private dining spots around the resort, such as One Palm Island, which faces sunset.
Cocoa Island is even smaller than Gili Langanfushi, with 33 overwater bungalows and plenty of peace and quiet. The tiny island felt nearly empty during our visit, despite being at 70-percent capacity. The atmosphere is romantic and upscale, with an underlying theme of holistic wellness. Many guests pamper themselves with expensive spa treatments during the day and dress up for gourmet dinners at night. The majority of guests are honeymooners and couples. Every bungalow here features a private deck with direct ocean access, a soaking tub, two showers (indoor and outdoor), and sunset views over the ocean.
Taj Exotica is one of the most luxurious and romantic resorts in the Maldives. Built in 2001, this five-pearl property offers indulgences such as personal butlers, private swimming pools, and poolside attendants who will spritz guests with chilled Evian water and polish their sunglasses. Upon our arrival, staff greeted us with shell necklaces, showered us in red rose petals, and took a welcome photograph (which ultimately became our parting gift -- framed, of course). For a hefty fee guests can also arrange private dinners -- in a treetop, on a sandbar, or floating out in the lagoon -- or even order pizzas topped with caviar and gold leaf.
At the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, the spa-like villas all have private pools and outdoor showers, and the atmosphere is undeniably romantic. At night, pathways become lit in a soft glow, and private dinners start taking place on the beach or on the end of the smaller jetty. The main restaurant itself plays soft tunes during dining hours. Guests can head back to the bar for after-dinner drinks, though most end up taking advantage of their plunge pools, which turn romantic in the dark with pink and purple hues. They can also enjoy the Bose sound system and trademark Banyan Tree CD with spa-like music, as well as an incense burner and oil with the brand’s scent of the day (for example, "rose & lemongrass"). Upon arrival, VIP guests are welcomed with a bottle of Moët & Chandon in the room, while honeymooners receive a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Just note that some units are within direct eyesight of each other, compared to Angsana where privacy along the beach is more of a guarantee -- but this is one of the only downsides.
The Angsana Ihuru isn't quite as luxurious as its nearby sister property, Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, but it's still plenty decadent. Half of the modern, thatched-roof villas have open-air bathrooms with jetted tubs, and the house reef here is one of the best in the Maldives. A welcome beverage is offered during check-in, and then guests are escorted along peaceful sandy pathways and palm trees to their villas, which are prepared for arrival with flowers on the bed, a fruit plate, burning incense, and instrumental music playing on the CD player -- creating a soothing, spa-like environment. The spa itself is centrally located near the rooms, and masseuses give free shoulder rubs to entice those to make an appointment, which many do. Otherwise, most guests spending their time enjoying the beach and the house reef. Couples can relax in cozy bathrobes and sandals, look up and see rustling palms, and feel a million miles from anywhere — which they kind of are. They will receive a beautiful turndown service one evening with candles and flowers. Toward the beach, there are two lounge chairs for each villa with brush to each side for more privacy.
Families are welcome at Dusit Thani, but the bulk of guests are couples from Russia, Asia, and the Middle East. Most people spend their days snorkeling, going on diving or boating excursions, or relaxing on the white-sand beaches. Villas start at 1,313 square feet and have traditional thatched roofs, hardwood floors, and stylish modern decor accented by colorful throw pillows. Highlights include large bathrooms with soaking tubs and separate rain showers, private patios, and fully stocked minibars with wine chillers. The lower-tier Beach Villas and Water Villas come with “villa ambassadors,” but not full-time butlers, while the higher-end villas include on-call butlers who will arrange excursions, unpack luggage, run a hot bath -- you name it. Couples will likely appreciate the resort’s “borderless dining” concept to arrange meals just about anywhere -- on the beach, on a sand bar, or even in the lagoon with the table and chairs in the water. For parents seeking alone time, babysitting can be arranged by the hour.
Soneva Fushi has a luxury resort meets eco-camp vibe. Attentive personal butlers, romantic gourmet restaurants, and large beachfront villas feel distinctly upscale -- but we also trudged barefoot through ankle-deep mud puddles, had a leak in the roof of our villa, and found a field mouse on our living room sofa. Still, it's one of the top options in the Maldives and is similar in many ways to Gili Lankanfushi, down to the titles of the butlers (referred to on the island as Mr. or Ms. Fridays, after the fictional character who served as Robinson Crusoe's assistant). This is no accident, as the Gili also used to be part of the Soneva brand. But while both resorts have some of the Maldives highest prices, there is one major difference: All of the rooms are Gili Lankanfushi are overwater, while all the rooms here are on the beach. This is also part of the reason Soneva Fushi is kid-friendlier than Gili, as overwater villas can pose safety issues for wee ones; Soneva Fushi also offers a kids' club and paid babysitting service. And while both are rustic-luxe, there's a touch more emphasis on the "rustic" aspect here, as this is one of the Maldives' eco-friendliest resorts. Soneva Fushi is also more remote than Gili. So while it's more luxurious than some of the resorts ranking higher on this list, we knocked it down a few spots for romance because of its popularity with families and level of rusticity.
Open since 2013, this well-managed resort close to the airport has 140 rooms, either along the shore or overwater on stilts (reached via a lengthy jetty). Thailand-based Centara has two properties in the Maldives, both known for offering luxury accommodations at competitive prices, and this particular one is aimed at young couples (no guests under the age of 12 are allowed). It’s not the prettiest island or best house reef for snorkeling, but its service is exceptional, a rarity at this price point. The buffet serves a wide mix of European and Asian cuisines, while three a la carte restaurants (Thai, Italian, and Middle Eastern) and three bars keep the mainland fun and lively; both half-board and all-inclusive rates are on offer. Honeymooners receive a few extras, as well as a special turndown service when the guests least expect it.
A top-notch five-pearl luxury boutique, Kandolhu Maldives is home to 30 villas, all featuring private sundecks 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 island is set up for privacy, limited social interaction, 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 in the South Ari Atoll. 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 large bar, laser light shows, large overwater spa and gym, and small wine bar.
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 spa, free non-motorized water sports 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.
Vakarufalhi Island Resort is an ideal spot for couples looking for an open space with a private island vibe. This 75-room, upscale resort has all the usual features-- from a spa and gym, to diving and table games -- though its only restaurant is a small buffet and there is no pool or public beach. All rooms are stylish, contemporary, and spacious with personal outdoor verandahs, designated beach spacse, views, and stocked minibars, and most have outdoor bathrooms and showers. The island's location is among the best for whale shark and Manta ray excursions or dives, and the house reef is worth a snorkel.