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aerial view of a villa at hurawalhi island resort in the maldives

If you’re anything like me, you’ve gone down a few too many rabbit holes of stilt-raised accommodations set above turquoise blue, crystal-clear waters, and dreamy white sand beaches, all the while fantasizing about napping on one of those built-in hammocks over the ocean. In this Instagram-versus-reality world, sometimes the filtered effects can overshadow the real thing, but when it comes to the Maldives, the beauty of this ancient archipelago is quite tricky to capture. The most incredible assault on all the senses, the Maldives is an inherently magical place that demands to be experienced to be truly understood. And, after a 14-hour journey from London to Malé followed by a seaplane landing that felt like an adventure in itself, I did just that as I began my island-hopping tour of this sought-after paradise.

Things I Learned…

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dream island in the maldives
Courtesy of Hurawalhi Island Resort

Amazon Prime is not a thing on a remote string of islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Trust me, I looked when I realized I had absentmindedly forgotten my computer charger. It turns out that island life has a different pace, one that is both refreshing and slightly disorienting for someone who thrives on two-day shipping. But, once the panic subsided, I unplugged and leaned into being present (secretly thankful for the technology mishap).  

Circular Reasoning

On my seaplane flight, I saw my very first aerial atoll. Of course, I didn’t know I was looking at an atoll, but rather, I likened the scene to the post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner film Waterworld. I was informed that these ring-shaped, slightly submerged islands flaunt a coral rim and usually encircle a lagoon — hence the range of blue hues. In fact, the Maldives are formed by 20 natural atolls, along with a few islands and isolated reefs today. The sight of these natural beauties is simply stunning. 

over-water-villas built on stilts in the water in the maldives
Courtesy of Hurawalhi Island Resort

No Shoes, No Problem

One of my favorite quirks is the shoeless pilots. Occasionally, I spotted a pair of flip-flops, but more often than not, just bare feet. It’s a charming nod to the laid-back lifestyle that permeates every corner of the Maldives. And let’s not forget the people. The warmth and culture of the Maldivian people matches the equatorial temperatures, making me feel right at home — even if home is half a world away.

Islands I Hopped To… 

Note: Each of the following properties has been thoughtfully designed by architect Yuji Yamazaki who employed sustainable practices and local materials to bring each property so beautifully to life. 

Jawakara

jawakara island villas the maldives
Courtesy of Jawakara

My first stop was Jawakara, a family-friendly, sprawling island where delicious food and endless activities kept everyone entertained. The island’s landscape has been thoughtfully designed, employing sustainable practices and local materials, bringing each corner of the island to life in a way that feels both luxurious and conscious. Jawakara is the epitome of a tropical paradise, but it’s also incredibly down to earth. Imagine dining on freshly caught seafood, toes wiggling in the sand, or sipping on a coconut cocktail while watching kids splash around in the shallow waters. It’s also worth mentioning that the staff — especially Yaseen in guest relations — go above and beyond without hesitation.  This balance between natural beauty and modern comfort makes Jawakara a must visit. 

island bar over the water in the maldives
Courtesy of Hurawalhi Island Resort

Kagi 

Next on my itinerary was Kagi Maldives Resort & Spa. If Jawakara was about family fun, Kagi is all about personal tranquility and wellness. Here, you’re invited to evoke your senses with the simplicity of the island’s natural beauty. The resort offers 50 villas, either over the water or by the beachside, providing ultimate seclusion and comfort. Kagi is where you discover the harmony between living healthily and mindful indulgence. The heart of the island lies in the aromatic herb garden that grounds the pool and restaurant area. Whether you’re traveling solo or with loved ones, you’ll find that Kagi’s Pure Life experiences are specially crafted for the wellbeing of your mind, body, and soul. From yoga sessions at sunrise to snorkeling with the sea turtles (a life highlight) in the coral reefs, a wide range of activities are offered. But what struck me most was the island’s ability to make me feel as though I’d shed all life’s gimmicks and unnecessary frills, allowing me to open up and truly feel and remember the essence of simple living.

Hurawalhi

under the sea restaurant at hurawalhi island resort the maldives
Courtesy of Hurawalhi Island Resort

Hurawalhi Island Resort is like stepping into a dream. Set on a private island in the pristine Lhaviyani Atoll, Hurawalhi is a perfect match of serenity and excitement, comfort and adventure. With 90 villas and an adults-only policy, the resort — a blend of barefoot bliss and contemporary design  — is a haven for honeymooners and those looking for a luxurious beach break. Hurawalhi’s crowning jewel is the world’s largest undersea restaurant, designed by Yamazaki. Dining here is an experience that kept me endlessly stimulated and left me mesmerized by the ocean’s beauty. Hurawalhi also takes pride in its environmentally friendly practices. From solar energy and heat recovery systems to desalination and sustainable food practices, the resort continuously works to minimize its impact on the fragile ecosystem. The Hurawalhi Marine Biology Center, led by a resident marine biologist, offers guests the chance to further study and appreciate the unique marine environment.

Kudadoo

aerial view of a villa in kudadoo maldives
Courtesy of Kudadoo Maldives

Last but certainly not least, I visited Kudadoo. This private island paradise is all about luxury and seclusion. With only 15 over-water residences, Kudadoo offers an exclusive experience where anything guests desire is within easy reach, thanks to the resort’s AAA mantra: Anything. Anytime. Anywhere. The residences are designed to maximize natural light and airflow, with spacious outdoor decks that include infinity plunge pools, swing chairs, and killer views. The island’s dedication to sustainable luxury is evident in every detail, from its eco-friendly architecture to the personalized services that cater to each guest’s preferences.

Moments I won’t forget…

The breathtaking sunsets that seemed to set the ocean aflame, the delicate dialogue between luxury and wilderness, and the heartfelt connections with both locals and my fellow travelers, have left an indelible mark on my heart and mind. These islands taught me the profound impact of nature on wellbeing and the true meaning of being present. As my time in the Maldives ended, I realized that this was not merely a much-dreamed-about getaway, but a transformative journey. With each island offering a distinct slice of paradise, the Maldives is a destination not just to visit, but to experience deeply and return to, discovering more with each visit. This trip might have been my first to the Maldives, but it most certainly won’t be my last.

Featured image courtesy of Hurawalhi Island Resort