Islands where colorful corals and exciting marine life are just a short swim from shore
There are more than 1,000 islands in the Maldives. Most are small and set within the encircling lagoons of coral atolls. So it’s not surprising that there are a lot of places to snorkel. But some reefs are better than others, and not all are easy to reach. The best snorkeling venues combine stunning coral growth with close proximity to a premier beach resort. At these special places, fantastic underwater landscapes are found just a few fin kicks away from the shore.
Six Senses Laamu
As the only resort located within the waters of the Laamu Atoll, Six Senses provides guests with exclusive access to pristine reefs that see little to no human traffic. The shallows surrounding Six Senses offer several hundred acres of sand flats and patch reefs to explore. As the slopes transition into deeper water, crevices in the coral walls hold lobster, eels and octopus. Green sea turtles and colorful parrotfish patrol the drop off, and eagle and manta rays are sometimes seen gliding in from deeper water. A special attraction is the remote sandbar on the far edge of the shallows, where an expanse of dazzling white sand rises from the surrounding lagoon waters.
As compared to many small island resorts in the Maldives, Six Senses has more green space. This allows land-based accommodations to spread through a tropical hammock, with bike trails and footpaths to connect the various areas of this sprawling resort. Guests who are serious about snorkeling should opt for an over-water villa, with numbers 11 to 20 being closest to the prime snorkeling area. All accommodations are constructed from sustainable materials, and at several of the resort’s restaurants, chefs from East and West create dishes using produce grown in the island’s organic gardens. Those looking for some added water sports thrills can paddle a board to the edge of the reef to take on Yin Yang, which is the Maldives’ most famous surf break.
Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru
The name tells the story. In the Maldivian language, the word Vabbinfaru refers to a round island encircled by a coral reef. Banyan Tree’s upscale island retreat certainly fits this description, as its circular land mass is ringed by sand beaches and vibrant reefs. From any point on shore, snorkelers can wade in to the sand bottom shallows and discover coral heads that attract colorful tropical fish. A bit farther out, gardens of hard and soft corals cover a slope that leads downward into the blue waters of the lagoon. To save the swim, guests can also reach the edge of the drop-off from the resort’s long pier, or sign up for a boat trip to other nearby reefs.
Ashore, each of the Banyan Tree’s 48 pool villas sequesters guests within a screen of foliage and attractive privacy fencing that spirals inward like a nautilus shell toward the central living space. Each circular villa provides a king-sized, four-poster bed set under a vaulted thatch roof and draped in white netting. These personal oases of relaxation are surrounded by French doors that look out on private pools, outdoor patios, shaded day beds and personal whirlpools. Decor elements within the villas draw inspiration from ocean life, with motifs that incorporate starfish, manta rays and reef fish. The ocean connection continues at the spa, where treatments take place in an open-air cabana suspended over the water. Guests can also arrange for starlight dinners on a private beach, or on an isolated sandbar in the lagoon.
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas
On pristine Kihavah Huravalhi island, guests of the Anantara resort can begin their snorkeling adventures right from the private deck of their over-water villa. The island is ringed in reefs that lie within a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and are within easy swimming distance of the shore or the villas. Boat trips add the excitement of dolphin encounters and a chance to swim with manta rays. But swimmers need look no farther than the pilings of their dwellings to discover a new generation of corals growing in the clear, shallow water. During the construction of the villas, the resort’s resident marine biologist created new coral gardens by attaching these reef-building organisms to iron frames that allow the growing corals to harvest nutrients from flowing water. Guests can visit this reef in the making by following a marked snorkel trail, and can even sponsor new sections of the project by making a donation to Anantara’s reef adoption program.
Anantara includes 79 private pool villas that are poised over the water or set along private beaches. The resort provides all the luxuries and amenities expected of a premier vacation property. The water sports and dive center offers a range of water sports, and guests can be active with tennis, volleyball, and bike trails, or opt for more relaxing programs such as beachfront yoga and meditation classes. In addition to massage and spa treatments, the wellness center specializes in Ayurvedic programs. Dining at Anantara is not just about the cuisines, but also the setting. Four signature restaurants—Salt, Sky, Fire and Sea—place guests in open-air settings on the beach, over the water and in a unique underwater dining room and wine cellar, where passing marine life can be seen through glass walls.