(Bloomberg) -- All the cliches you’ve heard about the Maldives are true. Its waters really do glisten cyan, postcard-perfect beaches are ten per penny, and its unrivaled seclusion offers worthy hideouts to the most paparazzi-prone stars. It’s no wonder that tourism has long been pivotal to the Maldivian economy: By early 2020, it accounted for 28% of gross domestic product and 60% of the country’s foreign exchange receipts. When the pandemic made international travel collapse, the ramifications were seismic and unsustainable.

Reopening borders early—in July 2020—was a risky move that most hoteliers now agree proved worth it. The Maldives has since inoculated roughly 73% of its population (hotel staff drew priority as frontline workers), and tourism has recovered up to 70% of its 2019 levels, far outpacing the Seychelles (down 61% from its 2019 levels) and Indonesia (down 90%).

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The Covid-friendly sales pitch has been an easy one. The Maldives naturally caters to wealthy travelers looking for socially distanced escapism; each resort typically occupies its own private island, making every retreat a (glamorous) isolation center. As a result, development has continued at a breakneck pace. Nearly a dozen new properties have opened since the pandemic began, and big-budget debuts from brands such as Alila and Six Senses impend. A new international terminal will soon open at Velana International Airport in the capital Malé, raising its capacity to 7.5 million passengers per year. (In 2019, a record-breaking 1.7 million tourists visited the country.)

All these changes and upgrades mean that planning a trip to the Maldives can be dizzying, even for return visitors. From new protocols to even newer resorts, here’s a leg up on all the planning.

An Updated Lay of the Land

Covid-19 entry rules are one of the easier parts of travel logistics in the Maldives. Every incoming tourist must fill out a Traveller Health Declaration within 24 hours of arrival; at immigration, they must also show proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken within 96 hours of their flight. You don’t need special apps, health passports, or printed confirmations. A simple screenshot will suffice.    

It’s getting around the Maldives that poses complications. Long-haul flight access to Malé is plentiful and often affordable, but short hops in seaplanes—which are difficult to avoid—can snarl travel days and create sticker shock; they can cost from $250 to $400 each way, and they frequently take longer than accommodation staff will suggest. Although your resort may be a 40-minute direct seaplane ride from the airport, it can take hours before that flight departs—and it may drop guests at multiple islands along the way. Properties closer to the airport can be accessed by speedboat, but those, too, can run into hundreds of dollars.

Even if you’re used to shelling out on vacation, prepare yourself for extravagant pricing—typically, with no alternative. At the fanciest addresses, adding a massage, excursion, lunch, and boozy dinner can add $1,000 per person to your expenses. Virtually everything in the Maldives is imported, alcohol is heavily taxed, and hotels must often cover board and lodging (along with flight allowances) for many staff members.

The Best Places to Stay

Idyllic as they might generally be, the Maldives’ hundred-plus resorts can feel a touch … generic. These six standouts—some brand new and some more classic—merit distinct superlatives.

The Most Inviting Wellness Retreat: Joali Being

At this so-called “nature-immersive” retreat, which opened in mid-November, the island’s woodland interior has been left untouched. That’s a rarity among resorts, which typically mow or at least manicure it. The forest here becomes as much part of the experience as the sea: Guests can follow a “discovery sound path” embedded with interactive music installations, visit the resort’s turtle sanctuary, or charter a traditional dhoni fishing boat to get out on the water.

All this contributes to a holistic wellness concept that rivals the world’s best medical spas, though in a far less clinical setting. Itineraries are formulated after an in-depth consultation, and activities prescribed to treat anything from a lack of mental clarity to a sleep disorder. Herbologists at the hotel’s fragrant apothecary create customized cosmetics and teas to tackle hormonal complaints; at Flow, the open-air restaurant, diners sit under church-height thatched ceilings and eat dishes tailored to their nutritional goals. Yet this remains a place where your definition of healing is the one that’s most important, be it crack-of-dawn yoga class and vigorous physical therapy or pampering massages and snorkeling. Rooms from $2,142.


The Disruptor: Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

At Patina Maldives, the vitamin-infused ginger and ginseng gummies that appear at turndown are made in-house—with a 3D printer. The 90 villas all have private pools, plus glass that walls retract on three sides to fuse indoor and outdoor living. Kids aged 8 to 12 enjoy free diving lessons to learn about the environment. And philanthropy is baked into every stay, with 1% of gross operating profits supporting local charities.

Six-months-old Patina is most innovative for the way it acts as a conduit to a wider destination. Its location within the Fari Marina complex—a manmade archipelago with three private island resorts flanking a central “social hub”—means travelers can mingle with guests staying at the nearby Ritz-Carlton or forthcoming Capella resort and enjoy any of 17 restaurants or a large handful of luxury shops on the main island. For a cultural fix, day trippers can visit James Turrell’s Skyspace, a pavilion with skylight that occasionally hosts yoga classes. Back a their own oasis, activities include Boduberu folk-drumming classes or coral reef planting in the hotel lagoon. Rooms from $2,181.


The Fun-Time Island: Finolhu Baa Atoll Maldives

The Maldives’ status as a honeymooners’ haven means that gregarious groups can feel as if they’re spoiling the serenity. Worry not at Finolhu Baa Atoll Maldives: ever since the model Cara Delevingne and some photogenic pals enjoyed an exclusive-use stay and splashed their antics all over Instagram, this recently renovated resort has held a niche as the country’s good-time-for-all destination. An events program includes regular DJ sets, nightly performances by contortionists, and monthly full moon parties on the resort’s out-of-the-way sandbank. Plan around the lunar event, and you can expect fire shows, free-flowing cocktails, and music that goes on long into the night.

Still, respite awaits in the resort’s sprawling villas. Offset by sprightly splashes of green and orange, they’re finished with teardrop-shaped lanterns and woven textiles and often feature private pools. Rooms from $520.


The Original Eco-Resort: Soneva Fushi

‘Sustainability’ wasn’t a word hotels used frequently when Soneva Fushi opened in 1995. Respect for the environment has always been integral to this pioneering property whose 72 villas meld a Robinson Crusoe aesthetic with unfettered indulgence: You might find an ornamental pond surrounding the sunken tub in your beach abode’s outdoor bathroom. The hotel is serious about the green initiatives embedded into every facet of operations and woven into the guest experience. Visitors can take glassblowing classes as a way to upcycle bottles from local resorts, or they might tour the island’s substantial organic gardens before picking the vegetables that will be used to make their lunch. Soneva Fushi’s other superlatives include its newly unveiled overwater villas, complete with slides, that start at 6,297 square feet—among the largest in the world. Rooms from $1,780.  


The Design Destination: Cheval Blanc Randheli

Part of LVMH’s rarefied Cheval Blanc hotel collection—there are only five such properties in the world—Randheli is known for the exemplary design of its 45 vast villas, conceived by ultra-luxe-hotels hotshot Jean-Michel Gathy. Each is partitioned by soaring, swiveling oak panels and filled with tactile rattan and mother-of-pearl furnishings. Everything is of resolutely high quality; even the resort’s signature cardamom-and-driftwood scent was created by Dior’s aroma czar[HEAD NOSE IS WAY TOO CAS FOR BBERG]. Much could be mistaken for a fashion-shoot backdrop: The square-shaped main pool, with its glossy emerald green floor tiles, is flanked by a symmetry of palms; the spa occupies its own private island, with meditation pavilions facing a glassy lagoon. And under the sparkling crystal chandeliers at Le 1947, diners enjoy local red tuna with potato mille-feuille and vanilla creme brulée with passionfruit and lemongrass. This being LVMH, there are also top-rate (and top-dollar) shopping opportunities for boutique-exclusive goods from the likes of Orlebar Brown and Hublot. Rooms from $2,200


The Acme of All-inclusives: Kudadoo Maldives Private Island

Kudadoo’s tagline, ‘Anything, Anytime, Anywhere,’ is a literal invitation to avail yourself of its round-the-clock, all-inclusive indulgences. Just say the word and limitless dolphin-watching cruises and jet-ski safaris can be bookended by non-stop spa treatments while butlers organize free-flowing Champagne sundowners and sashimi on an isolated sandbank. It’s all covered in the nightly rate—rooms start at $3,800—and yes, masseurs are on call in the middle of the night.

The curious thing, however, is that many guests simply take it easy, their fanciful whims perhaps tamped down by the inherently restful setting. Kudadoo’s 15 enormous overwater pool villas offer a masterclass in Japanese-inspired minimalism, all in unvarnished cedar and four-poster beds raised for a better view of the ocean. No other all-inclusive resort reaches this level of excellence and ambition—which is why Kudadoo has fast established itself as a classic, despite having opened just a year before Covid-19 hit.

Still, if all-inclusive luxury simply means eliminating the sticker shock, a further option exists: The rooms at Constance Moofushi are simple, but the expansive soft-sand beach and immensely colorful house reef cost roughly $650 a night. It’s the type of insider secret that makes it possible to go back to the Maldives again and again.

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