Discover our guide to the atolls of the Maldives: the perfect tool to help you choose your perfect Maldives escape.
The Maldives is a gorgeous archipelago made up of 26 atolls (and over 1100 islands), each boasting its own unique charm. The North Malé Atoll, South Malé Atoll and Ari Atoll are closest to the island nation’s capital city of Malé, but it’s definitely worth exploring further afield if you have the opportunity.
With lush paradisiacal islands lapped by the clearest, most stunningly azure waters, the islands within these atolls are the ideal locations for a tropical getaway. The natural beauty of this amazing corner of the world has been lovingly protected and is flourishing, meaning you’ll always have somewhere to explore. Wherever you go in the Maldives, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and treated to a delightful culture with a rich history that is still present in the archipelago’s architecture, art, crafts and incredible food.
This guide explores the major atolls of the Maldives and what they are known for – so let’s go for a virtual sail around this magnificent archipelago.
North Malé Atoll
The North Malé Atoll is one of two atolls that make up Kaafu Atoll, and is home to the Maldives’ capital city, Malé, making it an easily accessible destination for visitors. Boasting some of the Maldives' most spectacular reefs and shipwreck dive sites, this atoll is popular among divers. The colourful coral reefs around the atoll’s stunning islands are abundant with vibrant marine life, including manta rays, whale sharks and turtles. The North Malé Atoll is also known for its luxurious resorts, including One&Only Reethi Rah, Patina Maldives and Jumeirah Maldives, Olhahali Island.
South Malé Atoll
The South Malé Atoll is the smaller of the two Kaafu atolls and is less developed than the North Malé Atoll; however, there are some exquisite resorts located in this atoll, including COMO Cocoa Island. The atoll has a reputation for tranquility – with a much more laid-back vibe than its northern neighbour, but still boasts some of the best diving in the world, attracting divers and snorkelers alike. With striking topography and serene vibes, Guraidhoo Island is one of the most well-known South Malé islands, popular for its traditional handicrafts and local souvenirs.
The Ari Atoll has the honour of being the largest natural atoll in the Maldives and is home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the archipelago, such as LUX* South Ari Atoll. Split into the Northern Ari Atoll and Southern Ari Atoll, this beautiful region is adored for its white-sand beaches and turquoise waters, which are ideal for swimming, snorkelling and diving. The Ari Atoll is a marine protected area famous for its whale sharks and manta rays, making it a popular destination for divers and underwater photographers. The atoll is also home to the Maldives' first underwater restaurant, Ithaa.
Baa Atoll is a beautifully preserved UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is world-renowned for its amazingly rich marine life and stunning coral reefs. This atoll is home to the peaceful Hanifaru Bay, a protected marine area that attracts hundreds of manta rays and whale sharks every year. You can witness these majestic creatures yourself as the bay hosts the world’s largest natural manta ray feeding station
, easily accessible by boat via local cruise companies. The Baa Atoll is also home to the Soneva Fushi resort, which offers luxury accommodations among the atoll’s dazzling lagoons.
Lhaviyani Atoll is located in the northern Maldives and is best known for its unspoiled natural beauty. The atoll is home to some of the Maldives' most impressive dive sites, including the famous Kuredu Express, where a huge population of green sea turtles will delight you as they come to feed in large groups. The atoll is also known for its luxury resorts, including Atmosphere Kanifushi Maldives and the Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa.
Raa Atoll is hugely popular due to its pristine beaches and sparkling turquoise waters. This amazing atoll is the location for some of the Maldives' most exclusive resorts, including InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort and The Standard. The atoll is also famous for its thriving marine life
Regardless of which Maldives atoll you choose to visit, you’ll be warmly welcomed by the locals, and those spectacular views of emerald foliage and sweeping cerulean seas will be yours to treasure long after your escape is over.
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