After visiting the 4-year-old Joali Maldives resort (from $2,040 per night) — featuring boldly decorated overwater villas, six dining options, including a floating Japanese restaurant and a coral restoration program — wrote Stanley Tucci for London’s The times: “As the seaplane descended over the topaz waters, we were so struck by the total beauty and serenity of the place that the fatigue of the long distance seemed to filter away.”
In the Maldives – located in the Indian Ocean, 600 miles southwest of Sri Lanka – it’s not uncommon to be greeted upon arrival by seaplane or boat by staff holding their right hands over their hearts. It’s also where most accommodations come with a personal butler or, in the case of Joali Maldives, a jadugar, also known as a ‘magician’. Among the stars who have visited resorts scattered across the country’s 26 atolls with coral sands and clear aquamarine waters, surreal marine megafauna and lush coconut palms are Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Orlando Bloom, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, to name a few to name.
Opened in 2021, sister property Joali being (from $2,142 per night) is a wellness-focused island retreat, a 15-minute boat ride away on Bodufushi Island. It’s an idyllic haven for transformative resets through high-tech tools, as well as watsu water massage in a serene pool, Turkish hammam treatment, immersive sound healing and nourishing cuisine. There’s a temple for tea ceremonies and another destination for medicinal herbal infusions — plus radically biophilic architecture all over the island.
For her 40th birthday last year, actress Katie Lowes (invent Anna) visited Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort (from $750 per night) in the South Malé Atoll with her whole family, taking cooking classes, surfing and getting massages over the water. “There’s this sense that it takes a village to raise a child,” she says THR. “The employees all came to my children at the breakfast table, they were completely taken care of.”
On Lowes’ actual birthday, they all went swimming with hundreds of nurse sharks, an experience she describes as “incredible. They were twice my height, but they’re actually vegetarian and their mouths are very small, so it couldn’t be safer. My five-year-old son was the first to come in!” On the boat back to the resort, they saw pods of dolphins and four huge manta rays. “It was one of those magical days where you think, ‘It doesn’t get much better than this.'”
The green and intimate Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas — fresh from a breezy overwater villa facelift, including the $5,800-a-night, two-bedroom, Sunset Over Water Pool Residence — is where Leonardo DiCaprio, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Roger Federer vacationed, and where John Legend and Chrissy Teigen were engaged. (From $1,600 per night, half board).
Its prime location on Baa Atoll makes it a destination for another type of bucket list marine mammal: giant manta rays. Forty-five minutes away by boat is the heavily protected UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hanifaru Bay, where incredible numbers of friendly creatures with a wingspan of 15 feet (4.5 meters) gather from May to November each year to feed on plankton. More passive underwater experiences come courtesy of Sea, the underwater restaurant with intricate coral reef panoramas, more than 150 species of fish and an extensive wine list. Kihavah is also the only resort in the Maldives with an overwater observatory, complete with 16-inch Meade LX200 telescope for spying on other planets and nebulae, craft cocktail in hand.
The Baa Atoll is also home Amilla Fushi Maldives (from $1,045 per night), where the Beckhams spent New Year’s Eve in the eight-bedroom villa and Ashley Benson, Lindsay Lohan, Katy Perry and Kate Winslet also stayed.
Salma Hayek ushered in the New Year in 2021 at Kunfunadhoo Island Soneva Fushi (from $1,440 per night), which Millie Bobby Brown called on Instagram “the vacation of a lifetime,” and where Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas honeymooned in a beachfront villa. The resort recently debuted the world’s largest one- and two-bedroom overwater villas, complete with ocean water slides and retractable roofs for stargazing from bed. The eco-friendly resort has a glass art studio where guests can get creative with recycled glass and boasts the world’s first fully sustainable surf program.
Surfers including Olympic medalist Kanoa Igarashi and Blue crush surfer coco ho love Niyama private islands (from $900 per night, half board) because of the exceptional private golf, which runs off the end of the island called Play and is never crowded. The well-kept secret is a major selling point for vacationers who enjoy a bit of activity alongside their decadent meals of Maldivian lobsters at the resort’s strikingly compelling restaurants, which range from pan-African and Southeast Asian in the treetops to the elegant underwater Subsix , which requires a speedboat to reach and has a James Bond-meets-Little Mermaid feeling. Their new Luxury Experience full board offer, including dolphin cruises and free-flowing drinks, is the total package.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk honeymooned Soneva Jani (from $2,140 per night). Upon leaving, the actress and entrepreneur wrote on Instagram: “Goodbye to these beautiful atolls of peace.” Legend and Teigen celebrated their daughter’s fifth birthday there, while Justin and Hailey Beiber and Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn were all guests.
Idris Elba headlined New Year’s Eve 2020 with a DJ performance at the very personal resort One and only Reethi Rah (from $2,050 per night; $41,700 per night for the top Grand Sunset Residence), with a holistic spa program, remote private dining, and a private whale shark hunting safari.
During Christmas 2021, Paris Hilton honeymooned with her husband Carter Reum Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (from $874 per night) at The Muraka submarine villa, which costs $50,000 per night from the resort, which included a photo shoot of her swimming in a mermaid tail above their bedroom and, according to her blog, “[learning] about the coral reefs.” To celebrate their first anniversary in November, they bought out Ithaafushi – The private islandwhich arc as part of Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi (favored by Emily Ratajkowski and Serena Williams) in 2021 and going for a cool $85,000 a night. At eight hectares, it is the largest private island in the Maldives and has a dedicated culinary team, a private sandbar on the ocean for yoga or dinner parties, and an overwater spa.
The country’s other newest resorts are the ultra-luxury ones Patina Maldives, Fari Islands (from $1,900 per night), featuring arguably the most unique and nature-led architecture in the Maldives plus an enchanting James Turrell Pavilion, vibrant social center and enlightening offerings like a ceramics and coral conservation workshop.
Alila Kothaifaru Maldives (starting at $900 per night), which debuted in 2022, offers experiences such as Starlight Cinema and The Art of the Coconut, featuring a demo on climbing a coconut tree, Maldivian cooking and mixology class, and treetop massage and mini facial.
Looking back on her journey, Lowes says, “The Maldives really are something special, special, and only people I know who have been there understand it. I have never seen such sunsets and sunrises. The Indian Ocean was breathtaking. Once you see these tiny little white coral islands that barely rise above the ocean and have these incredible resorts it’s hard to compare [to anywhere else]. It feels so rare.”
A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.