Understanding the Maldives atolls

The Maldives is the perfect island paradise. It comprises over 1,000 islands with swaying palm trees and white sandy beaches surrounded by exquisite turquoise waters. However, when looking to book your island holiday to the Maldives having so many islands to choose from can be confusing.

When deciding where to visit its sometimes easiest to start by looking at the atoll where a resort is located. All of the Maldives islands are grouped into 26 different atolls. These atolls include inhabitated islands, resort islands and uninhabited islands. Haa Alifu flanks the northern end of the atoll chain, Addu or Seenu is the southernmost atoll, while the smallest is Gnaviyani atoll and the largest Gaafu Alifu.

Here are some of the main atolls and a little bit more about what each one can offer you on your next Maldives holiday:

North Malé (North Kaafu) Atoll

The North Malé or North Kaafu Atoll is the main atoll in the Maldives and it is here where tourism on the island was first launched. The capital, Malé and the international airport are all located in this atoll so it goes without saying that resorts in this region have the shortest transfer distances. This is a great place for a Maldives holiday if you’re looking to be on the beach as quickly as possible and just do little other than relaxing! It is also a fantastic atoll for families. Some of our top resorts here include Adaaran Select HudhuranfushKagi Maldives Spa Island and Meeru Island Resort & Spa.

South Malé (South Kaafu) Atoll

The South Malé (South Kaafu) Atoll has a good number of more affordable resorts, most of which are easily accessible in 30 minutes by speedboat from the international airport at Malé. Many of the islands here have impressive house reefs for snorkelling while also offering an exciting array of watersports. There are numerous dive sites in the atoll where you can see manta rays, sharks and shipwrecks. Day trips to inhabited islands or the capital of Malé are also possible. Some of our favourite resorts in the South Malé Atoll include the luxurious water-villa only Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, the all-inclusive Adaaran Club Rannalhi with its fantastic diving, and Sun Siyam Olhuveli which is spread across three beautiful islands.

Raa Atoll

The Raa Atoll, also known as North Maalhosmadulu is a northern atoll known for its luxurious resorts. The area has a diverse underwater topography which attracts a huge diversity of marine life with vibrant corals and numerous fish species making it a popular location for snorkellers and divers. It also boasts some of the best deep water fishing sites in the Maldives. Many of the resorts here also offer fabulous house reefs for guests to enjoy. Dolphin cruises and day trips to nearby local islands are also popular in the Raa Atoll. Easily reached by a 45-minute seaplane flight, some of the best resorts in the Raa Atoll include the premium all-inclusive Adaaran Select Meedhupparu, the adults only honeymoon resort of You&Me by Cocoon, and Heritance Aarah which is one of the finest five-star resorts in the Maldives.

Lhaviyani Atoll

Another northern-based atoll, the Lhaviyani Atoll is home to a large number of resorts, including more than ten luxury options reached by a seaplane flight which lasts between 30 and 40 minutes. The area is known for its excellent dive sites, amazing house reef snorkelling and great resort selection including an underwater dining experience. If you’re looking for a luxury Maldives holiday, then put Cocoon Maldives or Hurawalhi Island Resort on the top of your list.

Ari Atoll

Ari Atoll also known as Alif or Alifu Atoll is one of the Maldives’ largest atolls located in the West of the country and reached in 30 minutes by seaplane. The south of the atoll is a marine protected area which is one of the best places in the world to snorkel with whale sharks while the north of the atoll is famous for its scuba diving with hammerhead sharks. The atoll is a mix of local and resort islands as well as luxury resorts. If you are looking for luxury in the Ari Atoll look no further than Constance Halaveli, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, as well as Constance Moofushi, the epitome of barefoot chic, and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island who, with their host of awards, have set the benchmark for sophisticated island luxury.

Noonu Atoll

Home to some of the newest resorts, the Noonu Atoll offers untouched snorkelling and diving sites as well as quite a number of uninhabited islands. It is reached via a 45 minute seaplane ride from the international airport at Malé. Here you will find a number of exciting new developments such as the floating water park at Siyam World. Another favourite resort is Sun Siyam Iru Fushi which is great for families with its excellent kid’s facilities but also offers an Adult Only section for those seeking something more romantic. 

Baa Atoll

Marriott International Hotel

The Baa Atoll is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve famous for its large gatherings of whale sharks and manta rays at Hanifaru Bay. Until recently there was only one five-star resort in the atoll but a number of other luxury resorts have recently been developed across this atoll. Easily reached with a 35-minute seaplane ride, the atoll is famous not only for its dazzling marine life which includes being the biggest manta-feeding hotspot in the world but also for its high-end luxury accommodation. One of the best resorts in the Baa Atoll is without doubt the five-star, all villa Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort.