On this topic, there is a lot of information and artistic texts on the internet. There are countless unclear names that don’t tell the tourist anything and repetitive descriptions. I will try to tell you everything you need to know about the atolls in Maldives, as well as give recommendations on where to stay, which atoll or island to choose, and which direction not to look in.

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What are atolls and how did they form?

A bit of general information in simple words for general knowledge. Understanding the process of atoll formation will help expand your horizons and understand the reasons for the concern of Maldivian residents that their country will not exist in 50-100 years.

What is an atoll?

An atoll is an island or several islands (an archipelago) of purely coral origin.
which atoll in the maldives to choose
This is a small atoll consisting of 5 islands. Each island is also an atoll 🙂

In fact, an atoll is land that millions of years ago was a coral reef. Reefs are very sensitive and only grow under certain conditions and only in a warm tropical climate where the temperature does not change much throughout the year.

  • The Maldives, with its location on the equator, are ideal. The difference in temperature between the coldest and hottest month of the year is only 1-2 degrees. Everything about the season and weather in the Maldives.

The size of a coral reef can be as small as 100 by 100 meters or as large as 100 by 100 km. The composition of coral is calcium carbonate, in simple terms, a type of limestone. Corals grow upward and when they reach the surface of the ocean, growth stops.

Over millions of years, as a result of tectonic plate uplift and sea level drop, or more often both processes simultaneously, the coral reef rises above the water. It petrifies and turns into an island.

  • The distinguishing feature of coral atolls is the absence of fresh rivers, lakes, and other sources of water, as well as low elevation above sea level. In the Maldives, for example:
    • There is not a single lake or river. Rainwater was collected during monsoon season in the past, and today almost every island has a desalination plant.
    • The highest point above the world’s ocean level is 2 meters and 40 centimeters. If sea level rises more than 2 meters due to global warming, the Maldives will disappear from the map of the world.
best atolls in maldives
This is what the atolls of the Maldives look like from a plane. Small atolls group into large atolls.

From a natural phenomenon point of view, an atoll can be either a single island or an entire archipelago. It is a fossilized coral reef of any size that has risen above the water.

Atolls in Maldives: general information

Now let’s talk about the Maldives atolls.

Important to know:

The atolls in Maldives are also a territorial division of the country. Like our regions and districts, the entire country is divided into atolls. Each atoll has a central island, called the capital of the atoll. There is either an airport or a port that connects the atoll to the capital of the country, Male.
  • There are around 1200 coral islands in the Maldives, all of which are of coral origin.
  • These 1200 islands are part of 26 atolls. But here’s an interesting fact: 26 atolls are geographic atolls. For example, a huge coral reef that was 50 by 80 km million years ago rose above the water, and around 50 islands appeared. And this is all a geographic atoll.
  • But in the territorial division of the country, there are only 19 atolls, as some neighboring atolls are combined territorially into one. A good example is the central atoll, where the capital of the Maldives, Male, is located.
    • This atoll is called Kaafu and consists of two smaller atolls: North Male and South Male.
Maldivian atoll region
Map of Kaafu Atoll: for a general understanding. Two separate atolls are clearly visible.

Where is the best place to stay or the best islands/atolls in Maldives to visit?

And now the most interesting part: the best atolls in Maldives for vacation or which island to choose? Of course, everyone has different tastes, but there will be no artistic description of all the beauty of the islands in Maldives here.

Below you will find a table of all the atolls in Maldives, and there you can find information on which atolls to pay attention to as a tourist.

Good to know:

The beach, palm trees, turquoise ocean, and underwater world are equally cool for independent and package tourists in my recommendations. But the best atolls for these tourists are different, as there are atolls in Maldives with cool resort hotels, but there are no accessible local islands nearby, and vice versa, the coolest local island for independent tourists, but there are no cool resorts for package tourists nearby.

If you don’t know or don’t fully understand the difference between a resort island and a local island, it is described in detail in the article by the link.

One important thing to know and consider when choosing an atoll for vacation is

  • the distance from Male.

Good to know:

Logistics and transportation in the Maldives is a very expensive, complex, and time-consuming affair. If you want to move quickly and without waiting between atolls, it will cost you a lot – private transfers by seaplane start at $1000. Everything about transportation in the Maldives ranges from very cheap to very expensive.

Therefore, the key factor is the distance from Male, where the country’s main international airport is located and where you will arrive. It is important to understand that your island resort or local island should not be too close to Male, where the water is dirtier, the underwater world is less diverse, and there are islands that are dumping sites. But at the same time, they should not be too far away either. To reach the southernmost atoll in the Maldives from Male, you will have to travel long and expensively.

  • All the best local islands are within a radius of 50-130 km from Male, and there are a huge number of great resorts located 50-300 km away. They can even be found within 10 km of Male, but it is difficult to call them the best.
  • Before booking a tour or hotel on an island, check where it is located on the map. And if the transfer from Male is not included in the price, first consider transportation and then book.
Maldives atolls
Below is a schematic map of the atolls in Maldives for convenience. Spoiler alert: the best atoll is Ari Atoll, remember it.

List of atolls in Maldives

In the table below, the atolls in Maldives will be listed from north to south, and the names will be written in English. It may be difficult to read them at first glance, you will not be able to remember them all, and that is not necessary. I will draw your attention to 3-4 atolls that you need to know, and the names there are easier, as some of the atolls have shortened name variations 🙂

Atoll nameDescriptionGood for tourists?
IhavandhippolhuThe northernmost atoll of the Maldives
Maalhosmadulu (Raa atoll)Here is the local island of Vaadhoo, where the brightest luminous plankton+
Goidhu Atoll (Baa atoll)Here is one of the coolest island resorts Soneva-Fushi+
Malé Atoll aka KaafuThere are good island resorts here, but local islands are best avoided.+-
Ari AtollThe best local islands and resort islands+
Felidhe AtollLots of good resort islands+
Mulaku AtollLots of good resort islands+
Nilandhe (Faafu)Very cool local Dhigurah island in this atoll+
Huvadhoo Atoll
Addu AtollThe only atoll of the Maldives below the equator in the southern hemisphere

In the “For Tourists” column, if there is a “+” sign, these atolls are recommended for your vacation. If there is a “-“, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any great resorts or local islands there, they exist everywhere. However, based on the combination of all factors, the best atolls in Maldives for vacation, transportation, rich underwater world, and luminous plankton are the ones marked with a “+”.

I would also like to note that the unique phenomenon of glowing plankton can be found not only on Vaadhoo Island, but also in many other places, almost on all islands of the Ari Atoll. You can read more about this phenomenon and how to find it in the article: Maldives at Night.

Best resorts

If you are flying to the Maldives for the first time, there is no point in memorizing a hundred names and choosing a hotel from them for a week. Below are literally 5-10 top resort islands near Male. It is much easier to choose from this list. And even if you are offered a voucher for a hotel that is not on this list, focus on the Maldives atolls. This is because the best reefs and atolls have the best clusters of resort hotels.

The best atolls in Maldives with resort islands are:

  • Maalhosmadulu (Atoll Raa)
  • Goidhu Atoll (Atoll Baa)
  • Ari Atoll
  • Felidhe Atoll
  • Mulaku Atoll
  • I would also add the northern part of Kaafu Atoll (North Male), where there are no worthy local islands, but there are a dozen good resort islands.

Below is a map for visual representation of where the large clusters of good resorts are located.

atolls in the maldives
Map of the best and popular resort islands. They are all located near Male.

Here is a list of resort islands that are worth your attention, with links to reviews on them. They are all located relatively close to Male, on the beautiful Maldivian atolls.

Best local islands

Dealing with local islands is much simpler. Tourists who cannot afford to stay at a resort visit them, as the cost of traveling to a local island independently is several times (3-4-5 times) lower than that of a package tour, and this is not an exaggeration.

It is important for independent travelers to quickly and inexpensively reach the local island, and seaplanes are not suitable for this purpose, only sea transport. Therefore, below are literally the top 5 best local islands. Until you have visited them all, there is no point in looking at others, why create unnecessary transportation problems:

ari atoll ukulhas island
Ukulhas local island is one of the best local islands.

Worst atolls in Maldives and islands for vacation

This point is more of a warning for budget and independent travelers. Because there is one mistake that many make, and it is fatal for your dream vacation and your impressions. Because the idea of the Maldives that you have in your head will be very different from what you will find on these islands.


If you are looking for a local island to relax on, under no circumstances consider the islands of Kaafu Atoll, namely: Gulhi, Maafushi, Guraidhoo.

These are the worst local islands, dirty, small beaches, meager underwater world, many people, especially on Maafushi. These three islands often appear in reports on the internet, as they are the closest to Male and easy to reach. But a vacation on local Maafushi and local Ukulhas or Dhigurah will be like night and day. These are completely different Maldives. Any other island, just not Maafushi, no matter how much someone whispers to you about fairy tales and paradise :). It is impossible to feel the Maldivian paradise on Maafushi.

At the same time, there are not bad resorts on this atoll, but you need to be very careful in choosing.

In conclusion: the best atolls in Maldives were mentioned earlier in the article. Where is the best place to relax: my choice is Ari Atoll, where there are 3-4 cool local islands and a dozen or so great resorts. It is easy and quick to get here from Male, and the underwater world, sharks, manta rays, and turtles are some of the richest in all of the Maldives. The island of Rasdhoo is even the diving capital, where they take diving with scuba diving from all neighboring atolls.

If you enjoyed the article and the content in this guide, you can buy me a coffee ^_^

Resources to help you plan your dream trip to the Maldives

  • Flight tickets and the best deals
  • Tour packages (from budget to luxury): Expedia
  • Hotels and guesthouses on any island:
    • Hotellook compares prices among a dozen other services and platforms and offers to choose the best one.
    • Booking – the most popular service for booking accommodation.
    • Agoda – the main competitor of Booking.
  • 12go is the largest Asian transfer service. It gathers all Maldivian carriers, even the small ones that operate between local islands.
  • Tours and excursions: Viator – a limited selection of excursions, but convenient and reliable.
  • Comprehensive insurance: EKTA
  • eSIM at the same price as in telecom office in Male.