The Maldives or Seychelles? It’s the big question for those hunting for an island escape. Because while the two countries might seem similar thanks to their bright white sandy beaches, top-end hotels and turquoise seascapes, they offer two very different holidays. Use our quickfire guide to choose whether the Seychelles or Maldives is the right destination for you.
Where in the world?
The Maldives sprinkles its sand-looped islands south-west of India. Millions of years ago, before sea levels rose, this part of the world was a volcano field. The Maldives are all that we can see of the dormant behemoths these days – islands collected in circular atolls that still mark the rim of the ancient sunken volcanoes.
Because the Maldives’ islands are so small, the best way to get to them is by catching a private sea plane or speedboat from the capital, Malé. All the hotels offer transfers.One of my favourite experiences in the Maldives was actually the sea plane transfer. You can spot dozens of islands from the window. – Karen Knight, Sovereign Trusted Adviser
The Seychelles is also hundreds of miles away from the mainland – East Africa, this time – but the archipelago has slightly less of a castaway feel to it. So although far-flung, you can get direct flights from the UK to Mahé island, although you’ll probably have to hop on a ferry or internal flight to your chosen island.
Beaches, flora and fauna
The landscape has a one-track mind in the Maldives – and that’s the best thing about it. These tiny slips of islands come with white-gold beaches and interiors shaded by forests of coconut palms.
But perhaps even more impressive is the seascape. The glassy waters are a crystal-clear window revealing a rich mix of coral reefs, sea caves and shipwrecks that reel in everything from gentle whale sharks to Nemo clownfish.
While the islands of the Maldives are served pancake-flat, the Seychelles comes with mountainous islands like Silhouette that have peaks you can see from miles away. Rainforests paint the foothills, including ancient first-growth forest that shelters rare Aldabra giant tortoises.
Meanwhile, the beaches are just as idyllic as in the Maldives – they just usually come bookended with giant granite boulders that double as panoramic sunbathing spots.
It tends to be a one-hotel-per-island affair in the Maldives, which means you get your own house reef, speedboat jetties and beaches. The cherry on top? The iconic over-the-water villas.
Hotels in the Seychelles are often squirrelled away in national parks, so they come with eco-friendly credentials. At the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa, for instance, the swimming pool peeks out of flowering forests filled with sunbirds.
Then there’s the Six Senses Zil Pasyon, where the spa perches wooden cabins on the hillside, while the Ocean Kitchen sources its catch of the day from local fishing boats.
Food and drink
It’ll come as no surprise that fish are a big part of the menu in both the Maldives and Seychelles. The tiny Maldives islands get creative with space, so you’ll find places like the underwater M6m restaurant at the OZEN by Atmosphere at Maadhoo. Expect a mix of international and South Asian cuisine.
With so many mountainous viewpoints, it’d be rude not to eat al fresco in the Seychelles. Hotels like the Six Senses Zil Pasyon will scout out the perfect picnic spot for you.
It’s all about watersports in the Maldives. This part of the Indian Ocean stacks up some of the best scuba diving spots on the planet, plus turquoise lagoons double as millpond-still paddle boarding and snorkelling platforms.
The Centara Grand Island goes one step further with its activity line-up, offering you the chance to get in touch with your inner Marty McFly and go hoverboarding (you read that right).
The islands in the Seychelles are bigger than the Maldives archipelagos, so the activities go beyond the beach and ocean.
You could kayak through rainforest-framed rivers, wander around the galleries and botanical garden in the capital city Victoria, or hike through wild coconut palm forests to ocean-view lookouts.
The Seychelles isn’t nicknamed the ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ for nothing, either. Its islands are a network of national parks showcasing everything from Aldabra giant tortoise sanctuaries to sea turtle-friendly beds of sea grass.