Best of the Best 2002: Travel: Best Destinations: The Maldives

The Maldives, a chain of low-lying, palm-fringed islands and atolls scattered across the equator in the Indian Ocean, is the ultimate locale for an aquatic escape. With crystal-clear lagoons, white powdery sand beaches, and pristine coral reefs, the Maldives are a mecca for sailing, surfing, snorkeling, and diving. Deep-sea fishing is another large draw, but it is the islands’ laid-back luxury as much as the thrill of catching a 250-pound tuna with a bamboo pole that makes the Maldives so enticing.

The natural beauty is best experienced by staying at one of the resorts erected on stilts over the tranquil blue waters encircled by spectacular coral reefs. Villas with rooftop terraces for moonlit dining, the bar, and even the spa are all built above water at the Soneva Gili Resort and Spa (www.sixsenses.com/soneva-gili). Equally delightful is the Four Seasons Resort at Kuda Huraa (www.fourseasons.com), with beach suites and bungalows situated over lagoons.

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