THE Maldives is now on the safe travel list – and is suddenly a hot ticket for winter sun with great deals at even the most luxurious resorts.
But with more than 105 “hotel islands” to choose from, planning a bucket-list trip to the Indian Ocean paradise was a deliciously daunting prospect for my husband Miles and me.
Luckily, for the indecisive traveller, Crown & Champa Resorts offers an island- hopping adventure around three of its best hotels, each on a different island in the isolated Lhaviyani Atoll.
A 45-minute sea plane transfer from the capital, Male, each isle can be reached by speedboat in short hops, allowing visitors a taste of three different resorts in one trip.
Our first stop is Komandoo, where we disembark on the small jetty to a welcome song as we blink in the morning sunshine.
After a barefoot stroll along the sandy shores to get our bearings, we head for lunch.
Meals are served buffet-style, with a dazzling array of fresh choices to suit every palate.
With freshly caught reef fish and tuna steaks, I am in culinary heaven — but live-cooking pasta stations, curries and other international cuisines mean you are always spoilt for choice.
Nightlife on Komandoo is an easy-going affair and we wander, barefoot again, to the Thundi bar to watch the sunset before heading on to Kandu Bar to sip cocktails as an acoustic duo perform.
With accommodation comprising beach villas, Jacuzzi beach villas and water villas, you can choose which suits you and your budget.
For me though, there’s nothing like taking a step from your front door on to the beach and feeling sand between your toes.
All villas are well-appointed and air-conditioned, with free wifi and private open-air bathrooms — where I showered below a canopy of palms to the sounds of tropical bird calls.
There’s tennis, football, badminton or the air-conditioned gym, but the best way to stay active here is in the water.
If you’re not PADI-certified for dives you can still see a wealth of marine life from the surface by snorkelling on the guided tours and excursions.
A generous lagoon leads out to Komandoo’s house reef where confidence can be built up in the shallows before taking the plunge across the reef shelf surrounding the island.
For guests nervous about the deeper blue, guided tours with a pro diver are from £23 per person.
They’ll dish out advice on your direction of snorkelling and different times of the day to match the changing currents, as well as point out fish and marine life that you might not otherwise notice in the dazzling array of underwater activity.
With average sea temperatures in the Maldives around 26C you could spend all day just watching the underwater hustle and bustle.
Swimming with manta rays is a must in the Maldives.
It’s home to an estimated 5,000 mantas, so your chances of a close encounter are good.
They follow the sea tides so return regularly to particular sites, and the experienced crews know their patterns like the back of their hands.
An hour or so out on to the middle of the Lhaviyani Atoll and the boat team expertly guide us to a spot popular with mantas — and we are soon in luck.
As we grab our snorkel gear and hop off the boat into the sea, I cruise about in my fins hoping to catch more than a murky glimpse.
Becoming separated slightly from the group works in my favour, and turning to look behind, I spot a lone majestic manta gliding gracefully past.
As it comes towards us we move apart a few metres and it sweeps between us.
Usually island-hopping is a bit of a bind in the Maldives, losing half a day of precious beach time transferring and travelling to another resort.
Crown & Champa resorts are easy to travel between, so if island-hopping is your bag, you can pack just about everything the Maldives has to offer within a 30-minute boat transfer.
Within striking distance of Komandoo you have the established Kuredu and in between, the newly opened Hurawalhi.
Any new island in such a delicate ecosystem takes careful planning.
And with 40 per cent of the island running on solar power — and the earthy, sleek designs of the wooden-clad water villas — it’s a new resort with a heart of eco gold.
Conceived with the luxury end of the market in mind — and counting ex-footballer Wayne Bridge and his singer wife Frankie as recent guests — Hurawalhi doesn’t come cheap.
But you can pimp your holiday or honeymoon to include a short stay or day visit to the island that offers the world’s largest all-glass undersea restaurant, called 5.8.
With a seven-course tasting menu coming in at an eye-watering £213 per head, it’s certainly not cheap.
But for honeymoons and special occasions, it’s an unforgettable dining experience.
At 20 years old, Kuredu is a much more established resort.
In contrast to the diminutive Komandoo, which is just 315 metres long, Kuredu is more than 1km long and 400 metres wide.
This paradise city is divided up into three mini resorts and boasts six room categories.
Kuredu’s own take on the “Boris bike” means you can hop between each part of the island with ease.
And with a wide range of bars, pools and activities, this really is an island of choice.
Back on Komandoo, we wander bleary-eyed, coffee in hand, out to the decking to watch the sun rise on our last day.
As a path of gold stretches across the water, the heat begins to ramp up — and after an early breakfast, it’s easy to be on the beach sunbathing by 9am.
One final island snorkel brings me up close with one of the many green turtles that feed on the lagoon’s seagrass.
I watch spellbound as it lazily grazes before drifting past us back across the reef shelf.
As the now-familiar buzz of the landing seaplane heralds new arrivals to their own island paradise, the sun begins to set on my winter getaway.
With year-round temperatures a consistent 25-34C, it didn’t dip below 29C even at night.