Want to experience the dance of the Manta Rays or a Robinson Crusoe adventure? You have a chance to win a 5-day break and escape your life for free!
From the air, the 26 coral atolls that comprise the Maldives appear like a handful of carelessly strewn jewels in the impossibly clear waters of the Indian Ocean. The hundreds of tiny islands that make up the atolls account for just 1% of the nation's sovereign territory, with the other 99% encompassing the ocean.
But that 1% of land offers some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful tropical scenery you could ever imagine, and the oceans that surround it are home to the most diverse marine life in the world. There are a million moments not be missed in the Maldives, the following are just three of them.
Witness the Dance of the Manta Rays
Witnessing the graceful, fluid dance of the manta rays of the Maldives is a mesmerising and spiritual experience. While there are numerous places to dive with the manta rays, a trip to Hanifaru - a lagoon off one of the many uninhabited islands - offers a truly magical encounter with these gentle giants.
Accustomed to human visitors, the rays perform their incredible dance with such precision it almost seems choreographed, and they dive and spiral, moving sometimes languidly, sometimes faster, yet always with an unseen rhythm keeping them connected. They come to feed on the abundant plankton in the lagoon, and some days there can be up to 100 mantas taking part in the dance.
While diving will get you right amongst the action, even if you're only skilled with a snorkel you can still get close enough to watch the performance from the surface, and the rays will often pass so closely you'll be able to look right into their huge dark eyes.
Make Like Robinson Crusoe
If you want a Maldives experience that transports you not only to another place but seemingly another time, the Soneva Fushi island resort, nestled within a protected UNESCO biosphere, offers an authentic 'deserted island' Robinson Crusoe fantasy life for a few days, with one notable exception - you've been shipwrecked in the lap of luxury!
You'll stay in a luxury private villa (ever seen a waterfall in a bathroom?) secreted amongst the dense foliage of the island, with every wish attended to by your own personal butler. Following a mantra of 'no news no shoes', there's nothing to do but sink your toes in the sand and relax.
Visit the island observatory at night to stargaze up to skies so clear you can count the moons of Jupiter, recline on a lounger in the open air Cinema Paradiso, with a soundtrack of the ocean just metres away, or simply wander the white sands trying not to recall the life you've left behind…
Cruising at Sunset
There are sunsets and then there are sunsets in the Maldives. Numerous companies organise nightly sunset cruises on yachts or the traditional handcrafted wooden 'dhoni'. The ultimate filmic experience to cap off a blissful day, a sunset cruise will take you out towards the horizon and into a rainbow of brilliant colour reflecting onto the surface of the endless expanse of water stretching out before you. As you stand on the deck with a glass of champagne, you may suddenly realise you're not alone in the ocean, with pods of playful dolphins appearing to frolic around the hull of the boat.
If it's not magic, it's as close as you're ever going to get to it…
If you're dreaming of an escape to the Maldives but this year's summer holiday is looking more likely to be a weekend in Margate, why not try your luck at winning a luxury break in this tropical paradise, courtesy of Lonely Planet and Travelbag? This fantastic prize includes a 5-night stay for two in the luxury Sun Siyam Iru Fushi hotel on a stunning island in the Maldives. You'll be flown from London then transferred to the private island by seaplane, where your dream come true awaits! Make sure your annual travel insurance is current, fill out an entry, and get ready to pack your swimsuit! Somebody has to win - it might as well be you!