The English word atoll comes from Dhivehi, the official language of the Maldives. And with good reason. This nation consists of 1,192 islands spread across 35,000 square miles of Indian Ocean. Turquoise lagoons, pearlescent beaches, and coral gardens teem with over 1,900 species of fish, 400 species of mollusks, and 350 species of crustaceans, making it an aquaphile's paradise. But it can be tough to put together a DIY trip in a place where the easiest way around is by boat or seaplane. Base yourself at Maalifushi, which can arrange your adventures for you (doubles from $650).
The hotel opens in December and is one of only two resorts in the rarely visited, pristine Thaa Atoll. You'll stay in one of 66 thatched-roof bungalows and villas on the 20-acre island, half of which are raised on stilts above the water. When you're not in one of the eight spa rooms, there's plenty to do: fish for wahoo and grouper or go sailing in 25-knot winds, or snorkel or scuba with hawksbill turtles, schools of bluestripe snapper, or a few dozen manta rays at one of the island's 40 dive sites. And while the December swells aren't as good as the high season's (April to October), you can still surf gentle three-footers (from $160 per person).
Access: Fly to the capital of Malé, then take a barefoot-piloted Maldivian air taxi to the resort.