The Maldives (Dhivehi: Dhivehi Raajje) are an archipelago of 1,192 coral islands grouped into 26 coral atolls (200 inhabited islands and 154 islands with tourist resorts) in the Indian Ocean. They lie south-southwest of India and are considered part of Southern Asia.
Maldives was for the most part unknown to tourists until the early 1970s. Just 189 of the islands are home to its 392,473 inhabitants. The other islands are used entirely for economic functions, of that tourism and agriculture are dominant. Tourism accounts for 28% of the GDP. Over 90% of the state government income comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes.
Maldivians are entirely Sunni Muslim, and the local culture is a mixture of South Indian, Sinhalese and Arab influences. While alcohol, pork, dogs and public observance of non-Muslim religions are banned on the inhabited islands, the resorts are allowed to exist in a bubble where almost anything goes.
The weekend in the Maldives runs from Friday to Saturday, during which banks, government offices and many shops are closed. You won’t notice this at the resorts though, except that lunch hours may be shifted for Friday prayers
Travel Guide Maldives
The Maldives are tropical, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 26.4°C (79.52°F) to 31.5°C (88.7°F) throughout the year. However, rainfall increases considerably during the April-October southwest monsoon, particularly from June to November.
- Malé – The capital and largest city in population.
- Addu City – Second largest city in population.
- Fuvahmulah – Third largest city in population.
- Kulhudhuffushi – Fourth largest city in population.
Practically all visitors arrive at Velana International Airport (IATA: MLE, ICAO: VRMM), located on Hulhulé Island right next to the Capital City Malé. The airport is served by a wide array of flights to China, India, Sri Lanka, Dubai and major airports in South-East Asia, as well as an increasing number of charters from Europe. Many flights stop in Colombo (Sri Lanka) on the way.
Gan Airport (IATA: GAN, ICAO: VRMG), on the southern atoll of Addu, also serves an international flight to Colombo
Departure taxes are included in your ticket.
British Airways now flies directly from London Gatwick to 3 times a week (Sunday, Tuesday and Friday)
Cathay Pacific Airlines flies 4 times a week from Hong Kong (Wed, Thu, Sat, Sun)
Singapore Airlines flies daily direct from Singapore to Malé, with late night timings.
Turkish Airlines flies directly from Istanbul Ataturk to Malé 5 times in a week.
Emirates flies direct from Dubai to Malé, twice a day.
Austrian Airlines flies between Vienna and Malé once a week (outbound Vienna on Wednesday, inbound on Thursday morning)
Condor flies direct from Frankfurt to Malé, twice a week (Wednesday & Sunday).
There are no regular passenger boats to the Maldives. Even yachts usually steer clear, as navigating around the reefs is hazardous and permits are expensive.
City Tours from the capital city
In your stay in Maldives one the best thing is to visit a local island. Capital city Malé is the most populated place in Maldives. you can visit Malé city for sightseeing and landmarks. City tour price is 15$ per person.
Diving and snorkelling
Aside from making the water bungalow rock on your honeymoon, the primary activity on the Maldives is scuba diving. The atolls are all coral reefs hundreds of kilometres away from any major landmass, meaning that water clarity is excellent and underwater life is abundant. Manta rays, sharks, even a few wrecks, you name it, you can find it in the Maldives.
Baa Atoll is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, where protected waters harbour an extraordinary diversity of marine life, including some 250 species of stony and soft coral, over 1,000 types of reef fish, as well as the endangered Hawksbill and Green turtles, manta rays and whale sharks.
Water in the Maldives is warm throughout the year and a 3mm shorty or Lycra dive skin is plenty. Diving is possible throughout the year, but rain, wind and waves are most common during the season of the southwest monsoon (June-November). The best time for scuba diving is from January to April, when the sea is calm, the sun is shining and the visibility can reach 30m. Decompression chambers can be found on Bandos in Kaafu (15min from Malé), Kuredu in Lhaviyani Atoll and at Kuramathi on Alifu.
While diving is very good by world standards even in the immediate vicinity of Malé, visibility and the chance of encountering large pelagics increases as you head to the outer atolls. Currents vary considerably, with generally little inside the atolls but some powerful streams to be found on the sides facing the open sea. Safety standards are usually very high, with well-maintained gear and strict adherence to protocol (check dives, maximum depth, computer use, etc) being the rule rather than the exception.
The one downside to diving in the Maldives is that it’s quite expensive by Asian standards. Prices vary considerably from resort to resort, with specialist dive resorts offering better prices, but in general, you’ll be looking at around US$50 for a single boat dive with your own gear and closer to USD75 without. Beware of surcharges: you may be charged extra for boat use, guided dives, larger tanks, etc. Many divers opt for liveaboards, which can actually work out much cheaper than paying high resort fees.
Best dive sites in the Maldives
- Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll is one of the Maldives’ most famous marine sites, Hanifaru Bay is renowned worldwide for harbouring one of the largest seasonal gatherings of manta rays. It’s also believed to be the only place in the world to see their spectacular cyclone feeding; during the west monsoons (from May until November), large amounts of plankton wash into this funnel-like lagoon, attracting as many as 200 manta rays as well as whale sharks spiralling in a free-for-all feeding frenzy.
- Blue Hole, Baa Atoll is a coral-lined underwater chimney that narrows from 22 metres to seven metres provides a spectacular experience for divers and snorkellers alike, who may spot myriad marine life including Hawksbill turtles, triggerfish and perhaps the resident Guitar shark.
For the people who don’t know how to SCUBA dive, they can start to learn to dive with a professional instructor, go snorkeling or enjoy other water sports.
Best islands for snorkeling
Snorkelers are always in search of the best islands on the Maldives with great house reef so that they can spend as much time as they want snorkeling around the island, exploring abundant marine life. Here are the best snorkeling islands on the Maldives:
- Hadahaa Island, Park Hyatt Maldives, North Huvadhoo, Gaafu Alifu Atoll
- Amilla Fushi, Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
- Bandos Island, Bandos, North Malé Atoll
- Baros Island, Baros, North Malé Atoll
- Fihalholi, Fihalholi Island Resort, South Malé Atoll
- Biyadhoo, Biyadhoo Island Resort, South Malé Atoll
- Mandhoo, Mirihi Island Resort, South Ari Atoll
- Vilamendhoo, Vilamendhoo Island Resort, South Ari Atoll
- Machchafushi, Centara Grand Island, South Ari Atoll
- Moofushi, Constance Moofushi Resort, South Ari Atoll
- Maayafushi, VOI Maayafushi Resort, North Ari Atoll
- Bathala, Bathala Island Resort, North Ari Atoll
- Filtiheyo, Filitheyo Island Resort, Faafu Atoll
Travel Guide Maldives
The Maldives is becoming an increasingly popular surfing destination. Turquoise water and perfect waves make it an ideal and uncrowded destination for surfers looking for smooth surfing conditions.
The best period for surfing in the Maldives is between March and October; the biggest waves occurring in June, July and August. This paradise is exposed to the same swells as Indonesia is, except that its higher latitude and its South-East exposure offers cooler and less hardcore surfing. The recent O’Neil Deep Blue Contests held in the Maldives has placed Maldives firmly on the world’s surf map. While most of the recognized surf breaks are in Malé Atoll, there is certainly more to be discovered. South Central atolls Laamu and Huvadhoo are more exposed to swell moving up from the Antarctic and is the first stop to unleash its power on the fringes of the south south/west of these atolls. Most surfing information is focused on Malé and resorts around Malé, which sadly in recent years has become overcrowded with safari boats and aggressive tourists all fighting for waves. The southern atolls are still quite with world class breaks….some secret spots to be found.
Specialized companies organize tailored multi-day boat trips in the region, allowing surfers to move easily from one point to another and maximizing the surfing time.
Since 2010 Maldivian law changed, allowing Tourists to vacation on local islands, away from resorts and safari boats. These local boutique hotels offer realistic prices for surf travelers, who wish to stay on land and experience the real Maldives.
The local currency is the Maldivian rufiyaa sometimes symbolised locally as “Rf” placed before or after the amount and divided into 100 laari. Throughout our guides we use the international symbolisation of MVR placed before the amount with no intervening space.
However, by law resorts price services in US dollars (USD) and require payment in hard currency (or credit card), so there’s absolutely no need to change money if you’re going to spend all your time at the resorts. Most hotels have a shop but this is limited to diving and holiday essentials (sun cream, sarongs, disposable cameras, etc.) Some excursions from resorts will take you to local islands where there are handicraft type things to buy, but they are typically made outside the Maldives and sold at outrageous markups.
If you are heading to Malé or the other inhabited atolls, exchanging some rufiyaa will come in handy. The coins, in particular, are quite attractive and make an interesting souvenir in themselves, but the smaller denominations are rarely used or seen. The official exchange rate to the US dollar is floated but practically 15:1, but while dollars are near-universally accepted, shops usually exchange them at 15:1 or even 10:1. You can get select major currencies exchanged at the airport after arrival at the forex center in the airport itself.
If you want to get a local SIM card, there is a Dhiraagu shop (the primary local telecom company) just to the left of the airport arrivals area upon exiting. A local cell number is needed to purchase time at many Wi-Fi spots around the country (sometimes reachable from where liveaboards anchor for the night).
All the resorts are self contained so they have at least one restaurant, which generally serves the type of cuisine expected by their guests. ( i.e. modern European or generic Asian). Breakfast is almost always included, and most resorts offer the option of half-board, which means you get a dinner buffet, and full board, which means you get a lunch and dinner buffet. These can limit the damage compared to ordering a la carte, but your options are typically very limited and drinks are often not covered, not necessarily even water. If you’re planning on drinking a lot, it may be worthwhile to go all-inclusive, but even this typically restricts you to house drinks.
Malé City has a thriving restaurant scene, aimed both at tourists and the increasingly moneyed Maldivian elite. Outside of greater Malé the options are limited, with small populated islands having zero or one cafe (called hotaa) selling local Maldivian food at prices as low as MVR20 for a complete meal.
Maldivian food revolves largely around fish (mas), in particular tuna (kandu mas), and draws heavily from the Sri Lankan and south Indian tradition, especially Kerala. Dishes are often hot, spicy and flavored with coconut, but use very few vegetables. A traditional meal consists of rice, a clear fish broth called garudhiya and side dishes of lime, chili and onions. Curries known as riha are also popular and the rice is often supplemented with roshi, unleavened bread akin to Indian roti, and paaparu, the Maldivian version of crispy Indian poppadums. Some other common dishes include:
- mas huni — shredded smoked fish with grated coconuts and onions, the most common Maldivian breakfast
- fihunu mas — barbequed fish basted with chili
- bambukeylu hiti — breadfruit curry
Snacks called hedhikaa, almost invariably fish-based and deep-fried, can be found in any Maldivian restaurant.
- bajiya — pastry stuffed with fish, coconut and onions
- gulha — pastry balls stuffed with smoked fish
- keemiya — deep-fried fish rolls
- kulhi borkibaa — spicy fish cake
- masroshi — mas huni wrapped in roshi bread and baked
- theluli mas — fried fish with chili and garlic