Discover The Maldives – A Travel Guide
The Maldives is a small country in South Asia consisting of an archipelago of 1200 coral islands across the Indian ocean. The tiny islands which lie south of India and west of Sri Lanka are grouped into a chain of 26 atolls for administrative purposes. Out of the 1200 islands which are the smallest in the world, only 200 are inhabited by the local residents while about 100 of them are resort islands. The rest of the islands are deserted and some are used by the government as airports and for agricultural purposes.
The Maldives is the world’s most geographically dispersed country as well as the world’s lowest country rising at an average of 1.5 meters above sea level. Tourism is the largest contributor to the country’s GDP. To restrict the impact of tourism on the local community, the government had ruled that resorts should not be built on any of the inhabited islands, this explains why resorts have their own private islands.
Malé is the capital of the Maldives and the most populous island in the country due to its central location. The official currency is the Maldivian Rufiyaa. The Maldives has been described as one of the safest travel destinations in the world since the islands are largely isolated.
Culture & Lifestyle
The official language in the Maldives is Dhivehi. English is also widely spoken on the islands.
Islam is the main religion in the country and the law prohibits the citizens from practicing any other religion. Islam is given so much importance and the people are very religious. It is offensive to wear bikinis or scanty clothes outside the resort islands.
Maldivian culture has a varied background with Indian, Sri Lankan, Arabian, Persian and African influences. Fishing is the lifestyle of a typical Maldivian man as well as carpentry and toddy tapping while the women engage in household duties. Some South Asian customs of seclusion of women are not practiced here. Most folktales portray despicable sea demons and spirits whilst folksongs are based on Hindi tunes accompanied by traditional drumming and dancing- the most popular is Bodu Beru. Maldivians are skilled in crafts such as boat-building, wooden lacquerware, and mat weaving, and continually these skills have been passed down to each generation.
Most of the people are warm and accommodating and are always willing to help any stranger they come across. Maldivian lifestyle is a mix of tradition and modernity. With diverse multicultural influences, you would easily mix up with the locals who would, in turn, make you feel welcomed.
The Maldives has tropical weather all year round. There are two distinct seasons that determine the intensity of sunshine and rainfall.
- The Northeast monsoon between November and April is the summer or dry season during which tourists flock into the country to enjoy the tropical weather.
- The Southwest monsoon between May and October in the spring or wet season. Tourists still visit during this off-peak holiday season.
However, there are very few climatic changes making the islands a favorite holiday destination across the globe.
Getting In & Around
All international flights to the Maldives arrive at Malé International Airport on Hulhulé Island. The major airlines that offer scheduled services are British Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air Sri Lanka, Qatar, and Turkish Airlines.
Getting around in the Maldives is either by ferry, speedboat, or domestic flight. From the airport, you’ll have to board a public ferry locally known as Dhoni to Malé and take a taxi to the main ferry station where you’ll again board a scheduled ferry for less than $5 to your designated island. Ferries are the commonest and cheapest means of transport in the Maldives. These ferries, also known as taxi boats are the equivalent of cars. Speedboats are faster and made available for hire but they are pretty much pricier and would cost roughly $300-400 to get to your resort. Most nearby resorts, however, readily provide speedboats to pick up guests from the airport who had pre-booked with them.
Domestic flights are a better option to reach farther resort islands and atolls. Organized seaplane (air taxis) transfers are used to convey tourists to their resorts. Seaplane transfer is an amazing experience as you’ll grab a picturesque view of the atolls especially if you’re lucky to get a window seat. On the other hand, wheeled planes convey guests to the other four airstrips in outer atolls. Note that ferries and seaplanes operate only during the day so if you arrive at night you’ll have to sleep over in Malé and if your outbound flight is in the morning you’ll have to leave your resort a day before.
Getting around on an island is easy on foot. The islands are not overly large and you can literally trek from one end to the other in less than an hour. However, you will possibly find taxis and motorcycles in Malé. While most guests are content with staying on their resort island, a few others would love to engage in island-hopping adventures. Some resorts plan excursions for their guests just to spice up their vacation.
Where to Stay in Maldives
The Maldives offer a unique accommodation option on its islands. Since the beginning of tourism in Maldives lots of resorts have sprung up on the islands leaving tourists confused when making choices on where to stay. There are no hotels on any of the inhabited islands except Malé. Lodging at guesthouses is a recent accommodation option. There are three common types of accommodation in the Maldives.
The resorts are the most regular type of accommodation varying from extravagantly expensive to budget-friendly. Most resorts own a private island thereby making Maldivian resorts to be known as some of the best in the world. There are two types of rooms in any resort- the beach bungalow on land and the water bungalow over the lagoon. Both types of rooms come with a mix of simplicity and sophistication. Resorts cater differently according to the needs of their guests. While the luxury resorts go an extra mile to provide specialties for guests who need private and comfortable accommodation, holiday resorts have less luxury and privacy but provide everything needed for your convenience. On the other hand, dive resorts are a great option for water enthusiasts offering excellent facilities for watersports.
The guesthouse is a recent development in the tourism industry in the Maldives providing affordable accommodation for tourists. Only a few people know about the guesthouses hence, it is not a popular option.
A hotel is an option for people visiting the Malé, the capital either for business or short stay. Maldivian hotels offer world-class services.
Note that it is quite important to book for your resorts through tour agencies to avoid the price hike. It is also necessary to do personal research to know which option is suitable for you.
Places to Visit in Maldives
There are a few interesting places to visit in the Maldives. If you want to leave the comfort of your resort and explore the beautiful islands, here are a few places to visit:
- The National Museum in Malé is an ancient palace where royal antiquities, costumes, and other historical exhibits are preserved. If you want to learn about the cultural and Islamic history of Maldives then you should visit the Museum.
- Ithaa underwater restaurant is the world’s first and most iconic underwater structure situated at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort. The restaurant is the best attraction in the Maldives offering guests the chance to dine and experience marine life at the same time. It’s quite expensive to eat here but the experience is worth every penny.
- Utheemu Island is the historical birthplace of Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu, one of the heroic icons of the Maldives who fought for independence from the Portuguese. The Utheemu Ganduvaru palace, the residence of the sultan is a popular tourist attraction.
- The artificial beach also called the carnival beach is one of the best attractions for swimming enthusiasts. The beach hosts entertainment ranging from watersports to carnivals to other festivities and is a popular spot among the residents and tourists.
- Malé fish market is a hive of activities at the waterfront where fresh fish is being sold. If you’re lodging on a neighboring island it would be great to take a trip to the market and buy some fresh fish for a beach barbecue.
- Old Friday Mosque (Hukuru Miskiiy) is the oldest mosque in the Maldives. The mosque features outstanding coral stone walls, intricately carved Arabic script, beautiful lacquer work, and fine wood carvings. It also houses tombs of the Sultans. The serenity of the mosque offers tourists the opportunity to learn about Islamic history and culture.
- Malé’s Musical Fountain located at the Republic Square is an enchanting musical fountain to unwind and have fun by dipping in between the water jets to avoid getting sprayed.
Things to do in The Maldives
The Maldives is a charming place to visit and relax. The country is not just known for luxurious beach holidays but is a top destination for aquatic activities and water sports enthusiasts. You’ll seldom find a person going to the Maldives to visit landmarks or for sightseeing as most of the sightseeing is done underwater. A few ways to explore the islands of the Indian ocean are:
- Exotic beach life is the main thing to expect from your holiday in the Maldives. Every first-time visitor to the Maldives is welcomed by the tropical weather, fine white sand, clear skies, and turquoise blue waters. It’s impossible to vacation in the Maldives without relaxing at the beach whether you’re swimming, sunbathing, or just sipping refreshing coconut water. The tranquility and resplendency of the beach are just too hard to resist.
- Snorkeling and Diving in the Maldives are paradisiacal and it’s probably the most adventurous thing to do on the island. With excellent waters and temperature, the Maldives are amongst the world’s best sites for scuba diving and snorkeling. As you go under the ocean to explore the flora and fauna be sure to discover amazing coral reefs, colorful fish, and fascinating sea animals. Most sought-after diving sites are the manta point, banana reef, and hp reef. Many resorts occasionally offer snorkel trips for a charge.
- A Sunset cruise in the Maldives is the perfect way to get lost in the ocean and enjoy a romantic moment with a loved one while you watch the sunset at dusk. Many resorts offer sunset cruises as part of honeymoon packages.
- Marine Life Safaris is an incredible adventure to take on the islands of Maldive. Get ready to spot dolphins spinning in the air and some flying fish as you sail in the waters.
- Parasailing in the Maldives is a fantastic way to enjoy aerial views of the coral islands and catch a glimpse of beautiful atolls. This is a thrilling experience that any tourist can affords to miss! Don’t forget to take your camera along to capture great photos.
- Go fishing with local fishermen in the sea either during the day or at night. Fishing expeditions can be done on a local dhoni boat using the Maldivian-style pole and line. Get ready to prepare a beach barbecue from the day’s catch! It’s good a thing that some resorts offer fishing excursions.
- Island hopping is common for tourists who want to take a break from the resort life and discover other inhabited islands. You’ll get a chance to interact with the locals, experience life on the isolated islands, and learn a few things. Resorts also arrange a tour of the islands for guests.
- Sensational spa treatments are common in Maldivian resorts. Most resort spas are over water in an open-air hut and are good at pampering their guests with massages, relaxation therapies, and rehydrating treatments. You’ll necessarily book a spa appointment and pay for a session as well. It’s a fantastic idea to indulge in a Maldivian spa experience.
Events in The Maldives
Events and festivals in the Maldives are influenced by the lunar calendar and are either religious or national.
- Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting usually for a period of 30 days. Most restaurants are closed during this period and offices close quite earlier in the day between 1 and 3 pm. You should avoid traveling to the country at this time of the month to avoid any inconvenience.
- Eid festival is significantly celebrated after Ramadan by Muslims constantly accompanied by feasts, games, and long holidays.
- Independence day is celebrated on 26 July by all Maldivians with parades, dances, drills, and festivities. The official celebrations take place at the Republic square on the main island of Malé.
Other events include National day, Republic day, the Prophet’s birthday, Fishermen’s Day, Victory Day, and Islam day.
The traditional Maldivian cuisine is mostly made of fish, coconut, curries, and starch which are combined to make most dishes. Tuna is the favorite fish on the islands and about 80% of Maldivian dishes has got tuna in them. Coconut is usually eaten as a fruit or grated to extract milk and oil for the flavor of curries and for deep frying. Starches such as rice, bread, and potatoes are widely eaten while curries are important for cooking. Some popular dishes on the islands are:
- Mas Huni- Shredded tuna mixed with grated coconut and onions, often eaten at breakfast.
- Garudihya- A fish broth served with rice, lime, chili, and onions.
- Mas Riha– Popular curry made with tuna, spices, and coconut, usually eaten with rice or Roshi (bread).
- Bambukeylu- A breadfruit curry.
Maldivian dishes are known to be served hot and spicy with a bit of coconut flavoring. The cuisines have a mix of Indian, Sri Lankan, and Chinese recipes. However, most resorts serve international menus as well. Snacks called Hedhikaa in the Maldives are fish-based and include:
- Bajiya- A triangular-shaped pastry stuffed with fish, and coconut! Onions and spices.
- Gulha- Fish balls stuffed with smoked fish.
- Kavaabu- Deep fried snack made from rice, tuna, coconut, lentils, and spices.
The Maldives is a Muslim country and alcohol is largely prohibited. However, most resorts are permitted to sell alcohol only to persons above 18 years. Traditional drinks to try out are:
- Sai- A Maldivian favorite sweet tea.
- Raa- Toddy tapped from palm trees and sometimes fermented.
In resorts, a service charge of 10-15% is automatically included in meals and drinks so it is better to eat out at local restaurants at a cheaper price especially if you’re on budget travel.
Shopping & Nightlife
The Maldives is not a shopping paradise for tourists as almost all goods are imported from other countries. But if you still want to shop for a few items, there are a variety of souvenir shops in Malé, at the big resorts, and shops on other islands where you can buy lovely crafty pieces, wood carvings, and handmade photo albums. Chandhanee Magu also known as the Singapore Bazaar and Majeedhee Magu are the two most popular shopping places in Malé. You can as well shop in duty-free outlets at Malé International Airport having an array of fashion boutiques, electronics, accessories, and more from global brands.
Nightlife is quite placid in the Maldives since it’s an Islamic country and most tourists visit to luxuriate in the tranquility of the islands or spend romantic moments with their loved ones. Most resorts try to incorporate a vivacious nightlife by indulging live bands, movie and jazz nights, beach parties, and barbecues as well as a few nightclubs. You can unwind at the seaside resort bars and savor some glasses of the alfresco cocktail, live it up, meet new friends, and dance under the stars for a bit of Maldivian nightlife experience.