Below are my notes for visiting the Maldives. These travel tips, such as the best time to visit the Maldives are obtained from a variety of sources including some of the following: my first hand observations, personal conversations, magazines, newspapers, websites, books and so forth. Whenever I hear something that interests me about the Maldives, I jot it down here. Hope this comes in handy.
The Maldives is a country in the Indian Ocean comprised of approximately 1,200 coral islands of which approximately 1,000 are uninhabited.
Best Time to Visit the Maldives
Short Answer: December to March
Longer Answer: As it relates to skipping strong rain, mid-November through mid-April is your best bet, with the lowest amount of cloud activity and rain in February. February also has the lowest humidity generally.
Some of the locals told me that if you want to surf, the best time is March through August. They also noted that, while the weather is generally nice all year, if they had to pick a “rainy season” they’d place that primarily in June and July. Data from Male puts the peak of heavy rain between April and June. However, given how oceans and islands work, it is hard to pin down specifically.
As for daylight – you are looking at about 12 hours a day regardless of month.
Miscellaneous Travel Tips for the Maldives
If you know of the Maldives as the Maldivian tourist bureau prefers you to know it, you might be picturing crystal blue water (as pictured); powdery, white sand; coral reefs teeming with marine life; and bungalows set over the water. If you know of the Maldives without the tourism-focused branding, you might be picturing something completely different. And if you don’t know of the Maldives, it is a predominantly-Muslim nation comprised of many islands found south of India. It is a popular spot for honeymooners and the well-heeled, and recently, a small stream of backpackers and visitors with more moderate budgets.
When tourists and travelers first started to appear, the Maldivian government passed regulations so that there would be, in effect, two different Maldives–inhabited islands and resort islands.
When modernization efforts were first being adopted in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, even seemingly benign issues such as using the latin alphabet caused vociferous debate. It is thus understandable that, facing a brand new onslaught called “tourism”, the government found itself hesitant to allow an influx of western cultured tourists into the local neighborhoods. As such, up until 2009, it was generally illegal for foreigners to book a stay on the inhabited islands. Rather, what the government instead decided to do was to combine forces with local tycoons (and associated entities) in allowing them to develop some of the uninhabited, pristine, tropical islands that would serve as the exclusive lodging-source for tourism. This was the birth of the Maldivian “resort islands”.
Thus, the “resort islands” of the Maldives became what people branded the Maldives because it was the only place that travelers could stay. Even now, the resort islands are where most travelers go to spend money and do things (that are strictly prohibited in the inhabited islands) like drink a beer, eat bacon and lounge in the sun wearing a bikini. As it works, travelers fly into the Maldives (generally the airport just outside Male, the capital), are whisked by seaplane or speedboat to their respective resort island, have a great time (or not) on that resort island and head back home with stories about the illustrious Maldives.
However, in 2009, the first democratically-elected government passed a law allowing for guesthouses on certain inhabited islands. Certain residents, including those with stricter interpretations of Islam combined forces with the resort owners (who liked their exclusive monopolies and market share) to oppose this change. On the other side of the debate were the ultimately victorious residents who saw vast amounts of money pouring into the hands of a few well-connected resort tycoons, and thought that it might be nice to collect a share of this tourism revenue that was completely bypassing them. Despite the opposition (including somewhat recent government overthrows), the law has continued on, and guesthouses now exist (and are rapidly being built) on islands such as Guraidhoo and Maafushi.
So, you ask, should you visit the Maldives? How are the inhabited Maldivian islands? Do they make a good, economical substitute for the Maldivian resort islands?
To sum it up quite simply:
If you want a mind-blowing experience and have the budget to do so, the Maldives can be an amazing place. You must choose your resort very carefully. Does it cost extra to get from the airport to the resort? How far is it? Do they charge for things like water on the resort? Is there great stuff to do on the resort or do you need to go on excursions?
If you want to relax, lay on the beach and forget out all your cares, a resort island in the Maldives can be the perfect place to go. I went to a resort and it was a mind-altering experience.
If you want to save money and enjoy a relaxing beach vacation, go somewhere else. Even though the Maldives is newly opened to the backpacking crowd, and now in reach of those without deep pockets, the popular inhabited islands such as Maafushi and Guraidhoo lack what most are looking for when heading to a tropical island–good beaches. When you arrive at those destinations, the hotels and guesthouses push off-island excursion packages which boost the budget up (to the point where you may have a nice vacation but it won’t be very budget friendly).
If you want to explore the Maldives, interact with the kind people of the Maldives, try their foods (including some of the best tuna I’ve had) and so forth, then yes, by all means visit.
One of the most attractive things to consider with the Maldives is to spend time truly exploring them. While I didn’t have great luck with Maafushi or Guraidhoo, it would be interesting to just take a ferry to a random island or three and check them out. There are not many places on earth that are somewhat stable and relatively unexplored.
To do this, you will definitely need time, as figuring out and taking the various ferry lines (public and private) can be a challenge. Second, you’ll need to find islands with guesthouses and some of those don’t advertise well. Further, don’t do as I did and expect places to swim. Just because you are on islands doesn’t mean they won’t have good amounts of rusted tuna fish cans and other articles wedged in the rocky sand. I’m sure you’ll find great islands with great beaches but even if not, keeping expectations in check might be wise.
You can get lucky and pick an island and guesthouse where the owner really cares about your experience. In this instance you might go on great excursions for cheap money.
I have heard of a place from a reader who lives in the Maldives. He noted that Hulhudhoo is a local island in the southern portion of the Maldives. It has a population of 5,000 which sounds attractive because some of the smaller islands just don’t have the amenities or infrastructure to keep you interested for long. Anyways, he notes that the island is big and that the beaches are great.
For now, there is no ferry service from Male to Hulhudhoo and at nearly 400 miles, is quite far. However, they are opening Addu Gan International Airport which will have flights from Europe, Sri Lanka and possibly Canada.
I know nothing about Hulhudhoo but that might be a cool place to check out. I’m not sure if there are guesthouses there yet, but this whole opening of the southern flank could be something great to explore.
Where are the Maldives located?
The Maldives is located in the Indian Ocean southwest of the tip of India and Sri Lanka. Direct flights come into Male’s Airport (MLE) primarily from Colombo, Sri Lanka, which services a handful of international airlines. The trip between MLE and CMB take a little over an hour.
If your schedule routes through Colombo, and you want to visit or overnight there, you may want to look into the availability of a Sri Lankan transit visa which as of the date of this writing allowed for a free 2-day stay in the country.
At a minimum, figure on an 18+ hour flight with connection from NYC to the Maldives, 24 hours out of Los Angeles with a connection, 10 hours non-stop from Frankfurt, 16 hours from Sydney on a two-stop and 4 hours from Bangkok.
Is the Maldives Expensive?
If you go to a top-shelf resort, then the cost will reflect that. If you want to go to Maldives on a budget, or if you want to stick to backpacking methods, then your biggest cost, outside of airfare, will be the lodging end. Food can be found at reasonable price points – less than $5/meal. Transportation by ferry (public and private) will run less than $5 for a multi-hour journey. Speedboats and airplanes obviously are significantly more, and more aligned towards the resort-goer.
Lodging in more developed inhabited islands such as Maafushi will be cheaper than lodging in a less developed island such as Guraidhoo. I found one way to really cut the budget on the lodging end was to book last minute. This worked perfectly in Maafushi as many options cut their prices significantly a day or two before arrival. Whether they continue to do this remains to be seen.
Tipping in the Maldives
Generally it is discouraged to tip in the Maldives (and you are already paying a service charge almost always). Restaurants you can round up the bill. However, at resorts, many people tip the hotel staff, drivers, etc. This is mostly European/American influence changing customs more than anything else. Thus, no tipping is required anywhere but it is somewhat common in the resorts.
Do I need a Visa before visiting the Maldives?
You can visit the official Maldivian Immigrations site for the Maldives to determine what you do or don’t need, but as of April 2016, tourist visas are granted on arrival to most nationalities.
Do I need vaccines to visit the Maldives? Medical concerns?
Nothing special is required.
Is the water safe to drink in the Maldives?
Generally, it is advised to drink bottled water on the majority of the islands in the Maldives (some have a scarce supply collected from rainwater, some have desalination plants, etc). This however raises another issue – waste management. Some travelers advocate bringing your trash out of the islands with you. While well-intentioned, it isn’t very practical. And, due to the lack of drinking water in the islands, you are generally forced into drinking bottled water.
On some resorts, they have equipment that produces drinking water and lessens the trash-footprint, which is a very welcome notion (although the electricity to do so is probably another story). At the very least, living on an inhabited island in the Maldives might make you realize more than you thought in regards to the impact of humans on earth.
An important question if you are researching resort islands is whether potable water is complimentary or not. $10 bottled waters to remain hydrated in a tropical atmosphere might put a dent in your budget.
Transportation around the Maldives
Transportation from Male Airport to Male
You will land, go through immigrations, pass through an x-ray at customs and exit. To get to Male from the airport, turn right immediately after exiting customs and follow that with a slight curve to the right. Buy a ticket at the booth, hand the ticket to the ferry operator and board. The ride is approximately 15 minutes. Ferries depart around the clock, and every day of the week at 10-30 minute intervals depending on time of day (and day of week). Affordable.
You can also use the Airport Express speedboat which takes less than 5 minutes between the airport and the city. Affordable.
Getting Around the Maldives
As mentioned, you are either going to rely on the government ferry, private ferries (which locals will tell you about), speedboats (which are significantly more expensive (unless you have a large group to spread it over) but give you more flexibility and time), planes (including FlyMe, Maldivian Airlines) and seaplanes (including Trans Maldivian Airways).
Before you book your guesthouse, make sure you can get there. When I went, I figured out the ferry schedule, then booked my airfare and lodging. You don’t want to arrive on a Monday to go someplace only to find the next ferry is Wednesday. Guesthouses will know the ferry schedule and until good schedules appear online you will either need to wing it (just show up and figure out where you go) or ask guesthouses.
NOTE: Many things like the public ferries stop running on Friday as is a day of religious rest in the Maldives. If you are on an inhabited island and need to get off of it on a Friday it might cost you dearly.
Many of the islands themselves are small enough to walk around on foot, including Male.
Other Countries to Visit from the Maldives via Land
Not going to happen unless the oceans disappear.
What to Buy & Try in the Maldives
Foods to Try when visiting the Maldives
Anything with fish has the potential to be great, but make sure it is coming from something fresh. Something like Fish & Chips might be a pre-frozen factory-made dish imported from elsewhere. Alternatively, a tuna fried rice or tuna with coconut breakfast salad can both be quite nice.
Products to Buy in the Maldives
I didn’t really see the Maldives as a place to buy something as it seems much of what is there is imported from the outside world. As for domestic items like coral jewelry, shark teeth, turtle and sea shells, you might find those readily available but the legality of leaving the Maldives with these and the legality of importing them into your country is questionable at best.
Quick Travel Facts About the Maldives
What Power Plugs are Used in the Maldives:
The European Plug (Type C)and the Indian Plug (Type D) seem to be the major players, with some occurrences of the American Plug (Type A) and British Plug (Type G). It really depends on where you are, but generally I figure that if you need a Type D, you can usually get one from the guesthouse, etc. Newer resorts will probably have plugs that allow for the European and American plugs.
Frequency is 50Hz and Voltage runs about 230 as seen in this chart. Be careful using things like US hairdryers without a converter when connecting to non-US plugs (assuming that “US plugs” and “European plugs” are being fed the right voltage. Most electronics (battery chargers, mobile phones, etc.) only need an adapter plug but you should check first by calling the manufacturer, reading the literature or checking the item for markings before assuming like a dope.
What currency is used in the Maldives?
Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR). See conversion.
To do a quick & dirty conversion on the fly between MVR and USD (given the rates as of this writing of 15MVR = $1USD) – take the MVR Amount and take a 66% cut and move the decimal. So 100MVR will be (100*.66=66 and move the decimal over one, so 6.6) $6.60. If you want an even simpler method, just take half of the MVR amount and add 20% on. So 100MVR (100/2=50*1.2=60, and move the decimal over) for $6.00.
CAUTION: if you withdraw Rufiyaa from the ATM, you might have trouble converting it back to USD or whatever currency you seek. I withdrew money from the ATM at the airport (exit doors after customs and turn left) and then tried to convert it back at the airport booth upon departure but was told they will not do this. Rather, you need to provide the exchange booth a slip showing that you used them to originally get the Rufiyaa. If you withdraw using the ATM, you might want to try to convert it back to your currency at your resort or a bank in Male.
Can you bring live pigs, dangerous animals, bacon and idols to the Maldives?
If you travel with a pet pig, you might need to scratch the Maldives off your list. As per Maldivian Customs: The following items are prohibited from importing, producing, handling, selling, distributing or giving in Maldives: religious materials offensive to Islam, idols (for worship), pornographic material, narcotics and psychotropic substances, live pigs.
Import Restricted Items (except to Government authorities): arms and ammunition, alcohol and spirits, pork and its by-products, dogs, dangerous animals
Anything Else to Know?
If you are heading to a resort, this doesn’t impact you as much. However, if you are heading to inhabited islands, or Male, note that much of daily life, including non-airport ferries, cease on Fridays which is the religious day of rest in the Maldives.