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Explore The Maldives

Explore the Maldives an archipelago of 1,192 coral islands grouped into 26 coral atolls (200 inhabited islands, plus 80 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 185 of the islands are home to its 300,000 inhabitants.

History

Formerly a Sultanate under Dutch and British protection, the Maldives is now a republic.

The Tsunami of 26 December 2004 caused extensive damage to the Maldives – of a population of only 290,000, over a third was directly affected by the tsunami and more than 15,000 people were left homeless.

The tourism industry is the main economic industry in the Maldives, attracting visitors to the many resorts, retreats, and private islands. The Maldives also has a rich history to discover on many of the inhabited islands, revealing a detailed Maldives history. If you’re planning on Maldives sightseeing, these are the 20 most historical places in the Maldives to visit.

Culture

Maldivians are almost entirely Sunni Muslim, and the local culture is a mixture of South Indian, Sinhalese and Arab influences. While alcohol, pork, drugs and public observance of non-Muslim religions are banned on the inhabited islands, the resort islands 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.

Climate

The Maldives are tropical, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 30°C throughout the year.

Cities

Male – The capital and largest city

Addu City – Second-largest city and short-lived home of the Suvadive secessionist movement

Get in

Importing alcohol, pork or pornography (very broadly defined) into the Maldives is forbidden and all luggage is X-rayed on arrival. On the way out, note that exporting sand, seashells or coral is also forbidden.

By plane

Practically all visitors arrive at Malé International Airport, located on Hulhulé Island right next to the capital Male.

Gan Airport, on the southern atoll of Addu, also serves an international flight to Colombo

Get around

Getting around in the Maldives takes three forms: boats, sea planes (air taxis) and private yachts. The boats are the Maldivian equivalent of a car, while planes and private yachts are mainly reserved for tourists.

Talk

English is widely spoken, particularly by government officials and those working in the tourism industry. English is the language of instruction in schools, which means that you will be able to communicate with the locals with varying degrees of difficulty.

A sizeable number of local resort workers are able to speak fluent German and Italian. This may vary depending on the resorts you plan to visit, though.

What to do in The Maldives.

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 kilometers 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 harbor 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 diveskin is plenty. Diving is possible throughout the year, but rain, wind and waves are most common during the season of the southwest monsoon (June-August). 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 Male), Kuredu in Lhaviyani Atoll and at Kuramathi on Alifu.

While diving is very good by world standards even in the immediate vicinity of Male, 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.

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 harboring 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 meters to seven meters provides a spectacular experience for divers and snorkelers 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:

  • Maalhosmadulu Island, Amilla Beach Villa Residences, Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
  • Bandos Island, Bandos, North Male Atoll
  • Baros Island, Baros, North Male Atoll
  • Fihalholi, Fihalholi Island Resort, South Male Atoll
  • Biyadhoo, Biyadhoo Island Resort, South Male 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

Surfing

The Maldives is becoming an increasingly popular surfing destination. Turquoise water and perfect waves makes it an ideal and un-crowded 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 Male’ 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 Male and resorts around Male, 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.

What to buy

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 Male 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.

Costs

Maldives are expensive for those who have comfort- and service-oriented tourism in mind. Resorts have a monopoly on services for their guests and charge accordingly: for mid-range resorts, USD1000 per week per couple is a conservative budget for meals, drinks and excursions, above and beyond the cost of flights and accommodation. Practically anything — including hotel rooms if booked locally — gets slapped with an arbitrary 10% “service charge”, but tips are expected on top. The service charge is, by law, divided among the staff at months end, and hence is a proxy employee profit sharing scheme.

At the same time, for a traveller who has time, Maldives can be an affordable and possibly rewarding experience, with prices comparable to the Caribbean (Cuba aside), but extremely poor value when compared to other South and South East Asian countries, if one’s aim is adventure tourism. For people focused on sampling the local life and ambiance away from the tourist crowd, the prices are roughly similar to Malaysia.

It is important to have in mind that staying on inhabited islands implies respecting the strict Muslim norms (no alcohol, modest dress, reserved behavior). At the same time, the locals are very welcoming and the experience may be much deeper and more rewarding than staying in resorts, depending on one’s mindset.

What to eat

All the resorts are self-contained so they have at least one restaurant, which generally serve the type of cuisine expected by their guests. 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.

Male has a thriving restaurant scene, aimed both at tourists and the increasingly moneyed Maldivian elite. Outside of greater Male 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 cuisine

A typical Maldivian meal: masroshi pastries, mas riha fish curry, papadhu, grilled fish, rice and sweet black tea.

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 papadhu, 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
  • keemia — 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

What to drink

Legally, if you’re 18 and not a Muslim, you can buy and drink alcohol. However since the Maldives are an Islamic nation, alcohol is effectively banned for the local population.

However, nearly all resorts and live aboard boats are licensed to serve alcohol, usually with a steep markup. The expatriate liquor permit which used to allow expats to buy alcohol for their own consumption has been removed. The only place near Male, aside from resorts, where people can drink alcohol is at the Hulhule Island Hotel, commonly known as HIH or the airport hotel.

Tap water in resorts may or may not be drinkable — check with management. Bottled water in the resorts is extortionately priced. Bottled water in Male or on an island is much cheaper. It can be a good idea to bring a few 5 litre bottles from Male to your resort if you have the option.

Stay safe

Crime is rare. Generally, Maldivians are honest, helpful and welcoming people. There are no drugs anywhere in the resorts but many Maldivians have easy access to drugs, reportedly 50% of the young generation is drug users; there is a growing drug problem among the local population and so petty crime to support it has arisen. Take the usual precautions such as not leaving money and valuables lying around, and use in-room safe deposit boxes.

Stay healthy

There are no serious problems with diseases in the Maldives. Beware that tap water may not be drinkable at all resorts: enquire locally. The Maldives are malaria-free, but some islands do have mosquitoes and catching dengue fever from them is possible, albeit highly unlikely. For those coming from regions infected by yellow fever, an international certificate of inoculation is required.

Most of the problems come from diving or sun related injuries. Heat stroke always cause problems in the tropics but couple that with divers spending hours at a time on a boat wearing a wetsuit and overheating of one form or another is a real issue. Keeping this in mind, such injuries will be easily avoidable as long as you drink lots of water and get into the shade as much as possible.

Lots of the resorts have their own doctor or nurse and most are within easy reach of the decompression chambers. Male has an efficient and fairly modern hospital but bear in mind that it is a long way to get medically evacuated from.

Official tourism websites of Maldives

For more information please visit the official government website: 

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