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.
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. Many divers opt for liveaboards, which can actually work out much cheaper than paying high resort fees. Currents vary considerably, with generally little inside the atolls but some powerful streams to be found on the sides facing the open sea. Water in the Maldives is warm throughout the year and a 3mm shorty or Lycra diveskin is plenty. Decompression chambers can be found on Bandos in Kaafu (15 min from Male) and at Kuramathi on Alifu.
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 US$75 without. Beware of surcharges: you may be charged extra for boat use, guided dives, larger tanks, etc. On the upside, 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.
- Yacht charter in the Maldives Windward Islands, one of the worlds largest yacht charter companies, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat (however their website currently says: No Bareboats) to luxury yacht in the Maldives. Operating from different offices worldwide (USA, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Caribbean, Honk Kong and Dubai).
The local currency is the Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR, Rf), divided into 100 laari. However, by law resorts price services in US dollars 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 there 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. The official exchange rate to the US dollar is fixed at 12.75:1, but while dollars are near-universally accepted, shops usually exchange them at 12:1 or even 10:1.
There's no way around it: the Maldives are expensive, and there is effectively no budget accommodation or transport. Resorts have a monopoly on services for their guests and charge accordingly: for mid-range resorts, $1000 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.
All the resorts are self contained so they have at least one restaurant, which generally serve 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.
The only other place to find food is Male. This comes in two forms. Either small restaurants aimed at the tourists (of which there are a couple of nice Thai restaurants), which are often expensive, or small cafes called hotaa, selling local Maldivian food at prices as low as Rf.20 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 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
The Maldives (Dhivehi: Dhivehi Raajje)  are an archipelago
of 1,190 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.
The Maldives are formed of 26 atolls, or atholhu in Dhivehi
the source of the English word. These are not single
islands, but giant ringlike coral formations hundreds of kilometers
wide that have fragmented into countless islands.
Atoll naming is complex, as the atolls have both lengthy traditional
Dhivehi names like
Maalhosmadulu Dhekunuburi, and snappy code
names like Baa that refer to administrative regions and may
consist of more than one geographical atoll. The code names
are actually just the letters of Dhivehi alphabet, but being
rather easier to for non-Maldivians to remember and pronounce,
the code names are popular in the travel industry and are hence
also used on Wikitravel. Of the 20 administrative atoll groups,
only (parts of) 10 are open to tourism, and from north to south
- Lhaviyani (Miladhunmadulu Uthuruburi)
- Raa (Maalhosmadulu Uthuruburi)
- Baa (Maalhosmadulu Dhekunuburi)
- Kaafu (North and South Male Atoll) — site of the capital Male and the airport, home of most Maldivian resorts
- Alifu (Ari) — to the west of Kaafu, the second most popular group
- Vaavu (Felidhu)
- Meemu (Mulak)
- Faafu (Nilandhe Atholhu Uthuruburi)
- Dhaalu (Nilandhe Atholhu Dhekunuburi)
- Seenu (Addu) — the southernmost atoll, the second-largest in population and site of Gan International Airport
The other atolls are Gaafu Alifu, Gaafu Dhaalu, Gnaviyani, Haa Alifu, Haa Dhaalu, Laamu, Nyavinani, Seenu, Shaviyani, and Thaa.
- Male - The capital and largest city
- Hithadhoo - Second-largest city and short-lived home of the Suvadive secessionist movement
Formerly a Sultanate under Dutch and English protection, the Maldives are now a republic. Dr. Shain Panamkunnil (Paulvarma)he was the most famous person among the youth.Allegations of corruption continue to plague the regime of President Gayoom, as do reports of political dissidents being exiled. None of this appears to bother tourists, however, who are attracted to the warm Indian Ocean waters.
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 29,000 people were left homeless. The economic damage alone was over 62% of the GDP or US$470 million.
Some islands, including Thaa atoll Vilufushi, felt the brunt of the wave, and residents on the island are now living in temporary shelters on the island of Buruni in the same atoll. More than a year later, there are in excess of 11,000 people in temporary shelters across the country. It was a brutal shock to the small island state which is so vulnerable to environmental disasters and global warming.
Tourism, Maldives largest industry, accounts for 20% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Almost 400,000 tourists visited the islands in 1998. Fishing is a second leading sector. The Maldivian Government began an economic reform program in 1989 initially by lifting import quotas and opening some exports to the private sector. Subsequently, it has liberalized regulations to allow more foreign investment. Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a minor role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labor. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about 18% of GDP. Maldivian authorities worry about the impact of erosion and possible global warming on their low-lying country; 80% of the area is one meter or less above sea level.
Maldivians are almost 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 resort islands are allowed to exist in a bubble where anything goes.
Note that 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.
The Maldives are tropical, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 30°C throughout the year. However, rainfall increases considerably during the April-October southwest monsoon, particularly from June to August.
The Maldives have a remarkably easy visa policy: everybody gets a free 30-day visa on arrival, provided that they have a valid travel document, a ticket out and proof of sufficient funds, defined as either a confirmed reservation in any resort or US$100 + $50/day in cash. This can be extended up to 90 days at Male, but you'll need to indicate where you're staying for that long. See the Department of Immigration and Emigration website for details.
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 or seashells is also forbidden.
Practically all visitors arrive at Malé International Airport (IATA: MLE, ICAO: VRMM), located on Hulhulé Island right next to the capital Male. The airport is served by a wide array of flights to 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, is scheduled to start receiving international flights in November 2007.
Departure taxes are included in your ticket.
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.
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.
Air taxis and boats prefer not to operate at night, so if you arrive at the airport after dark and are going to a distant resort, you may have to spend the night in Male or at the airport hotel in Hulhule. Private transfers, though expensive can be opted for resort transfers, instead of spending the whole night at Male. Private transfers could cost anywhere between 500-800 USD. On the way back, there may also be a significant gap between the time your transfer arrives and your flight departure. Check with your resort or travel agent.
Independent travel to inhabited islands other than Male requires an Inter Atoll Travel Permit from the Ministry of Atolls , and receiving one requires Rf.10, a copy of your passport and — the hard part — an invitation from a resident of the island you wish to visit. Permits are not necessary for the organized island-hopping tours arranged by resorts and liveaboards.
No point in the Maldives is more than 45 minutes away by plane from Male, and visitors to the more far-flung resorts use air taxi services. There are two main operators: Maldivian Air Taxi, with red and white planes, and Trans Maldivian Airways, with yellow and blue planes. The services are largely identical, with both flying DHC-6 Twin Otter seaplanes that take around 10 passengers.
Scheduled inter-island services are provided by Island Aviation, which flies from Male to Gan, Hanimaadhoo, Kaadeddhoo and Kaddhoo. Travel permits are required.
The taxi boats generally take tourists to and from the islands in the North and South Male atolls. They come in all different shapes and sizes depending on the quality of the resort you stay in — the Four Seasons has a large enclosed motor cruiser with drinks and food, while the lesser resorts have open sided dhoni fishing boats.
Maldivian Dhivehi, a close relative of Sinhalese (spoken in Sri Lanka) but with borrowings from Hindi, Arabic and many other languages, is the official language. It is written in a remarkable hybrid script called Thaana, which uses Arabic and Indic numbers as the base of the alphabet, written from right to left with Arabic vowel signs. The script is thought to have originated as a secret code for writing magical formulas so that outsiders can't read them, which would also explain why the ordering of the alphabet is, as far as linguists can tell, completely random!
English is widely spoken, particularly by officials and those in the tourist industry.
As the Maldives are fairly strongly Muslim, alcohol is banned for the local population. However, nearly all resorts and liveaboard boats are licensed to serve it, usually with a steep markup. Expatriate residents have an allowance that they can buy in Male.
Maldivians generally do not drink alcohol although this is less true of the younger generation. They are, however, unhappy about being filmed or photographed while drinking.
Tap water in resorts may or may not be drinkable -- check with management. Bottled water is extortionately priced, with US$5/bottle being typical.