Unrivalled luxury, stunning white-sand beaches and an amazing underwater world make Maldives an obvious choice for a true holiday of a lifetime.
Unrivalled luxury, stunning white-sand beaches and an amazing underwater world make Maldives an obvious choice for a true holiday of a lifetime.
Maldives is home to perhaps the best beaches in the world; they’re on almost every one of the country’s nearly 1200 islands and are so consistently perfect that it’s hard not to become blasé about them. While some beaches may boast softer granules than others, the basic fact remains: you won’t find consistently whiter-than-white powder sand and luminous cyan-blue water like this anywhere else on earth. This fact alone is enough to bring well over a million people a year to this tiny, remote and otherwise little-known Indian Ocean paradise.
Every resort in Maldives is its own private island, and with over 100 to choose from the only problem is selecting where you want to stay. At the top end, the world’s most exclusive hotel brands compete with each other to attain ever-greater heights of luxury, from personal butlers and private lap pools to in-room massages and pillow menus. It’s not surprising that honeymooners and those seeking a glamorous tropical getaway have long had the country at the very top of their wish lists. But there’s also plenty of choice beyond the five- and six-star resorts.
Maldives has undergone seismic change in the past 10 years, since inhabited islands have been opened to tourism and locals permitted to build their own guesthouses. Travellers no longer have to stay in resorts and remain separate from the local population, something that kept backpackers away for decades. Island hopping by public ferry, speedboat and domestic flights has opened up this incredible country to visitors on almost all budgets. A number of islands in Male and Ari atolls are now big centres for a booming guesthouse industry, with dozens of options on each.
With some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, the clear waters of Maldives are a magnet for anyone with an interest in marine life. The richness and variety is astonishing; dazzling coral walls, magnificent caves and schools of brightly coloured tropical fish await you when you get down to the reef. In deeper waters lurk manta rays, turtles, sharks and even the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. The best bit? The water is so warm many people don’t even wear a wetsuit.
High season in Maldives, with Europeans coming for their winter holidays. The first week sees the end of the festive season, which means some minimum stay requirements might exist at some resorts. Expect perfect sunny days.
New Year’s Day
The year begins with a day off to celebrate the start of the new year.
The peak of Maldives high season, February is a superb time to visit, with gorgeous sunny days and clear waters for snorkelling and diving. Chinese new year sees a brief but noticeable surge in tourist numbers.
This holiday celebrates the expulsion of the Malabars from India. The occupiers were expelled by Sultan Hassan Izzuddeen after their brief occupation in 1752. Calculated using the lunar calendar, its dates for the next few years are 8 February 2019, 28 January 2020 and 16 January 2021.
High season rumbles on, with accommodation booked out across the country. When Easter falls in this month, expect price hikes for the European school holidays. Weather remains idyllic with perfect conditions for snorkelling and diving.
Start of low season still sees quite a few crowds, especially over the holidays in Europe. Room prices drop and the weather is less predictable as the rainy season begins, though the sea is at its warmest.
Commemorating all Maldivian martyrs, this holiday is marked on the day Sultan Ali VI died at the hands of the Portuguese in 1558. Calculated using the lunar calendar, its dates for the next few years are 06 April 2019, 25 March 2020 and 14 March 2021.
Surf season begins in North and South Male Atolls, which sees surfers flocking to resorts and guesthouses with good access to the breaks. This is the coolest time of the year weatherwise. Whale shark spotting season begins.
The Islamic month of fasting is an important religious occasion that starts on a new moon and continues for 28 days. Expected starting dates for the next few years are: 5 May 2019, 23 April 2020 and 12 April 2021.
Rainfalls are frequent in June, but clear skies are common and temperatures warm. Surf season continues in North & South Male Atoll and room rates remain low. Manta ray spotting season begins in the Northern Atolls.
Kuda Eid marks the end of Ramazan, with the sighting of the new moon in Mecca, and is celebrated with a feast and family gatherings. Expected dates for the next few years are: 4 June 2019, 23 May 2020 and 12 May 2021.
Surf season begins in Gnaviyani Atoll, and there is a rise in visitors to coincide with the European summer holidays. Weather remains warm, but storms are not uncommon.
Independence Day Celebrates the ending of the British protectorate (in 1965) on 26 and 27 July and sees floats and dancing children on Male’s Jamhooree Maidan
Despite being the rainy season, August is a busy month with school holidays in many countries. Surf season ends in Gnaviyani Atoll, but starts in Gaafu Dhaal and Addu Atoll, so many surfers simply move on.
Also called Festival of the Sacrifice, this religious holiday begins 66 days after the end of Ramazan and is the time when many Muslims begin the pilgrimage (haj) to Mecca. Calculated using the lunar calendar, it starts on 12 August 2019, 31 July 2020 and July 20 2021.
Height of the rainy season and peak low season, September’s a good time for surfers and travellers more interested in cultural exchange and activities than the perfect tan. Rain remains common, though temperatures average a pleasant 27°C.
The last month of the low season, October marks the end of the wet monsoon, but you can expect severe storms and highly unpredictable weather. The surf remains excellent across the country and accommodation prices are low.
This holiday commemorates the day Mohammed Thakurufaanu and his men overthrew the Portuguese on Male in 1578 in a mutiny that saw the islands regain independence. Calculated using the lunar calendar, future dates include 29 October 2019, 20 October 2020 and 9 October 2021.
November is shoulder season, when prices start to rise again, although weather is still unpredictable and can rain for days, even though it’s hot and humid. Manta ray season comes to an end at Hanifaru Bay.
Victory Day celebrates the victory over the Sri Lankan mercenaries who tried to overthrow the Maldivian government in 1988. A military march is followed by lots of schoolchildren doing drills and traditional dances, and more entertaining floats and costumed processions on 3 November.
Republic Day commemorates the foundation of the current republic, founded in 1968 on 11 November. This is celebrated in Male with lots of pomp, brass bands and parades. Sometimes the following day is also a holiday.
The birthday of the Prophet Mohammed is celebrated with three days of eating and merriment. The approximate start dates for the next few years are 9 November 2019, 28 October 2020 and 18 October 2021.
Although the weather isn’t as predictable as in January, you can expect lots of sunshine, but little rain. The festive season, which brings with it surcharges and minimum stay requirements at some resorts, is a popular time for Europeans.
Budget: Less than US$400
Top end: More than US$850
Bargaining is not part of Maldivian culture and should not be attempted in most situations. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to haggle somewhat at a shop selling tourist souvenirs on an inhabited island.
Credit cards can be used in resorts and most guesthouses. ATMs can be found in Male and the bigger inhabited islands.
The currency of Maldives is the rufiyaa (Rf), which is divided into 100 larees. Notes come in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, five and two rufiyaa, but the last two are uncommon. Coins are in denominations of two and one rufiyaa, and 50, 25 and 10 larees. Most resort and travel expenses will be billed in dollars, and most visitors never even see rufiyaa, as resort bills are settled by credit card and you’ll never need to pay for things in cash. If you’re staying in a resort, all extras (including diving costs) will be billed to your room, and you pay the day before departure. For people staying in guesthouses it’s another situation entirely, and while you’ll be able to pay for most things by credit card, you’ll need cash for meals outside the guesthouse, souvenirs and any other sundry expenses.
ATMs can be found easily in Male and at the airport, and nearly all allow you to withdraw funds from international accounts. They’re also now commonly found on inhabited islands, particularly the bigger ones. That said, in many cases there is only one ATM on each island, so it’s never ideal to be reliant on them.
It’s perfectly possible to have a holiday in Maldives without ever touching cash of any sort, as in resorts everything will be chalked up to your room number and paid by credit card on departure. You won’t need Maldivian rufiyaa unless you’re using local shops and services on inhabited islands. In Male, it’s possible to pay for everything using US dollars, though you’ll be given change in rufiyaa and you’ll need to pay for things with small notes.
Be aware that there are restrictions on changing rufiyaa into foreign currency. If you take out cash in rufiyaa from an ATM, you won’t be able to change the remainder back into US dollars or any other foreign currency. Therefore if you need lots of local currency, exchange foreign cash for rufiyaa at a bank and keep the receipt to be allowed to change the remainder back at the airport.
Every resort takes major credit cards including Visa, Amex and MasterCard. A week of diving and drinking could easily run up a tab of over US$2000, so ensure your credit limit can stand it. Guesthouses also accept major credit cards, but do double-check this with yours before you travel.
Banks in Male will change travellers cheques and cash in US dollars, but other currencies are trickier. Most will change US-dollar travellers cheques into US dollars cash with a commission of US$5. Changing travellers cheques to Maldivian rufiyaa should not attract a commission. Some of the authorised moneychangers around town will exchange US-dollar or euro travellers cheques at times when the banks are closed.
Part of the appeal of staying on a desert island is the fact that there isn’t much to do apart from relax, which can be limiting for children. Younger kids will enjoy playing in the water and on the beach, but older children and teenagers may find resort life a little confining after a few days, and they may get bored.
Note that some resorts do not encourage young children – check with the resort before you book. Children under five are often banned from honeymoon resorts and there is normally a minimum age requirement of 10 or 12 for water villas, given the obvious safety issues. Where kids are welcome, it’s no problem booking cots and organising high chairs in restaurants, and there’s often a kids club and babysitting services as well.
Baby supplies are available in Male, but usually not in resorts, so bring all the nappies and formula you’ll need for the duration of the holiday. Outside resorts, breast-feeding should only be done in private given the conservative nature of Maldivian society.
By Maldivian law all extramarital sex is illegal, but there is no specific mention of homosexuality in the country’s legal index. This grey area means that while gay life does certainly exist in Maldives, it’s all generally conducted with great discretion, often online.
Of course in the country’s resorts, things are very different. Same-sex couples will be able to book a double room without issues (from budget to luxury, Maldivian hotel staff are the model of discretion), and it’s common to see same sex-couples enjoying Maldivian holidays together. Public displays of affection may embarrass Maldivian resort staff, but won’t result in anything but blushes on their part. In Male and on inhabited islands discretion is key and public displays of affection should not be indulged in by anyone, gay or straight – Maldives remains an extremely conservative place.
At Male’s Velana International Airport, passengers must use steps to get on and off planes, but it should be no problem to get assistance for mobility-challenged passengers.
Transfers to nearby resorts are by dhoni, speedboat or seaplane and a person in a wheelchair or with limited mobility will need assistance, which the crews will always be happy to provide.
All resorts have ground-level rooms, few steps, and reasonably smooth paths to beaches, boat jetties and all public areas, but some of the more rustic and ‘ecofriendly’ resorts have a lot of sand floors. Staff – something there’s never a shortage of in Maldives – will be on hand to assist disabled guests. When you decide on a resort, call them directly and ask about the layout.
Many resort activities are potentially suitable for disabled guests. Fishing trips and excursions to inhabited islands should be easy, but uninhabited islands may be more difficult to disembark on. Catamaran sailing and canoeing are possibilities, especially if you’ve had experience in these activities. Anyone who can swim will be able to enjoy snorkelling. The International Association for Handicapped Divers provides advice and assistance for anyone with a physical disability who wishes to scuba dive.
As no dogs are permitted in Maldives, it’s not a destination for anyone dependent on a guide dog.
Velana International Airport Resorts in South and North Male Atoll transfer guests from the airport by speedboat (10 to 70 minutes). Chartered seaplane transfers from the airport operate daily until around 5pm (seaplanes cannot fly after dark) to resorts outside South and North Male Atoll. Late arrivals need to overnight in Male and take a seaplane the next day. The Male ferry leaves 24 hours a day to the capital (Rf10, five minutes, every 10 minutes). Buses to the island of Hulhumale leave from outside the airport terminal every half hour (Rf20).
Entering Maldives is simple and hassle-free. However, you must know the name of your resort, hotel or guesthouse, so if you haven’t got accommodation pre-arranged for your first night, pick a place at random to write on the immigration form.
The immigration cards issued to you on your flight to Male include a great list of items that are banned from the republic. Alcohol, pornography, pork, narcotics, dogs, firearms, spear guns and ‘idols of worship’ cannot be brought into the country and you’re advised to comply. Baggage is usually X-rayed and may be searched carefully, and if you have any liquor it will be taken and held for you till you’re about to leave the country. This service will not extend to other prohibited items, and the importation of multiple bibles (one for personal use is fine), pornography and, in particular, drugs, will be treated very seriously. The export of turtle shell, or any turtle-shell products, is forbidden.
Nobody coming to Maldives requires a visa for a stay of 30 days or less.
Maldives issues a 30-day stamp on arrival to holders of all passports. Citizens of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal are given a 90-day stamp. If you want to stay longer you’ll either need to apply for an extension to the 30-day stamp or leave the country when your 30 days is up, then return. You should know the name of your resort or hotel and be able to show a return air ticket out of the country if asked by immigration officials.
To apply for an extension, go to the Department of Immigration & Emigration, near Jumhooree Maidan in Male. Fill in the Application for Permit Extension form, which will need to be co-signed by a local sponsor. The main requirement is evidence that you have accommodation, so it’s best to have your resort, travel agent or guesthouse manager act as a sponsor and apply on your behalf. Have your sponsor sign the form, and bring it back to the office, along with your passport, a passport photo and your air ticket out of the country. You have to have a confirmed booking for the new departure date before you can get the extension – fortunately, the airlines don’t ask to see a visa extension before they’ll change the date of your flight. You’ll be asked to leave the documents at the office and return in a couple of days to pick up the passport with its extended visa (get a receipt for your passport). Extensions are for a maximum of 30 days.
There are no restrictions on foreign nationals entering the country. Visas are not needed for visits of 30 days or less.