Planning a trip to the Maldives
Whether you're looking for romantic solitude, heart-thumping adventure or just a laid-back beach holiday with the family, you'll find that and so much more in the Maldives.
The archipelago has built a reputation as one of the most picturesque places in the world. Its more than 1,000 islands scattered across the Indian Ocean have become a haven for the ultra-rich, a playground for surfers and a bucket list trip for nature lovers. But there's much more to the country than five-star luxury and tropical vistas, and your trip certainly doesn't need to break the bank.
Let's dive into how you can plan the perfect trip to the Maldives, and get the most from your experience when you arrive.
About the Maldives
First things first, let's cover the basics. Here are five quick facts and four top attractions that make the country so special.
Five quick facts
- Location: The Maldives lies in the Indian ocean, off the south-western coast of India.
- Language: Dhivehi is the official and most widely spoken language in the country, although you can expect most resort staff to speak English.
- Religion: The population of the Maldives is largely Islamic, which is reflected in local laws that we'll cover throughout this article.
- Weather: Like other tropical countries, the climate of the Maldives can be divided into a wet and dry season. December to April is typically dry, while May to November experiences frequent rain.
- Travel: Depending on which region of the country you visit, getting to your destination can be gruelling. Expect at least two flights and a boat ride before you reach the beach chair.
Four top attractions
- The scenery: When it comes to that desktop screensaver, phone background, show-all-your-friends kind of tropical perfection, there are few places as visually stunning as the Maldives. Virgin beaches, hidden bays and outer atolls teeming with abundant sea life make the country a must-see for nature lovers.
- The luxury: Have a taste for the finer things? You'll find no shortage of high-end resorts dotted across the islands, with lavish rooms perched just metres above calm azure waters.
- The culture: Venture beyond resort walls and you'll find bustling metropolitan cities like Male, the nation's capital. Although small in population and size, Male is big in cultural attractions and colourful architecture.
- The waves: The quality of Maldivian waves is no secret, with countless surfers flocking to the country's challenging reef breaks. Many of these surfers spend their entire holiday on the deck of a boat, letting the waves and wind dictate the islands they visit.
Australians can apply for a 30-day tourist visa when they arrive to the Maldives, provided they:
- Have at least six months validity on their passport from date of entry
- Have a valid ticket to depart the Maldives within the visa period
- Have enough money to cover their expenses during their stay, or confirmation of accommodation.
It’s a good idea to carry printed copies of your travel documents, such as itinerary, hotel reservation confirmation and travel insurance certificate with you for arrival.
When to go
As mentioned, the weather in the Maldives is typically dry from December to April, and wetter from May to November.
The dry season is the peak tourist period, where you can expect to pay a premium for flights and accommodation. Shoulder and low season prices can be significantly less, although be prepared for less favourable weather during these times.
Vaccines and health
Smart Traveller recommend that visitors to the Maldives take precautions to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses, including using insect repellant, wearing long and loose fitting clothing, and using mosquito nets while sleeping. They warn against illnesses including:
- Zika virus
- Dengue fever
Travellers should also note that the availability of medicines in the Maldives is sparse compared to that at home. As always, talk to your GP about your travel plans, discuss any necessary health precautions, and seek their advice regarding what medications you should take with you.
Traditional Maldivian cuisine reflects its Indian heritage, featuring staple dishes like curry. Although as a collection of islands, it's no surprise that seafood is a cornerstone of the local diet.
Skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna, mani-mahi and wahoo are the fish of choice, and coconuts, rice, taro and sweet potato are commonly featured in local dishes.
Resort vs street food
Resort menus often cater to the tastes of their international guests, offering a mix of local favourites and western staples. If you're looking for a more authentic dining experience than the resort buffet has to offer, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The largely Muslim population of the Maldives means that alcohol isn't readily available outside of your accommodation. It's also a good idea to exercise caution when eating street food if you’re visiting markets, including:
- Avoiding raw and undercooked foods
- Avoiding hot food that has gone cold, and vice versa
- Avoiding ice and foods which may have been washed under tap water, like raw salads
- Sticking to busy and clean street vendors
You won't find any six lane highways, country railways or underground tube systems in the Maldives. Getting between islands is mostly a matter of ferries, speedboats and flights in light aircraft, depending on your ultimate destination. Many resorts offer a transport service to get you there once you arrive in Male, and it's often worth arranging this with your accommodation, even if it costs you a little more than going it alone.
Most travellers kick back, relax and settle into a week on the beach chair once reaching their accommodation. However, if you're hoping to spend some time exploring Male, you might want to hit the road on foot or grab a local taxi.
A detailed holiday packing list is important to any trip. Remember the tropical essentials like:
- Insect repellant
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Aloe vera gel for sunburn relief
Events during the year
Want to time your trip with a cultural celebration? There are several festivals on the Maldivian calendar, including Islamic observances like:
- Prophet’s birthday
- The Day Maldives Embraced Islam
There are also general national celebrations, including:
- National Day of Maldives (Qaumee Dhuvas)
- Independence Day of Maldives
- Republic Day of Maldives
Your resort might seem like a relaxed and isolated slice of paradise, but it’s important to remember that Maldivian society is quite conservative.
For example, topless sunbathing is illegal, and should be avoided even within resort walls. Other etiquette tips include:
- Observe modest dress while travelling beyond your accommodation
- Eat with your right hand as the left is considered unclean
- Note that non-Muslims aren’t usually permitted to enter mosques unless they’ve been specifically invited to do so.
The Maldives is one of the most environmentally fragile regions in the world; facing critical threats like rising sea levels and global warming. In fact, current estimates say that around 77% of its land area will be underwater by the year 2100.
As travellers, we all have a responsibility to minimise our footprint wherever we go, and even to leave the place better than we found it. Thankfully, there are several simple ways you can make a positive difference during your trip to the Maldives, including:
- Taking your own reusable water bottle, and filling it with filtered water wherever possible. Ask your accommodation about their availability of filtered water.
- Staying with resorts that have demonstrated good environmental practices. Many resorts in the country promote their sustainability initiatives on their website.
- Using sunscreens that aren't harmful to coral reef environments.
These simple sustainable travel tips might seem minor, but every action makes a difference. As the saying goes, even the biggest avalanche is triggered by small things.
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