Our guide to Maldives
We hope the following information helps you prepare for and enjoy your Maldives holiday. We've tried to include all the valuable tips we've picked up over years of taking our own holidays in Maldives, but if you have any other questions, or suggestions for additions to this page, do please drop us a line at email@example.com.
The Republic of Maldives lies in the Indian Ocean, around an hour's flight south-west of Sri Lanka and India. There are 1,190 coral islands dotted around 26 ring-like atolls (natural ridges rising from the ocean), and they are spread over 90,000 square km, so 99% of the country is made up of sea. From the air, the islands are often said to resemble strings of pearls. From north to south, the string of islands cover around 800km, stretching to just below the Equator, hence why the temperature is the same all year round.
Of these islands, around 200 are inhabited by local people, and around 150 are private resort islands, specifically for tourists. Each island is one resort, so there are no hotels as such (except on the capital island, Male, local islands or at the airport). All the rooms, restaurants, bars and other facilities on the island are owned by the same resort, and anything you spend anywhere on the island will be charged to your room bill.
Airport: Your international flight will be to Male (MLE). It's officially called Velana International Airport (formerly Ibrahim Nasir International Airport), and isn't actually on the capital, Male, but a separate island called Hulhule, a 10-minute ferry ride or short drive over a bridge from Male island. It's quite a sight to approach from the air, looking rather like a huge aircraft carrier sitting in the sea. It's a small but modern, air-conditioned airport with all the usual facilities including cafes, lounges and duty-free shops in the Departures area. You can buy alcohol in the Duty Free shops on your way out of the country, but you won't be able to drink alcohol in the airport.
There is one hotel on the airport island, the Hulhule Island Hotel, which is geared mainly for passengers in transit. It's well equipped with comfortable rooms, swimming pool, bars, restaurants and a spa. They provide courtesy buses to and from the terminals. As well as overnight rooms and day rooms (useful if you have a long wait for a flight), they offer a lower tariff for use of a shower and left luggage rooms and also access to the pool. It's the only place except the resort islands and safari boats where alcohol is served.
Attached to the airport island by a causeway is the island of Hulhumale, where you can find many guesthouses. These are cheaper than the main airport hotel and may be ideal to spend the night in, if you have a late arrival in Male, for example. However be aware that they are subject to local law so cannot serve alcohol. There are also hotels and guesthouses on Male island, but these are also subject to local law.
All inclusive: Many resorts now offer All Inclusive plans and it can be particularly cost-effective in Maldives, where food and drink is all imported so not exactly cheap. But note that Maldives AI is different from say, the Caribbean, in that it rarely includes absolutely everything. Often AI meals are in the main buffet restaurant only, although you are usually welcome to use any other restaurants at an extra charge - there will often be a certain amount of credit towards your bill. Drinks are usually restricted to certain brands or a limited range of cocktails. We can supply details of the AI plan on your chosen resort to help you decide if it's the best option for you.
Arriving: You will need to complete an online form within 96 hours of your arrival into Maldives, and attach a passport-style photograph, most airlines will ask to see proof of this before you check in. On arrival at Male airport, once through Passport Control you'll see the Baggage Reclaim area straight in front of you. When you have collected your luggage (there are trollies available), head towards the exit. Your bags will be screened for banned items (alcohol, drugs, pornography and idols of worship) so do not try to smuggle alcohol through, it will be found and confiscated (although it may be kept for you to collect on your departure from the country) and you may be fined (see note on alcohol below). Any liquid is likely to be investigated so there's no point trying to hide it in soft drink bottles etc.
Immediately outside the international terminal, you'll be met by a representative of our Ground Agent, Hummingbird, or a representative from your island resort. If you have any difficulty locating them immediately, you'll see lines of booths representing the different companies and islands straight in front of you. The Hummingbird desk is number E11, or look for your island's own desk. You can also just ask anyone at any booth and they will point you in the right direction. It may look a little chaotic but don't worry, the Maldivians are experts at making sure all visitors end up in the right place!
All arriving passengers transfer to their resorts from the airport by boat, seaplane or by domestic flight. You will be escorted to where you need to go. The transfer boat jetty and domestic air terminal are very close to the international terminal. The seaplane base is reached by a courtesy bus ride (or private car if staying at one of the fancier resorts) to the other end of the airport.
Alcohol: All alcoholic drinks you'd expect to find are freely available on all resort islands, but alcohol is not allowed on local islands including Male, hence the strict ban on importing it into the country.
Banned Items: Alcohol (except on resort islands and safari cruise boats), drugs, pork, pornographic material, idols of worship, spear guns and dogs are not allowed inside the country.
Bugs: As in all tropical countries, you will find mosquitoes, but there is no malaria in Maldives so no need for anti-malaria medication. Still, they can be a nuisance, causing itchy bites, and there have been cases of Dengue fever (mostly on local islands), which is common in all tropical areas, so we would definitely recommend you take insect repellant. Those containing at least 50% DEET are said to be most effective. If you don't want to use DEET, we usually take a product called Smidge That Midge which is DEET-free and available on Amazon, as well as other places. Paula also likes an Avon product called Skin So Soft - a spray-on body moisturiser that smells nice to most humans but she swears mosquitoes don't like. We don't have a commercial interest in either of these products or any medical opinion on them, they just seemed to have worked for us! To make sure we're protected as soon as we land in Maldives (particularly from Dengue fever), we also take insect repellant in our hand luggage and apply before we get off the plane.
You may also see a cockroach or two on your island but please don't berate the management. These creatures may look fearsome but are harmless and, contrary to popular belief, they exist in the cleanest of places. You may also find ants in your outdoor bathroom. If either of these creatures bother you, call reception or mention it to your room attendant and they will spray your bathroom for you.
Children: Though Maldives is often thought of as a romantic honeymoon destination, it's also the perfect playground for children. Inside the reef, the ocean is as safe as it can ever be for all ages, with shallow water and little or no waves (though of course you should never take your eyes off children in the water). Your room is usually right on the beach and there are no roads or cars, bar the odd golf cart used on some larger islands. We have been taking our own two children to Maldives since they were a few months old and they love the freedom of running around barefoot for a couple of weeks, while we love the feeling of not panicking if they run off out of sight for a while. Maldivians love children and they are thoroughly spoilt wherever they go, having magic tricks performed for them at breakfast or animals made out of palm leaves by the staff.
With a very few exceptions where there are some age restrictions, children are welcome at all resorts, though some cater for them better than others. Some islands have mini-playgrounds, kids' pools and some have kids' clubs with organised activities. Most resorts offer babysitting.
Maldives is, of course, a paradise for waterbabies and children as young as eight can try scuba-diving in shallow water. Older children and teens can do more advanced diving courses. We would be very happy to advise you on the most child-friendly islands.
Christmas and New Year: The festive season is celebrated in style on all resort islands. Among other things they will have a special lunch or dinner on Christmas Day and on New Year’s Eve. They charge a supplement for these which is mandatory for all guests in the resort at that time. The supplement rate will be quoted to you by us if applicable.
Climate: Temperatures are very much the same all year round, but the amount of wind and rain varies according to the season. See our when to go page for more information.
Diving: The Maldives has some of the best diving in the world and all islands have a fully-equipped dive base with qualified (normally PADI) instructors and equipment available for rent. They vary in how many dives they take out each day but will cater for both beginners and highly experienced divers. They also offer night diving. Beginners can achieve an Open Water Certificate in 5 days from scratch, although many people like to take the first 'classroom' part of their course in the UK and then complete the fun bit in the warm waters of Maldives, so as not to waste any precious diving time. No pre-booking is necessary but you can sometimes get cheaper diving rates by booking ahead. Please ensure your insurance policy provides adequate cover for diving before taking part.
Dress: This is usually very casual. Shorts, T-shirts and flip flops are all you really need, with maybe some sarongs and sundresses for women. (Paula is a fan of something called a Saress for a daytime cover-up, which is a cross between a sarong and a dress, with no tricky tying of knots to be done. You can buy them here. And no, we're not on
commission!). Definitely no high heels required; they are impractical anyway as many paths and even bar and restaurant floors are sand. The only rule in restaurants is no swimwear, while it's considered polite for men to wear
T-shirts rather than sleeveless vests for dinner. Most people dress up a little bit for dinner, eg a sundress for women and tailored shorts for men, and this will vary from resort to resort, with the higher-end islands tending to attract a more dressy clientele than the 3- and 4-star resorts. Nakedness is strictly forbidden under Maldivian law so nude or topless bathing is not allowed and a resort can get into trouble if its guests do it. If you visit Male or a local island, you should respect the Islamic customs and have your thighs and shoulders covered.
Drinking water: Water on the resort islands and in Male is desalinated and purified and can be drunk from the tap, but it can have a strong taste because of the processing it has received and most guests prefer to drink bottled water. Tap water is absolutely fine for brushing teeth. Some resorts offer a bottle or more of water free each day in your room, while others will charge for all bottled water.
Economy: The economy was traditionally dominated by catching and trading fish and Maldives remains one of the world’s great exporters of rod-caught, environmentally friendly tuna fish. In 1972, tourism came to Maldives and has grown enormously since, so it's now the country's biggest earner.
Electricity: Maldives uses 3 pin square plugs and a 220-240 volt electricity supply, the same as in the UK.
Environment: Maldives is very aware that its environment is its livelihood, and it is fragile. You can help protect and preserve this beautiful country with a few rules:
* Don't touch the coral or stand on the reef: Coral is not rock, it is a limestone product built up over thousands of years by tiny living creatures called polyps. When you touch coral, you kill these polyps. Standing or walking on the reef causes catastrophic damage. Be careful when snorkelling that your fins don't hit the coral.
* Don't feed the fish: It can be tempting to drop bits of bread and other food into the water to attract fish, but please don't. Not only does it disrupt natural behaviour, and make fish - including big ones like sharks - associate humans with food, it can make the fish very ill and even kill them. Bread is particularly bad for marine fish as they can't digest it.
* Take your rubbish home: Most resorts make great efforts to limit waste, recycling water and increasingly using paper straws and glass bottles rather than plastic. But Maldives doesn't have sophisticated waste disposal systems so all rubbish is burned. You can help by taking your rubbish home, especially batteries and plastic bottles like sunscreen, which can be more efficiently disposed of at home.
* Save water and energy: Every drop of fresh water has to be produced by a desalination plant, which is on your island. This takes a lot of energy. You can help save water by not letting taps run, eg when brushing your teeth, and using towels more than once.
* Don't take home shells or coral: The rule is, take only photographs and leave only footprints.
Fish: You can see hundreds of species of fish with just a mask and a snorkel and you'll soon find yourself wanting to put names to them all. It's a good idea to buy a guide to identifying the various types, either before you go or in your island shop. As well as books you can also buy laminated identification cards you can take in the water with you.
Fishing: Only line fishing is allowed in Maldives and you can't fish on the house reef. But most resorts organise fishing trips, especially at sunset, and you can catch your own dinner! Game fishing for the big stuff such as tuna, barracuda, sailfish and marlin is available on some resorts, but is quite expensive. A tag and release system is policy.
Food: Traditional Maldivian food revolves around fish, especially tuna, coconut and rice, and is quite spicy. We think Maldivian fish curry is the best! But while most resorts will have a Maldivian dish or two on the menu or a Maldivian buffet night, the food on resorts tends to be international in style so don't worry if you don't like it hot. Even on islands where there is just one buffet restaurant there will always be a range of dishes, with at least one pasta dish, meat and veggie options. There will usually also be a coffee shop or bar where you can buy snacks, sandwiches etc. On larger islands there will often be a wider range of restaurants offering cuisines from Chinese to Mediterranean. Some islands, eg Conrad Rangali, Anantara Kihavah and Hurawalhi even have an underwater restaurant. Beach barbecues are often held and, if you go on a trip and catch a fish, the chefs will cook it for you or set you up a barbecue on the beach so you can cook it yourself and eat it out of a banana leaf.
Hygiene standards are very high on resort islands.
Guesthouses: Until the last few years, Maldives holidaymakers only stayed on the resort islands, but now there are also hotels and guesthouses on local islands, where Maldivians live. These are usually much cheaper than resort islands but they offer a very different holiday experience. The local islands are subject to local sharia law so there is no alcohol available (although some islands get round this by having boats moored nearby, which serve alcohol), the beaches won't be pristine like the resort islands, and you must also abide by local law regarding dress, meaning thighs and shoulders must be covered and women cannot wear swimsuits or bikinis. There may be a 'bikini beach', a screened area of beach where swimwear is allowed, but this area is likely to be fairly crowded. As long as you are aware of these laws, a stay on a local island can be interesting.
History: Maldives lies on the shipping routes between the major ancient civilisations of the world – Indus Valley, Persia, North East Africa and China, and over the centuries many travellers have settled on the islands, resulting in a great mixture of races. The culture has influences from South East Asia, Africa and Arabia.
Maldives has been independent for most of its life, but was colonised by the Portuguese for 15 years in the 16th century and was a British protectorate, though with its own government, from 1887 to 1965. There used to be an RAF airfield at Gan at the southernmost tip of Maldives, which was active from 1956 to 1976.
House reef: Most islands are surrounded by a ring of coral called the house reef. Between the beach and the reef is the lagoon, where the water is protected, quite shallow and with no waves. The reef is the best place to snorkel as it's where most of the fish life is found. Beyond the reef is deep blue water where the bigger fish live: sharks, manta rays, sailfish etc. Some islands do not have a house reef so if you are a keen snorkeller it's always a good question to ask – does the island have a house reef and how far from the shore is it? Resort islands without a house reef run boats out to neighbouring reefs for snorkelling.
Islands: The islands are made of coral. A volcanic mountain range, now submerged, lies beneath the surface of the ocean. Corals forming on it and reaching for the sunshine have created the tiny islands. The corals are weathered into fine white sand and topped with coconut trees, each island ringed naturally with a coral reef.
Internet: Most resorts will offer internet access at a dedicated place on the island and many now offer wifi in the rooms or public areas. Sometimes there is a charge, at other islands it's free.
Language: English is widely spoken in Maldives but the local language is Dhivehi, which has its own script. Most waiters and room attendants will be trying to speak in many languages to please all tourists. They will manage to speak to you in English but their vocabulary is likely to be limited. It's best to keep the words in your replies, requests and conversation as simple as possible. Long words or slang may not be in their repertoire.
Male: Male is the capital of Maldives and is on an island about 1 mile long and half a mile wide. It's a 10-minute ferry ride from the airport island, so you can easily visit for a few hours if you have a long wait for your flight. Male has a shopping district for tourists, and an ever-growing number of restaurants and outdoor cafes. There are also hotels offering day rooms or overnight rooms for guests awaiting flights or transfers. The fishing quay and fish market are worth a visit when the catches are coming in, in the late afternoon and evening. It has roads and cars and commercial traffic.
Medical: Most resort islands have a first aid room, sometimes with a nurse or even a doctor. Otherwise the best medical expertise is usually found at the dive base where first aid skills are mandatory for diving instructors. In the event of a serious problem requiring hospitalisation, guests can be evacuated by seaplane (daylight only) or by boat to Male. The Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (government owned) or the ADK Hospital (private) are both well equipped and run, with operating theatres and with physicians in all major disciplines. If suitable treatment is not available in Male then evacuation to Singapore or Dubai or direct to UK is recommended. It is important to have good medical insurance in place. Even the costs of evacuation to Male can be considerable.
Money: The official currency of Maldives is the Rufiyaa, but you won't need to use it. US dollars are the preferred currency all over Maldives, and you can use them if you visit a souvenir shop on a local island, in Male and at the airport. On your resort island, everything is signed for and billed to your room and most people pay by debit or credit card at the end of their stay. The only time you'll need to hand over cash is if you want to tip any staff, and they will prefer USD too, so it's a good idea to take small denomination notes with you. The notes need to be crisp and clean, as Maldives banks won't accept old and tatty notes. Please note, travellers cheques are no longer accepted by Maldives banks so your island resort won't take them. Also, while thefts are rare, please take care with your cash and valuables - most islands have in-room safes or will have safe facilities.
Nightlife: Don't expect loud parties and clubbing in Maldives. Evenings usually revolve around drinks in the bar but most islands have discos and live music on some evenings. There may also be cinema nights, barbecues, cocktail parties and bodu beru perfomances (traditional Maldivian dancing and drumming). Larger islands usually offer more in the way of nightlife and some have designated nightclubs. The W resort has an underwater one!
Passport: These now need to be machine-readable passports and have at least six months' validity remaining after departing Maldives.
Religion: The country's religion is Islam, in its gentlest form. Women have equal opportunities in education and at work; many are businesswomen or Government Ministers. Many girls wear a baruga headscarf, usually in pretty colours, but often wear it with jeans and most wear 'western' style clothes. Drinking alcohol is forbidden in local communities and the annual fast at Ramadan is followed diligently. Ramadan will not affect guests on resort islands other than mealtimes are sometimes slightly changed.
Repeat guests: Remember to tell us if you are a repeat guest at a particular island as you will usually receive special treatment such as a complimentary meal.
Sharks: There are several types of sharks in Maldives - we've mostly seen black-tip or white-tip reef sharks - but there is negligible danger from them; there is just too much else in the ocean for them to eat, which they find far tastier and conveniently bite-sized than humans. No tourist has ever been harmed by a shark in Maldives waters. It's often said that, in Maldives, even the sharks are friendly, but it's more accurate to say they're arrogantly indifferent. The first time you see a shark swimming somewhere below you does get the heart racing, we admit! But they will stay well away from you and you'll soon find yourself wishing you could get a little closer to these magnificent creatures. Obviously, it's not a good idea to provoke them and definitely don't try to feed them.
Shopping: There's not much of it in Maldives! Every island has at least one shop with souvenirs and toiletries but some have small shopping ‘arcades’ with jewellery stores and gift shops. It's wise to stock up on simple items like toothpaste and sun cream before you leave home because they are necessarily quite expensive in the resort shops.
Special occasions: All resorts will offer something special for birthdays, anniversaries and honeymoons, typically baskets of fruit and wine/champagne on arrival, birthday cakes and special floral decorations on your bed. Honeymooners may also receive complimentary excursions or meals - it varies depending on the resort. Please notify Magic of Maldives at time of booking.
Telephones: You can phone home direct from all resorts. Your mobile will work but can be very expensive.
Time: Maldives is five hours ahead of GMT, but some resorts set their own time, usually an hour ahead of Male time. They do it so the sun rises and sets later, giving you more of a full day.
Tipping: Although 10% service charge is added to your bill, tipping is customary in Maldives but not at all compulsory. Service is of a very high standard in Maldives and most people like to tip their room attendant and regular waiters/bar staff. You may also want to tip baggage porters, gardeners/sweepers, boat crew, dive team and spa staff, while there is often a discreet tips box, usually in the restaurant or reception, for all the staff you don't see - generally staff outnumber guests 2 to 1, and on some islands by 5 to 1, so there are a lot of people working hard behind the scenes to make your holiday perfect!
How much to tip? There really are no rules but we suggest $2-5 for porters and gardeners etc and around $20-30 a week for room attendant, waiters and bar staff. Some like to leave small tips daily but it's also common to tip at the end of your holiday.
Transfers: All transfers are arranged by your resort and will be included in Magic of Maldives prices. On islands closer to Male it will be by speedboat, those further away will have a seaplane or domestic air service flight. Some islands offer a choice of transfer options. The hotel will arrange the arrival and departure transfer around the scheduled timings of the long haul flight, but it won't always coincide exactly and you may have a wait. Seaplanes can only fly in daylight so bear this in mind when choosing international flights. If your flight lands in very late afternoon or the evening you may have to spend your first night in the airport hotel or at a hotel on Male. Similarly, on departure, if you have a night flight, you may leave your island in the afternoon and have several hours wait at the airport. You can use the facilities at the airport hotel (for a charge) or book a day room. We can book these rooms for you in advance.
Transport: There is no public transport system in Maldives, other than the ferries around Male, so once on your island, it's not easy to move off it or go island-hopping, other than on excursions arranged by the resort. If you want to split your stay between different islands, we can arrange transfers between them.
Vaccinations: No vaccinations are required for visiting Maldives, but it's a good idea to keep the usual vaccinations up to date: tetanus, polio, Hepatitis and TB. Check with your doctor what you may need at least 8 weeks before you travel. Latest health and travel advice for Maldives can be found here.
Visas: All visitors are issued with a free 30-day tourist visa on arrival.
Weather: See our When to go page for information about weather and the seasons.
Weddings: It's not possible to get formally married in Maldives but many resorts offer blessings or renewal of vows ceremonies, which can be a lovely way to celebrate your special day. Many also have photographers available for some stunning mementoes. You can often plant a palm tree with a plaque to commemorate the occasion, which is a great excuse to visit again and again to see how it grows, while you can also plant your own coral 'nursery' at some resorts and see your own piece of reef build up over the years.
Wildlife: Apart from the thousands of species of fish just a few yards off shore, you're most likely to see birds, bats, geckos and other lizards around the island. The tiny geckos you may see are useful because they eat mosquitoes, and we think they're very cute, with their little chirruping noise. There are also some slightly larger red and green lizards (sorry, no idea what they're called!) you'll see scurrying around island paths. They will usually run away from you as fast as they can but, when they stop, they look like they're doing press-ups! Most islands also have fruit bats and often there will be a resident heron or two, wading in the shallows fishing for his lunch.