Maldives

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Maldives
Asia | Romantic | Sun | SCUBA


Maldives
Where: Indian Ocean
Trip purpose:
- Tropical luxury
- Honeymoon/romance
- Beach vacation
- SCUBA
Pros:
- Beautiful tropical islands
- White sandy beaches
- Iconic luxury resorts with overwater bungalows
- Healthy protected marine life
Cons:
- Expensive
- Long flights
"Maldives"

Why visit Maldives?

Maldives is one of the few spots in the world that became iconic of luxury tropical vacations. A typical Maldivian resort occupies one island and has some or all of the guest suites as overwater bungalows. The overwater bungalows probably started as a necessity as the islands are small. The country is composed of coral atolls that barely rise above the sea level and have shallow tidal areas protected by the reef. These shallows provide opportunity to build the overwater bungalows. For some islands it is the only way to have a sufficient number of suites as the dry land area would not accommodate an entire resort. As the resorts started proliferating in the 1970's, the country grew to become dependent on the tourist income. This provided incentive for higher hotel quality and level of service. Presently, the country of 380,000 residents hosts over 600,000 tourists annually and the tourism income is the main single source of foreign revenue. There are over 90 resorts but no cheap all-inclusive properties. Because of the high prices, high occupancy, and the government overview the resorts maintain relatively uniform high standards.

A typical postcard-like setting of a Maldivian resort is a small tropical island with wide and blindingly white beaches, fringed by palm trees and stretching into the turquoise shallows with idyllic overwater huts. For most people this picture is an idealized classical setting for a honeymoon or other romantic celebration. The area also has some of the richest and healthiest marine life. You can snorkel right in front of the bungalow. Maldives is regarded as one of the top diving destinations in the world.

Maldives are very flat islands, which is very different from the other archipelago in the Indian Ocean - Seychelles. The average land elevation in Maldives is 1.5 meters above sea level. Therefore, it is possible that the country may disappear if the sea level continues to rise. That is another reason to visit Maldives, while you can.


Where in the world?

"Maldives on OpenStreetMap"
Maldives on OpenStreetMap

Location

Maldives is an archipelago of coral atolls about 700 kilometres south-west of the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka. The atolls form an oblong collection of over 1000 islands that stretches beyond equator.

Getting there

Visitors need to fly first to the capital Male (MLE). There are direct flights from some large cities but most travelers need a stopover. Flight time is 9 hours from Moscow (SVO), 8 hours from Istanbul (IST), 4 hours from Abu Dabi (AUH). The next leg is between Male and the island of your choice. You will need to take a small aircraft for most islands. These are frequently served by the resort but usually cost you extra. The flight is a spectacle on its own as you fly over the idyllic coral atolls with chains of bungalows stretching into the shallows. The resorts build them in different arrangements, linear, oval, branching... There are also options for ferries or boat transfers if an island is reasonably close to Male. The country stretches 900 km north to south.

Electricity

"UK type plug"
UK type plug

240 V, 50 Hz, but there can be several types of plugs. UK socket with three thick slots is the most common, but an odd island may have the Indian or EU type of sockets. It is better to take a universal adapter that can plug into several types of sockets.

Language

Official language is Dhivehi, but English is commonly spoken as in India and Sri-Lanka.

Currency

The currency is Maldivian Rufiyaa, 100 MVR ~ 5.5 Euro. You do not really need local cash as USD, GBP and Euro are taken widely.

Vaccination and infections

According to CDC no vaccination is required in addition to the routine vaccination established in most countries (subject to your country of origin and your personal vaccination). Typhoid and hepatitis vaccines are recommended. There is NO reported risk of malaria in Maldives. Prevent yourself from insect bites to avoid insect transmitted infections (dengue, zika, chikungunya). Yellow fever is required for entry if you come from an endemic area. Please see updated information for health at CDC site or health authority in your country.

Visa

Visa is issued on arrival to all tourists but you need to have a full booking for your vacation.

When to go?

"Weather Maldives"
Weather averages Maldives

Temperatures are almost the same all year round, however the amount of rain varies. The driest period is January-April.

Where to stay?

"Conrad Maldives"
Conrad Maldives
"Maldives beach"
Maldives beach
"Underwater restaurant at Conrad"
Underwater restaurant at Conrad

There are over 90 resorts in Maldives. Most of them have overwater bungalows and most will appear very similar to each other. We went to Conrad Maldives on Rangali island. One of the features that attracted us was that there are two islands with more privacy on the smaller one as all service buildings and on-land bungalows are on the larger island. The second feature was underwater restaurant and several other restaurants. The islands also have a good house reef for snorkeling and diving. We had decent snorkeling right in front of our overwater bungalow. The dive shop takes divers for diving on outside thilas (underwater islands). So, it has all advantages of a larger resort and a choice to stay on a small and more private island. We also trusted the Conrad/Hilton brand and were not disappointed.

Our recommendation would be to look for the following features:

Bungalows

Frankly, if you decided to spend money to go to Maldives it makes more sense to stay in an overwater bungalow. The overwater bungalows are a hallmark of Maldives and it is what makes it different from other Sun & Beach places. They are more expensive, but if you stay inland and save money in the process you might as well go elsewhere and have a similar experience for much less money. While checking overwater bungalows try to see as many pictures as you can find on the net. Read reviews on Tripadvisor and other similar sites. Pay attention to the water level and distance from the shore. A good place is further from the shore with a good water level that does not expose corals and sand during low tides. Is swimming and snorkeling good in front of the bungalow? You cannot stand on the bottom if it is densely overgrown by corals. On the other hand, there will be no marine life if there is no coral at all. The best setting is to have coral bommies (patches) with sandy bottom in-between. Check the bungalows if they are large enough, well maintained and decorated to your liking. Are they private enough? Are there partition walls on the decks and how much space is between the bungalows? Some resorts place bungalows at an angle and the deck sides do not align to each other. This gives a better sense of privacy. Further away and bungalows at the end of the chain have more privacy as well. Check if they face east or west for sunset vs. sunrise. We always Google for resort maps wherever we go and try to see what suit number we would like. Some resorts may accommodate your request for a specific bungalow if you email them in advance.

Beaches

Is there enough beach length and width to spread all guests? Best scenario is to have a beach that stretches further into the sea and beyond the bungalows. Some islands have a beach extension that stretches into the sea or into a separate small island. Some beaches may have negative features such as distracting break walls or a boat traffic in front of the beach. Again, check the map, verify where is the boat jetty and the beach, read reviews.

Restaurants

Are there several restaurants for variety if you like variety. Is it a good restaurant if it is only one on the island? All-inclusive and half-board options are all over the map. Sometimes they save you money, sometimes not. The general rule of thumb is to expect to pay much more in the restaurant than you pay at home. Gauge food plans by that rule. If a food plan approaches to what you may pay at home eating 3 times a day, than it is likely a good deal! Also, check if the tax and service charge is included or excluded in the price. Expect these surcharges to be close to 25%.

Privacy vs. amenities

Small boutique resorts will appeal to quiet couples. There is more privacy, less noise and commotion. However, smaller islands may have less amenities. That is why we chose Conrad since we stayed on the small island and used all amenities on the large island. Some islands are larger but have smaller resorts with less people. Again, check maps and aerial views if you can find them on internet. If entire island is packed with buildings you may need to look elsewhere. Also, do not assume that there will be no small children in an expensive resort unless it is adults-only. On the other hand, if you travel with kids check if resort would be suitable for them. In some resorts some sections are adults only.

House reef and diving

Is there a good house reef to enjoy snorkeling? The house reef is usually on the side opposite to the bungalows. Is the island in the area of your diving interests? For example, there are specific atolls to see mantas. There will be a dive shop in every resort (or almost every) but the quality may differ. Please see SCUBA diving section below.

Price

It will cost you to have a vacation in Maldives. You will need to pay a steep local tax too. So, saving a few hundred dollars/euro/pounds by going to a resort that you may not like is probably not a good strategy. Aim at what you value in your vacation the most and search for the resorts with those features. Tripadvisor, Youtube and even simple browsing through pictures in Google search will give a good idea of a resort. Narrow your list to several resorts and then compare quality-to-price ratio. You will see immediately those that are grossly overpriced when you compare "oranges to oranges". Visitor ratings are a good indicator but they tend to favor smaller boutique resorts. The ratings also may be higher for the features you may not care. However, if ratings are less than 4 (out of 5) it is a red flag. Try to figure out why if the resort appeals to you otherwise. Do not forget that ratings become more reliable with higher numbers of the reviews.

What to do?

"Dhoni ride to dinner"
Dhoni ride to dinner

Resort activities

The main activity at a luxury resort is relaxation. Enjoy the view, swim in crystal clear waters, snorkel and absorb the tranquility. That is why it is better to pick a resort where you will have what you are dreaming about.

SCUBA

"SCUBA diving dhoni"
SCUBA diving dhoni
"Clown fish"
Clown fish

SCUBA diving in Maldives is good, but there is almost always a moderate to strong current if you dive beyond the house reef. The staff normally does not let you use reef hooks. We were actually a bit disappointed with diving in Maldives, manly due to the crew under-performance. Diving in currents need to be well planned and done to drift or stay in a shelter. The group should be small and organised. We did much, much worse currents with much more enjoyment elsewhere. In Maldives we had instances when we were dropped on top of a thila (underwater island) or worse, on the wrong side of it. By the time you fight your way to a place of normal drift (or jump back on the boat to make a u-turn) 1/3 of your air is gone. Maybe we just had a subpar crew. Taking pictures and video in currents is also a tricky process. Again, we had to figure out specifics ourselves and had no support or understanding from the crew. The crew seemed to be a bit arrogant while actually under-performing. We heard that the dive staff may be arrogant in Maldives, especially at the dive shops that are independent from the resort. Having traveled the world, we find that the best scenario is when the dive shop staff is employed by the resort. Better when the resort is dependent on diving for its income. Then you know that the quality of the dive shop will match the quality of the resort and the resort management oversees its performance. Please read reviews of the dive shop when you search for your dream resort.


The main feature of Maldives diving is abundance and variety of the marine life. The currents let it happen, although may annoy divers. There is no specific feature that stands out, like shoals of sharks, some unusual creatures or a great wreck. There are spots with manta cleaning stations that may aggregate mantas. These are season dependent and not guaranteed. In Lhaviyani Atoll the main season for manta is October to March. The situation in South Ari atoll is a bit less well defined. Also do not count on seeing a whale shark. They are not as common in Maldivian waters as tourists are made to believe. If you encounter a whale shark it will likely pass very quickly and have no reason to stay in one spot. If you are after whale sharks plan a trip to a place where they aggregate and stay in one area. The Conrad resort provided the dive shop with a beautiful dhoni - a typical Maldivian boat with curved-up bowsprit. It made the boat trip also quite enjoyable.


Overall, the reefs in Maldives are teeming with life and that makes diving enjoyable if done correctly as currents are real. Novice divers may be better off on the house reef, at least at the beginning. Therefore, look for a resort with a good house reef if you are a beginner. The shop then may take you to places with lesser currents, provided they know what they are doing. Read reviews of the dive shop as diving in Maldives can be very operator dependent.

"Maldives diving"
Maldives diving
"A Maldivian island-resort"
A Maldivian island-resort

We have no affiliation with any booking agency/site, attraction companies or resorts. We simply share our experience and opinions. Some information may be outdated, please check with primary sources.