Made up of atolls, islands and reefs, the Maldives embodies the definition of paradise. The beaches here are brilliantly white and the ocean is astonishingly clear.
With such a strong invitation to come and play, you can dive into an unforgettable adventure in the Maldives.
Assalaamu Alaikum – Welcome to the Maldives
Located in South Asia, the Maldives is the continent’s smallest country. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. With 26 atolls and multiple islands, visitors can hop from beach to beach. Not all the islands are the same in the Maldives, and you’ll find that some are much busier than others. Some islands may even house a single resort, so you can get away from the crowds and relax in luxury.
While the Maldives is known for having some of the best dive spots in the world, a large-scale revamp of the country has made it more accessible for tourism. The country was once a resort-only destination, but changes to the law now allow tourists to move independently within the nation. This gives you the choice to stay in a resort or privately owned accommodation.
Busting with life, Malé is the compact capital of the Maldives. In direct opposition to the laid-back resorts that make the Maldives famous, the capital is the place to explore if you want to connect to the local Maldivian culture. Often described as having a quirky personality, the best sights in Malé are tucked away in the local shops, whimsical cafes, and busy markets.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Islands to Visit
- Top Activities to Do
Culture and Language
The nearest neighboring countries to the Maldives are Sri Lanka and India, which have both impacted the country’s history. The most important part of the Maldives’ relationship with Sri Lanka and India originated because of the area’s economy. The Maldives sits along important marine routes in the Indian Ocean, and this led to the islands providing commodities, like cowry shells, to Sri Lanka and India.
The earliest trades that have been documented in the country’s history were between the Ancient Indian Kalingas, who spread the Hindu culture and Buddhism to the Maldives. But as the centuries went on, the country’s history changed even more as colonial powers took control of the local trade routes. Starting in the 16th century, the Portuguese, Dutch, and French all influenced and controlled the Maldives.
In the 19th century, the Maldives was declared a British protectorate. Under British control and protection, the country maintained its own local government as a sultanate. Various sultans ruled in the Maldives for 812 years until the country’s first president, Muhammad Amin Didi abolished the sultanate.
The abolishment of the sultanate didn’t last long before the country voted to return to the monarchy. The government didn’t truly change until the Maldives became independent from the British in 1965. Today, the Maldives is a democratic nation with a president representing the nation.
With such a unique history that has been influenced both by people and geography, it isn’t surprising to hear that the Maldives has a diverse culture. Most of the local culture has been greatly influenced by Sri Lanka and India, but also Malaysia, Indonesia, and even Africa. The island geography has also influenced the local culture by encouraging communities to come together to celebrate and live as a unit.
Diversity is also alive in Maldivian culture through the language. Dhivehi (or Maldivian) is the official language in the Maldives, and it has been influenced by other languages like Arabic, Portuguese, French, and Hindustani. Dhivehi has its own very distinct dialects based on region, with the North speaking differently from the South.
With the enormous boom of tourism in the past few decades, English has become a very popular language in the Maldives. Many locals speak English and it’s frequently spoken on various islands in hopes to boost the local tourism industry.
The rapid increase of tourism to the Maldives has also made it easier for tourists to enter the country. For US citizens, you are not required to obtain a visa prior to your arrival to the Maldives, if the duration of your trip is less than 30 days. Instead, a visitor visa will be issued upon your arrival at the airport. The visitor visa is free and valid for 30 days.
However, there are a few other requirements that you must meet to be issued a visa. US tourists will need to travel with a valid US passport. Your passport’s validity must extend 6 months past your intended date of departure from the Maldives. Tourists also need to have one blank page in their passport for their entry stamp.
If you are traveling from a country that is listed by the WHO as a yellow fever infected area, you must show proof of a recent vaccine prior to your entry into the Maldives. There are no other vaccine requirements and you do not need vaccines if you are not traveling from an area infected with yellow fever. You can look at the World Health Organization’s website to find a current list of yellow fever countries.
If you’re planning a trip to the Maldives, it is important to outline a spending budget, so you can track and estimate the costs of your vacation. The Maldives is an expensive destination and it’s difficult to plan a budget vacation. Backpackers can make their way around the Maldives but expect to give up various luxuries to cut costs.
For most travelers who are interested in exploring the Maldives, it is important to find a balance between affordable experiences and a full-blown luxury vacation. With so many resorts sprinkled throughout the islands and the introduction of guest houses, it is possible to travel to the Maldives on a modified budget. Your accommodation is likely going to be the most expensive part of your trip, but you also need to consider the costs of airfare, food, drink, activities, and transportation as a part of your spending budget.
Flying from the United States to the Maldives is very expensive and the average cost of a ticket ranges from $1,200-$1,350 US dollars. However, there are sometimes deals offered by airlines that could lower the cost of a ticket to about $800 US dollars. The dates of your vacation will also affect the cost of your flight. It is more expensive to fly to the Maldives during the peak tourist months.
The winter months are the most popular time for tourists to visit the Maldives. Starting in December and extending into early April, you will notice the cost of airline tickets is at its highest. The cheapest time to visit the Maldives is in the monsoon season, which starts in May and lasts until October.
Once you have secured an airline ticket, you should also look at booking your accommodation. The Maldives is famous for their bungalows, which sit over the crystal-clear water. However, the bungalows are also the most expensive accommodation option offered throughout the Maldives with nightly rates often starting at $700 US dollars per night and increasing from there.
Resorts are also very popular in the Maldives, and the country is packed with plenty of options. On all the major islands, there are resorts and some resorts even have their own private island. Most resorts start their nightly rate at $500 US dollars. But the luxury resorts can cost well over $1,000 US dollars per night.
If you want to find affordable accommodation, look for private rentals. With the new law allowing guesthouses, many people have constructed their own bungalows to rent out to tourists. Guesthouses are the most affordable way to stay on the island and nightly rates often range from $80-$150 US dollars. However, many guesthouses do not have the level of privacy that resorts provide to their guests. So, tourists who want to get away from the crowds, should actually stay at a resort.
One big benefit of choosing a resort over a private guesthouse is the food. There are quite a few resorts that offer guests packages that include food as a part of their nightly rate. But it is rare to find packages that include alcohol. You can also explore the local islands and go out to the small restaurants or cafes for a meal.
Maldivian cuisine is strongly based on seafood because of the country’s location in the Indian Ocean. Garudhiya is a traditional dish of the Maldives, which is fish-based and seasoned with chili, lime, and onions. Mas huni is a tasty meal that is made of shredded tuna, coconuts, lemon and onion. The dish is most commonly eaten as breakfast with the local bread called roshi.
One dish that has strong flavors that are often unique to the Maldives is bis keemiya. Bis keemiya is a fried pastry that has been filled with tuna, onions, and cabbage. Banana leaves are also eaten in the Maldives and sliced into a dish called boshi mashuni. The dish uses flavored banana flowers and mixes it with coconut, turmeric, curry, and cumin for a sharp tangy taste.
Visitors will also find plenty of fish-based dishes throughout the Maldives. Lobsters, shrimp, and reef fish are often stewed, steamed, and fried into tasty dishes. India influences many of the spices with curry and masala flavors favorites amongst the locals.
If you eat locally, expect to spend about $10 US dollars per meal. For travelers on a budget, local establishments are a great way to save money. Food at the resorts will be very expensive and often the only option on the island. If you haven’t paid for a food package with a resort and dine at the resort’s restaurant, expect to pay about $25 or $30 US dollars for a meal.
The resorts also affect the price of alcohol, and it is expensive to drink in the Maldives. Similar to resort restaurants, alcohol will be more expensive in the resort areas. Most drinks range in price from $10-$25 US dollars for a single beverage. There are no options to buy local alcohol due to the local Islamic religion. So, alcohol is expensive because it is only made available to tourists.
After you’ve settled all your necessary costs, you can determine how much of your spending budget will be spent on excursions and activities. For the ocean enthusiasts, the Maldives is truly paradise. Scuba diving and snorkeling are the most popular ocean activities in the Maldives because of the blue water, which is perfectly clear.
There are tours available on all the islands and the costs can range from $80-$200+ US dollars per person. Snorkeling is more affordable than scuba diving because it requires less gear. But you may also want to get out and surf in the waves or fish in the sea. For other excursions, expect to spend about $100-$150+ US dollars per person.
With all parts of your budget combined, you could easily spend well over $1,000 US dollars each day in the Maldives. As an absolute minimum, expect to spend about $300 US dollars per day. With a lower budget, you wouldn’t be staying in resorts and instead rent out a guesthouse. If you want to stay in the resorts, expect to spend about $850 US dollars each day, at a minimum.
How to Get Around
Another big impact on your budget will be the cost of transportation. As a country made up of islands, getting around the Maldives is very expensive. Your only options to travel from destination to destination in the Maldives is by ferry, speedboat, or seaplane.
The local ferries are great if you want to travel between the major cities on various islands in the Maldives. The ferry from the Velana International Airport to Malé costs less than $1 US dollar. The most expensive ferry costs about $5 US dollars and takes you from Maafushi to Fulidhoo.
However, the ferries do not have stops or service to the resort islands. If you want to get to a resort, you will need to travel by speedboat. It is very expensive to hire a speedboat and a 45-minute trip costs about $280 US dollars per person. Even short rides that are 10 or 15 minutes will cost about $200 US dollars per person.
If you feel comfortable heading out into the local areas of the islands, you may be able to hire a local fisherman to ferry you to another island. Most local fishermen will ask for $50 US dollars for a short trip.
The last way to get around the islands is by seaplane. This is the most expensive transportation option in the Maldives and a 20-minute ride costs about $500 US dollars per person. Most people choose another method of travel because of the high costs of sea planes.
Top Islands to Visit
With most islands being small, it is more popular to visit an island instead of a city. The most popular city in the Maldives is the capital, Malé, but there are plenty of islands to explore. Here are the most popular islands in the Maldives.
Malé and Hulhumale Island
Malé is the capital of the Maldives, and it crams a lot of city into a small space. The congested streets of the capital are a stark contrast to the remote beaches on the other islands. But not all the islands are laid back, and Malé is the place to go if you want to experience the local lifestyle and culture.
Across the water from Malé is Hulhumale Island, which is another urban space that is overflowing with life. Hulhumale Island is the first place most travelers will experience in the Maldives because it is where the International Airport is located. A promenade and artificial beach are the highlights of Hulhumale and the best places to explore on this little island.
Maafushi is the best place to go if you want to stay in a local guesthouse and escape the resort culture. Unlike most of the nearby islands, Maafushi does not have any big resorts or hotels. This island is the go-to place for budget travelers in the Maldives. With plenty of beaches and clear waves, Maafushi is just as beautiful as the resort islands, but it costs a fraction of the price.
Utheemu is an important island in Maldivian history because it was once the home of Sultan Mohammed Thakurufaanu who drove the Portuguese out of the country in the 16th century. Just like all the other islands, Utheemu is beautiful and the timber palace is the island’s top attraction.
Feydhoo was created when the nearby island of Gan was converted into an airbase. The locals on Gan were sent to Feydhoo to create a new town. With quiet streets and compact houses, Feydhoo is another island that will connect you to the local lifestyle and take you away from the resorts. As an island that is home to mostly locals, you can stroll the streets and taste authentic Maldivian food.
Close by to Feydhoo is Maradhoo, which is another local island. This island is most well-known for having narrow beaches that are lined with palm trees. Link Road is a popular area for tourists to visit because of the local coffee shops and street vendors.
Veligandu Island is one of the most famous resort islands in the Maldives, which is a favorite destination for honeymooning couples. The resort on the island offers the over the water bungalows and local tours with sea kayaks. Gentle waves are also safe to swim, and the inland lagoon is a nice place to escape.
One of the more remote islands in the Maldives, Fuvahmulah is unique because of the inland lakes. While the lakes are not accessible all year round, when there is plenty of rain, lakes form in the interior parts of the island. The outer edge of the island is most famous for Banging Beach, which is the best place to relax in the sand and take a dip in the waves.
With some of the best scuba diving areas in the Maldives, Alimatha Island has become a tourist hotspot. Resorts have been built on the island and you can book a cabana or villa. While it is safe to swim, be careful of the reefs. Part of the reason Alimatha Island is so popular is that the nearby reefs are home to a vast array of ocean wildlife.
Top Activities to Do
With plenty of pristine beaches and shallow waters, most activities in the country revolve around the ocean. Here are the top activities to do in the Maldives.
One of the best and most affordable ways to get out on the water is to go snorkeling. Snorkeling is a great way to explore the aquatic wildlife in the Maldives, and it is a safe activity for families with older children. Most beaches in the Maldives are safe for snorkeling, but you might check with your resort or a local business to book a snorkeling tour.
For active swimmers who want to reach deeper depths of the ocean, scuba diving is another aquatic activity that is popular throughout the Maldives. For those interested in seeing unique wildlife, whale sharks are a common sight around Dhangethi Island. However, other popular islands for scuba diving include Maafushi and Veligandu. The best atolls for scuba diving are Laamu, North Malé, and Gaafu Alifu Atoll.
Parasailing is a great way to see the Maldives from a bird’s-eye view without having to book a seaplane. There are quite a few businesses or resorts that offer parasailing as an activity, so you can see more of the area.
Sea Kayak or Stand Up Paddle Board
Sea kayaks are fun to take out onto the ocean and a casual activity for couples and families. Unlike surfing, sea kayaks require little skill, but they can still help you get out on the waves to take a peek at the coral reefs from above. If you’re up for a bigger challenge and want to work out your core, you can test your skills and learn how to balance on a stand-up paddle board.
If you are an experienced surfer, the Maldives has some smooth waves that you can catch. With such clear water, surfing is another way to see the local wildlife and coral reefs. While some beaches may be gentle, most surf areas in the Maldives are best left to experienced surfers because of the shallow waters.
Many resorts and locals also offer fishing trips and excursions, so you can try to catch your own meal. There are plenty of local species that you can try to catch, and the Maldives is one of the world’s best destinations for big game fish. The most popular fish species in the area include tuna, dorado, barracuda, and swordfish. With strict fishing regulations set in place to protect the local wildlife, it’s best to hire a guide.
After a long day exploring the islands and oceans, you may want to hit the spa. Spas are popular attractions in the resorts, and they provide excellent service to their guests. With beautiful ocean views, you can book your spa experience and melt your stress away.
Get Out and Go
Oozing with tropical charm, it isn’t hard to imagine sitting on a beach in the Maldives. This island destination is one of the world’s best vacations for tourists who want to mix rest and relaxation with adventure and play. Luxury resorts and idyllic beaches await you in the Maldives, where you can dive under the waves or bask in the sun to complete your perfect vacation.