Maldives Travel Guide: TMA flight.

Maldives Travel Guide

Date Visited: November 2017

Introduction

Mention the Maldives and most people rightly think of opulent, luxurious holidays spent at a private-island resort. Tourism in the Maldives began in 1972, with the opening of two resorts and, since then, the number of tourists visiting the country has risen steadily, with 105 resorts today catering to the needs of holiday makers. Up until 2009, tourists were required to stay in these isolated resorts which are built on uninhabited, private islands where all services are offered within the island, and where guests have little contact with the local people.  

Painted coconut souvenir from the art studio of Ibrahim Shinaz of Maafushi Island.

Painted coconut souvenir from the art studio of Ibrahim Shinaz of Maafushi Island.

In 2009, the government made regulatory changes, allowing tourists to stay in guest houses among the local population on inhabited (i.e. public) islands, rather than just in private-island resorts. 

Maafushi is open to independent travelers.

Maafushi is open to independent travelers.

The main aim of the change in policy was to create new jobs and allow more Maldivians to enjoy the benefits from tourism. This has led to a building boom in guest house accommodation – nowhere more so than Maafushi Island, which is a short speedboat ride from the airport and Malé. It has also allowed travelers to mix freely with the local population.  

Young girl on Maafushi.

Young girl on Maafushi.

Other inhabited islands are now starting to develop tourist infrastructure. At present a window of opportunity exists for travelers who wish to explore these tropical paradise isles before the tourist hoards arrive. Now is the time to visit the Maldives, and while there, I would recommend indulging yourself with a stay at one of the many fine resorts. 

Wall art on Maafushi island.Wall art on Maafushi island.

Wall art on Maafushi island.

Splitting my visit into three parts, I spent time in a resort (see ‘Deluxe Travel‘ below), before moving onto Maafushi Island (see ‘Independant Travel below) and finally some time spent exploring Malé.

Currency

Currency

 

 

The currency of the Maldives is the strikingly beautiful Rufiyaa (MVR). At the time of my visit the exchange rate against the US dollar was – $1 USD = 15.41 MVR.

The name “rufiyaa” is derived from the Sanskrit ‘rupya’ which means “wrought silver”. On the 26th January 2016 an all-polymer series of notes (printed by De La Rue) was issued on the occasion of the Maldives’ golden jubilee by the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA). 

A local design competition for the new note series – known as the “Ran dhiha faheh” (Golden 50) – was held by the MMA with the winning design being selected from more than 200 submissions. If you wish to obtain un-circulated notes as a souvenir or gift, you can do so from the 1st floor of the MMA headquarters, located on the waterfront in downtown Malé adjacent to Republic Square. 

Stamps of the Maldives

Stamps of the Maldives

 

The stamps of the Maldives make for colourful, inexpensive souvenirs. Designs often feature beautiful artwork highlighting the marine life which abounds in the waters of this atoll nation. If you wish to purchase stamps, you can do so from the philatelic counter at the National Museum in Malé.

Location

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Location

The Maldives is an archipelago of 1,192 coral islands grouped into 26 coral atolls (200 inhabited islands, plus 80 islands with tourist resorts).

A map of the Maldives printed onto a sarong.

A map of the Maldives printed onto a sarong.

Located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives lie southwest of Sri Lanka and India and comprise a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres (115 square miles). The country is one of the most geographically dispersed in the world and is the smallest country in Asia – both in terms of land area and population (427,756 inhabitants).

History

History

 

Traditional boat-building is still practiced on Maafushi island.

Traditional boat-building is still practiced on Maafushi island.

 

Boat building techniques haven't changed in centuries (except for the power tools).

Boat building techniques haven’t changed in centuries (except for the power tools).

Early History & Buddhism

Archaeological finds reveal that the Maldives were inhabited as early as 1500 BC, with the first settlers arriving around 500 BC from Persia. Prior to Islam, the inhabitants of the Maldives practiced Buddhism, with the country remaining a Buddhist kingdom for a period of 1,400 years. It was during this time that the culture of the Maldives developed and flourished, with the Maldivian language, script, architecture, customs and manners being established.

Traditional "Dhoni" on Maafushi Island.

Traditional “Dhoni” on Maafushi Island.

Thaana Script (Thaana / ތާނަ‎)

Thaana script on Maafushi island.

Thaana script on Maafushi island.

Looking like strangely stylised Arabic, the script of the Maldives – Thaana – was developed during the 18th century by an unknown inventor and is based on an earlier script – Dhives Akuru. Like Arabic, Thaana is written right to left.

Islam

Historical cemetery on the grounds of the Friday mosque in Malé - the oldest mosque in the Maldives.

Historical cemetery on the grounds of the Friday mosque in Malé – the oldest mosque in the Maldives.

Despite it’s strong Buddhist foundation, constant contact with Arab traders saw the country finally convert to Islam in 1153 AD. The first Muslim Sultan of the Maldives was Mohamed Bin Abdullah who ordered the construction of the first mosque in 1153 on the site of the present-day Friday Mosque in Malé.

Today, Islam is the state religion of the Maldives and, as per the constitution, it’s citizens are legally required to adhere to it. The constitution also states “that a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives”. Despite the legal requirements – and like other Asian Muslim nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia – a milder version of Islam is practiced in the Maldives.

Colonial Period

Despite attempts by colonial powers to claim the Maldives, the country has remained an independent state throughout most of it’s history. The country was occupied for a brief period of 15 years by the Portuguese in the 16th century and voluntarily accepted a period of British protection which lasted from 1887 to 1965. During this period, the Sultan remained head of state, there was no British Governor or representative and Britain did not interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

Maldives Today

The airport ferry dock and waterfront in downtown Malé.

The airport ferry dock and waterfront in downtown Malé.

The Maldives today is economically prosperous and is characterised by peace, stability and growth. Tourism is the main economic activity, accounting for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives’ foreign exchange receipts. The country also has a large fishing industry.

While Maldivians are enjoying a period of prosperity, the biggest threat to the country emanates from the outside world – specifically global warming and rising sea levels.

Global warming - a nation under threat...

Global Warming – a nation under threat…

The low-lying islands of the Maldives feature white sand beaches and are surrounded by fringing reefs.

The low-lying islands of the Maldives feature white sand beaches and are surrounded by fringing reefs.

With an average elevation of just 1.6 metres (5.2 feet) and a high point of 3 metres (9.9 feet), this atoll nation is the flattest country in the world. The geographical term atoll is derived from the Maldivian language and is used to describe the low-lying coral isles which comprise the nation.

The lack of topography in the Maldives makes it one of the nations most vulnerable to rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Current scientific projections estimate that by the year 2100, sea levels could rise by .80 metres (2.6 feet) or as much as 2 metres (6.6 feet), depending on how much water is released from glacial and ice sheet melt. Scientists estimate the Maldives would lose 77% of its land area by the end of the century.

Along with other atoll countries – Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu, the Maldives is a member of CANCC – the Coalition of Low Lying Atoll Nations whose aim is to focus global attention on the affects of rising sea levels on the member countries.

Apart from the loss of land, rising sea levels also pose other risks such as periodic flooding from storm surge, and a scarcity of freshwater. Rising sea temperatures are also impacting the Maldives. In 2016, record high water temperatures – caused by climate change and the “El Nino” phenomenon – resulted in a coral ‘bleaching‘ event which affected 60% of reefs.

To leave or stay?

Some of the many coral islands which comprise the South Ari Atoll.

Some of the many coral islands which comprise the South Ari Atoll.

The policy of the previous government was to leave. This was to be achieved by finding suitable land elsewhere (India or Sri Lanka were two options) and relocating the population.

The current governments’ policy is to stay. To do this, they have embarked on a number of ambitious land reclamation projects, ensuring any new land is built at a higher elevation. The poster child for this program is the island of Hulhulmalé, which is located northeast of the airport island – Hulhulé. According to the Maldives Housing Development Corporation (HDB) – Hulhulmalé was established as a “climate change resilient city” and is expected to house up to 240,000 people once completed, which will provide much relief for over-crowded Malé.

The People

The People

 

While the Maldives offers plenty of pristine, white-sand-beach islands and amazing marine life, the real asset of the country are the Maldivians themselves. During my stay, I found the people to be friendly, warm, welcoming, polite, respectful and gentle. Spending time among the Maldivians was a pleasure. Added to this – there are no pushy touts, no haggling over prices and a low crime rate, which makes the Maldives a very pleasant place to travel.

Travel Options

While the Maldives has always offered deluxe travel, it now also offers independent travel. During my trip I had the opportunity to experience both.

Deluxe Travel - Vilamendhoo Resort

Deluxe Travel

Vilamendhoo Resort

My home for four nights - the spectacular Vilamendhoo resort. Source: Vilamendhoo.com

My home for four nights – the spectacular Vilamendhoo resort. Source: Vilamendhoo.com

Ah! Vilamendhoo! We all owe it to ourselves to spend some time – at least once in our lifetime – at a tropical paradise resort like Vilamendhoo. The resort is located 80-km south of Male in the South Ari Atoll and is reached via a scenic 25-minute seaplane flight with Trans Maldivian Airways (see the ‘Getting Around – Air section below for more details on TMA).

Arriving at Vilamendhoo on my TMA flight.

Arriving at Vilamendhoo on my TMA flight.

Vilamendhoo is ideally placed for those who like snorkeling and diving, being situated between two channels and surrounded on all sides by a house reef. The island supports only the resort and is 900 metres long by 250 metres wide with guest rooms lined up along the white sand beaches and over the water. The island has been (very thoughtfully) divided into a ‘family’ section and an ‘adults only’ section – I stayed in the later.

Boat transfer from the plane to the resort.

Boat transfer from the plane to the resort.

Vilamendhoo is a 4* resort (owned by Crown & Champa Resorts) which provides all the ingredients required for a truly special holiday. Facilities and activities include:

White Sand Beaches

Vilamendhoo is ringed by white sand.

Vilamendhoo is ringed by white sand.

Being a coral island, Vilamendhoo offers stunning white sand beaches. Lounge chairs and hammocks have been placed along the beaches which line both sides of the island. The house reef, which offers spectacular snorkeling, is close to the shoreline.

Beach on Vilamendhoo.

Beach on Vilamendhoo.

Snorkeling

A house reef teeming with marine life surrounds Vilamendhoo island.

A house reef teeming with marine life surrounds Vilamendhoo island.

While at the resort, many guests take advantage of the incredible (and easily accessible) snorkeling, hiring their equipment from the dive shop. There are often slight currents moving through the channel but I used this to my advantage by doing ‘drift’ snorkels along the length of the island. Due to a coral bleaching event in 2016 (see the ‘Global Warming‘ section above) most of the coral on the house reef is dead but there is still a staggering array of marine life.

Even without getting your feet wet, you can see baby black-tip reef sharks and baby Eagle rays regularly swimming along the shoreline of the island. Fantastic!

During my stay, baby black-tip reef sharks were constantly swimming along the shoreline of Vilamendhoo.

During my stay, baby black-tip reef sharks were constantly swimming along the shoreline of Vilamendhoo.

Scuba Diving

Euro Divers operate a very professional dive shop at Vilamendhoo resort.

Euro Divers operate a very professional dive shop at Vilamendhoo resort.

The resort dive shop is owned by Euro Divers. Please refer to the following section – “Deluxe Travel – Euro Divers” for more details on activities and packages available.

Excursions

Snorkeling with a majestic Whale Shark is an unforgettable experience.

Snorkeling with a majestic Whale Shark is an unforgettable experience. Photo: Christine & Jeff Lees

A variety of excursions are offered each day, providing guests with the possibility to snorkel/ swim with Turtles, Manta Rays, Whale Sharks or indulge in some fishing or a relaxing sunset ‘punch’ cruise.

I chose to do the Whale Shark excursion and was glad I did. We had the opportunity to snorkel with four of these majestic creatures, which are the largest fish in the world, reaching lengths of up to 12 metres. The sharks are filter feeders, feeding almost exclusively on Plankton and are in no way a threat to humans. Since I have no underwater camera, the above (spectacular) photo has been kindly provided by my Vilamendhoo neighbours – Christine & Jeff Lees who were on the same trip with me. Thanks guys!

If you wish to learn more about Whale Sharks in the Maldives, you can refer to the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme website.

Swimming Pools

Sunset over the Sunset pool.

Sunset over the Sunset pool.

When you’ve had enough of the white sand beaches, the warm, turquoise water and the stunning house reef – you can choose to cool off in one of two pools – the Sunset pool (in the adults only section) or the larger Boashi pool (in the family section).

Duniye Spa

Duniye spa at Vilamendhoo.

Duniye spa at Vilamendhoo.

Built over the lagoon and accessed via an over-water boardwalk, the Duniye spa offers a variety of treatments. All guests are provided a free 15-minute massage which is great marketing.

Guests can watch the fish swimming in the lagoon while they receive their massage at the spa.

Guests can watch the fish swimming in the lagoon while they receive their massage at the spa.

 

A treatment at the spa is a great way to unwind after a day of diving.

A treatment at the spa is a great way to unwind after a day of diving.

The following YouTube video (source: Vilamendhoo) provides a virtual tour of the spa.

Wildlife

Vilamendhoo supports a variety of wildlife, including birds, reptiles and marine life.

Gardens

Vilamendhoo is covered in lush greenery and even has it's own plant nursery.

Vilamendhoo is covered in lush greenery and even has it’s own plant nursery.

Wherever there is free space in among the 55-acres of land on Vilamendhoo, you will find lush, green gardens. The resort has a team of gardeners and their own nursery.

Rooms

Please refer to the “Accommodation” section below for more details.

Restaurants & Bars

Please refer to the “Eating Out” section below for more details.

Deluxe Travel - Euro Divers

Euro Divers

Diving in the Maldives is sublime, from the amazing abundance of marine life (including Manta Rays and Whale Sharks) to the spectacular variety of corals.

Vilamendhoo is surrounded by a house reef and is located between two channels, making it a divers and snorkelers paradise. The dive shop at the resort is run by Euro Divers, who first started dive activities in the Maldives over forty years ago and today operate dive shops in nine different countries, including in 12 different resorts in the Maldives.

On offer are PADI dive courses, trial dives and a comprehensive selection of dive packages, all of which can be booked in advance from their website.

The Euro Divers traditional "Dhoni".

The Euro Divers traditional “Dhoni”.

Boat dives (using a traditional wooden “Dhoni“) are conducted twice a day, with two-tank dives departing each morning at 08:15 and single-tank dives departing each afternoon at 14:15.

During my stay, I did three well-organised boat dives (e.g. all equipment waiting on the boat / punctual departures/ full site briefing while en-route/ well guided dives with a maximum amount of time in the water/ plus a cup of hot tea once back on-board the boat). If I ever get to return I will stay longer and book their 36-dive package.

No shortage of sharks around Vilamendhoo, including baby black-tips constantly cruising along the shoreline.

No shortage of sharks around Vilamendhoo, including baby black-tips constantly cruising along the shoreline.

 

Independent Travel - Maafushi Island

Independent Travel

Maafushi Island

Sand streets on Maafushi add to the relaxed ambiance of the island.

Sand streets on Maafushi add to the relaxed ambiance of the island.

Located in the South Malé Atoll, a 30-minute speedboat ride from the airport or downtown Malé, Maafushi is the epi-centre of the burgeoning ‘independent travel’ scene in the Maldives. With it’s sand streets lined with palm trees, guest houses, cafes, restaurants, dive shops and souvenir stalls, Maafushi has a relaxed, laid-back, holiday atmosphere.

Typical Maldivian seascape as painted by Maafushi artist Ibrahim Shinaz.

Typical Maldivian seascape as painted by Maafushi artist Ibrahim Shinaz.

In 2010, the White Shell Beach Inn was the first guest house in the Maldives to be granted a licence to operate on a local island. Since then, scores of guest houses and hotels have sprung up on Maafushi with more under construction at the time of my visit.

Being a public island, bikini's can only be worn on one beach on Maafushi - the aptly named Bikini beach.

Being a public island, bikini’s can only be worn on one beach on Maafushi – the aptly named Bikini beach.

The accommodation scene on Maafushi is evolving rapidly. The original single-story guest houses are now looking old and dated and, are being upstaged by their neighbours – the new kids on the block – who are fancier, taller and include facilities such as indoor pools and business centres. Travelers do not have the island to themselves, with package tourists from Eastern Europe and China arriving by the boatload. 

Suzy is the proud owner of the 'Fine Bake' bakery.

Suzy is the proud owner of the ‘Fine Bake’ bakery.

In between the hotels, a host of businesses have opened to service the needs of travelers. Enterprising locals have opened art studios, cake shops, cafes, restaurants, laundries and gift shops. If you wish to see how beneficial tourism can be to a local economy there’s no better example than Maafushi. 

One of my favourite local businesses (which I patronised everyday) was the Fine Bake Bakery which is owned and operated by the wonderful Suzy. Her cakes are amazing (especially her upside-down pineapple cake) and I’m happy to say I sampled most of them all during my stay. 

Local artist Ibrahim Shinaz (right) in his studio on Maafushi.

Local artist Ibrahim Shinaz (right) in his studio on Maafushi.

If you’re looking for a unique, hand-painted souvenir from the Maldives, you’ll find plenty of treasures at the art studio of Ibrahim Shinaz.   

Where’s the beer? 

No alcohol? No problem! Fresh juices in the Maldives are delicious.

No alcohol? No problem! Fresh juices in the Maldives are delicious.

If you like to party when on holiday you should know that the sale and consumption of alcohol is banned in the Maldives – with the only exceptions being private-island resorts and live-aboard’s which exist in their own bubble. The importation of alcohol is also forbidden.

Hand-painted souvenirs by Ibrahim Shinaz of Maarfushi.

Hand-painted souvenirs by Ibrahim Shinaz of Maarfushi.

This ban includes Maafushi, but thirsty travelers will be happy to know that enterprising entrepreneurs have opened an offshore floating bar – Maha floating bar & restaurant – which is moored just offshore in the lagoon. If you wish to join the festivities, speedboat taxis will transfer you in minutes from the port to the boat.

Traditional Boat on Maafushi.

Traditional Boat on Maafushi.

Independent Travel - Maafushi Dive

Maafushi Dive

The friendly staff at Maafushi divers.

The friendly staff at Maafushi divers.

While on Maafushi I did four dives with Maafushi dive. The dive shop is operated by a friendly bunch of young, local hipsters who ‘live and breath’ diving. On my first dive I lost count of the amount of sharks (white-tip and grey reef) we saw while diving at 30-metres (98 feet) through a channel. The variety and abundance of marine life in the Maldives has to be seen to be believed.

Maldivian sunset by Ibrahim Shinaz.

Maldivian sunset by Ibrahim Shinaz.

Malé Sightseeing

While the main sights of the Maldives are the myriad coral islands, their white-sand beaches, the reefs and incredible variety of marine life – the capital city of Malé offers some cultural distractions worth investigating.

A panoramic view of Malé as we approach the seaplane terminal.

A panoramic view of Malé as we approach the seaplane terminal.

Most tourists to the Maldives skip Malé, travelling instead from the airport direct to their island resort. Malé is however an interesting capital, offering enough sights to easily hold your attention for a day. I arrived here after time spent relaxing on the islands and was happy to immerse myself in the hectic, crazy, bustling, cacophony of the city. 

Aerial view of crowded Malé.

Aerial view of crowded Malé.

The first thing that strikes you about Malé is how compact and crowded it is. With a population of 133,412 squeezed onto an island of 5.8 square kilometres (2.2 sq mi) – Malé is one of the world’s smallest national capitals. The island is easily walk-able, being 1.7 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide. All of this makes Malé the 5th most densely populated piece of real estate on the planet – having a population density of 47,416 inhabitants per square kilometre. With the streets constantly congested, the best way to explore Malé is on foot. 

The streets of this compact capital are always alive and buzzing.

The streets of this compact capital are always alive and buzzing.

National Museum

National Museum

An old Malaafaiy lacquered wooden food cover.

An old Malaafaiy lacquered wooden food cover.

Housed in a modern Chinese-built eye-sore, the National Museum provides a good overview of the history of the country and includes a range of historical artifacts, ranging from stone & wooden objects to royal antiquities. If you have an interest in learning more about Thaana or how the country converted from Buddhism to Islam then this is a good place to start. On the ground floor, there’s a philatelic display and a post office counter where you can buy stamps.

Produce & Fish Market, Dhivehi & Areca Nut

Produce & Fish Market

Shopping at the market in Malé.

Shopping at the market in Malé.

Due to the lack of soil in the Maldives, most produce is imported, with most of it ending up at the local market. Located on the waterfront adjacent to the fish market, the whole neighbourhood is one big sprawling bazaar with fish also being sold directly from fishing boats.

The market is located on the waterfront.

The market is located on the waterfront.

Dhivehi

Dhivehi - a delicacy from the Maldives which is exported around the world.

Dhivehi – a delicacy from the Maldives which is exported around the world.

A specialty for which the Maldives is famous is Dhivehi – cured tuna fish. To prepare Dhivehi, the tuna is cut in a particular way, boiled in water, smoked then sun-dried it until it’s like a piece of wood. If you wish to purchase some, you’ll find plenty of it at the market, vacuumed packed, ready for export. Chefs throughout the country include Dhivehi in dishes in creative ways. I once had a spaghetti Carbonara which was topped with flakes of Dhivehi rather than bacon.

A specialty of the Maldives - Dhivehi is cured tuna fish.

A specialty of the Maldives – Dhivehi is cured tuna fish.

Areca Nut

 

The chewing of Areca nut is a national pastime and there’s no better place to gain an understanding of everything ‘Areca’ than at the produce market.

Consumed as a stimulant, the nut grows in all tropical regions of the world and is commonly known as Betel nut since it is usually wrapped in a betel leaf along with a dash of ‘Huni’ (lime paste) before being chewed. In the Maldives people prefer to chew thin slices of the dry nut as a snack, which is akin to chewing on a piece of wood.

Friday Mosque & Cemetery

Friday Mosque & Cemetery

The Friday Mosque is the oldest mosque in the Maldives.

The Friday Mosque is the oldest mosque in the Maldives.

Despite being covered by an ugly protective corrugated-iron sheet roof, the historical Malé Friday mosque (the oldest in the Maldives) is a beautiful and fascinating sight.

The current mosque was constructed in 1658, over an earlier mosque, which was constructed in 1153 by the first Muslim Sultan of the Maldives, Mohamed Bin Abdullah, after his conversion to Islam.

Intricate coral stonework panel at the Friday Mosque.

Intricate coral stonework panel at the Friday Mosque.

The mosque is made of interlocking coral blocks, with many of the blocks carved with intricate Islamic designs.

Coral tombstones at the Friday mosque cemetery.

Coral tombstones at the Friday mosque cemetery.

Surrounding the Friday mosque is the most beautiful cemetery in the capital. Carved coral tombstones distinguish males, females, sultans and their families. Women’s tombstones have rounded tops; men’s have pointed tops, and inscriptions for royalty are gilt.

Presidential Residence

Presidential Residence

Mulee'aage - the modest Presidential residence.

Mulee’aage – the modest Presidential residence.

Opposite the Friday mosque is Mulee’aagea small, unpretentious cottage which, since 2009, has served as the residence of the president. Built in 1914, the residence was built in a colonial style which was popular in Sri Lanka at the time.

Grand Friday Mosque

Grand Friday Mosque

The Grand Friday Mosque in Malé.

The Grand Friday Mosque in Malé.

Located on the grounds of the Islamic Centre in downtown Malé, the modern Grand Friday Mosque is the largest in the Maldives, and one of the largest in South Asia, admitting over 5,000 worshipers. The mosque is free to visit outside of pray times, provided you’re dressed appropriately.

Coup d'état Memorial

Coup d’état Memorial

Memorial to the failed 1988 coup d'état.

Memorial to the failed 1988 coup d’état.

In front of the Islamic centre is a memorial to the 1988 Maldives coup d’état, which was an attempt to overthrow the government, led by a group of Maldivians, who were assisted by armed mercenaries from Sri Lanka. The coup failed due to the intervention of Indian Armed Forces.

Accommodation

Accommodation at Vilamendhoo resort.

Accommodation at Vilamendhoo resort.

In a country where tourism is the #1 industry, there’s no shortage of accommodation options and while deluxe resorts have existed for many decades, budget guest houses are now also available. 

Malé

Malé

The Champa Central hotel in Malé.

The Champa Central hotel in Malé.

There are many different accommodation options tucked away in the crowded streets of Malé. I chose to stay at the 4-star Champa Central Hotel (CCH), which is located in the heart of the city. CCH is part of Crown & Champa Resorts, who own seven resorts throughout the Maldives.

Outside the hotel the city streets are chaotic, busy and congested – but inside, there’s a relaxed air of calm – and, in a city that’s tight on space (almost claustrophobic at times), the rooms at CCH are wonderfully spacious.

A buffet breakfast is served each morning in the top floor restaurant and a rooftop terrace is open every evening – a great place to watch the sunset over the city. Transfers are provided between the hotel and the ferry dock.

The spacious rooms at the Champa Central hotel offer a welcome respite from the over-crowded city outside.

The spacious rooms at the Champa Central hotel offer a welcome respite from the over-crowded city outside.

Vilamendhoo Resort

Vilamendhoo Resort

Interior of my Beach Villa at Vilamendhoo.

Interior of my Beach Villa at Vilamendhoo.

The 4* Vilamendhoo resort offers 184 spacious, well-appointed rooms in four different categories:

  • Jacuzzi Water Villas (85 sqm – located over the water)
  • Jacuzzi Beach Villas (65 sqm)
  • Beach Villas (55 sqm)
  • Garden Rooms (55sqm) 
The level of service at Vilamendhoo was outstanding - they even have their own water bottling plant.

The level of service at Vilamendhoo was outstanding – they even have their own water bottling plant.

I stayed in room #195 which was a Beach Villa. Fronting the beach and surrounded by a lush, well tendered garden, the villa was nicely decorated in a tropical style and very comfortable with free WiFi, cable TV and all mod cons. The bathroom is semi-outdoor which is perfect in a tropical environment.

The 'Jacuzzi Water Villas' are accessed via an over-the-water boardwalk.

The ‘Jacuzzi Water Villas’ are accessed via an over-the-water boardwalk.

The following YouTube video (Source: Vilamendhoo) provides a virtual tour of a beach villa:

Video tours of other room types are available on YouTube. For more on Vilamendhoo resort, refer to the ‘Deluxe Travel – Vilamendhoo Resort’ section above.

My semi-outdoor bathroom - well ventilated and very spacious.

My semi-outdoor bathroom – well ventilated and very spacious.

Maafushi Island

Maafushi Island

Most new hotels on Maafushi are being built to the the 7-story limit.

Most new hotels on Maafushi are being built to the the 7-story limit.

Currently Maafushi is the most popular ‘inhabited’ island where independent travelers have a choice of accommodation from inexpensive guest houses to more deluxe hotels with swimming pools.

Many new hotels are currently under construction with most being built to the 7-story limit set by the government (which is six stories higher than most other buildings on the island).

While on Maafushi, I stayed at the family-run Lily Rest guest house which offers eight comfortable guest rooms. Accommodation options and prices can be found on the usual OTA (Online Travel Agent) sites such as booking.com.

Eating Out

Tuna for sale on Maafushi.

Tuna for sale on Maafushi.

Maldivian cuisine is based on three key ingredients – fish (Skipjack Tuna is the local favourite), coconuts and starches. The cuisine has been influenced through the centuries through contact with Arab, Indian and other traders.

Malé

Malé

There’s no shortage of restaurants in Malé, with well-priced buffet lunches allowing visitors the opportunity to sample various Maldivian dishes. One of my favourite places is the Sea House cafe which overlooks the Airport ferry dock and offers a good buffet lunch for 120 MVR.

The very green 'Koththu Hut' in downtown Malé.

The very green ‘Koththu Hut’ in downtown Malé.

In the heart of the concrete jungle that is downtown Malé, it’s impossible to miss the very green facade of Koththu Hut which serves a selection of Maldivian dishes, specialising in grilled meats.

Vilamendhoo Resort

Vilamendhoo Resort

Ahima buffet restaurant at Vilamendhoo resort.

Ahima buffet restaurant at Vilamendhoo resort.

Restaurants

Thrice daily buffets are included in the room rate and are served in two ‘sister’ restaurants (loved the sand floors) which serve the same meals; the Funama restaurant caters to families while the Ahima restaurant is in the ‘adults-only’ section of the island.

Dining on the beach is an option at Vilamendhoo.

Dining on the beach is an option at Vilamendhoo.

I ate my meals at the Ahima restaurant where the service, selection, variety and quality of food was outstanding. Just to keep the offering interesting (most people are here for at least a week), different theme nights are held with Friday being Maldivian night, offering guests the opportunity to sample delicious Maldivian cuisine.

Flags out for the Maldivian night at the Ahima restaurant.

Flags out for the Maldivian night at the Ahima restaurant.

You would think with all the diving and snorkeling that I would have lost weight at Vilamendhoo, but no – the food was far too good so I gained a few pounds. You can view a sample Buffet menu here.

Temptation everywhere! Vilamendhoo is not for dieters.

Temptation everywhere! Vilamendhoo is not for dieters.

If you wish to take a break from the buffet offerings, there are two ‘optional’ à la carte restaurants to choose from:

  • Asian Wok Restaurant – An over-the-water restaurant with a menu specialising in Asian cuisine.
  • Hot Rock Restaurant – A restaurant whose menu features local seafood, chicken, steak and more all of which is cooked on ‘hot rocks’ at your table.

Bars

Comfortable lounges line the sand floor of the Sunset bar.

Comfortable lounges line the sand floor of the Sunset bar.

Being a private-island resort, alcohol is freely available at Vilamendhoo, who provide four bars to keep their guests hydrated:

  • Bonthi bar – Located next to the Funama restaurant, this is the main bar and the venue for nightly activities.
  • Sunset bar – located in the ‘adults only’ section of the island, next to the Ahima restaurant and Sunset pool.
  • Boashi bar – located next to the Boashi pool in the ‘family’ section of the island.
  • Asian Wok bar – not surprisingly – this bar is located in the Asian Wok restaurant.

For more on Vilamendhoo, refer to the ‘Deluxe Travel – Vilamendhoo Resort’ section above.

Maafushi Island

Maafushi Island

View from my dinner table at Summers Cafe on Maafushi.

View from my dinner table at Summers Cafe on Maafushi.

Various hotels on Maafushi offer dinner buffets for US$15, serving international and local fare. If you prefer beach-side dining while listening to live music, the Arena Beach Hotel  is the place to be. The Summer Cafe and Bakery is owned by Chinese expatriate Summer who offers delicious Chinese meals made from local seafood. The Stingray cafe offers a selection of traditional Maldivian food, including a flavourful tuna curry.

Recipe - Mas Huni

Mas Huni

Mas Huni with roti.

Mas Huni with roti.

A popular breakfast dish is Mas Huni, which is smoked tuna with onions, lime juice and coconut.

Recipe

  • 1 cup diced smoked tuna
  • 1 cup scraped coconut
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 1 finely chopped Chinese capsicum
  • Lime juice and salt to taste
  • Mash together the onions, capsicum, lime juice and salt.
  • Mix in the tuna until it is well combined and add the coconut.
  • Serve with a roti.

Visa Requirements

Visa Requirements
Maldives immigration stamps.

Maldives immigration stamps.

The visa policy of the Maldives is wonderfully straight-forward with every nationality being granted a 30-day stay. The two exceptions to this rule are for Indian nationals (who can stay for 90 days) and nationals of Brunei who are granted a 15-day stay.

Getting There

Air

Air

A view of Velana International airport which is currently undergoing an $800-million expansion.

A view of Velana International airport which is currently undergoing an $800-million expansion.

International flights arrive at Velana International Airport, which is located on the island of Hulhulé – 1.3 km across the water from Malé.

Thanks to the introduction of services by low cost carriers, reaching the Maldives is now more affordable than ever. If you’re in SE Asia, AirAsia (sigh!) offer cheap return flights from KL as do Scoot (better!) from Singapore. From Thailand, Bangkok Airways and Thai AirAsia offer regular services.

The airport serves as the base for the national carrier – Maldivian – who operate International and domestic flights.

The following airlines provide scheduled services to/ from Velana International Airport:

  • Aeroflot – flies between Moscow–Sheremetyevo
  • AirAsia – flies between Kuala Lumpur–International
  • Air France – flies between Paris–Charles de Gaulle
  • Air India – flies between Bangalore, Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram
  • Bangkok Airways – flies between Bangkok–Suvarnabhumi
  • Beijing Capital Airlines – flies between Beijing–Capital
  • Cathay Pacific – flies between Hong Kong
  • China Eastern Airlines – flies between Colombo, Kunming, Shanghai–Pudong
  • China Southern Airlines – flies between Colombo, Guangzhou
  • Condor – flies between Frankfurt
  • Emirates – flies between Colombo, Dubai–International
  • Etihad Airways – flies between Abu Dhabi
  • Flydubai – flies between Colombo, Dubai–International
  • Flyme – flies between Dharavandhoo, Maamigili
  • Korean Air – flies between Colombo, Seoul–Incheon
  • Maldivian – flies between Bangkok–Suvarnabhumi, Changsha, Chengdu, Chennai, Chongqing, Dhaka, Dharavandhoo, Fuvahmulah, Fuzhou, Gan, Hanimaadhoo, Hangzhou, Kaadedhdhoo, Kadhdhoo, Kooddoo, Nanjing, Thimarafushi, Thiruvananthapuram, Wuhan, Xi’an
  • Qatar Airways – flies between Doha
  • Saudia – flies between Riyadh, Jeddah, Colombo
  • Scoot – flies between Singapore
  • SilkAir – flies between Singapore
  • Singapore Airlines – flies between Singapore
  • Spicejet – flies between Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram
  • SriLankan Airlines – flies between Colombo
  • Thai AirAsia – flies between Bangkok–Don Mueang
  • Turkish Airlines – flies between Istanbul–Atatürk
Airport Expansion

Airport Expansion

Land on Hulhule Island is being reclaimed as part of the airport expansion project.

Land on Hulhule Island is being reclaimed as part of the airport expansion project.

Velana International airport is currently undergoing an $800-million expansion (mostly funded by the Chinese government) which will include a longer runway. The new runway, which can accommodate the world’s largest passenger airliner – the Airbus A380, will be operational by mid-2018.

Additionally, a new terminal will cater for up to seven million passengers per year and a new Chinese-funded bridge will provide a road link from the airport to downtown Malé.

A view of the new Chinese constructed Airport-Malé bridge.

A view of the new China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, which will provide a road link from the airport to the capital.

Resort Transfers

Resort Transfers

Most hotels and resorts maintain a booth at the airport, providing smooth transfers to their respective properties either by seaplane or boat.

Seaplane Transfers

Seaplane Transfers

TMA operate the largest fleet of seaplanes in the world.

TMA operate the largest fleet of seaplanes in the world.

The Maldives is home to the biggest seaplane operation in the world with flights operated by Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA). All check-in procedures take place in the International terminal with passengers being transferred in mini-buses (luggage is transferred in separate vans) to the seaplane terminal on the opposite side of the island. Refer to the ‘Getting Around – Air‘ section below for more details.

Airport Boat Transfers

Boat Transfers

Resort Transfers

If you’re staying at a resort located close to the airport, you’ll be transferred by boat, with all boats departing from the front of the airport.

Maafushi Transfers

If you’re staying on Maafushi Island, you can reach the island in 30 minutes by speedboat directly from the airport. There are currently three operators offering frequent services to Maafushi Island – refer to the ‘Getting Around – Speedboat‘ section below for more details.

Malé-Airport Ferry

Airport – Malé Ferry

 

Until construction of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge is complete (mid 2018), the only way to reach Malé from the Airport is via the public ferry which takes 10 minutes to make the crossing and costs 10 MVR.

Ferries depart as per the following timetable:

  • From the Airport to Malé (all days, except Friday)
    – Every 10 minutes from morning 06:00 AM to 02:30 AM
    – Every 30 minutes from morning 02:30 AM to 04:00 AM
    – Every 15 minutes from morning 04:00 AM to 06:00 AM
  • From Malé to the Airport (all days, except Friday)
    – Every 10 minutes from morning 06:00 AM to 02:30 AM
    – Every 30 minutes from morning 02:30 AM to 04:00 AM
    – Every 15 minutes from morning 04:00 AM to 06:00 AM
  • On Fridays ferries operate every 10 minutes from 06:00 AM to 00:00 AM.

Getting Around

A spectacular view from the window of my TMA flight en-route to Vilamendhoo resort.

A spectacular view from the window of my TMA flight en-route to Vilamendhoo resort.

Air

Air

Trans Maldivian Airways provide seaplane services to islands throughout the Maldives.

Trans Maldivian Airways provide seaplane services to islands throughout the Maldives.

The Maldives offer many spectacular resorts, most of which are located on secluded, remote islands far from Malé. The only feasible (i.e. timely) way of reaching these resorts is via seaplane. With a fleet of 48 (18-seater) de Havilland Twin Otters, Trans Maldivian Airways operate the largest seaplane fleet in the world and offer a comprehensive network of daily flights throughout the archipelago. 

 

 

All seaplane transfers are made during daylight hours, and offer spectacular views of the atolls, islands, reefs and lagoons. The cost of a ticket is between US$250 and US$450 return, depending on the distance and the arrangement made with the resort with the ticket price generally included in the resort package price.

Ferry

Ferry

The Maafushi Ferry docked at the Viligili Ferry Terminal in Malé.

The Maafushi Ferry docked at the Viligili Ferry Terminal in Malé.

 

Ferries are an important mode of transport in this atoll nation with most services originating in Malé. The ferry to Maafushi (2 hours/ 30 MVR) departs from Jetty 1 at the Viligili Ferry Terminal in Malé each day (except Friday) at 3 pm with a stop en-route at Gulhi island. While the ferry provides a passenger service its more important function is that of a freight service, with the boat normally packed to the rafters with all sorts of goods.

The Maafushi ferry is not just a passenger ferry! It provides an important freight service (including car carrying) to the island.

The Maafushi ferry is not just a passenger ferry! It provides an important freight service (including car carrying) to the island.

Speedboat

Speedboats

Speedboat to Maafushi island.

Speedboat to Maafushi island.

Speedboats to various destinations provide a faster, more comfortable, connection than the slower ferries, with most boats departing directly from the the airport and/ or the dock in downtown Malé. 

Comfortable, frequent speedboats connect Maafushi island to the airport and downtown Malé, with the 30 minute passage costing (for foreigners) US$25. Services are provided by the following (Maafushi-based) operators:

  • Maafushi Tours – Offers four daily transfers each way. Check their website for the current schedule. 
  • iCom Tours Offers three daily transfers each way. Check their website for the current schedule and seat availability for each sailing.
  • Arena HotelOffers three daily transfers each way. Check their website for the current schedule. 
Taxi

Taxi

Taxi's on Malé cost just a couple of dollars to any destination on the island.

Taxi’s on Malé cost just a couple of dollars to any destination on the island.

Un-metered taxi’s (fares should be confirmed in advance) are available in Malé with most destinations on the island costing 20-30 MVR with an extra charge of 5 MVR for luggage.

Motorbike

Motorbikes

The streets of Malé are jammed with Motorbikes.

The streets of Malé are jammed with Motorbikes.

The most popular form of transport on congested Malé is the motorbike, with an estimated 15,000 registered bikes (representing 1 bike for every 6 residents) buzzing around the tiny, crowded island.

Rental Car

Maldives Car Rental Myth

While you can search online for ‘Maldives Car Rental‘ – and you will receive results from all the usual websites – once you click through you will find that, strangely, there are no rental cars available. That’s because there are no rental cars in the Maldives. The only urban area in the country is the densely packed capital of Malé which is best explored on foot, most of the other islands have no roads.

Bus

Bus

There are no bus services in the Maldives.

About taste2travel.com

Author: Darren McLean

Author of taste2travel.com and an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer, diver and adventurer.

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Maldives Travel Guide
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Maldives Travel Guide
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A Maldives Travel Guide by Darren McLean - covering history, sights, accommodation, restaurants, visa requirements, getting there & around.
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Taste2travel.com
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