Darren: “Let’s go Maldives.”
“Huh? Where did you say again?” I thought I heard wrongly. Frugal Darren rarely travels further than a 4-hour flight radius for a personal holiday.
“Let’s explore Maldives! I just read an article about it on the plane. Let’s go next month.”
What an impulse trip. Whoopee!
But that also meant I only had less than 3 weeks to plan a trip to paradise. Normal people usually dream about it a lifetime. and take up to a year to plan. Not fair. Nut I ain’t gonna let this opportunity slip, and so I embarked on countless nights of trip research (if I were that hardworking in school, I could have been President).
Getting to Maldives proved to be a little more complex than just buying a ticket and booking a resort, so I thought I would share some handy tips on visiting Maldives gleaned from my recent experience. Did I enjoy my impromptu trip? I most certainly did. In fact, I am dreaming of going back again :)
WHERE IS MALDIVES?
The Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean–Arabian Sea area, consisting of a double chain of twenty-six atolls (giant ringlike coral formations), about 700 kilometres south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometres south-west of India. It is also the smallest Asian country in both population and land area.
WHEN TO GO?
The best time to visit Maldives is from January to April when the sky is blue and sea most calm (read: peak season = high accommodation rate). Low season begins in May when the weather is getting unpredictable (may have short bursts of rain on some days but accommodation is cheaper), and the monsoon season arrives in November to December (best avoided; high chance of rainy days). Most people still go during Christmas and the New Year, as well as to get married no matter what season.
WHERE TO STAY?
Most people will stay on one of the resort islands. For the budget-conscious and more adventurous, you can opt to stay in a guesthouse on one of the local islands to experience the local culture. More on accommodation later in this post.
Maldivians are almost entirely Sunni Muslim and conservative. Muslim laws are enforced on the local islands, meaning no alcohol, no bikinis, no see-through clothing, and shoulders and knees have to be covered at all times (both men & women). These laws are not enforced on resort islands. All’s not lost for those staying on a local island – you can arrange with your accommodation for trips to nearby uninhabited islands where bikinis are allowed. For men, we know you want to show your well-toned pecs, but do bring a few tops with sleeves as your resort may have a minimum dress code (always check unless you don’t mind donning your partner’s floral shawl during meal times).
The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language. The staff at your resort will have a basic understanding of English. If you are going to the local islands, most of the people may not understand English. Here’s some useful phrases if you wish to sound friendly.
Hello Assalaamu alaikum
How are you? Kihineh?
Thank you Shukuriyaa
Excuse me Ma-aaf kurey
Good morning Bajaveri hendhune
Maldivian rufiyaa is the currency used, but US dollar is widely accepted and used at the resorts. The exchange rate is about USD1 to 15.82 rufiyaa. You should bring with you US dollars. There is no need to change a lot of money since you will probably be at the resort most of the time and all expenses will be charged to your room. Do bring small change (UDS1/USD5 bills) as you will be expected to tip (you can change with the resort reception).
Do note that the exporting of sand, seashells or coral is forbidden so do not buy these items. You will be able to buy all the corals and shells you want from the shops (some may even offer you ‘certificates’), but most likely you will be stopped at customs and slapped a hefty fine. And apparently, picking shells or sand from the beach is not allowed too. One way you can get some of these back is buying from the souvenir shops at the airport – I got a pretty, decorated glass bottle of sand with tiny seashells in it for USD5.
You will need a transfer to your accommodation upon arrival. Note that this will have to be arranged beforehand when booking your accommodation. Depending on the distance from Malé (where the airport is located) to your accommodation, you can transfer via a local ferry (cheapest), speedboat (about USD150; around 10 to 60mins depending on the location of your accommodation) or seaplane (can cost up to USD350 for a return trip; 30mins to 1hr). You may not have a choice if your accommodation is far away – a seaplane may be the only choice (which turned out to be abut the same price as our air ticket there lol!). Hence you should take this into consideration when choosing where to stay. The nearer you stay to Male, the cheaper your transfer. However, it will be noisier with so many planes and boats moving around. The atolls further away are more peaceful and tend to have better reefs as well.
SO WHICH ACCOMMODATION OPTION?
These are a few options offered by the resorts. Do check with your particular resort for their specific accommodation offerings.
– Room only
No meals included, pay as you consume. A la carte prices are scarily high, so unless you are going for a Survivor-style holiday and bring your own instant noodles and dry supplies, I would recommend not getting this option. Even bottled water is chargeable at about USD3 per bottle. And no mom-and-pop store nor 7-Eleven on the island yar…No coconuts for you to pluck too.
Breakfast and dinner provided. Lunch on your own. Meals at resorts are usually buffet style, so if you foresee skipping lunch or are going for many day cruises where lunch is provided, you can select this option.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided.
– All Inclusive (AI)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided; in addition to a selection of alcohol and in-room bar drinks. Some resorts will also include some activities such as 1 sunset cruise, snorkelling/windsurfing/tennis lessons in the AI package. Ours came with a small bottle of champagne too. If you are not into alcohol, the full-board option may be a more cost-efficient option for you. Compare the difference in cost, and the amount of water/drinks you are likely to consume to decide which option works better for you.
TYPES OF ROOMS
Essentially there are two types of room on any resort:
– Beach Villa (Usually one-storey bungalow facing the sea with 2 personal deckchairs in front. Some resorts have double-storey terraces)
– Water Villa (This, is what most people dream of – the bungalow built over water, where a staircase from the balcony leads you to the school of fish swimming just below. And naturally the most expensive option)
– Garden Villa (Some resorts may have this option which is located in the middle of the island with no view)
MANDATORY BED TAX
All accommodation charge a bed tax of USD8 per person per night, regardless of age. You may be glad to know this bed tax is used to fund education for the Maldivians. Also to note is your expenses are subject to a 10% service charge plus 8% GST. Check if all these taxes are already included in your daily room rate, or separately payable.
HOW LONG TO STAY?
Some resorts have a minimum booking period of about 6 days (you can book via Agoda to get around this). I would recommend spending a minimum of 4 days to a maximum of 2 weeks. Beyond that you will get jaded with too much goodness. By Day 5, we started categorising resort guests by the number of days they have stayed from observing them (Day 1 – visibly excited, everything also take picture; Day 2 – Sporting a light tan and going on snorkelling excursions; Day 3 – Lazing by the beach; Day 4 – Sporting a sunburn; Day 5 – Hiding in the bar with a drink in hand; Day 6 – Hiding in the jacuzzi in the room; and not even a manta ray can excite them. And the list goes on…just for fun lol.) We stayed a comfortable 6 days, enough to experience most of what’s available, yet yearn to come back for more.
WHERE TO STAY?
This really depends on your budget. I would say you need a bare minimum of USD1,200 to USD1,500 per pax, to whatever amount you can afford. For a budget stay, consider guesthouses in one of the local islands. Maafushi is one of the islands pretty popular with budget travellers due to its proximity to Male and availability of ferries daily (USD3 per way). There are also dive centres at some of the guesthouses which also provide trips to other islands. Other popular local islands include Guraidhoo, Himmafushi, Dhangethi, Rasdhoo and Thulusdhoo. But bear in mind these look nothing like the Maldives ads you see.
For us, we opted to stay at a resort for our first experience. Reviews from Tripadvisor say that the South Ari atoll have better reefs, so we opted for this area when searching for accommodation.
SOME RECOMMENDED RESORTS
The criteria we used while searching for accommodation included:
– Availability of a good house reef (being able to snorkel along the beach means you do not have to spend on daily boat trips out to snorkel)
– Variety of food (we didn’t think we could survive a week eating the same thing 3 times a day)
– Availability of activities on the resort and trips offered (unless all you want to do is make babies)
– Accommodation options available (we tried to opt for full board or all inclusive so we don’t get a shock when the bill comes)
– Price (but of course!)
You may have different criteria, so do check out forums such as Tripadvisor to help you decide on your ultimate resort.
I have listed some of the Maldives accommodation with relatively positive reviews for your reference:
– Narnia Maldives (budget)
– Reethi Beach (budget)
– Ras Reef Guest House (budget)
– Kaani Beach Hotel (budget)
– Vilamendhoo Island Resort (mid-range, and where we chose)
– Veligandu Island Resort (mid-range)
– LUX* Maldives (mid-range)
– Kuredu Island Resort (mid-range)
– Kuramathi Island Resort (mid-range)
– Lily Beach Resort (luxury)
– Diamonds Athuruga Beach & Water Villas (luxury)
– Constance Moofushi (luxury)
– Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort (luxury)
– Jumeirah Dhevanafushi Resort (luxury)
– Six Senses Laamu (luxury)
– Milaidhoo Island (ultimate luxury)
– Taj Exotica Resort & Spa (ultimate luxury)
– One&Only Reethi Rah (ultimate luxury)
– Cocoa Island by COMO (ultimate luxury)
– Gili Lankanfushi (ultimate luxury – they have a chocolate cave!)
– If you want to see more of Maldives, why don’t you consider a cruise? Check for cruises on the Liveaboard Association of Maldives website. Some cruise operators you can consider include The Four Seasons Explorer, Maldives Dive Travel, Voyages Maldives and Maldives Cruise Guide.
If you have stayed in any of the above resorts or have one to recommend, do drop me a note, I would love to hear from you! Hope this has been useful for your Maldives holiday, or at least inspire you to plan for your next vacation to paradise ;)
The next time you are in the Cooled Conservatories at Gardens by the Bay, take a moment to lift your head up and see if you can spot the cool folks on harness, cleaning the exterior facade. I wonder how it feels like to scale 58 metres up this impressive structure…must be like a Mission Impossible. I think my legs will turn to jelly faster than I can say “Peanut Butter!”