Your Trip to the Maldives: The Complete Guide

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Made up of nearly 1,200 coral islands strung north to south in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is one of the most popular beach destinations on the planet. Known for world-class diving, miles of empty white-sand beaches, and resorts oozing with luxury, the Maldives isn’t always the most budget-friendly destination (though bargains can be found). But if you’re looking for mind-blowing sunsets, sugary sand, and the most turquoise water you’ve ever seen, break out your credit card and book a flight. Read on for our complete Maldives visitor’s guide, and learn the best places to stay, eat, dive, and explore in this spectacular tropical locale.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time To Visit: In true tropical island style, temperatures in the Maldives average 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) year-round, and there are only two main seasons; dry and wet. The dry season comes in fall and winter, from November through April, with temperatures ranging from 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) to 89 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). The low, monsoon season runs from May through October, with the wettest month usually falling in June. Temperatures in the rainy season range from 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) to 87 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).

Getting Around: As an island nation spread across hundreds of miles of the ocean, it’s only natural that boats are the country’s transport mainstay, so prepare your sea legs (or Dramamine). For those staying near the capital or attempting a more budget holiday, ferries are offered between some of the more populated islands in the Malé Atoll capital area. Speedboat taxis can be hired for short-distance island hopping, and private resort speedboats whisk guests away to properties in the immediate vicinity. For resorts set in distant atolls, further transport will be via seaplane or a domestic flight to one of the more far-flung airports followed by speedboat transfer to the resort.

Travel Tip: Many visitors to the Maldives must travel by seaplane to reach their final destination, so it’s important to note that seaplanes only operate during daylight hours. If your flight arrives after dark, consider staying at a nearby hotel on either Hulhulé Island or in nearby Malé city.

Sunset over a white sand beach in the Maldives
 

Things to Do

This is a country surrounded by water, water, and more water, so it's only natural that water sports have emerged as the leading activity in the Maldives. Landlubbers can bask in the sun on deserted sandbanks, or perhaps spend the day in one of the dozens of spas dotted at upmarket resorts throughout the nation.

  • Diving: Some of the world's best diving can be found in the Maldives' coral atolls. Spot whale sharks and manta rays from May through November in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, or dive deep with octopi and reef sharks to explore some of the area's famed shipwrecks.
  • Water sports: Snorkeling, stand-up paddle, surfing, windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, and every other water sport imaginable are available year-round. Most resorts include access to non-motorized water sports equipment, and the larger populated islands generally have water sports rental facilities.
  • Spa experiences: The Maldives is home to some of the most indulgent hotel spas in the world. These havens of tranquility offer everything from Thai massages set in overwater villas, to underwater treatment rooms, to complete detox, rejuvenation, or restoration packages. Most resorts have a spa on the property, so it's only a matter of choosing which will best suit your budget and relaxation desires.
  • Nothing: Perhaps the ultimate activity of all in the Maldives is doing absolutely nothing. This definition of "nothing" means laying on a sun lounger on one of the country's best beaches, staring into the sea-green distance while sipping ice-cold coconut water and reading a novel.

What to Eat and Drink

Maldivian cuisine borrows mainly from India and Sri Lanka, which both highlight hot, spicy flavors. But in the Maldives, what you’ll eat largely depends on where you stay. High-end resorts offer a variety of a la carte local and international fare in a host of luxurious settings, including in overwater and underwater restaurants.

Budget resorts are more likely to provide buffet meals with both Western and Asian options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are also small local eateries and cafes on many of the inhabited islands, purveying specialties such as fish cakes, soups, and curries.

Alcohol is prohibited in the Maldives (except for tourists at licensed hotels and resorts), so don’t expect to wash down your curry with a beer in any of the local establishments. Many of the more upmarket resorts, however, have full bars, and even wine cellars with hundreds of vintages to choose from.

Where to Stay

If visitors stay in the city of Malé, it’s rarely for more than one night, as there’s not much going on in the capital other than commerce, a few restaurants, and a museum or two. Most visitors stay in one of the dozens of resorts, which are often set on private islands in one of the country’s myriad coral atolls.

Accommodations vary widely in the Maldives, from rustic local guesthouses to some of the world’s most expensive resorts. If you’re on a budget, there are a handful of guesthouses and small hotels in many of the inhabited islands, such as in the North Malé Atoll or Ari Atoll.

There are also a variety of all-inclusive resorts, which range widely in quality. Check out Andaaran Prestige Vadoo, which is only 20 minutes by speedboat from the airport and has overwater villas with private pools, or the chic design and five restaurants at LUX* South Ari Atoll.

The Maldives’ lineup of five-star resorts are the stuff holiday dreams are made of. Postcard-perfect beaches, overwater villas, serene spas, and private butlers are only a taste of what to expect should you choose to splurge. Some of the most popular (and expensive) options include chains such as the Four Seasons, St. Regis, and the Six Senses, plus properties like Soneva Jani, which features massive overwater villas with private pools and waterslides, or Huvafen Fushi Maldives which has the world’s first and only underwater spa.

Getting There

The gateway to the Maldives is Velana International Airport (MLE), formerly Malé International Airport, which is set on an island adjacent to the capital city of Malé. Upon arrival, the best transport mode depends on where you’re staying. A bridge connects the airport (on Hulhulé Island) to adjacent Malé city, or there are taxis, speedboat taxis, and regularly scheduled (though not always on time) ferries.

Culture

The Maldives’ seafaring past and Indian Ocean location means the remote country has been heavily influenced by its closest neighbors, India and Sri Lanka, as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Africa. Many visitors will only see the surroundings of their chosen resort, but the Maldives possesses cultural treasures on the local islands and in Malé that are also worth exploring.

  • One of the oldest mosques in the Maldives is the Malé Hukuru Miskiy, or Old Friday Mosque, which was built from ornately carved coral in 1658. The mosque is set on Hulhulé Island, an easy taxi ride from the airport.
  • The Maldives National Museum in Malé is a compact yet illuminating repository for the country’s prized artifacts. Displays range from ancient to modern times and contain everything from religious carvings to whale skeletons to lacquered wood boxes handmade by Maldivian craftspeople.
  • Across Sultan Park from The Maldives National Museum is The National Art Gallery. Established in 1999, this relatively new museum houses collections of Maldivian art from both past and present.

Money-Saving Tips

  • May through October is monsoon season in much of Southeast Asia, and the Maldives is no exception. Although summer can sometimes bring heavy rainfall and severe storms, most often there are only afternoon showers, and risking a visit during these monsoon months (particularly June, considered the wettest month) means deep discounts compared to visiting the country during the peak season.
  • Since alcohol is heavily taxed and marked-up in the Maldives, a drinks bill at the end of your trip can pose a hefty surprise. To keep the holiday stress-free and the umbrella drinks coming, consider choosing an all-inclusive package if you plan to indulge in adult libations during your stay.
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