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Your Trip to the Maldives: The Complete Guide
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.
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 Adaaran 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.
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.
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.
- 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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Maldives Travel Guide
Courtesy of Abllo Ameer/Getty Images
Why Go To Maldives
You've seen photos of the Maldives before: picture-perfect private villas suspended over striking blue waters, alabaster white sand beaches and spectacular sunsets dipping into the horizon. The scenic beauty of the Maldives is something to behold, something you can't quite understand until you're there in person.
The island nation of the Maldives is popular with honeymooners looking for seclusion and adventurers looking to explore the depths of the sea on a scuba diving and snorkeling excursion. Travelers seeking relaxation can unwind at one of the island spas and all visitors should certainly spend a day exploring the Maldivian capital of Malé . The hotels in this region are also spectacular, ranging from underwater hotels to overwater bungalows to incredibly beautiful resorts . However, getting to and staying in this tropical paradise requires patience (there are no direct flights from the United States) and plentiful cash. Located between the Arabian and Laccadive seas, roughly 500 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, the Maldives is about as isolated as you can get – and that's just another one of its many allures.
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Maldives Travel Tips
Best months to visit.
The best time to visit the Maldives is from November to April. The island nation is warm and sunny year-round, but consists of a dry season and a wet, rainy season. There are pros and cons to visiting in each season. Travelers will experience the best weather in the Maldives between November and April, thanks to little precipitation and warm temperatures. Unfortunately, this is also the busiest time of year and, as such, the room rates at resorts are expensive. However, since each resort inhabits its own island, you won't have to contend with throngs of crowds like you might during the high season in another destination.
May to October is considered the rainy season, with the islands seeing between 5 and 10 inches of precipitation monthly and often strong winds. Visitors will likely find better deals for this time of year (though, the term "deal" is relative, since the Maldives is a pricey location year-round). This time of year is popular with surfers, though, because the area sees bigger waves and better swells for surfing during these months.
Weather in Maldives
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
What You Need to Know
Tap water is desalinated This treated water is fine for showering and brushing teeth, but you'll likely want to drink bottled water in the Maldives. Of note, bottled water can be pretty expensive at resorts, so consider stocking up with a few bottles at a local store in Malé before heading to your hotel .
It's hot These islands are located near the equator, meaning the temperatures are warm year-round and the sun is strong. Make sure to apply a liberal amount of sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun's UV rays.
Islamic tradition is important The Maldives is a conservative Muslim nation, where you'll find plenty of mosques and very little alcohol beyond the resorts' borders.
How to Save Money in Maldives
Adjust your expectations Visiting the Maldives on a budget is unlike visiting other travel destinations like Mexico or Asia on a budget, where you may be able to get by spending less than $50 to $100 a day. There are some ways to save but overall a trip here is pretty pricey.
Choose flights wisely Airfare from the United States is incredibly expensive. If you can pair a vacation here with one in the Middle East or Europe (where you can catch a direct flight), the cost will be less ludicrous. Or, consider signing up for a travel credit card and use airline and hotel loyalty points to book a vacation here.
Pick accommodations carefully "Budget" hotels don't exist here; even the low-end resorts are ritzy and advertise hefty price tags. If you're trying to save some coin, forgo the luxury resort for the more affordable guest houses, inns and vacation rentals on local islands. Some rates at these lodging options even include meals, though chances are they won't offer alcohol.
Culture & Customs
The Maldives has been an Islamic nation since the 12th century. With this rich heritage, you'll find religious traditions entrenched in the culture. Mosques dot the capital of Malé , and you’ll see some men and women dressed in very conservative attire. Should you wish to visit a mosque, you too should dress accordingly; however, be aware that some mosques are closed to non-Muslims. You'll also notice people praying in public at certain times throughout the day. Be respectful by lowering your voice and not walking in front of those who are praying. Most of these visible cultural and religious traditions have been extracted from the resorts. However, particularly during Ramadan, expect to witness some Islamic customs, such as local restaurants closing for the daytime when the population will be fasting.
Public displays of affection, such as kissing or hand-holding, are illegal. Alcohol is illegal, too, though it is available and can be consumed on resort islands. Homosexuality is also illegal in this island nation. Men and women should be dressed conservatively when traveling to and from the airport, and throughout Male' and Hulhumale'.
With dozens of resort islands, the Maldives relies on tourism as its dominant industry that draws on a large portion of the workforce. The other major industry is fishing, and this island nation exports its sea catches to countries across the world. The Maldivian currency is the rufiyaa and $1 equals about 15 rufiyaas. However, the exchange rate can fluctuate so be sure to check it before you travel.
The official language of the Maldives is Dhivehi though many Maldivians speak and understand English, especially those working at high-end resorts.
What to Eat
Cuisine in the Maldives relies heavily on the region's available ingredients, which means seafood, coconut and starches feature prominently in many dishes. Tuna, wahoo and mahi mahi are a few of the fish you can expect to find on menus in the Maldives. Other popular dishes in the Maldives include samosas (pastries stuffed with savory filling like spiced potatoes and vegetables), curries and spicy fried fish.
Keep in mind, because the Maldives is an Islamic nation, the population does not drink alcohol. However, you will be able to enjoy alcoholic beverages at most resorts.
If you're staying at a high-end resort, you will likely have more variety in terms of food, with dining options ranging from Italian and Spanish to Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine. Several hotels offer buffet lunches and dinners. At some properties, you can opt for an all-inclusive rate that covers meals and drinks. Regardless of whether you choose all-inclusive or a la carte, dining in the Maldives is very expensive. And if you're looking for a truly unique experience, consider booking a table at an underwater restaurant. Some options include: the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant in the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort, 5.8 Undersea Restaurant at Hurawalhi Maldives and Subsix at Niyama Private Islands Maldives.
Getting Around Maldives
The best way to get around the Maldives is to walk. The capital city of Malé is about 2.2 square miles, and whichever resort you pick will be walkable as well. Island-hopping at your own leisure really isn't the best option since the ferry network is not very extensive. That said, if you are traveling by yacht, you'll be able to navigate these waters. Once you arrive at Velana International Airport (MLE) on the island of Hulhule', you’ll most likely be escorted by a representative from your resort to the island where you are staying. You will have to take a ferry, a seaplane, a speedboat or some combination of the three to reach your final destination. This final jaunt is sometimes included in the cost of your hotel stay.
Entry & Exit Requirements
The Maldives requires that international visitors have a passport that's valid for six months from the expected departure date, in addition to proof of sufficient funds and an onward travel plan. You will automatically be granted a 30-day visa, which can be extended to 90 days if requested. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and typhoid are recommended prior to arrival. For more information, check out the U.S. State Department's website .
The Maldives is home to an abundance of luxurious overwater bungalows.
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- Island Vacations
I Stayed at 10 Resorts in the Maldives — Here's What I Found in Paradise
5 weeks, 10 resorts, one incredible trip.
"You can take off your mask, miss. No need to wear one on the island," my personal butler said as I stepped onto the dock at Naladhu Private Island . It was the first of ten Maldives resorts I'd be visiting on my first trip since the pandemic began.
The Maldives has done well containing the virus, allowing them to safely open for tourists in July 2020 with a negative PCR test 96 hours prior and a Traveler Health Declaration Form . It helps that each island resort is already designed for outdoor dining and social distancing and that all staff are required to wear masks.
Connected via boardwalks or a quick pontoon ride, Naladhu, Anantara Veli Maldives Resort and Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort share one startlingly blue natural lagoon. They also don't allow inter-island transfers from other resorts due to COVID, so it had to be my first stop off the plane. Luckily, guests can hop from a beach bungalow at Naladhu to an overwater villa at Veli (without a PCR test) within minutes. So, that's exactly what I did.
Snorkeling with parrotfish around the lagoon, sinking my toes into the soft sand and swimming in my private infinity pool was the perfect daily routine to dip my feet back into travel. Plus, I never got within ten feet of another guest.
After a negative PCR test (the first of nine throughout my trip), a quick speedboat ride took me to the waving staff at the new Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi . The sprawling resort means bicycles are the perfect mode of transport from the super spacious villas to one of its 11 restaurants.
It was here that my mother joined me with a giant reunion hug a year in the making. As the ocean waves lapped along the shore, we did afternoon mediation, sampled the best Peking duck of our lives at Chinese restaurant Li Long , and swam with a pod of wild dolphins.
After a few days, it was time to leave for the JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa . A 45-minute yacht ride from the Waldorf Astoria back to Malé, then a 45-minute Trans Maldivian seaplane ride to the remote island.
Uniform two-story villas painted in pastels resembling inverted Maldivian Dhoni boats line the boardwalk at this new Marriott property. Here, we split our time between dips in our private villa pool and cooling off at the beach near the treehouse Thai restaurant and bar, Kaashi and Rum Baan . Soaking up the hot sun and a few good books, we looked up every few minutes to pinch ourselves.
With welts on our arms, we took an early morning seaplane back to Malé to head to JOALI Maldives , one of the islands' dreamiest resorts. Its private seaplane ride is luxe, with eight plush swivel seats (instead of the standard 16), cold towels, and glass-bottled water. This super chic, design-centric hotel has feminine touches with its emerald green marble, rose gold fixtures, and unrivaled attention to detail.
JOALI's genuinely friendly, attentive service, even from a team running with less staff due to COVID, made it my mom's favorite resort of the trip. The COVID rapid-test at the beginning of our stay also gave us the added peace of mind to use their new, expansive gym and enjoy the marble hammam, one of the just three in the Maldives.
The following week, my mom and I split our time between Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani . Soneva has set the world's standard for COVID protocol, requiring all guests to take a PCR test on arrival. We had to wait in our room for about 12-hours before we could enjoy the resort, but when your villa is basically a mansion, and you can swim in your private pool or beachfront area, it's not a problem.
Once we tested negative, we could enjoy the multi-room breakfast buffet, ride electric bikes around the island, and roam Soneva Jani Chapter Two , the resort's latest offering. Its 27 new villas are similar to Chapter One, but guests here are on a completely all-inclusive package, feasting on a raw, plant-based menu at its new restaurant, So Wild, or spending the entire day at the new Ayurvedic center.
Soneva was the last resort for my mom, who was heading home to Boston. My dad had arranged to visit the remaining resorts with me, but because his negative PCR test didn't have the address of the laboratory where it was taken, he was denied boarding by Qatar Airlines. A part of pandemic travel, but nonetheless devastating, I decided to try to enjoy these resorts solo.
One of the best resorts for solo travelers to the Maldives, and my personal favorite, is Gili Lankanfushi Maldives. A 20-minute speedboat ride from Malé lands you in this rustic, all-overwater villa resort. There was plenty to do, from finishing "Where The Crawdads Sing" (a recommendation from the Barefoot Bookseller at Soneva Fushi) to movie night in the jungle, to tasting a diverse and delicious Asian street food market. Yes, in the Maldives, buffets still exist — and they're still amazing.
After four days, another 40-minute seaplane ride took me to Conrad Maldives Rangali Island . I'll admit I spent most of my time in my newly refurbished beach villa, with an outdoor shower and relaxation area. The soothing water feature made combing through the hundreds of emails I've ignored over the past few weeks bearable, as did the promise of an afternoon massage. The true highlight was a three-course lunch surrounded by sharks and fish at Ithaa Undersea Restaurant.
My last seaplane ride of the trip took me to the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort . I was delighted to find slightly stormy weather, complete with booming thunder. After weeks of sweltering sun, my burnt skin welcomed a break. One of my favorite overwater spas in the world, its Iridium Spa with Blue Hole hydrotherapy pools is a great place to spend a gray afternoon looking out at the horizon. When the sun did come out, The Whale Bar , an overwater bar shaped like a giant whale-shark, was the place for a sunset cocktail.
Five weeks in the Maldives finished with a quick trip to LUX* North Malé Atoll Resort & Villas . This all-white, Miami-esque resort surprised me with how spacious and modern the overwater villas were, including an expansive rooftop to host private movies and barbecues. The DJ played Harry Styles as I devoured an entire charcuterie pizza followed by Nutella ice cream handmade on the island.
I scrolled through my phone, looking for the video of my mom screaming down our private water slide at Soneva Jani. Thanks to each resort's individual COVID protocols, from fully masked staff to temperature checks in public spaces and masks required at the buffets, it made for the perfect pandemic getaway. While visiting ten resorts in one trip may have been slightly insane, it was completely worth it to spend more than a month in one of the world's most beautiful destinations.
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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. Things to Do
The best time to visit the Maldives is from November to April. The island nation is warm and sunny year-round, but consists of a dry season and a wet, rainy season. There are pros and cons to ...
5 weeks, 10 resorts, one incredible trip. "You can take off your mask, miss. No need to wear one on the island," my personal butler said as I stepped onto the dock at Naladhu Private Island. It ...