You don’t have to like water to enjoy a Maldives holiday but it certainly helps since about 99% of the country is the Indian Ocean. Spread over an area around 820 km (509 miles) from north to south and 130 km (80 miles) from west to east, the Maldive island chain numbers about 1,190 bleached isles (actually vast mountain tops) grouped into 26 atolls strewn like a string of pearls in the sea south of India and west of Sri Lanka.
As the highest land point is only 2.4 metres (7 ft) above sea level, the consequences of climate change are potentially serious for the country’s long term existence.
These islands have a hot, humid tropical climate with stable temperatures year round, ranging from average lows of 24C (75F) to highs of 31C (88F), though April and May have seen the air temperature rise to 37C (99F).
However, the lowest rainfall and least humidity is January to April so that's the very best season; throw in reasonable December precipitation and January-April becomes the country's high price, high season.
May to October is the wet season, with the wettest months of June-July getting 220-300mm (9-12 inches), but when rain falls it generally comes down heavily for a short time so anytime is acceptable for a Maldives vacation, especially since prices fall along with precipitation, though some cloud cover, wind, rough murkier seas and seaweed-garlanded beaches also come with the lower cost season, making both beach lazing and scuba diving a little less comfortable.
Only 200 of the islands are inhabited by Maldivians, whilst another 87 have been developed exclusively as tourist resorts. About 600,000 tourists visit the islands every year.
Choice of a resort, essentially either a tiny island or a really tiny island, should be driven by the type of holiday you desire (for example, honeymoon, family or diving), by language since individual resorts tend to focus on one language (English people, for example, may not enjoy being surrounded by Germans or their entertainment systems) and by budget rather than by location, since fantastic beaches, calm, reef-protected turquoise water and fine weather (in season) are ever-present.
The downsides are, first, that most resorts are only for the well heeled; at the top end there are a mass of very sophisticated hotels with prices to match. Second, it is difficult to get a taste of true Maldivian life and culture except in the capital Male, with its fish and produce markets and local teashops, and Gan (in the south of the country), which is linked by causeways to four other islands containing local towns and villages.
It's not easy avoiding serious costs as this region is dominated by superb upmarket resorts, with very little in the way of budget hotels (see below for a few suggestions). On the positive side, due to the western world recession
the number of beds available in the best resorts has risen and prices have fallen in the last couple of years, so if you dream of a Maldives honeymoon now is not a bad time to get hitched and travel to the Indian Ocean!
Resorts come in three main styles:
Family-oriented holiday resorts with facilities for kid entertainment and care, multiple restaurant choice and marginally less sophistication than the next level up. The Kaafu region, conveniently close to Malé, is home to several places in this genre. An economy bonus in Kaafu is access can be via a one hour speedboat ride from Male rather than a pricey seaplane.
Some of the best low cost kid-friendly Maldive hotels in 2012 were: Bandos, Filitheyo (photo), Club Faru (Fihalhohi), Kurumba, Meeru, Vilu Reef.
Luxury resorts for honeymoon couples and the mega-wealthy with over-the-top indulgences and high style. These are widely scattered but voted the best Luxury Resort over the last few years is Cocoa Island Resort, followed by Baros Maldives.
• Dive resorts are frequently distant from Malé
and facilities will be simpler though naturally enough the 'house reef' should be excellent for diving or snorkelling.
For the independent traveller things are somewhat more challenging as the tourism industry revolves around tour operators, and the working assumption for Maldives resorts is that two people will share a room.
The high season of December to April, when many resorts are fully booked, can be particularly difficult or expensive for independent travellers. In any event, if you wish to experience areas off the tourist beaten track, you may have to use a travel agent or tour operator both to make arrangements and to benefit from their discounts.
For less than £100 per night per room there are a handful of budget guest houses in Malé and a few reasonable cheap hotels on islands. e.g. Asdu Sun Island and Kai Lodge on North Male Atoll; Villa Hotels Fun Island on South Male Atoll; Kuredu Island Resort on Kuredu; Hakura Club Island Resort on Meemu Atoll; Barabaru on Vaavu Atoll. Check here for good value Maldives Holidays.
Activities and facilities
What concerns many first-time visitors to the Maldives is will they be bored? What is there is to do other than swim, snorkel and lie in the sun.
Well there's beach volleyball in the late afternoon, windsurfing, sunset fishing and island visits on offer in most resorts.
It's also possible to find resorts that organise shows of differing sorts every night, a full selection of water sports and land sports. But the truth is both excursions and sports facilities are under-used.
Apart from beach related activities, resorts usually offer spa treatments, visits to nearby inhabited islands and sunset cruises as well as sports facilities such as badminton, tennis and fitness centres.
There is golf in the Maldives, even if most golf courses are bigger than most Maldives islands. Meeru has a pitch and putt, a green and a driving range and Kuredu has a full-size driving range and a lovely six-hole, par-three course. Shangri-La has built a nine-hole, mostly par-three course averaging 123.4 yards, beautifully set around its coastline.
Most resorts are all inclusive with a generous buffet offering for lunch and dinner as well as breakfast, though there may be a la carte offerings at eateries other than the main restaurants, possibly for an additional charge. Vaguely 'themed' food nights are not uncommon but of dubious authenticity.
Alcohol is available but it's expensive and the range can be limited. Some all inclusive packages cover a number of designated drinks such as beer, wines and spirits so bear that in mind, depending on anticipated boozing and funds available. Divers, of course, cannot drink much alcohol for safety reasons.
Island hopping is the mainstay of resort day trips involving some combination of visits to other resorts, inhabited islands and uninhabited islands with packed lunches or better lunch barbecued fresh on a desert island with perfect sand, turquoise waters and fine snorkelling.
Top-end resorts are more imaginative and creative with their options.
Your resort water sports centre will offer canoeing, windsurfing, kite surfing and catamaran sailing as a minimum. Motored sports run from the simple pleasures of banana boat rides and tubes or rings to the thrills of waterskiing, paragliding and jet ski.
Most resorts have a table tennis table and some will organise a competition night. Tennis, badminton and even squash can also be found but at the end of the day the winning activity is winner is the sunset volleyball match on the beach,outside the bar.
Currency: the Maldivian currency is the Rufiyaa, with one US$ = about 13rf. Malé has various ATMs and credit card services.
240v, using various plugs but particularly the flat two pin, US-style; 3 flat pins British-style plugs if your resort hotel is efficient and Brit-friendly; 3 round pins occasionally. Check with the hotel on booking.
Dhihevi, but most people speak English and some speak other languages.
Islam, so when visiting inhabited islands - i.e. not tourist islands - dress conservatively, with women covering shoulders and thighs. Tourist islands are free of any religious constraints.
a 30 day visa is free on arrival to every foreigner providing they possess an onward plane ticket and reserved
accommodation or $US25 per day in cash.
Very little, little being the operative word as far as land creatures are concerned since everything bigger than an ant was eaten long ago. Fishies? Well, whale sharks are top of the big list of sea life, though manta rays offer big-time thrills. Maldives Diving Holidays.
pharmacies are rare and medicines may be difficult to acquire so
bring everything you may need with you. Malé, the capital island has two hospitals, various clinics and plenty of pharmaceuticals.
Mosquitoes don't carry malaria but they can carry dengue fever and will always be a pain. Take the
usual precautions; read our anti-mozzie pages for a reminder.
Food: Maldives food is centred on fish for obvious reasons and just as obviously their cuisine is closely related to Sri Lanka and southern India's Kerala region.
This means that hot, spicy
dishes flavoured with coconut or lime are commonplace, along with clear fish soup, rice, bread and Maldivian poppadums. Curries are also popular but vegetables are not - there's not much space for growing them on a coral reef!
However, the first class resorts that foreign tourists stay in will certainly be offering dishes that are more familiar to their guest's western taste buds in addition to a taste of India.
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Where is the Maldives?
The Maldive island chain is located in the Indian Ocean just southwest of the tip of India and Sri Lanka. The next landfall a long way east is Africa's Somalia, while south east are the Seychelles and Madagascar.
Travel between the islands is surprisingly easy but, naturally, not cheap. The most time efficient is via small, 10-seater seaplanes which give a good service reaching everywhere in less than 45 minutes, though punctuality and information on departure times can sometimes be approximate.
For any return journey, especially if connecting with an international flight, it is therefore better to allow at least an extra hour or two than you might think.
Speedboats and taxi boats are another possibility - such as dhonis, a Maldivian boat, something like an arab dhow - which are obviously slower but cheaper, or even regular ferries, but these are rarely used by tourists.
there are direct flights to Male's Hulhule Airport from London's Gatwick airport on BA or various charter flights, from the UK's Birmingham and Manchester airports, as well as from Italy, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Russia and many Asian destinations such as China, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Dubai and India.
The cheapest flights will be charters, or fly from Sri Lanka's Colombo.
Maldives Islands Photos | Maldives Diving Holidays
Indian Ocean destinations:
Mauritius Beaches | Zanzibar Beaches | Seychelles Beaches