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Maldives Travel Tips and Guide

A Nation of Islands | Climate and Entry | Where to Stay | Transport and Excursions | Visit to Male | Shopping | Currency and Payments | Dress | Dive, Fish and Cruise
Maldives Hotels and Beach Resorts

A Nation of Islands

Maldives IslandsScattered across the equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the gemlike islands of the Maldives depict the rare vision of a tropical paradise. Palm fringed islands with sparkling white beaches, turquoise lagoons, clear warm waters and coral reefs teeming with abundant varieties of marine flora and fauna, continue to fascinate visitors, as it has fascinated others in the past, for thousands of years. Marco Polo referred to the Maldives as the '...flower of the Indies', and Ibn Batuta called her in his chronicles ' One of the wonders of the world '.

Truly a natural wonder, the height of the islands rarely reach above two metres. The 1,190 islands, consisting of 26 atoll formations, are spread over an area of 90,000 square kilometres. The Maldivian atolls are a classic discovery in its own right. The word atoll has been derived from Dhivehi, the Maldivian language, from the word atholhu.

The islands are surrounded by shallow crystal clear lagoons enclosed by coral reefs. The unique islands provide visitors with one of the most breathtaking views of underwater life in the world. Formed above peaks emerging from the depths of the ocean, upon layers of both living and dead coral, and remnants of other marine life, the islands are generally covered with dense tropical vegetation. Coconut palms towering above dense shrubs and hardy plants protecting the shores from erosion are natural features in most Islands. The smaller islands and sand banks under formation are also wonders in themselves. These islands together embody living entities in various stages of formation, as interdependent elements in an ecology, in a food chain where birds, fish, and other marine life co-exist, with humans at its apex as caretakers for centuries.

Measuring 820 Kilometres north to south and 120 kilometres east to west at its greatest width, the closest neighbours are India and Shri Lanka. With a population off 244,644 ( 1995 official estimate), only 199 islands are inhabited. Another 74 islands are set aside exclusively for tourist resort development.

The origins off the Maldivians are lost in ancient history. There are historical and archeological records which indicate the islands to have been inhabited more than 5,000 years. There are also indications that the Maldives, being on an important trade route, was settled by people from all over the world. This leaves the origins off the people enshrined in mystery. However, the main stock of the - Maldivian people, as seen from physical features and supported by historical evidence of migration, are predominantly Aryan or Dravidian. Throughout the Maldives a language which belongs to the Indo-Iranian group, Dhivehi, is spoken. It shows a strong Arabic influence. Dhivehi written from right to left is the official language of the country. As a second working language, English is widely used in Government offices. Other foreign languages, however, are widely used within the tourism industry. Foreign languages, mainly English, are also frequently used in commerce.

The Maldives has been an independent country, except for a brief period of 15 years and 6 months of Portuguese rule in the middle of the 16th century. Between 1887 and 1965, the Maldives a British protectorate though Britain did not interfere with the internal affairs of the county.

Maldives regained her full sovereignty in 1965. The newly independent country changed from a Sultanate to a Republic on 11 November 1968.

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The climate of Maldives is warm year round determined by the monsoons. However being on the equator the monsoons are mild and not as defined as in neighbouring countries. Of the two monsoons the southwest monsoon from May to October brings more rain and wind. The northeast monsoon from November to April, is the dry season with very little wind. The temperature varies little with an annual average daily maximum of 30.4 degrees Celsius and the minimum at 25.4 degrees Celsius. The annual rainfall stood at just over 2,000 millimetres in 1994. In the same year the country with the equator running through it had over 2 500 hours of sunshine.

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Almost all visitors to the Maldives arrive by air. Male International Airport situated in Hulhule island is just over a kilometre or about ten minutes by boat from Male, the capital. All visitors must have a valid passport. For visitors coming from yellow fever infected areas, an international certificate of inoculation is required. No visa is required in advance. A tourist visa of 30 days will be granted to all visitors with valid travel documents.

During the period December to March when most of the resort islands are full it is advised that all visitors have confirmed hotel reservations before arrival. However for the convenience of visitors without advance bookings a Tourist Information Counter is provided at the arrival hall through which a booking may be made. Hotel information is also required for immigration clearance. All visitors who enter the Maldives should be in possession of a return air-ticket and at least US$25 per intended day of stay in the Maldives.

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Where to Stay

The Maldives has a wide variety of accommodation for the visitor. Choices vary from 73 resort islands which will increase to 74 in the very near future.

A resort island is a world by itself. Developed on uninhabited islands each island is just one hotel exclusively maintained in pristine form and serviced for only a limited number of guests. The untouched white beaches are perfect for relaxation and a healthy tan under the Maldivian sun. Crowned by majestic coconut palms which characterise the Maldives the vegetation on all islands are quite similar; rings of tropical vegetation adapting to a variety of environments salt resistant and hardy varieties closer to the beach-line giving way to shrubs and plants and more delicate and dense greenery towards the centre.

Just inside the vegetation line well dispersed for maximum privacy along the beach in a typical resort island are small bungalow style rooms where accommodation is provided. The rooms, though mostly shaded by trees, allow a clear view of the beach the lagoon and the horizon beyond. They are generally equipped with modern conveniences, with ensuite facilities. Most of the resort islands have at least two restaurants.

Some of the larger resorts may offer as many as five different restaurants. Local and continental cuisine is available in addition to exotic buffets and barbecues. Normally the hotel rates quoted are for full board - bed breakfast, lunch and dinner included. In club style resorts and in some smaller resort islands this is often preferred. Except in the evening, when wining and dining under the stars may be the choice for most there is never enough time to exhaust the wonders of the sea.

Naturally, most of the activities centre around the sea. The reefs around the islands are excellent for diving and snorkelling. Activities such as water-skiing and windsurfing may seem strenuous but exciting. Water sports equipment and a facilities are available for hire on all resort islands. There Is either a fully equipped diving school or a more elaborate water sports centre.

There is sufficient activity on all resorts which are self contained worlds of their own. Equipment for sports such as lawn tennis, football volleyball and indoor games such as billiards, table tennis, chess or darts are usually available free of charge in many of the resort islands.

Those who wish to relax can spend time on the beach; sit under the sun or under the cool green shade; admire the surrounding natural beauty or perhaps simply gaze at the horizon lined with green islands springing out of the blue ocean. The blue ocean beaches are peaceful and never crowded. Every island resort is Robinson Crusoe 's island but equipped with modern amenities subtly hidden away. As depicted by local artists in stencil prints unique to the Maldives, relaxing on the beach is not only aesthetic but a sport and an art in itself. There are only a few places in the world where so much pleasure can be dervied by doing nothing.

Cruising among the islands may be an exciting alternative to lazing on resort beaches. Yachts and yacht-dhonis with bunk beds or private cabins are available for hire. These boats can accommodate between eight to twenty passengers on cruises that sail for ten to fifteen days. Some of the larger vessels have scuba diving and windsurfing facilities with qualified instructors on board. Food prepared by the crew using the day 's fresh catch of fish may be modest but a tourist resort is never too far to stop for a sumptuous meal or a drink.

On a cruise dining under a clear sky in the Maldives can be an experience in itself. With the equator running through the Maldives it is an astronomer 's dream too.

Besides safari boats and resorts there are a few hotels and guest houses in Male as well. These facilities cater mainly for the business traveller. The larger establishments provide meals. Tourist accommodation is also available on Gan Island in Addu; the southern-most atoll of the Maldives.

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The tourist resort islands have their own transfer boats to carry their clients. Visitors with confirmed reservations are normally met on arrival at the airport and transferred by boat, helicopter or sea-plane to the resort island of their choice. Transport and communication services provided for tourists are generally of a high standard. Minimum standards of service and safety also apply.

There is no regular inter-island transportation system between inhabited islands. The ad hoc transportation system is serviced mainly by local boats called Dhoni or Baththeli average a speed of about 8 miles per hour. A large number of dhonis plow the Male International Airport and Male route as ferries. Dhonis and even modern speed boats are also available for hire. Air Maldives the national carrier, operaters regular flights to the domestic airport at Hanimaadhoo, Kadhdhoo, Kaadedhdhoo and Gan.


An essential part of the visitor 's experience is taking part in the many excursions on offer. Visiting a fishing village to experience the Maldivian way of life or a trip to Male makes a visit to the Maldives more consummate. There are other excursions available: diving and sailing, safaris fishing trips by dawn and dusk and island hopping to fishing villages, resort islands and uninhabited islands. There are also aerial excursions by helicopter or sea-plane to experience the glittering shades of blue that is the Maldives. Moonlight excursions may also be available depending on the resort of your choice.

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Visit to Malé

Male the capital of the Maldives is the commercial centre, seat of government and the location of many important historical and religious landmarks. With an area of just over 1.77 square kilometres, it is home to over sixty thousand people and is the busiest and most populous island in the archipelago. It has been known as the Sultan 's Island in the past.

The Grand Friday Mosque Masjid-al-Sultan Mohammed Thakurufaanu-al-A"z"am is the biggest mosque in the Maldives. It also includes the Islamic Centre. This grand mosque with its dominant golden dome decorates the facade of Male. It can accommodate over five thousand worshippers at a time. Nearly all visitors to Male take time to visit this magnificent landmark.

The old Friday Mosque with its unique minaret and the tombs of national heroes and members of royalty resting in the quietness of its compound gives the visitor a glimpse of the past. The art in the mosque and royal burial grounds are unique and invaluable.

Other sites in Male include the tombs of legendary saints Mulee-aage- the Presidential Palace and the National museum in the Sultan Park which shows the glories of a different era. All these are within a ten minute stroll.

The fruit and vegetable market and the firewood market are busy and colourful places where islanders from outer atolls trade their goods. The fish market nearby is always immaculately clean. In the busy hours of late afternoon when fisherfolk begin to arrive with the day 's catch, the fishermen cutting and cleaning the fish have developed the process to an art. It is a clean and well maintained area that generates much interest from visitors and provides a glimpse into the life of typical Maldivian fisher-folk.

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Male is the best place for shopping, given the choice and variety of goods available in this centre of commercial activity. Local and imported handicrafts and souvenirs, cigarettes and electronic items are sold. The prices in Male have now become highly competitive, with minimum or no duty levied on most items. Most of the shops are in the main business area which is only a five-minute walk from the jetty where tourists usually arrive. It is always better to browse through a few shops before choosing what to buy. The shops recommended by guides or shop assistants volunteering to be guides are not necessarily the - best places for duty free shopping .

Duty Free shops at Male International Airport offer high quality electrical and electronic ,goods, cameras, hi-fi stereo equipment watches and cosmetics along with cigarettes and other merchandise.

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Currency and Payments

The Maldivian currency, Rufiyaa comes in notes of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500. A rufiyaa is divided into 100 Larees. Coins in use are 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, Larees and one and two Rufiyaa.

Major currencies are converted to local currency at the banks, tourist resort islands hotels and leading shops. The American Dollar is the most common foreign currency. Payments in the hotels can be made in most hard currencies in cash traveler's cheques or credit cards. Personal cheques may be accepted if they are supported by an internationally recognised bank guarantee card. The most commonly used credit cards are American Express Visa Master Card Diners Club JCB and Euro Card.

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Light cotton clothing is recommended. Except on special occasions such as important business meetings casual clothing is the norm. Nudism is an offense. When visiting an inhabited island. shorts and T-shirts for men and blouse or T-shirt and skirt or shorts that cover the thighs for women made of non-dlaphanous material, is a minimum requirement.

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Dive, Fish and Cruise

Strung across the equator in the middle of the vastness of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a dream come true for any marine enthusiast. This garland of islands is one of the last unspoilt places on earth - a paradise. It has also been described as an ethereal abstract painting. The treasure that is Maldives unfolds to the visitor as the search continues, through the Maldivian spectrum of blues; be it among other things by diving, taking a leisurely cruise or fishing.
The most spectacular life is to be found underwater where rainbow-hued tropical fish teem amongst the multi coloured coral reefs along with crustaceans turtles shells and fantastic seaweed growths which combine to form a silent spellblinding world.

The Maldives has one of the least exploited marine environments. It is rated among the best diving spots in the world. In the valleys plateaus plains and caves that form the natural landscaping of the coral gardens of the Maldivian atolls, the psychedelic colours captivate the visitor in this underwater environment, visibility can reach as high as sixty metres, with the average being around thirty metres.

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The Diving Schools

With a few exceptions, all resorts have a fully equipped diving school. Diving bases may also be found on some larger dive safari boats which cruise through the central atolls. The equipment used are periodically checked to make sure that they conform to the standards of safety required by law.

Each school is headed by a base leader - a fully qualified diving instructor. Many bases have several assistants who may be instructors or dive guides.

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Learning to Dive

Beginners usually start with the discovery or introductory dive that is carried out in the waist-depth shallow water of the lagoon. From here it is just one step to experience the wonders of underwater life. An internationally recognised certificate PADI Open Water Diver can be obtained within a week after nine dives and theory lessons. Some schools offer training up to the level of a professional diver. The diving schools may require a certification of physical fitness. Qualified divers should bring their log book and copies of the certificates or cards.

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The Equipment

All diving schools in the Maldives are required to follow international standards of safety during diving. Therefore, participants in open water scuba diving will require fins, mask, snorkel, compressed-air cylinder and valve, buoyancy control device with low pressure inflator, backpack, regulator, alternate air source, submersible pressure gauge, weight belt and appropriate exposure protection. These items may be hired from the diving schools.

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It is no surprise that with over 99 percent of the total area of the Maldives consisting of water, the country boasts some of the best fishing grounds in the world. The fish stock of the Maldives include over a thousand species, some of which are indigenous to the Maldives such as the Maldives clown fish.

The methods of fishing vary depending on the type of fish and the time of the day. The most popular fishing with visitors is night fishing for groupers, snappers, emperors, jacks, squirrel fish, barracuda and other reef fish. The catch normally ends with an exqulsite barbecue dinner on the beach.

Morning fishing begins by dawn. These fishing trips, In the early hours of the morning by dhoni inside the atoll or just outside the atoll enclosure reef, are for little tuna, dolphin fish, rainbow runner, jack, trevally and barracuda. These too sometimes become as engaging as big game fishing.

Traditionally Maldivians, as masters of the sea, used small dhonis and trawled outside the atoll enclosure reef for big game such as sail-fish, sword-fish, marlin, wahoo, barracuda, yellow-fin tuna and other such fish. However, modem speed boats equipped for western style big game fishing are also available now for hire in many resort islands.

The Maldives practices a strong conservation policy. The use of harpoon guns and hunting of marine mammals such as whales and dolphins and large fishes like the whale shark is strictly prohibited.

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Cruising through the islands from atoll to atoll in a yacht or in a yacht-dhoni - specially converted Maldivian vessel can be a most exhilarating holiday experience. In the Maldives, it is not unusual for schools of dolphins to play around your boat or to see hundreds of flying fish taking flight as the boat passes by.

During your voyage of discovery, you are at liberty to choose from a variety of activities including diving, with a cool refreshing kurumba coconut - as the azure sea unfolds more of the islands and coral reefs of the Maldives. Of course, the facilities available will depend on the boat of your choice.

Most off the cruisers will use the central atolls of Fadippolu, North and South Male, Ari and Felidu where services for tourists are more readily available. These atolls also have some of the best diving and surfing spots in the Maldives.

The crew of the boats are generally well-versed in their trade. The resident cook can serve, among other dishes, delicious tuna steaks accompanied by fresh vegetables and tropical fruits. The setting is complemented by the starry sky above and the soft rhythm of gentle waves on the hull of the boat. This is a timeless setting. The Maldives beckons visitors for this delightful journey through time.

A Nation of Islands | Climate and Entry | Where to Stay | Transport and Excursions | Visit to Male | Shopping | Currency and Payments | Dress | Dive, Fish and Cruise
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