The Maldives is no longer a playground that is only accessible to the ultra-rich. The attention this small island nation has received on social media over the past few years has transformed it into the ultimate must-visit holiday destination for many, not just the honeymooners.
Well known for its white-sand beaches, blue lagoons and overwater bungalows, the Maldives is a group of islands located in the Indian Ocean, south-west of Sri Lanka and India. Consisting of 26 atolls with over 1000 islands, the Maldives is the epitome of barefoot luxury.
If you love beaches, snorkelling, diving, eating and drinking, then you are going to love the Maldives!
Here are 11 expert tips that first-timers to the Maldives should read before visiting.
Should You Book an ‘All-Inclusive’ Package or Accommodation Only?
There are a few different options for booking your trip to the Maldives. The first option is DIY, booking everything on your own through the hotel website or a hotel booking aggregate like Booking.com. By booking this way, you generally won’t receive any extras, such as lunches/dinners and will probably need to arrange your own transfer to the resort via boat, domestic flight or seaplane. This is where the costs can really add up. But sometimes it’s nice to have more flexibility.
The second option is to book the full package through a travel agent, including flights to/from the Maldives, resort transfers and accommodation. This is not a bad option as travel agents often have deals up to 20-25% cheaper than the hotel itself and usually throw in some sweet bonuses, like pay 4 stay 5, or additional activities or spa treatments.
The third option is to book an accommodation package, through an online agent or Maldives expert site. These packages generally include half board or full board, resort transfers and a range of other bonuses, such as massages, snorkelling tours, and free wifi.
We booked our recent stay at Finolhu Resort through Luxury Escapes and then monitored flight prices through Skyscanner and managed to get a great deal on Singapore Airlines flights to Malé International Airport. This was, in my opinion, the best way to do it, but if you book at the right time, a travel agent can probably get you a pretty good deal on flights also.
Be Sure to Check What ‘All-Inclusive’ Really Means
It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that you will arrive at the Maldives and not have to spend a cent more.
While most places in the Maldives offer ‘all-inclusive’ packages, it pays to check exactly what is included in the ‘all-inclusive’ price.
Food & Beverages
We booked a full board package, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus unlimited beverages. Many packages, however, will only include breakfast and/or dinner and limited alcoholic beverages. The in-room minibar is also not always included.
In saying this, we felt that the offerings for breakfast and dinner were so vast that we really didn’t feel like eating lunch most days.
If you’re one of those people who likes to have a drink or 10 while you’re on vacation (no judgement here), it also pays to ensure your package includes alcohol. Otherwise, you could be up for a pretty hefty bill at checkout.
Many hotels have a few restaurants that you can choose to dine in. However, sometimes the ‘all-inclusive’ package might only offer to dine at the main buffet restaurant and you might have to pay extra if you want to experience the other restaurants on the island. If your resort offers more than one restaurant, check if your package includes one or two dinners at the other restaurants. Once again, it pays to do your research before booking.
Activities & Excursions
Some packages also include excursions to nearby islands, snorkelling, or sunset cruises. But some packages do not. It pays to get a price list of the available activities before you arrive so you can plan your budget accordingly.
Non-motorised watersports are generally included in the package price, but motorised activities are not. We paid around $500 USD for a 2-hour private jet ski tour with a guide. Although pricey, this experience was well worth the investment! As we got to see dolphins and visit a deserted island and natural sandbar island.
Transfers are also a big one to check for. To get to your resort, you will need to catch either a boat, domestic flight or seaplane, or a combination of two. Be sure to check that your package includes transfers, so you don’t have to arrange this yourself. Otherwise, it might cost you a small fortune (around $150-400 USD per person for a domestic flight or seaplane transfer).
Book Any Extras Before Arriving
I mentioned earlier to check if your package includes dining at the other restaurants on the island. Well, there’s no point in having this extra bonus deal if you can’t get a booking at one of those restaurants!
We tried to book a restaurant when we checked in to our resort, only to find that the majority of dining spots were already taken. We ended up having to accept whatever dining slot was available, rather than getting to make a choice which night we wanted to dine there.
If your package includes a free massage, chances are most guests’ packages will include the same and the massage spots will get booked up quickly.
I would recommend getting in touch with the resort before you arrive to pre-book restaurants, spa treatments and any other activities that you’re dead-set keen to experience.
The Maldives is Not Budget Friendly
You probably already knew this… But in case you were thinking of trying to find a cheap trip to the Maldives, think again. If you’re on a budget, perhaps you should try nearby India or Sri Lanka instead. I’m not kidding. The Maldives is the epitome of luxury holidays.
Most overwater bungalows in the Maldives start around $1000 per night++. However, it is possible to find some resorts that offer cheaper accommodation, but they are not going to be the most beautiful ones that you see splashed all over Instagram. I could mention a few but hey, this is a luxury travel blog, so if you’re looking for recommendations on budget accommodation, you’re probably in the wrong place!
However, if you’re after a more ‘affordable luxury’ option, perhaps you could opt for a beach villa instead of an overwater bungalow, or choose a package that includes breakfast and dinner only – as I said earlier, you probably won’t need any lunch after feasting at the breakfast and dinner buffets. Also, bring your own bottle of champagne to enjoy a glass on the balcony at sunset – the champagne at the resort is rather pricey.
Is It Worth Booking an Overwater Bungalow?
Absolutely! In spite of my last recommendation, I personally would travel elsewhere if I couldn’t afford an overwater bungalow in the Maldives. I’m sure the beach villas are beautiful, but we constantly had stingrays and scores of fish cruising by our bungalow daily and we could snorkel with them right off our back deck. Some people I met even said they saw reef sharks off their balcony. This is an experience that is definitely worth the splurge at least once in your lifetime.
It Takes a While to Get to Your Resort
The main international airport is located on its own island near the city of Malè, but most of the resorts are located on separate islands. Unless you stay on the island of Malè (trust me, you don’t want to), you will need to catch either a domestic flight, seaplane or boat, depending on how far away your resort is from the main island.
Malé International Airport is not the most modern airport in terms of facilities. Once you process through immigration, you’ll need to collect your luggage and check-in with your resort transfer desk, which can take a while because they have to wait for other guests who might be accompanying you on your transfer. You might get the impression that this process is very unorganized (because it is), but somehow it all seems to work, and you will eventually board a bus to take you to your transfer service.
Traveller Tip: If you plan on exchanging or withdrawing money, picking up snacks or a sim card, the airport may be the last and cheapest opportunity to do so.
Many of the best resorts are 30-70 minutes seaplane ride away from Malé and sometimes you might need to catch a boat from the seaplane dock to the other side of the atoll to get to your accommodation. There is a lot of waiting around while your luggage gets loaded into the plane or boat.
Also keep in mind that seaplanes only operate during the daytime, so if you land in Malé close to sunset, you may have to spend a night there and transfer to your resort the next morning.
It might take a while to get there, but once you eventually make it to your final destination, it’s just paradise… so enjoy!
It’s Not Very Easy (or Cheap) To Go Island Hopping
My husband and I had these grand plans of hopping into a boat and cruising around the nearby islands, finding deserted sand bars and perhaps an offshore break to go surfing. Once we arrived and made some enquires, we learnt just how much of a challenge this was going to be.
Firstly, there is a large expanse of open ocean between islands and atolls, so getting from one place to another takes time. The resorts are generally built on their own island, which isolates you from the rest of the country.
Secondly, hiring your own boat through the resort is expensive. We were quoted around $1000 USD for a private surfing trip. In the end, we opted for a two hour jet ski tour with a guide to a nearby island and sand bar for about $500 USD.
Only recently has island hopping become a thing in the Maldives. There are some tour operators, such as G Adventures that offer this experience. It is generally a budget-style experience, staying in local guesthouses or tourist-class accommodation, and you probably won’t get to experience the luxurious side of the Maldives. Alternatively, if you’re into diving, there are many operators offering liveaboard dive trips, ranging from budget to luxury-style, that visit several spots around the Maldives islands. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, perhaps you could combine a few nights luxury resort stay with an island hopping or liveaboard tour.
You Will Only Need One Pair of Shoes
If you’re anything like me, you’ll pack 4 pairs of sandals, one pair of wedges and a pair of sneakers.
But honestly, other than wearing my sneakers on the plane to get to and from the island, I – and just about everyone else staying there – lived in my flips flops the entire time! So much so, I actually developed a blister between my toes by the end of the week. I wore my wedges to dinner and a maxi dress on the first night and felt very dressed up after I saw many other people wearing shorts, singlets and flip flops.
How Long Should You Stay For?
Most packages generally offer 5, 7 or 10 nights. We stayed for 5 nights and it honestly went so quickly. I would have liked to stay for at least 7 nights. But if you’re on a bit of a budget and can’t afford the 7-night package, then 5 nights is definitely still worth it.
Don’t forget to Bring
Sun Hat – I was silly and completely forgot to pick up my sun hat as I walked out the door on my way to the airport. When I realised, I thought surely the island would have a gift shop that sells hats. And yes, they did. For $450 USD each… WTF?! There was no way I was going to spend that much money on a hat, so it was lucky that I remembered to bring…
Sunscreen – While the sun in the Maldives is nowhere near as strong as Australia, you can still get burnt. And you’ll be spending most of your time at the beach or around the pool! Suncreen is also hard to buy/pricey at the resorts.
Thongs (the flip-flop kind you wear on your feet) – As mentioned earlier, this is literally the only shoes I wore throughout the week.
Earplugs – If you’re catching a seaplane to the island the noise of the engine is really loud. Also, some villas have paper thin walls and golf buggy’s zooming past the villa can disturb your night-time (or day-time) slumber.
Travel Sickness Medication – If you experience a bit of travel sickness in light bumpy airplanes or boats, definitely pack some of these bad boys.
Where to Stay in The Maldives
Finolhu Resort – Located just a 30 minute seaplane flight from Malé, Finolhu has plenty of activities to keep you entertained and a 1.8km long sand bar for early morning or sunset strolls.
Four Season Maldives at Kuda Huraa – Located in the North Male Atoll, the Four Seasons island has its own coral island with snorkeling and diving activities.
Kandolhu Maldives – This adults-only resort has just 30 villas, so it’s perfect if you’re looking for something with a little more privacy for the ultimate romantic getaway or honeymoon.
Six Senses Laamu – The ultimate in luxury, this resort has it all – from yoga to luxury surfing, diving with manta rays and private sandbar excursions. With over-the-top buffets and a homemade ice-cream bar. Top it all off with an upgrade to one of their dreamy pool villas.
A Few Extra Maldives Travel Tips…
Currency – most resorts charge in USD and accept credit cards.
Tipping – Tipping in the Maldives is generally not expected, but if you received good service and would like to leave a tip, I’m sure the poorly paid staff would be very appreciative.
Getting Around the Resort – Some resorts offer bicycles, others have golf buggy shuttles, and some are so small that you can easily walk everywhere.
Best Time to Visit – The dry season runs from December to May and offers the best weather but its also the busiest and most expensive time to visit.
Visas – Apply for a Maldives Visa (or check if you need one) using iVisa.com.
Language – with tourism being the main industry in the Maldives, most people speak fluent English.
Power– The Maldives uses two different power outlets – Type D and G.
Can you recommend any other great tips for visiting The Maldives? Let our readers know about them in the comments below.
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