In his book The Maldive Mystery, famed explorer Thor Heyerdahl writes: “That afternoon we passed the most beautiful palm islands I have ever seen. With the sun low on our starboard side it threw a glowing sidelight on the tiny islets, which seemed to float by like flower baskets ... Under the spell of this picture of an earthy paradise I made an entry in my notebook that the Maldives are even more beautiful than any of the coral atolls in Polynesia.”
Those fortunate enough to have seen both regions will attest that Heyerdahl is indeed correct: the Maldives is one of the most beautiful places on earth. But while the islands are a dream destination, there are some caveats. Here, nine essential tips for the first-time visitor:
1. Don’t scrimp on the experience
You may find yourself fretting over the price of things, but try to remember that the Maldives is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A generous dash of indulgence is part of the Maldives experience, and you won’t enjoy it if you’re constantly worried about cash. Build out your budget before you arrive, so you won’t have to worry about pinching pennies.
2. Do go local
For insights into local life, you need to visit one of the officially designated “inhabited islands,” where most of the 400,000 Maldivians make their homes. Until 2009, tourists needed a permit to explore non-resort islands, but today many inhabited islands are open for both day trips and overnight stays. A liveaboard trip is a great way to go local in the Maldives, allowing you to enjoy a spot of boduberu (traditional folk music and dance), sample tasty hedhikaa (sweet or savoury tapas), and wander local villages.
3. Don’t drink alcohol outside the resorts
Many of the people of the Maldives are Muslim, which means there are strict rules around the consumption of alcohol. Tourists cannot bring alcohol into the country or consume it on inhabited islands. Don’t fret, though: resorts and liveaboard boats are licensed to serve alcohol, so you can indulge in a cocktail (or two, budget permitting).
4. Do dress (and act) modestly outside the resorts
Dress modestly while on inhabited islands, including the capital, Malé. Men and women alike should avoid wearing shorts above the knees. Women should cover their shoulders and elbows and wear loose-fitting clothes. Couples should refrain from public displays of affection.
Inside your accommodations, you are free to dress as you wish — but do note that sunbathing topless or in the nude is prohibited, no matter where you are.
5. Do be aware of environmental risks
The Maldives is the lowest-lying country in the world: Some islands barely break the surface of the water, and it’s said that dolphins can jump higher than the Maldives’ highest natural peak (which is just 2.4m, or 8 ft, high). This puts the country in a uniquely delicate position in the face of climate change. With this mind, choose activities that prioritize sustainable practices and try to minimize your own water consumption, energy use, and waste production while on the islands.
6. Don’t feel like staying in an overwater villa is a requirement
A stay at an overwater villa, or “bure,” is an item for the bucket list, and rightly so: they’re idyllic, secluded, and utterly indulgent. Be warned, however, that they can be overrated. Yes, they offer your own passage into the ocean, but they’re usually set a far walk from the actual beach. Some bures are packed together in an effort to maximize the number of travellers that can fit in a small space, and therefore don’t actually offer that much seclusion.
7. Do buy a quality underwater camera
The Maldives offer some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world. If you plan on trying some watersports — and I strongly recommend that you do — consider splurging on a decent underwater camera. The Maldives offer a trip of a lifetime, and preserving your memories is well worth the cost.
8. Do pack a lightweight outfit
Island resorts tend to operate on a “barefoot luxury” basis, with an easygoing, laidback vibe. With that said, some of the more upscale restaurants will likely have a dress code. Women can get away with casual dresses, but men may need collars and trousers — less than ideal in sweaty tropical heat. With this in mind, if you plan to dine at any resort restaurants, make sure you pack a pair of smart, lightweight trousers and a shirt or two with sleeves and collars. Even if you’re not eating out, you’ll be grateful for shirtsleeves when the evening breeze cools the air.
9. Don’t expect perfect weather
The typical vision of the Maldives is of gin-clear water and bone-white sand. This is certainly a reality — but not all the time. The best weather in the Maldives is between November and April, and the high tourist season falls between December and March. Beginning in May, the weather is less predictable (but rarely bad enough to completely dampen a holiday). Temperatures remain warm during the rain, which rarely lasts very long.
Feel like you're ready to set sail for the Maldives? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to the Maldives here.