You’ve heard others call it “paradise on earth”. What is so special about the Maldives, you wonder. You know you’ve got to see it for yourself, but you’re not interested in a curated experience. You want to explore at your own pace, to pick a random direction and just go and have flexibility over your schedule, your plans and your time. In fact, you don’t wanna plan it all out before you go either, you just want to see where the flow takes you.
Can the Maldives offer this kind of vacation? Most definitely.
The Maldives is well connected with the rest of the world. Several flights from Europe, Middle East and South East Asia operate to Velana International Airport, the main gateway to the Maldives. The Maldives also provides a 30 day free on-arrival visa for all travellers (from any country) with a booking at a registered Maldivian tourist establishment.
Visitors like you, who are not interested in grand plans or luxury resort stays often book a hotel or guesthouse in the bustling greater Malé area. Greater Malé is the central hub for domestic transportation within the Maldives, so it’s the perfect area to be if you want to take some time to think about where you feel like going today. If you’re staying at a hotel or guesthouse in the greater Malé area, take the time to explore the local lifestyle of urban Maldives. Malé is home to some of the most intricate and beautifully crafted mosques in the world. Aspiring historians can step back in time at the National Museum in Malé city and walk through centuries of an ancient seafaring civilization. It is definitely a side of the Maldives that few travellers explore. Afterwards, relax in the humble Sultan Park - a small green oasis with winding alleyways perfect for a quick break.
The neighbouring Hulhumalé City, connected to the Airport and Malé City via a bridge, boasts wide, shaded roads, an exciting culinary scene, and long stretches of white sandy beaches.
With literally hundreds of islands, it might seem overwhelming to decide on where to go once you are here. We’ll let you in on a little secret - there’s no such thing as the perfect island. There is only the ‘perfect island for you’, depending on your unique craving in the Maldives? Does the sea call to you? Is it surfing? Or do you want to spend an entire day on the beach? Ask around in your guesthouse or research which island seems the best for you. Islands such as Thulusdhoo, Gulhi, Himmafushi or Maafushi are favourites amongst surfers, whereas an island such as Thoddoo might be a good option if you are seeking to spend your days walking through winding farmlands and greenery. If you’re more interested in nature, such as mangroves and lakes, there are multiple sites in islands all over the Maldives, with great air and sea connectivity to make travel easy as pie.
Once you find your island, simply make a booking online, call the guesthouse or hotel, and let them know that you’re in the Maldives already. The guesthouse will arrange the transport for you. Most of the speedboats heading off to local islands will leave from the jetty near the Republic Square in Malé city. However, if you’re keen on taking a ferry to your local island, you can check the schedule on Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC). If you’re unable to find it, call them and check when and where the ferry departs. As exciting as a speedboat is, there is a special charm to a dhoni journey. The dhoni gives you the time to slow down and tap into the Maldivian groove. Note that the MTCC ferries do not travel to all the Maldivian islands, and if you’re travelling far from Malé, it’s best to arrange the transport through the guesthouse.
Now That You’re Here
Make sure you have booked a guesthouse before you reach your local island, this is very important as accommodation may not be available for on arrival bookings. It will also make you very happy to know that the boutique guesthouses in the Maldives offer the same world-renowned hospitality that the luxury resorts are popular for, as well as having equally gorgeous powder-soft beaches and blue skies stretching as far as the eye can see.
Staying at a local island guesthouse lets you experience the day-to-day lifestyle of the Maldivians while enjoying the world-famous sun, sand, and sea. You can ask your guesthouse or a watersports stand to arrange snorkelling, diving, and other watersports activities. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also request an exciting excursion. Each island has its own surprises, such as shipwreck points, shark points, manta points etc.
For an even more authentic experience, the Maldivian government has recently introduced homestay tourism in the Maldives. Staying at a local home is the absolute best way to experience authentic Maldivian culture. Bear in mind that Airbnb, hostels, and Couchsurfing are not as common in the Maldives as some other destinations.
Also good to note is that the Maldives is a 100% muslim country. Visitors are expected to respect the way of life in the local islands, such as wearing modest clothing in public. Most local islands have a special ‘bikini beach’ set up for tourists, where tourists can wear swimsuits and bask in the equatorial sun without offending local customs.
On the Move
Perhaps you’ve completely explored your local island. You’ve visited all the restaurants, you’ve checked off the activities at the watersports stand, and you’ve snorkelled the magnificent coral reefs so much you know it like the back of your hand. Maybe you’re curious about that lush island in the far distance?
Simply check with MTCC if there are ferries travelling to the island and you’re good to go. MTCC has transportation lines for ferries that travel within each atoll, and it is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to travel within - it will usually cost you less than $10 for a trip. As mentioned before, make sure you have a booking in a guesthouse or hotel on the island before you go there.
Just like that, you can spend a vacation island-hopping in the Maldives and explore at your own pace. Each island has its own character, and each atoll has its own wonders. With a rising interest in flexibility, freedom, and budget travel, island-hopping is fast becoming one of the most exciting ways to experience the Maldives.