No shoes, no news is the official Maldives mantra and quite nicely captures this island nation’s laid-back luxury. Sure, you’ll find personal butlers and private infinity pools, yes, every resort is its own island, you may even bump into a minor royal or two at the bar – yet things in paradise are anything but stuffy.
Located in the south of India and southwest of Sri Lanka, this stunning country is encircled by sapphire waters as it sits by the Indian Ocean. Known as the Republic of Maldives, the Maldives consists of over 1000 islands resting just above the north of the equator.
The main airport of the Maldives is Velana International Airport (VIA). It is located on Hulhulé Island next to the capital island Malé.
A typical flight time from London to Malé is 10.5 hours, then most holidays include a short speedboat or seaplane transfer to your hotel. We have holidays with direct flights from London. You can also fly indirectly from other UK regional airports. Call us for other flying options.
One look at the weather report and it’s clear why Maldivians have a reputation for beaming smiles. It’s a rare day temperatures dip below 25°C! Even in the more humid “winter” season, there are plenty of sea breezes and short, 30-minute bursts of rain to help you cool off. If you’re not planning on diving or surfing, you can almost get away with ignoring the weather report.
Time of year, however, affects wind direction, water visibility and marine life in a big way for divers, snorkellers and surfers. Similar to tropical countries, the Maldives experiences a wet and a dry season, the dry (December to April) bringing winds from the northeast and the wet (May to November) from the southeast. These weather patterns have a strong influence on currents and conditions at the dive sites. In the wet season, mantas and whale sharks flock to the eastern atolls, but visibility is reduced by high levels of plankton. Meanwhile, sharks, tuna, barracuda and eagle rays prefer the western atolls, where visibility is also better. In the dry season, these teams swap sides; mantas heading west and the rest of the ocean heading east.
If picking a resort based on the movement of sea creatures seems silly, as a basic rule, diving and snorkelling on the north-eastern side of your island or atoll will be best in the dry season and the south-western side in the wet season, all due to the direction of prevailing winds. Our best time to visit guide can help you decide when to visit the Maldives.
With all the water in these regions, seafood is the natural star of the Maldives diet and the fresh tuna (skipjack, yellowfin, frigate, you name it), wahoo and mahi-mahi are off-the-charts good. These are cooked up in family kitchens using a spice palate derived from India, Sri Lanka and the Middle East − in other words, in wonderful curries. Traditional dishes you may find at your buffet include Fihunu mas (barbecued fish slathered in chilli) or the Maldives’ equivalent of a breakfast bacon butty, mas huni, a shredded smoked fish topped with grated coconut. Coconut, also playing a lead role on the menu, pops up in curries, grated on fish and in the oils many of the fish are fried in. Some resorts even offer classes in extracting the stuff.
Resident Maldives’ chefs are among the most talented to have donned chefs’ whites and even resorts without stars in the kitchen set a high bar for Chinese, French, Fusion, Indian, Italian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Thai and all kinds of cuisine. The resorts close to Malé have perhaps the widest range with wow-factor, like underwater dining or overwater restaurants with resident sharks.
When swimwear’s likely to be your uniform for the week, it’s also comforting to know healthy menus are widely available too. Staff are likely to know what you mean when asking for “spirulina” in your juice, and if not, ginger, lemon and other detoxifiers will certainly be available.
As the Maldives is an entirely Islamic nation, the population doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol. Keep breathing, this doesn’t mean you’ll also have to go tee-total. Most resorts have amassed extensive wine cellars and all have well-stocked bars to keep holidaymakers happy all week long. House mixologists across the islands are so into alcohol, they’ve even invented personal cocktail menus and many offer classes to teach you the art of exotic tipples. The cocktail which best captures the Maldives’ vibe, ask your bartender for a Maldivian Lady, a blend of white rum, apricot brandy and enough juices to hit your five-a-day in one.
Out of your resort on inhabited islands, you’re more likely to drink sai (tea) or juices from mango, pineapple and anything else in season. For a flavour unique to the Maldives, look out for cups of “raa” on trips to the islands, a toddy made from the fermented sap of palm trees.
The Maldives’ favourite indigenous music, boduberu, is thought to have been carried in on the winds in the 18th century AD with African slaves brought to serve the Sultans. Translating as “big drums”, “big” is certainly this energetic dance music’s theme. You’ll hear its distinctive beat at almost any special event, from weddings to Eid celebrations. Teams of fifteen to twenty performers include singers, percussionists (beating boduberu drums) and dancers who fall between frenzied and trance-like movements.
Resorts are big on letting you experience the “authentic Maldives” and if you’re lucky, yours will stage a performance during your stay. If you’re here during Independence Day (July 26th), you’ll find plenty of boduberu performances in Malé’s bustling Republic Square.
But Boduberu is far from the be-all and end all of Maldivian music. Close links to North India mean Hindi tunes are a big hit in these parts and you may notice many local jams have fit local lyrics in place of the original words. For modern tracks, check out performers ‘Fasy’ and Zero Degree Atoll for the pioneers of Maldivian music, the first to fuse Western instruments and traditional Maldivian sounds (literally - Zero Degree Atoll’s album features splashes and whooshing winnowing fans). You’ll have the most luck catching acts like these live if you stay in a resort close to Malé, where most local musicians reside.
The Maldives' favourite sport, both to play and to watch, is football and the Maldives’ national team, the Red Snappers, plays for a 12,000-seat stadium in Malé. For an idea of how seriously the Maldivians take their football, just ask former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, who made a national holiday of the day the Maldives took home the South Asian Football Federation Cup in 2008. Many locals actually support British football teams!
On some of the inhabited islands and some larger resorts, there are full-sized football pitches where competitive footie is played, while other resorts have multi-purpose courts used for futsal (a five-a-side version of football) and sports like beach volleyball, basketball and netball. Plenty of gold-booted premier league players make their way to the Maldives each year, meaning kicking a ball about with a sporting legend’s not outside the realms of possibility.
For a sport unique to the Maldives, ask your receptionist about bashi, an ancient game played exclusively by women in teams of around 10. A tennis ball is lobbed backwards overhead using a bat while players on the other side of the net try to catch it barehanded… Yes, probably best to check your insurance before playing.
For any serious shopping in the Maldives, a visit to Malé is essential and all the resorts in the Malé Atolls offer day trips there. Stepping off the boat in the central harbour, you’ll start on the Chaandhanee Magu, one of the capital’s longest roads, where you can dip into the electronics, sports and souvenir shops that catch your eye. Next, most cross to the island’s main Magu (or “street”), the Majedhee Magu, for lots of little shops selling vibrant clothing, shoes and accessories. Most of these goods should be haggled for, so come prepared to fight a hard fight (or just be overcharged…). Several artisanal coffee shops in Malé’s side streets are a great place to refuel. Be sure to check out the Meraki Coffee Roasters or the Civil Coffee Society, not far from Sultan Park.
For street market magic and local snacks, the bazaar on the northern waterfront should be your next port of call, where you’ll also find plenty of last-minute souvenirs, especially of the edible variety. Look out for packets of delicious beach almonds and sachets of sun-dried fish chips. Finish up in the nearby fruit market sampling the Maldives’ famous lemony bananas and other fruits you’ve never heard of (certain health fanatics consider the noni better for you than a week-long juice cleanse).
If you’re off in a far-flung atoll though, trips to Malé can be a time commitment. Luckily, most resorts are kitted with their own gift shops with enough trinkets to fill your suitcase, plus offer trips to nearby islands which tend to have a souvenir shop or two. As you aren’t spoilt for choice, you can do efficient souvenir shopping or kit yourself out with swish new kaftans and flip-flops.