I visited the Maldives for a week-long break in May to enjoy the sun and sea with the family before going off for college. The cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean is a well known holiday spot, and for good reason too. It is the perfect place to unwind and disconnect from city-life – basically, do nothing. So if lazing around on the beach for a week is your kind of thing, the Maldives is a must-visit; but be warned, if your idea of a holiday is packing as much sight-seeing as possible in the daylight, I suggest you try somewhere else.
A couple things to note before you head off, firstly, the Maldives is a Islamic country. So when packing, do keep in mind that all alcohol is prohibited, and bring along a sarong to cover up. If you intend to buy one there instead, USD is the accepted currency on most of the resort islands. Additionally, you might want to bring along snorkeling/diving equipment and swimsuits rather than rent them to save money. An underwater camera and sunblock would also come in most useful.
Singapore Airlines is one of the few flights that can get you to Malé, the capital of the Maldives. While slightly pricey for a round-trip from and to Singapore, the 4.5 hour flight is a comfortable one, especially during off-peak seasons where you can get an entire row of seats to yourself.
The airport itself is on a separate island, Hulhulé . After alighting, we were met by representatives from Hotel Octave and boarded a ferry to Malé where we stayed a night. Maldivians are incredibly friendly and welcoming to tourists, but unfortunately we experienced rather poor service from Hotel Octave with the wrong room and late pick-up drivers. At USD300 per person for a night and breakfast the next day, I suggest you search for another hotel nearer the ferry jetties.
I would recommend you spend half a day on Malé to soak in the local atmosphere. Just take a stroll down the narrow streets, pop by the fish markets and mosques. Although keep in mind for both men and women to respect the local culture and dress modestly. Do grab a couple of bottles of water as well, as drinks on the resort islands often cost quite a bit.
After a morning on Malé, we headed to our resort island, Maafushivaru, in the South Ari Atoll via a seaplane. The islands are up to 40 minutes away from the capital and not accessible by boat. So the ___ plane ride though expensive, is compulsory. Although, you do get 40 minutes of to-die-for scenery as the seaplane rides just among the clouds.
We were greeted by incredibly friendly staff as stayed in the beach villa which opens out into your private patch of the beach. The entire island is only about half a kilometre long, and you can stroll around it in 20 minutes. Amenities wise, it has a water bar, a cuisine gallery for meals, a spa centre with a yoga pavilion, and a diving school.
Maafushivaru is actually smaller the other resort islands, but no less gorgeous. Fine white sand to squish your toes in? Check. The clearest, bluest waters you’ve ever seen? Check. Idyllic and romantic? Check. Most of the other guests wake up at a leisurely 10 am, take a dip in the ocean in the morning, spend the afternoon sunbathing on the beach with a book, and hang out by the water bar for drinks in the evening. Like I said, people come just to relax, although there are a few activities you can take part in.
Surrounding the island is Maafushivaru’s own coral reef where you can snorkel among the entire cast of Finding Nemo, and even a black tipped reef shark! There is a USD$10 introductory snorkeling course conducted by the resident marine biologist. I gave that a pass and snorkeled around on my own, but I highly suggest you go for the course if this is your first foray in the ocean.
Whale Shark Expedition
For USD$55, you can join a marine biologist and a boat crew out and snorkel with whale sharks. You will get to swim right next to the most gorgeous gentle giants you will find in the waters, but be ready to bump into snorkelers from other resort islands as well. Let your breath be taken away by the immensity of the ancient beast, admire the graceful sweeping of its fins, but do respect the whale shark and not touch it.
Manta Ray Expedition
Like the Whale Shark Expedition, the boat will take you around the atolls and when a manta ray is spotted, you’ll be signaled to jump in and swim after them along with the instructors. Similarly, the whale sharks and manta rays all have distinguishing marks and if you can catch a good photo, the individuals can be identified by the researchers studying the marine life of the Maldives. If it’s a new individual, you even get to name it!
The expeditions are a four hours each and you get to enjoy a boat ride out to the sea with your fellow resort guests. But if you get seasick easily, do take the seasick pills which the instructors will offer. With any luck, you may also get to see sea turtles and pods of dolphins along the way!
This was my first try at fishing, and I’m glad to say I was successful! Everyone is given a spool of fishing wire with a hook and weight, along with bait. You get to watch the sunset as you wait for that telltale tug on your line. I caught a 3o cm red snapper (biggest of the trip!), while others caught white snappers, yellowtails and parrotfish, which were all grilled for lunch the next day.
Maafushivaru owns a much smaller island next to the main resort. There are daily trips to Lonobu Island or you can even book it for an entire day and get the whole place to yourself. This, along with a private dinner, is a popular choice for couples on a retreat.
There are more water sports and diving tours you can try. But we only stayed for five days, unlike other guests from the US/UK who normally stay for three weeks minimum. The benefit of the small size of Maafushivaru is that you get to interact with guests from all around the world. Through the expeditions and meal times, I befriended with most of them which contributed to the jovial atmosphere all around the island.
The Maldivian economy relies mostly on tourism, so tax rates are rather high. But as a once-in-a-lifetime trip, the money is well worth it, and it’s an experience you’ll definitely relish!
This is a guest post by Suzanne Ou.