Crystal clear waters, pristine white sand beaches and lush palm trees make the Maldives the quintessential tropical paradise. Imagine being ‘Castaway’ on an island, Tom Hanks-style, only on this island, you get to stay in an opulent overwater bungalow on stilts, you’re pampered and served by warm and friendly local staff, you feast on the freshest seafood imaginable and you lounge and relax in some of the world’s most luscious spas (oh, and you’re not stranded with just a beach ball for company!): this will be the blueprint for your trip to the beautiful group of coral islands that rest luxuriously in the heart of the Indian Ocean.
Traditionally, this much sought-after location has been one of the world’s more pricey “Heaven-on-Earth’s”, but with the emergence of the flourishing budget travel industry the Maldives has become more affordable than ever before. So, whether you want to splash the cash and go for the full royalty treatment or avail yourself of the new budget options, a trip to the Maldives will be a truly magical experience, worthy of any bucket list. To take your once-in-a-lifetime trip to the next level (the BUCKiTDREAM level), you’ll want to cast an eye or two over this ultimate guide.
In order to make your dream holiday in the Maldives as special as possible, some planning ahead is essential. If you don’t enjoy spending hours rummaging through travel blogs and articles but still want to make sure you find the hidden gems and avoid the tourist traps, then BUCKiTDREAM is an excellent resource for you. Allow yourself to get inspired and informed about the best sights, activities, places to eat and drink and experiences to savorr. You can keep all of the good ideas, tips, etc. safely tucked away in BUCKiTDREAM’s planning feature tool.
Here’s our breakdown of the top experiences that the Maldives has to offer. Make sure to record the ones that you fancy in your BUCKiTDREAM planner!
- Spectacular scuba and snorkeling locations – Swim amongst the schools of tropical fish and explore the numerous caves, overhangs, and dramatic cliff lines. The brilliant coral growth attracts a huge array of sea life, including grouper, barracuda, morays, jackfish, snapper, and more. Highly recommended.
- Unwind and have your muscular knots pleasantly pulverized with a spa day – The Maldives has a range of excellent spas, one of the most popular being the Veli Spa in the luscious gardens of Kurumba Maldives. The staff is very friendly and a selection of massages, detoxes, soaks, wraps, and facials are on their list of offerings. Their famous Signature Massage is an extremely popular option.
- Visit the traditional Malé fish market – experience the vibrant atmosphere at this traditional fish market in the Maldivian capital, Malé. Marvel at the array of strange and exotic fish brought ashore each morning by the local fishing dhonis, (traditional Maldivian fishing boats).
A fishmonger prepares to clean and butcher a pair of large fish in the fish market in Malé, the capital city of The Maldives. Male is the commercial capital of the Maldives and more than 100,000 people live in Male’s 2.25 square mile area, making it one of the most densely populated islands in the world.
Fishing boats. Maldives 2005. Photo: AusAID
- Work up an appetite with some wild water skiing – The Maldives offers amazing water skiing and jet skiing experiences. Get your adrenaline pumping with a high-speed ride across the crystal clear Maldivian waters.
- Take advantage of the excellent surfing conditions – If you are in the Maldives any time between March and October, then you are guaranteed some quality surfing time. Windsurfing, traditional surfing, and kite-surfing are all on offer. There are many great spots to check out, but The Atoll of Malé is particularly popular.
- Swim with the (surprising friendly) local sharks – Diving with sharks is not for the fainthearted, but is a truly worthwhile and humbling experience for those with a sense of adventure and love for novelty.
- Take a trip on the Whale Submarine – If you feel like going deep but staying dry you can hitch a ride on the Whale Submarine. Delve into the depths and watch whales, dolphins, sharks and rays going about their business deep down in their home environment. This is perfect for children and those that aren’t keen on diving. There are several departures daily from The Whale House (easily accessible by local ferry) and it is best to book in advance.
- Go out and catch your own supper on a nighttime fishing trip – Fishing is very popular in the Maldives and there is plenty of big game to go after. Many of the hotels offer package deals and will set you up with any necessary equipment and bait. Most of the family run guesthouses will include the option of nighttime fishing trips also, incredibly serene and peaceful.
- Experience Maldivian history and culture at the National Museum in Malé – This small but fascinating museum is located in Sultan’s Park. It hosts a valuable collection, showcasing the rich cultural heritage and history of the Maldives.
Known for its luxurious overwater wooden bungalows and opulent island resorts, the Maldives certainly has no shortage of high-end accommodations, but with locals allowed to open their own guesthouses since 2009, you can now find cheap and friendly accommodation that will not break the bank. Here are our favorites:
- High-end: Gili Lankanfushi Hotel is an eco-friendly luxury resort located on a private island. The overwater villas are reached by boardwalks from the island. They contain open-air living rooms and rooftop terraces. It’s certainly not for the penny-pinchers, but if you fancy upgrading you can even get a villa with a private motorboat or personal butler!
- Mid-range: Meeru Island Resort and Spa is the only resort on the island of The island is surrounded by a beautiful lagoon and long stretches of white, sandy beach. The island has a large collection of ‘all you can eat’ and à la carte restaurants, some lively sports bars and even a disco.
- Budget: The Amazing Noovilu is a small boutique guesthouse on the island of Mahibadhoo. The rooms are clean and comfortable with air-conditioning and fans. The price includes food, drinks, snorkeling equipment, guided tours and activities. Staying at one of these small, locally owned guesthouses is a great way to meet Maldivians.
It’s all about the seafood baby! Exquisitely fresh fish is the order of the day here. Maldivian food is very tasty and, not surprisingly, mostly based on delicious local catches from the Indian Ocean.
Malé has a selection of truly wonderful seafood restaurants and a great local market. Some of the more popular restaurants are The Seagull Café, Symphony, Royal Garden Café, and Irudhashu Hotaa. Meals typically cost around 80 MVR.
Snacking is very popular in the Maldives. Whilst the Spanish munch tapas, the Maldivians feast on hedhikaa (what is this?). Entire menus of tasty pastry treats and fried fish rolls are available in local restaurants and cafes for very reasonable prices.
If you are staying in a resort all of your food and drinks are included and all resorts have ‘all you can eat’ or a-la-carte restaurants serving a wide range of international cuisine, local specialities and quick snacks.
Many of the family-run guesthouses serve traditional Maldivian meals eaten with the owner and their family. This is common because many of the smaller islands don’t have many (or even any) restaurants. If your guesthouse does not provide meals then the local restaurants are very inexpensive and, again, serve beautifully fresh seafood, as well as snacks, sandwiches and noodles.
You can also join locals at the fish markets in the morning and buy just-caught fish and cook it at your guesthouse if the facilities allow.
As well as fish, other typical Maldivian staples include sweet, thick milk tea for breakfast and delicious curries served with a local flatbread called roshi and buttered rice.
Drinks and Nightlife
As the Maldives is an Islamic country, alcohol is banned amongst the local population. This means that nightlife is very limited on the inhabited islands. However, almost all the hotels and resorts have vibrant bars and nightclubs that organize lively entertainment every night. Beach parties, karaoke and underwater discos make for often cheesy but very fun night-time entertainment. Local musicians and dancers perform regularly to give guests a taste of Maldivian culture. I recommend catching a Bodu Beru performance and shaking your hips to the hypnotic local drum beats. There are also weekly live jazz and blues gigs with great local and international artists. Some resorts have movie nights and live presentations about local history and marine life. All resorts have an excellent selection of exotic cocktails, international beers, spirits and fine wines, so often a quiet evening sipping a cocktail and watching the waves lap up onto the white sand shore is a beautiful way to see out another day in paradise.
Tips and Culture:
The population of the Maldives is almost 400,000, with over a quarter of the inhabitants living in the capital city Male. The country has rich culture heavily influenced by the Indian subcontinent and by the Islamic cultures of Asia and East Africa.
Most of the population is Sunni Islam and Islamic laws are strictly adhered to on the populated islands. However, tourism is a huge earner for the country and on the resort islands Islamic law is not enforced and so consumption of alcohol and bikini-wearing is A-OK.
All travel around the Maldives is by ferry, seaplane or internal flight. Most resorts and guesthouses organise excursions, but if you want to travel on your own you will need to use the local ferry system. Be sure to check the timetables as some routes do not run every day. Often if you want to get to an island that is a fair distance away you will need to island-hop, which can be a great adventure in and of itself!
Shops are open from morning until 8pm Monday to Friday and are supposed to close for 15 minutes five times a day to allow for prayer in accordance with Islamic law, however this is observed rather loosely outside Male and often not at all in the resorts.
Visit the wreck of the Maldive Victory – This shipwreck is a wonderful place to dive. The structure is almost entirely intact and it is now home to a rich growth of sponges, coral, tubastrea, and a variety of tropical fish. It is a fairly challenging dive due to the potential for strong currents and the depth of the ship (115 ft at its deepest point), but for the bold and the fearless, it truly is a once in a lifetime experience.
The Maldives is without a doubt a dream location, and it is now more accessible than ever. So start by copying all of your favorite Maldives tips from this article into your BUCKiTDREAM dream planner, and while you sit sipping a cocktail on a white sand beach with the warm ocean breeze tickling your toes why not inspire your friends by sharing you dream Maldives experience on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?