Getting around in the Maldives takes three forms: boats, sea planes (air taxis) and private yachts. The boats are the Maldivian equivalent of a car, while planes and private yachts are mainly reserved for tourists.
Air taxis and boats prefer not to operate at night, so if you arrive at the airport after dark and are going to a distant resort, you may have to spend the night in Male or at the airport hotel in Hulhule. Private transfers, though expensive can be opted for resort transfers, instead of spending the whole night at Male. Private transfers could cost anywhere between USD500-800. On the way back, there may also be a significant gap between the time your transfer arrives and your flight departure. Check with your resort or travel agent.
Public ferries and cargo boats are available for more independent-minded and budget-conscious travellers.
Independent travel to inhabited islands other than Male requires an Inter Atoll Traveling Permit (IATP), and receiving one requires MVR10, a copy of your passport and — the hard part — an invitation from a resident of the island you wish to visit. Permits are not necessary for the organized island-hopping tours arranged by resorts and liveaboards. [ATTENTION: The last passage is likely to be outdated. As of May 2014, no such permits appeared to be necessary.]
No point in the Maldives is more than 90 minutes away by plane from Male, and visitors to the more far-flung resorts use air taxi services. There are two main operators: Maldivian Air Taxi, with red and white planes, and Trans Maldivian Airways, with yellow and blue planes. The services are largely identical, with both flying DHC-6 Twin Otter seaplanes that take around 15 passengers. In 2013, Maldivian Air Taxi (MAT) and Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) were both acquired by the Blackstone group and the company was named Trans Maldivian Airways.
Scheduled inter-island services are provided by Island Aviation, which flies from Male to Gan, Hanimaadhoo, Kaadeddhoo and Kaddhoo. Travel permits are required.
Water transport take three board forms: Public ferries (cheap) and in-frequent (normally 3-6 times weekly) to population centres, semi-public/private ferries/speedboats (reasonable) fringe services that complement public services to population centres and occasionally ‘picnic islands’ day trips, and charter speedboats that you can get anywhere, anytime at high cost (more people the cheaper per person). These are much faster than public ferries and will leave when you want to. If you are visiting any resort island this is how you will need to get there. These are ‘taxi boats’. The taxi boats generally take tourists to and from the islands and resort islands. They come in all different shapes and sizes depending on the quality of the resort you stay in the Four Seasons has a large enclosed motor cruiser with drinks and food, while the lesser resorts have open sided dhoni fishing boats. No public ferries run on Friday. Timetables can be found at www.mtcc.com.mv. The nature of ferry times and regularity makes ‘island-hopping’ pretty much impossible. Getting decent information (even from locals) is tough. Getting anywhere that is not a population centre will normally need a speedboat charter and very deep pockets.
Diving and snorkelling
Aside from making the water bungalow rock on your honeymoon, the primary activity on the Maldives is scuba diving. The atolls are all coral reefs hundreds of kilometres away from any major landmass, meaning that water clarity is excellent and underwater life is abundant. Manta rays, sharks, even a few wrecks, you name it, you can find it in the Maldives.
While diving is very good by world standards even in the immediate vicinity of Male, visibility and the chance of encountering large pelagics increases as you head to the outer atolls. Many divers opt for liveaboards, which can actually work out much cheaper than paying high resort fees. Currents vary considerably, with generally little inside the atolls but some powerful streams to be found on the sides facing the open sea. Water in the Maldives is warm throughout the year and a 3mm shorty or Lycra diveskin is plenty. Diving is possible throughout the year, but rain, wind and waves are most common during the season of the southwest monsoon (June-August). The best time for scuba diving is from January to April, when the sea is calm, the sun is shining and the visibility can reach 30m. Decompression chambers can be found on Bandos in Kaafu (15min from Male), Kuredu in Lhaviyani Atoll and at Kuramathi on Alifu.
The one downside to diving in the Maldives is that it’s quite expensive by Asian standards. Prices vary considerably from resort to resort, with specialist dive resorts offering better prices, but in general, you’ll be looking at around US$50 for a single boat dive with your own gear and closer to USD75 without. Beware of surcharges: you may be charged extra for boat use, guided dives, larger tanks, etc. On the upside, safety standards are usually very high, with well-maintained gear and strict adherence to protocol (check dives, maximum depth, computer use, etc) being the rule rather than the exception.
The Maldives is becoming an increasingly popular surfing destination. Turquoise water and perfect waves makes it an ideal and uncrowded destination for surfers looking for smooth surfing conditions.
The best period for surfing in the Maldives is between March and October; the biggest waves occurring in June, July and August. This paradise is exposed to the same swells as Indonesia is, except that its higher latitude and its South-East exposure offers cooler and less hardcore surfing. The recent O’Neil Deep Blue Contests held in the Maldives has placed Maldives firmly on the world’s surf map. While most of the recognized surf breaks are in Male’ Atoll, there is certainly more to be discovered.
Specialized companies organize tailored multi-day boat trips in the region, allowing surfers to move easily from one point to another and maximizing the surfing time.
Things to do
- Euro Divers at Kurumba Maldives, Vihamanafushi North Male, ☎+960 6642324 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +960 6643885). Friendly and professional staff offering over 40 dive sites with full facilities. Dive Courses, dive packages, single dive options available.
- Veli Spa at Kurumba Maldives, Vihamanafushi North Male, ☎+960 6642324 (email@example.com, fax: +960 6643885). A truly unique and indigenous experience. Our indigenous rituals are derived from the essence of the ocean and abundant marine life and culture extending waves of energy translated into a captivating and inspiring experience that lingers in the memory long after your footprints in the sand wash away….
- Extreme Water Sports at Kurumba Maldives, Vihamanafushi North Male, ☎+960 6642324 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +960 6643885). offering jet ski safaris, surf tours, learn to surf, sailing, wind surfing, kite surfing, water skiing, tube rides, para-sailing, sea kayaking and day trips.
- Excursions at Kurumba Maldives, Vihamanafushi North Male, ☎+960 6642324 (email@example.com, fax: +960 6643885) offering sunset and dolphin cruises, snorkeling safaris, fishing,sports fishing, Male’tours,cultural island experience, castaway picnics and day charter boats .
- Cruise-Maldives, ☎(+960)7702344 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Maldives budget cruises operator for group and individuals. Half day, full day cruising trips to sandbank, local islands, fishing trips, snorkeling trips available.