Prepare to be enchanted by the Maldives, the pinnacle of tropical escapes.
My name’s Benjamin Bryant—your seasoned traveler who’s explored over 25 (yes, you read that right!) Maldive resorts. I’ll share my insider tips to make your Maldives vacation not just memorable, but unforgettable.
Trust me, the islands will etch a lasting impression on your soul!
Geography of the Maldives
The country’s official name is ‘The Republic of Maldives’ and consists of a flat series (or chain) of 26 coral atolls, spread over 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq mi) of the Indian Ocean.
Each of the 26 atolls is home to many islands, some are uninhabited, some are inhabited by locals and some operate as resorts for tourists. Certain atolls are quieter and less inhabited than others, so it’s worth doing some research on this before you choose an atoll and resort to visit.
The atolls are made up of islands, coral reefs, and sand bars – there are no lakes, rivers or mountains.
There are approximately 1,200 islands with an average height above sea level of 1.5m (5ft). The chain of atolls lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India, roughly 1,000 km (621 mi) from the Asian continent.
Malé is the capital city, located in the center of the Maldives and is by far the most populated city in the country.
It’s worth being aware that the further an atoll is away from Malé, the more expensive the transfers will be.
Many first-time visitors also don’t realize that in the Maldives, every single resort is on its own private island. This makes every resort feel wonderfully special and each has it’s own unique culture, style, and ambiance.
Therefore, when you’re choosing which resort to stay at, you’re also choosing an island to live on for the duration of your vacation, which is an exciting experience!
What’s the best time to go to the Maldives?
Due to its location near the equator, the Maldives is blessed with a fantastic climate and an average yearly temperature of…
- 86 Degrees Fahrenheit (30 Degrees Celsius)
However, if you’re planning to visit, then it’s important to be aware of the difference between the dry season and the monsoon season.
Maldives Dry Season
Between early October to the end of April is Dry Season (High Season) and within this period from the 22nd Dec – 1st April is the ‘Super Peak’ period. In the high season, you’ll have the very best chance of all-day sunshine, low winds, and calm waters.
Maldives Monsoon Season
Between May and November is known as ‘Monsoon Season’, when the temperature is still hot, but the chance of rain and cloud is much higher. In this season, you could get lucky and have a week of perfect sunshine, or unlucky and have a week of cloud and rain.
Therefore, traveling in this season is a little riskier if you’re hoping for guaranteed sunshine.
However, the prices are much lower at this time of year to reflect the weather. Also, the resorts tend to be quieter in monsoon season, running with between 20-30% less occupancy, so you’ll encounter fewer guests, which can be nice and even more relaxing.
How to fly to the Maldives
Most international flights will stop in the Middle East before flying either direct to Malé International Airport, or Malé via Colombo in Sri Lanka, from where you’ll take an hour-long flight to Male.
On arrival at Malé International Airport, you’ll be greeted warmly in the arrivals area by your resorts representative and from here on, they’ll look after your every need, which is one of the special things about the Maldives, as you always feel very well looked after.
Once in Male, domestic flights and transfers can get delayed and seaplane transfers only operate within a dawn-to-dusk operating window. Therefore it’s essential to try and book an international flight which lands in Male in the first half of the day, as this will allow you enough time to be transferred to your island before 4 PM.
If you book an international flight that lands in Male in the second half of the day, you might miss your transfer and have to spend the night in Male and take an early transfer the following day.
The benefit of using a Maldives specialist travel agent, such as Simply Maldives Holidays…
- They’ll ensure that you book a perfectly timed flight, fitting you into the dawn-to-dusk transfer windows.
Transfers: Speedboat or Seaplane?
When deciding which resort to stay at, one of the biggest considerations is how you’ll be transferred to the resort from Malé international airport. Depending on the distance of your resort from Malé, you may or may not have an option about your type of transfer.
In general, the three different types of transfers from Malé are:
- Option 1: Speedboat
- Option 2: Domestic Flight, followed by a speedboat
- Option 3: Seaplane
If you don’t want to fly on a domestic plane or a seaplane (which has two hulls instead of wheels and lands on the water), then your only option will be to choose a resort which is close to Malé, so that you can be transferred directly on a speedboat. The speedboats are usually luxurious and comfortable.
When you board, you’re offered cold drinking water, a refreshing and wonderfully perfumed cold towel and sometimes a delicious local snack to help you recover from your long flight. Depending on the sea and weather conditions, these transfers can be either very smooth or a little bumpy, so be prepared for both.
Domestic flight, followed by a speedboat
If you don’t mind flying on a ‘normal’ plane with wheels, then you can book a resort that offers a domestic flight transfer to a local island, followed by a short speedboat transfer to your resort.
These transfers are cheaper than seaplanes. A representative from the resort will usually meet you at Malé International Airport and take you to the domestic terminal, check you in and ensure you know the details of your domestic flight.
Then on arrival in the domestic airport, another resort representative will be there to meet you and take you to your speedboat, which is usually only a short ride to your resort.
Alternatively, if you’re keen for an adventure and one of the most breathtaking experiences ever, then I thoroughly recommend taking a seaplane transfer.
Everything about a seaplane transfer is fun and unique. From the bustling floating seaplane terminal (where seaplanes bob around and taxi about between jetties) to the tiny seaplane cabins, pilots wearing flip-flops and the stunning views from every window.
There’s nothing quite like soaring over the deep blue ocean, turquoise lagoons and thousands of islands.
Price is also a consideration, as seaplanes are the most expensive way to be transferred, however, if you’re only ever going to visit the Maldives once in your life, then it’s certainly worth the extra cost for the experience and photos from the seaplane, which will last a lifetime.
On seaplanes, the weight allowances are 20kg (44lbs) for hold luggage and 5kg (11lbs) for hand luggage. If your luggage is overweight, then it’ll cost $6 per extra 1kg.
As we’ll discuss in the packing section below, you don’t need to pack heavy for a Maldives holiday, as you’ll spend most of your time in your swimwear! For speedboats, the hotels are a lot more flexible on luggage weight allowance, offering up to 30kg (66lbs).
Choosing the best resort for you
Most resorts will cater to every type of guest, however, having stayed at thirteen Maldives resorts, I would certainly say that every resort has a different specialism.
It’s important to book the right resort to perfectly fit your requirements and expectations.
These different specialisms include:
- Scuba Divers/Water-Sports Enthusiasts
- 5-star Luxury Travelers
- Budget Travelers
The Maldives on a Budget
A common misconception about the Maldives is that it’s only for the super-rich.
Budget travelers can certainly enjoy the Maldives, by staying on an island near Malé, or even in a guest house or budget hotel on Malé itself. If you fly outside of the high season, then flights can also be found at a very reasonable price.
Takeaways for the budget traveler…
- Stay at a budget hotel on Malé itself
- Stay on an island near Malé
- Fly outside of the high season for cheaper flights
All-Inclusive or half-board?
Selecting the appropriate meal and drinks plan is key to ensuring an enjoyable and stress-free vacation.
I would recommend booking either…
The main reason is that food and drinks are very expensive in the Maldives, so if you don’t pre-book your meals and drinks, then you could quickly rack up quite a large bill.
As each resort is on its own island, there are no options for buying food at cheap restaurants or supermarkets, so you’re limited to buying exclusively from the resort’s outlets.
Quick Tip: Before booking, check exactly what inclusions are part of your meal plan. This will allow you to relax fully and not worry about your quickly disappearing spending money.
Overwater Villas vs Island Villas
The Maldives are known for their iconic overwater villas and many people want to experience staying in one of these as part of their dream vacation. Most resorts offer many different villas types, some based overwater and some on the solid ground of the island.
Both options have their pros and cons, so it’s worth thinking through your decision before booking.
Here’s my recommendation…
- A split stay, where you spend a few days in an overwater villa and a few days in an island villa so that you can experience the difference. Some villas come with private pools and some without, prices can vary widely based on various factors.
Overwater villas are amazing due to their location over the perfect turquoise lagoon waters and if you have never stayed in one before, then it’ll be an experience of a lifetime.
The downside of overwater villas…
- Privacy & Positioning
They can sometimes feel a little exposed as other guests can swim past your villa at any time and also they can be positioned looking across to the main beach areas. It’s worth being aware of this when booking and perhaps checking a map or satellite image.
Also, if you happen to experience bad weather and storms in monsoon season, then an overwater villa will be more exposed, and you could be in for a noisy night, with the sound of high waves and wind.
Villas that are located on the island itself are usually more private and set amongst lush vegetation. They offer a more ‘island vibe’ and usually come with a semi-private area of beach directly outside of your villa.
They’re calming and it’s nice to be able to walk straight out onto the beach from your villa.
Things to do
Almost all resorts in the Maldives offer a wide selection of activities and excursions to keep guests entertained.
Some of these activities include…
- Personal training
- Spa treatments
- Diving / Snorkeling,
- Powered / Non-powered Water-sports
- Dolphin watching
- Manta ray trips
- Sandbank picnics
- Local-island visits and many more.
Therefore, it’s highly recommended that you check which activities and excursions your resort offers before you book and also whether they’re chargeable or included in your package.
Some resorts offer a number of these as part of their packages, so it’s worth checking when comparing resorts before you book.
Maldives Snorkeling & Diving
The Maldives is a fantastic place for visitors who love the ocean and swimming with tropical marine life.
Most resorts have good areas for snorkeling close to the resort within a safe distance from the beach. Others offer organized snorkeling trips to deeper waters where you can see a wider variety of sea life.
Certain resorts specialize in scuba diving and these are often based on the atolls which have been least disturbed by humans and therefore have healthier reefs and sea life.
Quick Tip: Often newly built resorts have disturbed the coral reefs and sea life, so snorkeling and diving around the resorts are not the best. Older and longer established resorts tend to have better snorkeling as the reefs and sea life have had time to recover and flourish again following the resort’s construction.
The best snorkeling close to the island that I have experienced was at…
Religion in the Maldives
It’s worth being aware that the Maldives is an Islamic country and they do follow certain religious activities such as daily prayer and religious holidays such as the 1-month Ramadan period.
Please remain respectful of the culture and local traditions, especially while enjoying a local island excursion. This might include dressing differently and covering up more than you would do at your resort.
You can learn more about religion here.
Food and drink
The service in the Maldives is always fantastic and you’ll be very pleasantly surprised when you arrive and are treated like royalty everywhere you go!
Food is very varied and most resorts offer a wide selection of different cuisines to suit all tastes. There are often healthy options and they cater well for vegetarians and other dietary requirements.
Every resort I have visited has had at least 3 different restaurants to choose from and often many more.
Breakfast is often served as a buffet in the main restaurant and there’s usually a buffet option for dinner also. Themed restaurants are very common and you’ll almost always have the option to experience dining in special destinations and locations around the island.
Quick Tip: Ensure you attend the Maldivian-themed night at your resort and try the various curries, bread, and fried snacks. They’re wonderful and the food is usually accompanied by a traditional dance and music performance during your dinner.
A vacation in the Maldives is very much a ‘beach vacation’, so packing light is quite easy.
Check out our tropical vacation packing list.
Most international flights will allow you 30kg (66lbs) of hold luggage, however, if you’re taking a seaplane transfer, then you’ll be charged for additional weight above the 20kg (44lbs) hold and 5kg (11lbs) cabin allowance.
You’ll require a mixture of beachwear and swimwear for the daytime, plus some smart-casual wear for the evenings.
Most resorts are quite relaxed about dress codes, but if you’re going to a luxury resort, then it’s advisable to pack trousers and shoes for men and some evening dresses for women, as some restaurants require you to wear them.
However, generally, most resorts are very laid-back and operate a policy known as “barefoot luxury”, meaning you can go barefoot to dinner or in just flip-flops, which is nice and relaxing.
Toiletries are often supplied by the resort in the bathrooms, so you can save some weight by leaving big bottles of shampoos and shower gels at home.
Quick Tip: Bring electricity port power adaptors to power any chargers and small appliances you might wish to bring.
A camera is a must and it’s worth investing in an underwater camera also, such as a GoPro to capture video of all the beautiful sea life.
Reef-safe sunscreen is essential as the sun is very strong and can quickly burn most skin types. I also recommend having light clothing to wear while walking around the resort in the daytime, to protect your shoulders especially.
There’s no lack of sunshine in the Maldives, so be sure to enjoy it in a controlled and safe way to avoid potentially ruining your vacation with severe sunburn.
Additionally, I recommend keeping a waterproof watch with you and keep an eye on the amount of time you have been in the sun, as the minutes and hours can easily fly past without you realizing it.
WiFi access in the Maldives is relatively good, usually strong, and quite fast.
It’s often included free of charge at medium to high-end resorts, but please check with your resort before booking, just in case they charge for wifi.
Hidden Costs & Visas
Some resorts have extra costs for imported food and drinks along with their 10% service cost, 8% service tax and also a small green (environmental) tax of $6 per day.
Activities, excursions, and additional services also often carry taxes, so be very careful to check the small print before purchasing these.
Tipping in the Maldives
You don’t have to pay additional service tips, but you may offer it as a gesture of appreciation.
Also, if you’re at a resort which provides you with personal butler service, then it’s customary and appreciated to tip your butler at the end of your stay.
Many visitors do not need a visa before traveling to the Maldives, however, they do need to ensure that they have at least 6 months remaining on their passport.
Check Your Visa Requirements…
Prepare to fall in love with the islands!
If you’re reading this article, then I’m extremely excited for you, as it means that you’re probably steps away from booking your dream vacation!
There are so many fantastic options for resorts to stay in the Maldives and there’s something to suit every type of traveler.
If you ever thought that the Maldives is only for the super-rich, then think again! If you stick to the advice given in this article, then you’ll be sure to have the most amazing tropical vacation and I’m sure you’ll want to keep going back for more.
Have fun and say “hi” to the resident sea turtles for me.