I can’t even begin to express how excited I was and how much I’ve been anticipating our visit to the Maldives. It has been on my top destinations list for years and it was hard to believe we were really here. Once an exclusive luxurious destination, the Maldives opened their doors for private hotels and guesthouses in 2009, meaning the beginning of a new era for the country’s tourism – one of budget-friendly and affordable stays.
Finding Information about the Maldives
Maldives has local islands (where locals live) and resort islands (exclusive islands home to fancy resorts). With the recent opening of private guesthouses on local islands, staying in the Maldives has become immensely cheaper, dropping from hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars per night to fifty dollar or less. Finding cheap accommodation in the Maldives is becoming easier and easier every year, and with most guesthouses listed on Airbnb or Agoda, tourists can shop around.
Finding more information about the local islands, however, is still difficult. Details regarding how to get to local islands, number of guesthouses and restaurants available, and entertainment options (bikini beaches, dive centers, watersport centers, etc) are hard to come by. Being a visual person, even searching for pictures of how the islands looked like was not easy. All of this contributed to hours and hours spent trying to figure out which of the many islands we should go to. Unfortunately, public ferries are limited and transferring between islands is not practical.
After much research, we decided to stay in Maafushi, the first island to receive private investments for tourism. It’s also the most developed one, with the highest number of guesthouses, three dive centers and a bikini beach. Our only concern was that it would be too developed and take out the charm that many of the idyllic islands in the Maldives have. Thankfully it didn’t!
Flight from Colombo to Male
Colombo in Sri Lanka is a big hub with cheap flights into the Maldives which we took advantage of. On the dates we were looking for, the cheapest flights were with China Eastern and it only cost USD 78.90 per person. When we tried to book on the China Eastern site (or other usual flight booking sites), there was a foreign booking fee charged for businesses outside of Sri Lanka of around USD 60 per person. That’s almost as much as the flight itself cost! So of course, we spent considerable time trying to get around this, and found our savior at www.pepmytrip.lk, a Sri Lankan site through which we could book the China Eastern flight. They had awesome customer service, too!
Just like the entry into Sri Lanka, stamping out of the country was equally easy and hassle free. We boarded our plane at the exact time and departed for the Maldives. The only sad thing was that our hour long flight took place after sunset, so we couldn’t enjoy the view of landing in Maldivian islands during the day. On arrival, we proceeded to the immigration counters quickly, hoping to avoid the onslaught of Chinese tourists with tours. Expecting to breeze through immigration since neither of us needed visas, we were surprised by all the questions. Return flight confirmation and hotel bookings… of course we had nothing printed, so I literally had to dig out my computer to show the confirmation email.
With that sorted out, Julie was all set, but I had one last checkpoint. Being from Brazil, I was directed to the health counter where I was asked to present my yellow fever vaccine card. With all the traveling I’ve done over the years, I have never been asked for my yellow fever vaccine card until now. Evidently they take things seriously in the Maldives. At least now that vaccine card hasn’t just been carried around for nothing.
The main airport in the Maldives is actually located on the man-made island of Hulhumale, not far from Malé. The airport section of Hulhumale is connected by a nice, air-conditioned public bus to the larger, residential part of the island. Regular public ferries to our final island of Maafushi run daily from Malé at 3pm (there are other less regular, more expensive options, though none at night), so we stayed overnight in Hulhumale before finishing the transfer the next day.
Ferries from Hulhumale to Malé to Maafushi
The public ferry from Hulhumale to Malé only cost USD 0.35 per person. Within 15 minutes, we reached the capital city of the Maldives. Since we had some time until the 3pm ferry, we decided to walk through the streets of Malé to get a sense of what the “chaotic” and “crowded” streets were like – many locals described Malé as such. Within an hour, we crossed the island from one side to the other and reached the terminal. It turned out that Malé wasn’t that crowded at all, even with over 120,000 people living there. Malé was far from being like any other city in Asia.
At the Villingili ferry terminal, we purchased tickets to Maafushi for only USD 1.50 per person. The entire journey took an hour and a half. During the whole ride, we were playing with a cute local kid that was sitting in front of us – he was one of the happiest little boys I have ever met. When we weren’t busy making faces at him, we couldn’t tear our eyes away from the watery surroundings, more blue than we have ever seen.
First Impressions of the Maldives
- The Maldives were really developed. Hulhumale and Malé had extremely nice and clean roads, while hotels and guesthouses had high standards – it was the most reliable service that we had received in a while. They really knew how to cater to tourists.
- Islands in the Maldives were really small. We walked crossed the entire capital city island, Malé, in less than an hour. The local island we were staying in, Maafushi, could be transversed in less than 15min.
- One advantage of staying on local islands was the opportunity to meet local people in the Maldives, who were really friendly and helpful. I sat down and talked to our host in Hulhumale for over an hour and learned a lot about the culture and tourism industry in the country.
- Strictly a Muslim country, the Maldives forbids the consumption of alcohol, pork, as well as wearing bikini wear in local islands. Fortunately, for tourists, locals have pressured the government to lax these laws in local islands, which resulted in special bikini beaches (fenced off) and party boats (free transfers)!
- The water was so clear and so blue! Even at the busy port of Malé, the crystal clear water would make any beach in Thailand jealous – it had an azure tone that was unparalleled. We saw the same pattern in every single island we passed along the way to Maafushi and thereafter. Gorgeous!
From the moment we boarded our ferry from Malé to Maafushi, we knew we were headed towards paradise and an amazing ten days to come!