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8 Cool Things to Do in the Maldives

Mary and her husband work on international projects and have travelled to many places in Spain.

Pristine beaches: one of the many things to do in the Maldives.

Pristine beaches: one of the many things to do in the Maldives.

The Maldives Is an Island Paradise

As your plane approaches the Maldives, you'll see its 26 atolls dotting the Indian Ocean. Within these atolls are 1,200 of the most beautiful islands. Only about 200 are inhabited, and about 100 are committed to resorts.

Imagine yourself on one of these paradise islands with a personal butler to serve you beautifully presented dishes in the peace and quiet of your own villa. The springs in your mind begin to unwind and the body eases into utter relaxation. As you enjoy this amazing repast, you can watch a rainbow of fish in water so clear only the diamonds of light on the surface hint at its presence. Your eyes, your spirit and your body are all fed, and the inner you gives a sigh.

Yes, this is an island destination where spoiling is at its ultimate and not just for the rich and famous!

Maldives Sunset

Maldives Sunset

Infinity Pool in a Resort in the Maldives

Infinity Pool in a Resort in the Maldives

A Maldives beach

A Maldives beach

1. Go Snorkelling

Most of the resorts here have their own in-house reefs, meaning you can easily swim out from your own villa, float on the surface and start poking around to your heart's content. Some resorts will also take you to some of the best nearby snorkelling places. No matter where you go, the variety of fish, coral and other shelled bits and pieces is beyond compare, and the water is so clear you almost think you can breathe it.

Tuna, Turtles and Sharks, Oh My!

As most Maldivians only eat tuna, the reef fish don’t feel challenged by humans and they will often surround you in a riot of colours. The turtles are protected and survive by the hundreds. You will often see hundreds of small sharks near some of the beaches; but don't worry you don't qualify as dinner, so they have zero interest. The two-metre thumpers are usually so full of the easily munchable reef fish that something of your proportions has no interest. A full shark is a swimmer's dream, and these guys are always full.

Up Close and Personal With Maldivian Marine Life

Once, a friend of ours got fascinated by a grouper and he just spent his time following it around. Fearing improper advances, the grouper quite properly gave him a bump on his nose! There are huge mantas, too, and in Huvafen Fushi, you can feed them every evening. The resort has a resident biologist who will be happy to expand your knowledge of ocean life. There are also whale sharks that you can swim near and just be amazed.

Whatever you decide, snorkelling in the Maldives is a must, even if all you do is put on a mask and lie in the water. The fish will come to you.

Snorkelling in the Maldives

Snorkelling in the Maldives

Snorkelling With Whale Sharks in the Maldives

Snorkelling With Whale Sharks in the Maldives

Fish in the Maldives

Fish in the Maldives

2. Get Your PADI Certification and Go Diving

Most resorts have qualified divers who can train and certify you. The water is beautifully warm even at 30 meters, and the caves and coral faces are spectacular. Napoleons and other big thumpers move with great dignity and watch you with a fascination that leaves you wondering who’s really on display! The myriad of wrasses and sweetlips will swirl you in colour.

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If you are a truly committed diver and already have your certification, you can take a water safari. Book a boat on the internet and they’ll pick you up at the airport. You’ll meander from one site to the next doing two dives a day and taking in the fabulous scenery under and above the water. Usually, these safaris include a chef with a somewhat limited menu but a real talent. You can also book this as part of your holiday package. The Four Seasons, for example, has its own safari boat.

Diving in the Maldives

Diving in the Maldives

3. Try Out Unique Features of Resorts

Although isolated, the Maldives has some of the top resorts with all the familiar luxury names. Each one offers something different, from in-house reefs to underwater restaurants and spas. Staying at these top resorts is expensive, but cost-benefit varies with each individual or family.

A Unique Culinary Experience

Most resorts have at least two or three restaurants to give the guests choices, and the food runs from good to absolutely outstanding in the seven places we stayed. But food isn't the only part of the culinary experience in the Maldives: the Hilton has an underwater restaurant where you peer at the reef life and they peer back!

Wine Cellars, Spas and Romantic Dinners

Some resorts have underwater wine cellars, and others can take you to an even more private island where you can have dinner for just you and your significant other. Think of the honeymoon memories you'd make on that kind of adventure!

All the resorts have spas, some of which are underwater. These can be exceptional, and if total self-indulgence is your objective, you can't go wrong.

Utter Privacy, Isolation and Relaxation

No locals other than members of the staff come here. Maldivians have their own islands which are just as beautiful. In fact, we visited one of the inhabited islands and paired with another island where villagers could gather firewood. Its pristine sugar crystal beaches just blew us away.

The resorts in the Maldives are generally situated on individual islands, and unlike other resorts in the world, there are no children begging for food, beggars angling for your tourist dollars and beach hawkers flogging geegaws as local culture. In fact, on the resort islands, there are no locals at all other than resort staff. So if you want a great intercultural experience, look elsewhere, or chat to the fish. But before you do, think about it carefully.

Although isolated, the Maldives has some of the top resorts with all the familiar luxury names. Each one offers something different, from in-house reefs to underwater wine cellars, restaurants and spas. It is expensive but, again, cost-benefit varies with each individual or family.

The Maldives provides heavenly isolation and privacy, giving you the chance to step away from your busy lifestyle for a week or so. There are other guests, of course, but you don't see them for extended periods.

If you'd rather not socialize, you can simply luxuriate in your own private pool and let your butler bring you whatever you wish for. You can even arrange a private dinner on the beach or on the resorts' in-house reef, where you can swim and spend your time with the fish and the other living organisms living on the reef.

Maldives Resort

Maldives Resort

4. Visit Malé

Many of the resorts closer to the airport will let you sign up to visit Malé, the capital of the Maldives.

While in Malé, you can visit the Sultan's Palace, the fish market where you can buy a whole tuna for the price of a small piece back home. They will clean and fillet it up for you. Pick up wasabi and soy sauce in the grocery store, and you can enjoy your sashimi back at the resort.

Residents of Malé, an Inhabited Island in the Maldives

Residents of Malé, an Inhabited Island in the Maldives

Aerial View of Malé in the Maldives

Aerial View of Malé in the Maldives

5. Visit a Local Island

You can also visit other populated islands. Certain resorts can arrange a trip to one of the islands designated for tourists to visit. There, you can see how people live, which is fascinating because many of these islands still follow the same customs their forefathers did hundreds of years ago. Except for televisions and cell phones, of course.

Sometimes, some of the islanders will prepare entertainment and food for you. So, this is your chance to sample real Maldivian food and culture. You can see them dry fish, or build boats, which makes for a very special experience.

We visited an island once with some local friends and stayed for a few days, so we had a chance to participate in the life of the locals, like going fishing and having a picnic on the island allotted for their firewood needs. We stayed at the community guest house, which was quite comfortable and well maintained. The village is very clean as there is a day allotted for the residents to clean up the place. Families welcomed us, and it was an experience we will always treasure.

A typical meal in the Maldives

A typical meal in the Maldives

6. Go for a Ride on a Dhoni

While in the Maldives, you must go for a ride on a dhoni, the traditional Maldivian primary transport. Some resorts have dhonis that have been transformed into guest quarters, which is quite an experience. There is also a fleet of these ubiquitous wave bouncers plying between Malé and the airport (only about 10 minutes, but a great trip).

Most of these use diesel now, but in the past, they used only sails. Traditionally built with coconut timbers, most dhonis are now made from imported wood and are far more stable. Working in the lagoons is one thing. Fishing in open water is quite another. But, those were the days of iron men and wooden ships!

The rhythm of the dhonis is a big contributor to Maldivian music, and you must bring home some a CD or two. Look for the group Zero Degree Atoll.

A Maldivian Dhoni

A Maldivian Dhoni

7. Go Fishing

Fishing in the Maldives is very exciting. We went out fishing several times when we were there, and it's very satisfying as you are assured a good catch for your own dinner.

The Maldivians mostly just catch tuna, so when they go fishing, they use spears. You can arrange to go with them and experience fishing the Maldives way, or you can book a regular fishing expedition through your resort. Some expeditions offer both methods, as can be seen in the photo below.

Fishing in the Maldives

Fishing in the Maldives

8. Try Surfing

If you visit the Maldives from April to November, you must try surfing! While you won't encounter the punch and power of the waves you might find in other destinations, there is still enough to give you a fun time. The waves in the Indian Ocean are much more user-friendly, so if you don't fancy being trounced by big waves, the Maldives is the place for you.

White, Sandy Beach in the Maldives

White, Sandy Beach in the Maldives

Things You Need to Know About The Maldives

We were lucky to get a work assignment in the Maldives, so we were there on and off for a few months over the course of three years. Because of the assignment, we were able to visit some of the inhabited islands and meet many of the locals. Based on our experience there, these are some of the things you need to know before you book a holiday in the Maldives:

  • Follow the Dress Code. The Maldives is a Muslim country and follows the Sharia law. Dress appropriately when visiting the capital city, Malé, or other inhabited islands.
  • Don't Bring Booze. You can get your favourite drink at the resort, but not in Malé. The only place you can have a drink is in the airport hotel in Hulhumale. If you're staying in Malé and absolutely must have a drink, you can go to the airport hotel in the regular passenger dhoni to satisfy your thirst. If you happen to bring some alcohol with you, don't worry; they will keep it for you and give it back when you leave. And trust them, they do.
  • You Must Love Water. Unless you love water sports, the Maldives might be too laid back for you.
  • Go at the Right Time. High season in the Maldives is from November to April. Starting in April, you can get some cheap deals until early September when the monsoons come. The rains during the low season are not so bad as to stop you enjoying a fine holiday.
  • Budget Accordingly. Another cheaper option if you only want to dive is to stay in the capital city of Malé, as the hotels are much cheaper. Then book an expedition in one of the dive shops (there are several good ones in Malé). If you want to have a taste of the resort, call up some of the resorts Wednesday evening and find out deals they are offering to fill empty weekend space. Many times, they'll offer the thousand dollar rooms for just a quarter of that price. Know, though, that when you are in the resort, the only places to eat are at the resort restaurants and they can be pricey.
  • Staying Near Malé Can Be a Good Option. There are also places to stay in the islands close to Malé. Villingili is quite a nice place and can be reached easily via regular public transport. There are places to swim and snorkel here.
Relaxing in the Maldives

Relaxing in the Maldives

What to Pack for Your Holiday in the Maldives

After a few days here, you really feel rested. Work seems to be so far away, and fun is right here. If you are looking for a sunny destination and are not a mega-resort lover, Maldives should be at the top of your list. The weather is reliable, and there are no hassles in the airport. Your resort will pick you up right there outside your terminal in their own boats with staff to make sure you are comfortable. You don't even have to wait.

Packing for this trip is easy as you won't need much in the way of clothing. You will be in your swimsuit most of the time, especially if you decide to eat in your own villa. In some resorts, guests are asked to just go barefoot.

Just pack the essentials:

  • Your swimsuit
  • A sarong that can be worn in different styles will be useful.
  • Dark glasses, hats and a pair of beach sandals (these are musts)
  • An appropriate outfit if you want to visit inhabited islands (and if you plan to visit to a Muslim village)
  • An underwater camera (really fun as the visibility is almost perfect and underwater life is very interesting)

You can rent scuba and snorkel equipment at the resorts so don't worry about these. And let's be frank, bring money. Though there is not much to buy here, this level of pampering is not cheap. If you want to go shopping, you can always plan a flight with a stop in Sri Lanka, Dubai, Bangkok or Singapore and shop your heart out.

An Explorer's Account of the Maldives

That afternoon we passed the most beautiful palm islands I have ever seen. With the sun low on our starboard side it threw a glowing sidelight on the tiny islets, which seemed to float by like flower baskets ... Under the spell of this picture of an earthy paradise I made an entry in my notebook that the Maldives are even more beautiful than any of the coral atolls in Polynesia.

— Thor Heyerdahl in "The Maldive Mystery"

Where Is the Maldives?

© 2018 Mary Norton

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