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8 things to decide before visiting the Maldives

You are going to the Maldives for the first time in your life but completely clueless on what to expect from your absolute dream destination? Fret not, here are 8 things to decide before visiting the Maldives!


You have 8 things to consider before visiting jewels of the Indian Ocean

Different shades of blue of the ocean water, the beautiful night sky full of stars, the cool breeze of Indian Ocean, watch the world go by with no list of things to do, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, countless marine creatures swimming beside us, wake up to the ocean in our water villa and exceptional Maldivian hospitality. Does it sound like a true paradise on earth to you? Indeed, the Maldivies is officially one of my favourite destinations in the world!


Itinerary and the Maldives are something that don't go together, at least based of my experience. It was our first visit to the country, and I had less ideas on what the Maldives can offer prior to that. In fact, in terms of places to visit the Maldives wasn’t at the tippy top of my bucket list. It all began when Edmund and I were thinking about where to visit in South Asia. When I was in the midst of hunting for attractive fares to Sri Lanka or Nepal, Edmund suggested the Maldives in which I stumbled upon him because it has the reputation for being overly lavish and expensive to begin with. Well since someone suggested it, then why not? Without hesitation, we got the flights booked to the Maldives!


Fast forward few months later, we just returned from our 8-day trip to the Maldives last end of February 2020, few weeks right before COVID-19 outbreak was formally characterised as a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation.


However, those are the good news. Let me tell you that the thing about planning a vacation to the Maldives, it can be VERY OVERWHELMING and CONFUSING if this is going to be your first visit to this slice of heaven in the Indian Ocean!


So, for those who have longed over the Maldives as one of the bucket list destinations, here is the quick list of 8 things you should keep in mind to decide:

  • Island(s) or Local Island(s)?

  • Overwater Villa or Beach Villa?

  • Sunrise Villa or Sunset Villa?

  • All-Inclusive, Full-Board, Half-Board or Bed and Breakfast?

  • High Season or Low Season?

  • Speedboat Transfer, Seaplane Transfer or Domestic Transfer?

  • To Visit Male or To Skip Male?

  • US Dollars or Maldivian Rufiyaa?

Resort Island(s) or Local Island(s)?


Presenting you the “one island, one resort” concept that the Maldives is famous for

Before going any further into the gritty-nitty of this aspect, it is important to understand the geography as well as the types of islands in the Maldives.


There are nearly 1200 islands across 26 atolls spanning over roughly 90,000 sq km of Indian Ocean, making the Maldives one of the most geographically dispersed nations in the entire world. Out of almost 1200 islands, only almost 200 are inhabited local islands while there are over 100 private islands have been taken over by resorts for you to choose from.


So, what is the difference between resort islands and local islands?


The Maldives is famous for its “one island, one resort” concept where every resort in the country is in its own private island. In fact, tourism in the Maldives has started in the early 1970s with the resort islands only. Now, with over 100 resorts to choose from, the only problem is selecting where you want to stay. At the top end, all these resorts compete with each other to attain ever-greater heights of luxury. The standard level of accommodations and facilities varies enormously, and eventually your choice of resort is an absolute key to getting your perfect Maldives holiday you truly deserve. Of course, this Maldivian experience comes with a hefty price.


Almost every resort island in the Maldives will get you a beautiful white sand beach overlooked by majestic palms

Now the good news is, the Maldives has recently been made more accessible even to those travelling on a budget. Amazingly, it was not until 2009, a change in regulations has been in place for allowing foreigners to stay in local inhabited islands. The government has lifted all travel restrictions on foreigners, allowing the building of guesthouses and hotels in local islands as well as creating a national ferry network to connect all the local islands regularly. So, the local islands in the Maldives are now yours to explore! Life in a local island is absolutely different to that in a resort island. Alcohol is strictly prohibited, bikini is not allowed outside the designated bikini beach of a local island. But, visiting one is surely a rewarding and unique cultural experience to get to know Maldivians better.


However, a local Maldivian island offers a truly local experience with a small tourist presence

And beaches in local Maldivian islands are equally pristine too

But wait, the question is, whether should you choose a resort island or a local island for your getaway to the Maldives? Of course, the decision is yours to make depending on the budget and many factors. But assuming budget is not the main concern, I highly recommend for a first timer to the Maldives to pick at least one resort island and one local island to experience the best of both Maldivian worlds.


We started our trip by staying a night in Male, followed by 3-night stay in Meeru Island Resort & Spa, one of the resort islands situated in North Male Atoll, and 3-night stay in Dhigurah, a local inhabited island positioned in South Ari Atoll.


Not only we were able to experience a relaxing all-inclusive vacation with utmost privacy and unrivalled luxury that we have been always dreaming on the Maldives, at the same time allowing us to get in touch with the people of the Maldives in which you can’t get the similar authentic experience from a resort island. Also, by doing so, half of your trip in the Maldives can be done without breaking your bank!


Overwater Villa or Beach Villa?


Overwater villa offers direct access to the sea and its underwater treasures

Assuming that you are picking one of the resort islands into your itinerary, the chance is you will be having trouble deciding on whether to opt for an overwater villa or a beach villa. Usually resorts in the Maldives have both overwater villas that extend out to the open sea and beach villas built on the sandy beach, all at varying costs.


We all have seen the Instagram images of overwater villas by different resort islands in the Maldives and have ever dreamed of staying one. Some of you might have come across with several reviews and blogs on how overrated overwater villas can be. Let me set the record straight from our experience at Meeru Island Resort & Spa, an overwater villa is indeed worth every penny and rightly so! It provides a measure of privacy over beach villas while offering direct access to the sea and its underwater treasures. That wonderful moment with your loved one over a sunset drink at your own veranda, together I can’t overstate just how special it is to be able to have those sundowners with uninterrupted views of the Indian Ocean. However, not all resorts offer the same overwater villa experience that we had. Some overwater villas come together with private pools. I came across with many reviews of different resorts for not able to offer the seclusion and tranquility by packing as many overwater villas as possible into a small space to maximise the number of guests. Also, almost all overwater villas are for adults only.


However, overwater villas can be a long way from the resort's main facilities

If you are laughing at the sheer possibility of staying in an overwater villa, then don’t worry, there is no need to make it a requirement for you to overnight in an overwater villa. A beach villa allows you feeling the sand between your toes and walking directly from the beach to the sea yet giving you an easy access to all island facilities. Some beach villas come with a private garden and a posh tropical vegetation for ultimate privacy and extra romantic touch.


Eventually, the thing to be aware of when making the decision is just how far the cost can vary depending on the resort that you choose to stay in. So, make sure you do your part to understand the resort beforehand prior to getting your villa booked to ensure that you are getting the best possible experience.


Sunrise Villa or Sunset Villa?


Greetings from the Maldives, also known as the sunny side of life

The Maldives, also known as the sunny side of life, is blessed with consistent displays of bright sunshine throughout the year. Thanks to its equatorial location, it has become a popular destination for visitors in search of warm weather. With so many resorts and accommodation types to choose from, narrowing down the options between a sunrise villa or a sunset villa can be a little bit of a task.


Sunrise beach villas are ideal for early birds with the rising sun to kickstart the day after a restful night’s sleep. Sunset Beach Villas however give you a dramatic sunset from your sun lounger in your garden or at your private veranda. Some resorts will randomly assign the villa based on the availability upon your arrival, it is always worth checking and contacting the resort for your specific request prior to your arrival. However due to popular demand, majority of the sunset villas in the Maldives are priced higher than the sunrise villas.


We were randomly assigned a sunrise villa by Meeru upon our arrival, we had no complaints on our 3-night stay at Meeru. Not only we are morning persons and prefer to get up early to have a longer day to explore around during our vacation, there is no better way to start the day other than jumping in for a morning dip. Also, we were protected against the direct harsh sun exposure when we hanged out at our private veranda in the evening, set ourselves up with a glass of champagne and endlessly cherished the breathtaking Indian Ocean.



There is no better way to start the day other than jumping in for a morning dip

So, this aspect of decision-making is entirely based on your preference, whether you are a morning person or an evening person.


All-Inclusive, Full-Board, Half-Board or Bed and Breakfast?


At Meeru Island Resort & Spa, we opted for the all-inclusive to have a stress-free holiday

As the guests are confined within the amenities and facilities that are available in their resort islands, the resorts often have several types of meal plans for their guests. The four common ones are all-inclusive, full-board, half-board and lastly bed and breakfast.


All-inclusive plan provides unlimited foods and drinks, which means you will have three meals a day, along with a constant supply of snacks and drinks. Meanwhile, those three meals are included in the price for full-board accommodation, with additional costs incurred for drinks and snacks outside the three meals. Similarly, if you choose half-board basis, the resort will provide breakfast and dinner only. Finally, for bed and breakfast, as the name suggests, the only meal included in the board is breakfast.


At Meeru, we opted for the all-inclusive to have a stress-free holiday. From a cost perspective, you will not have to spend a penny more as long as you stay within the confines of the inclusive package. Of course, you may have to pay extra for premium spirits. Selected excursions, some sport activities and yoga class are often included.


Alternatively, if you want to have the flexibility of going out for drinks or enjoying the nightlife outside your resort, at the same time knowing that your meals are covered, then full-board plan is for you. Half-board basis provides you a convenient option if you want to have the freedom exploring the place and sunning yourself without the need of coming back to the resort for lunch. Bed and breakfast plan gives you the added flexibility of not having to return to the hotel for any meals.


Ultimately, the decision should be based on your preference and the extent of the flexibility that you are looking for during your holiday.


High Season or Low Season?


Blue just happens to be my favourite colour

You probably have seen the typical image of a beautiful clear blue sky of the Maldives. Let me tell you, this is certainly a reality, but not all the time!


The best weather, certainly the best time to visit this tiny nation of Indian Ocean is between November to April, in which the high season falls between December to March. This is the period sees the most sunshine, the highest visibility and the least amount of rainfall. Of course, the trade-offs will be more tourists and prices for flights and hotels are higher.


On the other hand, flights and hotels tend to be the cheapest between May to October due to monsoon season. The weather is less predictable but rarely bad enough to dampen your holiday completely. So, this season could be a good option if you are on a tight budget and are flexible with your daily itinerary.


Our last trip to the Maldives was in late February to early March in which the weather was consistently at its driest, yet it was not crowded as the holiday seasons ended in January. Prior to the trip, I did myself a favour by making comparison of several resort islands and accommodations in local islands, it was proven to us that the prices in early March were more reasonable than December and January, but higher than the low season, say May for example.


In this aspect, a few important factors come into play: sunshine, crowds and prices, for you to achieve the perfect balance between all three.


Speedboat Transfer, Seaplane Transfer or Domestic Transfer?


The unique geography of the Maldives means that you will need to cruise or fly to reach your resort island

Forget bus or taxi rides from the airport, the unique geography of the Maldives means that you will need to cruise or fly to reach your exclusive resort island. Save for the local islands which can reached by public ferries, some resort islands can only be reached by a speedboat transfer. Some require only a seaplane transfer. Some resorts offer you to take a domestic transfer to the nearest airport of the atoll where your resort is located at and often followed by a short speedboat ride to your resort.


There are some resorts offer you the choice between the two or hardly three. But, how do you choose?


A speedboat transfer is the most cost-effective and effortless option. After you arrive at the Velana International Airport, you will be greeted by your resort representative in which you just need to jump aboard and be excited over the anticipation of arriving to your resort while spotting numerous resort islands along the way. This option is a common way to reach the resorts in North and South Male Atolls, as well as some in North and South Ari Atolls. The costs can be anything from USD 100 per return ride depending on the distance. We were charged by Meeru at USD 160 per person for a round-trip ticket and it took us 55 minutes from the Velana International Airport.


A seaplane transfer, however, is far quicker at transporting you from the Velana International Airport to your resort. It offers an amazing perspective on the atolls, islands, reefs and lagoons. Even Lonely Planet listed it as one of the Maldives’ Top 10 experiences. Of course, a return seaplane transfer can easily cost you more than your one-night stay at your 5-star resort depending on the distance. This is the most common transfer to those resorts located outside North and South Male Atolls.


Meanwhile, a domestic transfer is far cheaper than a seaplane transfer. Often offered as an alternative way to a seaplane transfer by those resorts outside North and South Male Atolls, as well as outside North and South Ari Atolls. The only downside is a slight longer journey you are going to embark as you will be flying directly to the nearest domestic airport and followed by another short journey of a speedboat transfer.


At the top end, always check with your resorts or accommodations for better deals. It is pertinent to note that this aspect of the decision could be one of the factors for you to select a suitable island resort given how far the cost of the transfer can vary from one another. Also, if you have the intention to hop to another island resort or another local island like we did, it is advisable to confine yourself within the islands in North and South Male Atolls, or the furthest to neighbouring North and South Ari Atolls.


To Visit Male or To Skip Male?


The streets of Male can be overwhelming to some, but for sure it offers a good introduction to the country

Majority of the visitors arrive in the Maldives, go straight to their resort islands and local islands upon their international arrivals at the Velana International Airport, and eventually skip Male altogether.


Well, if it is your first time visiting the Maldives, I highly recommend you staying overnight in Male at least for a night, be it on the first day or on your last day in the country. It seems hard to fall in love with the Maldivian capital as it is one of the world’s most densely populated capital cities. But hey, since you are in the Maldives for the first time, why don’t you take this opportunity to explore the capital?


We spent our first night in Male as our flight arrived late in the evening. We stayed in the middle of the capital due to the proximity from all the attractions in Male. We got up very early in the morning next day and took the opportunity to explore the city before catching our speedboat transfer to the resort island in the afternoon. Believe it or not, it took us only few hours to visit several important landmarks such as Jumhooree Maidhaan, Fish Market, Grand Friday Mosque and National Museum.


Jumhooree Maidhaan, or Republic Square is one of the must-sees in Male

Not far from Jumhooree Maidhaan lies the stunning Grand Friday Mosque

To visit or to skip Male eventually is up to you to decide. This Maldivian micrometropolis may not have a huge number of sights, but for sure it offers a real chance to get a feel for the Maldives and to meet the locals on equal footing away from those glamour and fancy Maldivian resorts.


US Dollars or Maldivian Rufiyaa?


The colourful Maldivian Rufiyaa banknotes feature traditional crafts, culture and sea life of the Maldives

The official currency of the Maldives is Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR). However, the US Dollars (USD) is accepted as legal tender throughout the Maldives. But bear in mind that if you make a purchase in USD, your change will always be given in MVR. Some larger resorts do accept Euro.


At a resort or even at a guesthouse, apart from your accommodation and meals that are generally paid in advance, anything extra that follows will be attached and billed to your room, the settlement can be done before you leave, with credit cards or cash. Smaller denominations, be it in USD or MVR, come in handy for tipping purpose. However, in local islands, it is advisable to use MVR when you shop for services and items in order to avoid getting back your change based on the poor exchange rates.


This aspect probably the easiest for you to decide. In fact in the Maldives, you need not to worry about carrying cash that much.


Conclusion


Our last sunset in Dhigurah, also the last in the Maldives

You may notice that the decision for the abovementioned aspects is often, if not all, revolving on your budget. But, try to remember that the Maldives could be your once-in-a-lifetime experience. A generous dash of indulgence is part of the Maldives experience, and you will not enjoy it if you are constantly worried about pinching your pennies. Build your budget before you arrive, so you will not have to worry about the high cost of holidaying in the Maldives.


For us, whether we will be coming back to the Maldives again? Big YES, there is nothing not to love about the Maldives!


There is absolutely nothing not to love about the Maldives


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