Maldives City Guide
The Maldives are spectacular…both spectacularly beautiful and spectacularly expensive. With crystal clear turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and 5-star resorts everywhere you turn, it’s no wonder that it’s a popular destination for tourists and honeymooners alike. Momma Lee and I spent a brief 5 days here to celebrate my 22nd birthday before we flew on to Singapore, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to check this country off my bucket list. The highlight of our week was definitely dining in an undersea restaraunt. If you wanna get right to the deets about what that was like, scroll ahead to Day 3!
The format of this guide:
what you should know before you book your trip
day-by-day summary of how I spent my time in the Maldives
breakdown of my recommendations by sights, eats, and sleeps (i.e. accommodation)
Know Before you go:
It’s pronounced MAL-deeves.
The official language is Dhivehi, but almost everyone knows English because tourism is one of the main industries.
Malé is the country’s capital. It, too, is an island.
Most power sockets are three pronged (British style) and 220 volts, so pack a travel adapter (or five).
Not all of the 1,190 islands, grouped in a double-chain of 27 atolls, are inhabited. In fact, only about 200 have people residing year-round.
Some of the islands are disappearing, due to rising sea levels and natural erosion. You’ll find lots of marine life and coast conservation practices in place, whether it’s farming coral, building sea-walls to break waves before they crash onto the shore, or conservative housekeeping efforts during your stay (e.g. changing your bed linens every other day instead of every day, which is overkill anyway IMO).
The Maldives are officially a 100% Muslim country, though there are many non-Muslim Maldivians in the entire population of 400,000. If you plan to visit a local island that isn’t a resort island, you’ll be expected to dress conservatively and follow local customs.
Overwater villas, while picturesque, lose their glamour when you realize that most are situated in remote areas of their respective resorts and require a trek from the main facilities of the island. That, coupled with potentially less-than-stellar bathroom capabilities and piers with no guard-rails, make for a tricky stay if you plan to drink and stay out after-hours.
Some resorts are accessible only by seaplane not ferry, which tacks on a couple hundred dollars to your holiday. Keep in mind how far your resort is from Malé airport before you book!
Bringing alcohol, pork items, pornography (very broadly defined), religious materials offensive to Islam, idols of worship, narcotics and psychotropic substances, explosives and weapons into the Maldives is forbidden. source: secretparadise.mv
The Maldives has two distinct seasons—dry season (northeast monsoon) from Jan-Mar and the wet season (southwest monsoon) from May-Nov. You’ll encounter the occasional thunderstorm, but the Maldives are generally appropriate to visit at any time. The climate ranges 24-33°C (75-91°F) year-round. source: secretparadise.mv
Archeological remains excavated in various parts of the country point to inhabitants on the islands as early as 3rd century B.C. Some of the local music and dance have African influences, while other parts of the culture reflect East Asian and South Asian traits.
Tipping is appreciated and haggling is not compulsory.
SUMMARY OF 5 DAYS IN The Maldives:
all items in bold are covered in more detail in the "Sights & Eats" section below
DAY 1 (ARRIVAL)
8pm touchdown at Malé Velana airport. Checked in with a rep from Bandos Resort for our shuttle which, much to my surprise, was a boat. I learned from the captain that every resort takes up its own island (or two). We ferried over to our hotel, checked in, rode a golf cart to our hotel room, and turned in for the night.
Breakfast buffet! Our discounted package from Booking.com came with a breakfast & dinner every day, which in hindsight, was a steal because ordering food a la carte from one of the resort restaurants would’ve been equally, if not more, expensive. After breakfast, we booked a snorkeling tour for Day 4 with the concierge, food coma’d (yes I’m using it as a verb), then toured the resort on foot in the afternoon with a few of the other new guests. Swam in the sea for a bit before dinner buffet, and after dinner, sat in the lobby on my phone like six other residents, because the WiFi signal was the strongest at the reception area.
7am morning call to get ready for our 8:30am boat shuttle back to Malé airport where a Hotel Conrad van met us to take us to the Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane terminal. We took a 40 min seaplane ride to Hotel Conrad on Rangali Island, where we lounged a bit till lunch service at Ithaa began. Ithaa is the world’s first undersea restaurant, situated 5 meters (16 ft.) below the surface of the Indian Ocean. Think of one of those aquarium tunnels, except shorter and with tables of food instead of a moving walkway. We enjoyed a four course prix fixe (see food deets below), took a seaplane + ferry ride back to Bandos, had an evening workout at the resort gym, and dinner buffet. Post-meal entertainment at the Sandbar lounge; that night it was a live band performing oldies.
Lazy day on the island. Rented snorkel fins and a mask from the dive center for 24 hours and swam in the shallows by our room. Saw some snazzy fish and had an hour-long photo op at a hammock placed in the sea (perks of staying at a resort that embraces the basic-ness of its guests), then dinner as usual. Our dinner table was decorated with flowers and colored rice because Momma Lee told the staff that my birthday was earlier this week, d’aw.
I have fallen madly and deeply in love with Photoshop Express on my iPhone.
8am morning call for Bandos snorkeling tour. Our boat stopped in two locations. We saw teira batfish the size of dinner plates, Moorish idols (aka copies of Angel from Finding Nemo), and a few black-tipped reef sharks. We didn’t get around to our sea turtle and stingray sightings because 4 of our 8 passengers got seasick (including my mom), so the crew turned around before stops #3 and #4. Our lunch buffet was free since we arrived too late for dinner on our first night. A quick gym session, then off to the airport for our 9pm flight to Singapore.
Go snorkeling. Even just in the shallows by the resort coasts, you’ll find some mesmerizing marine life. Momma Lee and I rented a mask and fins for 24 hours from our local dive center and swam on our own for a bit before mealtime a few times. I saw a reef shark, tons of tropical fish, and countless varieties of coral. Be mindful of high and low tide times, and never step on coral or pick up sea stars! If you ever get caught in a rip current pulling you out to sea, instead of fighting the current, swim parallel to the shore till you exit the current and can swim safely toward land.
Book a tour with your resort concierge. You can swim with whale sharks, go night fishing, take a trip out to the capital of Malé, check out fluorescent coral during a night snorkeling tour, or hop around multiple islands by boat and learn about the unique history of each.
Relax. Take in the sun and revel in your newfound island life. There’s nothing wrong with lounging on the beach for an entire day.
Agriculture isn’t huge in the Maldives (everyone’s living on an island here), so most of the food is imported. Momma Lee and I had daily breakfast and dinner buffets included in our Booking.com package, so we were pretty much set on food. Otherwise, each resort has multiple restaurants to choose from. Lonely Planet provides a rundown of the local foods you should try while in the area.
The Maldives is one of the few places where you can dine with the fish below sea level! Ithaa is the world’s first all-glass, undersea restaurant, but there are several other resorts around the Maldives that also offer undersea dining. Each has their own hours for lunch and dinner, and if you’re not staying at the respective resort of the restaurant, be sure to book in advance your transportation (which may involve a speedboat and/or seaplane) and table.
Our lunch was prix fixe: lobster & white peach salad, artichoke & garlic veloute served with caviar on brioche, sous vide chicken with risotto, and pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.
WheRE TO STAY:
Every resort is situated on its own island (or two). Most are natural, but several are man-made. Momma Lee and I stayed at Bandos Resort, and we booked a discounted package off Booking.com (10/10 recommend, don’t book full-price directly off a resort’s site). Our standalone cabin comprised a bedroom and bathroom, which was all we needed. The staff and service were impeccable, and we made full use of the local dive center. Would likely stay here again if I ever came back to the Maldives because it’s one of the closer resorts to Male, at only a 15 min ferry ride away.
You can book luxury villas with kitchens/TV rooms/ living spaces or get something that sits above the water on its own pier (and maybe a hammock with the sea as your backdrop). As photogenic as they are, above-water villas are located on quieter parts of the island and often require a trek to the main facilities, so keep that in mind before you drop a chunk of change for your IG-worthy accom.
Are the Maldives on your bucket list? Think you’d make a reservation at the undersea restaurant? Chime in below :)