MALDIVES: Travel Guide for First-Timers

Even before we got married, my then fiancé now husband (Jamal) promised to travel with me to different countries– Maldives on top of the list. True to his word, after two years of our marriage, he took me to my dream destination.

I had various reasons why I wanted to visit this country. For one thing, it’s considered by many as “Paradise on Earth” and it’s undeniably true to me– after swimming in the clear, turquoise waters, walking around a local island with sparkling beaches and palm fringes, running on a white sandbar, and seeing aesthetic coral reefs that are home to plenty of marine species. Second, it’s a 100% Muslim country, and it was an exciting thought to beach bum without seeing too much nakedness. Haha. Indeed, if heaven on earth exists, it is definitely in Maldives!

I used to imagine visiting the tropical paradise as an exceptionally luxurious trip– accessible only if I have millions of pesos on my bank balance. I thought of it as a place I will never have the capacity to visit in this lifetime. I may be right years back, but things have changed now. Maldives is now reachable for budget travelers like me, despite it being a luxury destination. Thanks to the government allowing Maldivians to operate guesthouses, staying in a resort is just an option today.

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ABOUT THE COUNTRY
Maldives is an Islamic country located in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka and India. It consists of 1,192 gemlike islands grouped in clusters called “atolls” but only 200+ are inhabited. Its capital and most populous city, Malé, is geographically located at the Kaafu Atoll and is a ferry-away from the airport island, Hulhule.

Below are some of the local islands near Malé which are accessible by local ferry:

  1. Maafushi Island
  2. Hulhumale Island
  3. Villingili
  4. Gulhi
  5. Guraidhoo
  6. Fulidhoo

You can choose which island you want to stay in but I recommend Maafushi Island based on experience, and Fulidhoo Island based on positive reviews I have read across the internet.

VISA

Filipinos do not need a pre-arrival Visa to enter Maldives. You will be issued a 30-day free Visa upon arrival provided that your passport is valid and will not expire for the next six months from the entry date.

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WHERE TO BOOK FLIGHTS
Flights to Maldives normally cost around ₱20,000 to ₱25,000 with a layover either in Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand. There are several low-cost carriers servicing the Manila to Malé route—you can try Scoot Air, AirAsia or Cebu Pacific. In our case, we took the MNL-SG-MLE and vice versa flights via Scoot Air for P14,000 ONLY per pax inclusive of a 15kg check-in baggage. I honestly thought I scored the cheapest with the said amount, but unfortunately, several weeks subsequent to booking, I came across Scoot Air’s promotional flight of just ₱8,000 for MNL-MLE round-trip flights. There are times that AirAsia offers the same promo. Insane, right? You simply have to be always on the lookout for these unusual promo fares. It’s a different story if you have the moolah to splurge though.

For more info on how I usually score cheapest golden flights, read here.

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HOW TO GET AROUND
You might be wondering just how you should be getting around Maldives. Well, there are few methods of transport you can avail depending on your preference and based on factors such as convenience, budget, and safety.

From the Airport
Right after stepping outside the arrival hall, you will see a number of booths and their respective staff scattered around the area. If you are expecting your hotel or resort’s staff to welcome you there, just look for a placard with your name on it.

To Resorts or other Local Islands – If no one shows up for you at the airport (insert sad smiley), you may consider taking a speedboat to your preferred resort or local island. Rate depends but it typically starts at 25 USD ~ 1,315 PHP per pax. You also have the option to take a seaplane that costs a lot more than my two kidneys combined. hahajk

To Malé City – If you’re on a budget plan, walk past the booths and locate the public ferry counter to purchase a ticket to Malé City for only 10 MVR ~ 34 PHP. The ride should only take 15 minutes and you’ll arrive at Hulhumale Ferry Terminal.

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Ferry Schedule:
FROM MALE CITY TO AIRPORT
Every 10 minutes from morning 06:00 AM to 02:30 AM
Every 30 minutes from morning 02:30 AM to 04:00 AM
Every 15 minutes from morning 04:00 AM to 06:00 AM
FROM AIRPORT TO MALE CITY
Every 10 minutes from morning 06:00 AM to 02:30 AM
Every 30 minutes from morning 02:30 AM to 04:00 AM
Every 15 minutes from morning 04:00 AM to 06:00 AM

On Fridays, ferries operate every 10 minutes from the morning at 06:00 AM to 00:00 AM.

Conversely, you can ride a speedboat for your convenience. Within two minutes, you’ll reach the northeast part of Malé City.

Because I booked our hotel in Malé within a day before our arrival and because I did not communicate with them our arrival time, no one showed up for us. Wala kaming placard, jusko napaka-dukha feels. Haha. But they were supposed to greet us at the airport since we paid for that one-way airport transfer. Ang tanga ko lang talagang kausap. hehe

Around the City of Malé
Arriving at the ferry terminal, you can take a taxi or a mini pickup truck to bring you either to your hotel (if you intend to stay at Malé) or to Villingili Ferry Terminal (if you want to go directly to a local island of your choice). Also, there are bus lines running a circular route around the small city. The downside is—if your hotel is not within their routes, you still have to walk after getting off on the nearest bus stop.

To our Hotel – We rode a mini pickup truck to reach our hotel. Pahirapan kumuha ng taxi, mga bes kaya nagpaka- Megan Young and Mikael Daez kami ni Jamal. Haha. We were charged 50 MVR by the driver. Minimum fare for taxis is 20 MVR per pax during the day and 25 MVR during the night.

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To Maafushi Island
From Villingili Ferry Terminal, the ride to Maafushi Island will only take about an hour and a half. Ticket price is only 53 MVR ~ 3.50 USD ~ 190 PHP.

Ferry Schedule:

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For an updated schedule, click here.

After spending the night at Malé, we went to Maafushi Island where we planned to stay for 5D4N. From our hotel, a staff hailed a taxi for us (and paid for it because of their utang to us) and instructed the driver of our destination.

Since we arrived at the terminal early, we went to a food court nearby and had milkshake while waiting. Sobrang init, mga bes.

Around Maafushi Island
From the terminal, getting to your hotel will be either through your hotel’s private vehicle or rickshaw. Yup, rickshaw. Maafushi is a very small island (1.275km x 0.260km) that you can see the entire island within two hours of walking.
Some hotels and guesthouses offer a rental bike service for 5 USD per hour. A bit pricey. You can see the locals using motorcycles as a mode of transportation as well, though I am not sure if they are up for lease.

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WHERE TO STAY
There are a limited number of budget sleeps in Maldives. Unlike in any other Asian country where you will find a 30 USD per night accommodation for two, in Maldives, budget hotels or guesthouses usually cost no less than 60 USD. If you’re lucky, you may come across huge discounts in Agoda. Make sure to constantly browse the app, you might come across a crazy deal like what happened to us.

Or better yet, sign up on Airbnb using this link to earn ₱1,600 travel credit. Or get a 10% refund on your first transaction at Booking.com when you use this unique link.

For high-end tourists, exclusive resorts are the place to be but allot at least 600 USD per night.

The Melrose Hotel – It’s a 450m-walk from Hulhumale Ferry Terminal. We spent our first night here for just 30 USD. It’s the cheapest we could find on Agoda that serves breakfast. Our booking was inclusive of taxes, environmental fees, a welcome drink, one-way airport transfer, and free breakfast. The staffs were friendly and helpful; the receptionist is Pinay, yaay! Our room was small, enough for a 9-hour stay, but very clean. It has toiletries, coffee and tea sachets, iron, and a flat-screen TV among others.

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Seven Corals Guesthouse – This was our home in Maafushi for 5D4N. I loved it! The staffs were friendly and attentive, the room was spacious and snug, food was in a variety, and the ambiance was cozy and relaxing. Not to mention the long list of inclusions on our ₱16,500 deal:

  • Meals (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner)
  • Welcome drink
  • Afternoon tea
  • Express check-in
  • Fruit basket
  • Selected watersports (i.e. Jetski, but the schedule was in conflict with ours)
  • Free local mobile SIM card
  • Complimentary snacks
  • Night Fishing
  • Sunset Cruise
  • Dolphin Cruise (No dolphins on our cruise huhu)
  • Snorkeling Excursion
  • Sandbank Picnic
  • Taxes and other fees

We tried looking for another guesthouse/hotel that offers the same but only Seven Corals does. Highly recommended to keep an eye on a deal like this.

Adaaran Prestige Vadoo (optional) – One-night rate starts at ~1,000 USD inclusive of breakfast and taxes/fees. Additional of at least ~200 USD per pax for the roundtrip transfers. It can hurt your pocket but recommended to stay if you have the cash. OR- here’s the catch, you can ask a Maldivian in the local island where you stay to contact any resort you prefer and ask them if you’re allowed to arrange your roundtrip speedboat transfer. The local quoted us 100 USD (2 pax; 2-way transfer) only, 400 USD less than the quoted price on Agoda.

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Novina Hotel – another great hotel centrally located in Malé City for ~70 USD only inclusive of a welcome drink, buffet breakfast, and airport transfer. Just like our room in The Melrose, it was small but well maintained. The floor was carpeted and there’s a mini-fridge, too. They served decent food which was great. I love the omelette. Staffs were very welcoming and friendly that they let us stay in the lobby after check-out while waiting for our evening flight.

PLACES TO VISIT IN MALE CITY

  • Masjid Al-Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Auzam
  • Fish Market
  • Republic Square
  • National Museum
  • Tsunami Monument
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ACTIVITIES TO TRY

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MONEY SAVING TIPS

  • If you have a layover in Singapore for at least 5.5 hours to 24 hours, join the FREE 2.5-hour guided tours of Changi Airport. More info about the tours here.
  • Visit during the low season (June to November) to score off-season rates on activities, accommodation, and flights. Prices tend to drop insanely plus, there are fewer tourists traveling.
  • Last minute deals exist, just be smart enough to plan your trip.
  • Currency exchange shops in Malé City offers better rates than those in the Airport.
  • Bring USD with you preferably in 100s or 50s. Usual buying rate for 50-100 USD is 15 MVR per USD while for denominations below is around 12 MVR per USD.
  • Resorts and guesthouses only accept Dollars while local restaurants and street side shops need Rufiyaa.
  • Local Ferry >>> Speedboat
  • STAY. ON. A. LOCAL. ISLAND.
  • If you’re into luxury resorts, choose those closer to Malé or to the island you’re staying at.
  • Get not just a full board stay, but an all-inclusive package. It’s very reasonable than bringing with you your wallet all the time.
  • Haggle like a pro. Be it souvenirs or activities, bargain a better price.
  • Pack chips and biscuits.
  • Do not forget your swimming essentials. Sunscreen lotions and rashies in the local islands are expensive.

For our ultimate travel hacks mostly on how to save on your next trip abroad, check these tips on our previous blog.

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SAMPLE 6D5N ITINERARY

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OPTIONAL: Stay on a high-end resort.

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EXPENSES

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*The amounts do not reflect our actual expenditures.

This blog entry was originally posted at thetalkingrainbow.tumblr.com by the Author.

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