After 26 hours of planes and layovers, we finally made it to the Maldives! The Maldives was not originally on our world tour itinerary, but after 4 months of being constantly on-the-go we were more than ready for both a mental and physical break.
For most people, the Maldives probably holds the perception of being the playground of the well-to-do. This notion has, until recently, largely been accurate as the only accommodations were private resorts running hundred or even thousands of dollars per night. However, a recent change in the country’s laws has allowed for the creation of private guesthouses. Over the past few years these have slowly popping up on various islands, and they cater very well to backpacker and budget conscious travelers.
We loved the small amount of time that we were able to spend in the Maldives, and wish we could have spent more. Our experience is detailed below.
Arrival in the Maldives:
Landing in the Maldives was truly a unique experience. We arrived late at night and during the planes descent we could see several nearby islands illuminating the otherwise pitch-black abyss of the Indian Ocean.
The primary airport of the Maldives sits on an island just to the east of the capital city of Malè. Customs was quite quick, and once cleared we still had to catch a ferry to the main island. Ferries depart directly from the airport, and are actually only small boats that seat about 30 or so people unlike what you might expect.
We spent one night in Malè at the beginning of our stay in the Maldives and two more at the end. This small island is packed with over 100,000 people and is complete with overcrowded roads, buildings reaching up many stories, markets, sports fields, and manyyyyy ports. We enjoyed seeing the capital city, but like most tourists this island was not our final destination.
For travelers seeking a taste of tropical paradise, Malè really only serves as a transport hub for other islands. Planes often arrive late in the day, so many people stay a night in Malè and then catch a boat out the following morning, which is exactly what we did. To visit other islands you can take a public ferry, a private speed boat, or do a quick hop in a sea plane.
The ferry is by far the cheapest way to get around, but it only runs on certain days and to certain islands, so we hired a speedboat to get to the island of Rasdhoo. The speedboat was a WILD ride; butts were rarely in seats as our tiny boat careened from wave to wave. Vomit bags came standard with each seat, but thankfully none were needed on our voyage. Neither of us had EVER been on such a small boat (20 seater) in the open ocean and enjoyed the wild ride.
While many visitors choose to island hop, we decided that we wanted a more relaxing trip, and chose to stay 7 whole days on a single island! This was the longest we have stayed in one place since our journey began.
We did quite a bit of research before booking our accommodations, and we ended up deciding to stay on the beautiful island of Rasdhoo. Rasdhoo is tiny as you would expect; it is only about 0.5 by 1.5 kilometers and approximately 800 Maldivians call it home. It also boasts some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. We really enjoyed the fact that there were reefs just a few meters from the beach and we could tackle them on our own (although these were not as impressive as other spots only accessible by boat).
It only took us about 20-30 minutes to explore downtown Rasdhoo. A small handful grocery stores, restaurants, guesthouses, and souvenir shops connected by dirt road and made from cinder blocks and coral made up the town. Shops ran on island time and sporadically closed throughout the day. While the town itself was not really picturesque, it did have a certain un-explainable charm that comes from being such small town where life is much simpler.
While we enjoyed sitting on the beach most days, we decided to take the opportunity to see a little more of the Maldives through a few excursions.
Our snorkeling excursion in the open ocean was absolutely breathtaking. We took a boat about 30 minutes from our island and anchored near a large set of reefs. The reefs were about 25 feet below the surface and we saw hundreds of fish in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We were also fortunate enough to see starfish and sea turtles.
We also spent a day at what the locals called the “picnic” island, and it was amazing! Essentially it was a pristine sandbank with some great snorkeling right off the shore. At the far end of the island was a strip of sand that stretched into the water which grew progressively thinner until it finally was swallowed up by the ocean. What made this strip so cool was that waves crashed into it from both sides, so if you stood right where the the sand met the ocean you could be blasted by waves in two different directions.
We also tried to visit an area where you can supposedly see 80+ stingrays at a single time, but unfortunately the day we visited this spot the stingrays decided to take the day off.
The Maldives is a Muslim country, and along with this comes the typical conservative dress code (i.e. shoulders and knees should be covered at all times). While these rules do not apply to the resorts, local island do follow all the standard rules. However, most islands have a designated “Bikini” Beach which, as the name implies, is a beach where foreigners are permitted to wear whatever heathenish swimwear they desire. Locals could rarely be spotted visiting the Bikini Beach.
Rasdhoo’s Bikini Beach was small, but absolutely stunning. There is only about 20-30 feet between the ocean and the treeline at any given point. Palm, mangrove, banana, and other tropical trees provided both stunning scenery for photos, as well as great shelter during the heat of the day. We spent countless hours relaxing on the beach and taking in the simplicity of island life.
The island community generally kept the beach relatively trash free, which was much appreciated as the non-Bikini Beaches were littered with plastic bottles, wrappers, and other bits of plastic. Unfortunately, the trash pickup stopped short of picking up all the various bits of broken glass mixed in the sand – it was, sadly, common enough that we always felt the need to wear sandals.
We never originally planned to visit any majority Muslim countries; however, the Maldives was our third country that we visited during this trip. Islam observes two major holidays Eid al-Adha (in commemoration of Abraham’s faithfulness to sacrifice Ishmael), and Ramadan (in commemoration of Allah’s dictation of the Qu’ran to Mohamed). We just so happened to be in Muslim countries during both of these holidays; the UAE for Ramadan, and the Maldives for Eid al-Adha.
We were told during the Eid al-Adha that most Maldivians leave Malè and go to one of the other islands to celebrate. We got to see some of these celebrations in Rasdhoo which consisted of song and dance of both traditional Maldivian and more contemporary origins. It was fun to see a piece of the local culture.
Other Odds-and-Ends Worth a Mention:
- Daily Downpours – It rained literally everyday we were in the Maldives. Storms would roll in quickly, do an utter downpour for about 10 minutes, and then be gone again just as fast. They also seemed to keep an oddly regular schedule; coming around noon and 8 PM each day.
- Majestic Mammals of the Night – Andy fell in love with a giant bat species that could be seen all over the island. We read that these magnificent creatures can have up to a 4 foot wingspan, and were completely non-aggressive towards humans: truly a delight to see!
- Departure – We would have loved to stay in the Maldives forever, so we were sad to go after only a week and a half. Nonetheless, it was a much needed break, and gave us the recharge we needed before taking on our next big adventure in India and Nepal! Stay tuned for updates on both those!
We had so much fun in the Maldives and would recommend this destination to anyone!