When you think Maldives you picture pristine beaches with the whitest sands, palms, azure waters and lazing around in your private bungalow and sipping coconut water on a hammock. Yes! Truly a paradise! If you book your trip and stay with the famous luxury island resorts, this is definitely what you get and it’s worth it. You will be promptly whisked off from the airport in a speed boat to the private resort islands.
But there is so much more than just this experience to this beautiful island country.
A few months back, we got a chance to do a very short trip of 3 days to Maldives. Being budget travelers, we didn’t want to be cooped up in an expensive resort as we were staying such a short while so instead we looked for being off the beaten track in order to explore the maximum. Apart from that, I am not a good swimmer nor do I swim in public beaches or pools. Add to the fact that I had recently confirmed that I was pregnant so any light water sports for bad swimmers were out of question too. So we planned differently and what we got was an amazing cultural holiday (and of course nature holiday too as we did visit the resorts) in this beautiful country.
We decided to stay in Malé for the entire time, explore the city and visit the nearby local islands in addition to taking day trips to island resorts.
Here are my top 5 picks of what to do when staying in Male and on some amazing trips you can take.
- Go on a walking tour. Male is a small city, much like a lilliputian metropolis. That’s definitely how it looked as we approached it from the airport on our speedboat. In fact it’s claimed to be the smallest capital in the world. It’s a very crowded and densely populated island – very much of an Indian metro.
To get a real taste of the local life, hire a guide or just grab a map and explore the city on foot. The business district is a good place to start. Our hotel provided a free guided walking tour and we had a lively fellow to show us around all the places while talking about life in the Maldives as a local. With high cost of living here, almost everybody worked two jobs. (He also worked as a scuba diving trainer in addition to guiding tours) He informed us that you can walk around the perimeter of the whole island in just about two hours. Well, I didn’t really test that but yes it is a small island and everything seems close by especially in this area.
Places to see- The republican square, sultan park, the national museum, the large mosque, the old friday mosque made of corals, the fruit market, fish market, the parliament house, plenty of pricey souvenir shops on chandneemagu, etc. Dine in the numerous local restaurants and eateries frequented by the locals.
Best picks – try some exotic fruits at the fruit market like the tiny Maldivian mangoes, the exotic screwpine fruit, delicious local passion fruit and other tropical delights all brought in by the local from far off atolls.
Tip- every trip in a taxi whether 2 minutes or 1 hour costs 25 MVR. Walk as far as you can and then take a taxi to your next destination or back to your hotel.
2. Visit the Rasfannu Artificial Beach and the Tsunami Memorial. Rasfannu literally means an artificial beach in Divehi language and it is an artificially reclaimed land with backwaters on the west side of the Male island. It is a recent addition to the city scene, inaugrated less than an year ago and very popular with the locals. Hence very crowded. Nevertheless, it was raining and I found the walk around the pavilion with cabanas, swings, viewpoints and barbecue stations to be very pleasing. A few kids and men were swimming in the shallow waters around. Quite pleasant. Right next to it is the beautiful Tsunami Memorial built in memory of the 2004 catastrophe which claimed a lot of lives and caused widespread destruction. It’s beautifully laid out and you get to see nice views of the ocean from a short walk around.
3. Take the local ferry to Hulhulmale and Vilingili Islands. These are the nearby local islands a few minutes by ferry to each. Travel like the locals do on the large ferries and walk around these small islands and chat up with the locals. Some of my best memories of the cultural holiday that we had is about the interaction with the people. From sipping coconut water while walking along the beach and waving at children, waiting at the bus stop chatting up to a young girl studying in Male, to walking around the public park and talking to the friendly locals as we huddled up under a canopy for shelter from the brief showers.
Tip: Take the bus to move around these islands. They cost much less than taxis. You can walk at your own pace from the ferry station and take the bus back to it.
4. The whale submarine! Imagine a 45 minute ride that takes you 35 ft under the sea! A great way to explore the treasures of the ocean without having to get wet, or don bulky gear and scuba dive. As far as I know there is only one company which operates the whale submarine from Male and is relatively inexpensive compared to everything else in the city. It was less than 100 $ per person and you can book from your hotel if available or the many travel agencies around town. Unfortunately we missed this as it was out of service due to the annual maintenance but I have heard raving reviews of it and definitely must do for everybody. So definitely go Captain Nemo with this ride!
5. Excursions and Day trips.
Many local agencies arrange for fishing and boating trips. There’s everything from sunset trips, whale and dolphin spotting to barbecue on board and island hopping. You are truly spoilt for choice.
Day trips to island resorts: This is what most would consider a real holiday in the Maldives – the island resorts! Most of them offer day passes to visitors so you can enjoy the beaches and selected services of these resorts for the whole day. In most cases you will have to take the ferry to the airport and from there they will take you in a speedboat along with their regular guest arriving at the airport to the island. The speed boat ride can be a few minutes to about 2 hours depending on the location of the resorts. There are innumerable packages, many day trips include lunch or dinner, access to water sports, certain beach areas and other amenities. You will be sure to find one that suits your requirements, time on hand, budget, etc.
Unfortunately, atleast two of our day trips were cancelled due to heavy rains. On our last day we visited The Paradise Island Resort & Spa on Lankanfinolhu Island. It’s a very popular resort and had a lot of guests but as it is a large island we were able to find a great spot with some privacy to enjoy the sun, sand and the waves.
Traveling with kids? If you are looking for a family friendly island resort in Maldives, head over to this post by Wandermust Family.
Still confused? There are so many resorts to choose from, it can be really hard. Wanderlust and Wet Wipes has got you all covered with some quick tips to help you reach a decision.
I highly recommend anyone traveling to Maldives to get a taste of the real life and people of this country by staying in the local islands for at least a day or two before heading of to the dreamy slices of paradise on far off atolls. Bear in mind that some of the very high end resorts, however, do not offer day passes. There is everything from private villas on water to entire remote private islands (which you may need to get to with a sea plane) for the luxury traveler, with unmatched hospitality. But of course you knew that. I was here to tell you of the warm hospitality of the country and its citizens and I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed the trip.
Have you ever been to the Maldives? How did you choose to explore? Drop in a line below sharing your experience.