A first timer’s guide to visiting Maldives local islands

The view from the local ferry - slow but cheap
Maldives is often thought of as an expensive destination, but since the local islands have open to tourism in 2009, it ceased to be the case. While the over water villas and resort island require an extortionate amount of money, it is actually quite affordable to visit the local islands. After my visit to Gaafaru and talking to some other travellers, I have a better glimpse of Maldives’ logistic and would definitely return. However, there are many aspects of travelling in Maldives that are different to the other countries. But fret not, because I’m here to tell you all the things that I learned as a first time visitor in Maldives. This guide is geared towards those who wants to stay on a local island.
 

Contents

Before you go to Maldives:

Picnic Island with me and a coconut, near Gaafaru, Maldives | Laugh Travel Eat
pause for a second – there’s somethings to note before you hop on that flight to paradise

Make sure you have your outbound flight

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport

Before you get to see this view – you got to have proof of how you’ll get out (Photo credit: Ben Flickr/CC)

Proof of onward travel is required for you to enter the country. You would be asked by the airline staff to show your outbound ticket confirmation before you are allowed to check in and board. Email on the phone would do, though I had mine printed. For those of you who are nomadic and don’t plan your travels, it’s important to plan when you get out of this one.

 

Free 30 day visa for everyone

All mine :)

All nationality has free visa Photo credits: Baigal Byamba Flickr/Creative Commons

It’s free to visit Maldives, but if you want to work there, you would have to apply for work visa. A form would be given to you on the flight in and they do require more information than your average landing form. They ask if you have over a certain amount of money on you, as well as custom questions on electronics etc.
 
The leaving form would be given, too, and it would save you time to fill it in and keep it for a quick emigration process.
 

Accommodation confirmation (even if it’s just for one night)

Mirian Sky Hotel on Gaafaru, Maldives | Laugh Travel Eat
Your hotel should provide a confirmation letter – or whatever email you have is good
You will be asked to provide your accommodation confirmation on arrival, but as long as you have the first night booked, you are good to go.
 

Alcohol, pornography, and other religion items are banned

bible

You should avoid bring reiligious items if you can | Photo credit: Dwight Stone Flickr / Creative Commons

Maldives is a Muslim country and consequently, a lot of things are banned. It should be known that alcohol are not allowed on local islands at all. In addition, any none-Muslim religion items are banned and preaching of any kind is a criminal offense. The same goes for pornography.
 

Bring your modest wardrobe

selfie with a family on Gaafaru, Maldives | Laugh Travel Eat
While dress code is more relaxed for foreigners, modesty is highly appreciated when you are walking around the local islands. While it’s not a requirement to keep your shoulders and knees covered, you should at least keep your midriff and cleavage under wrap when on a local island.
 
Because of the hot weather and the deficiency of my wardrobe, I wasn’t able to cover my knees and shoulders at all time (though I did in the capital). However, I tried to do cover at least one.
 

Get a local sim card

SIM cards of Africa

There are only 2 sim card company in Maldives | Photo credit: jbdodane Flickr/Creative Commons

I had only stayed on Male and the island of Gaafaru, so I can’t say for sure of all the islands, but the internet aren’t amazing. So if you can, get a sim card. There is a telecom company store in the airport, however, the queue was so long that I didn’t get one.
 
 

The Best time to Visit Maldives

Gaafaru protective reefs, Maldives | Laugh Travel eat
Maldives is tropical, but when is the best time to visit?

Maldives is a tropical country, so you are guaranteed for warm weather year-around. However, to avoid the rainy monsoon season, it’s best to visit between November to April.

Having said that, if you want to see Mantas, I was told that it’s best to come during the stormier time because that’s when they are active. If you are keen on scuba diving, which can happen in rain, you wouldn’t need to worry about the weather, either.

How to reach Maldives:

From the airport

Maldives 2011

Photo credit: Fredrik Rubensson Flickr/Creative Commons

The airport, though said to be on Male, is actually located on the man-made island of Hulhumale. Most people would have to stay around there for transit, but there is no shortage of hotels.
 
If you are taking a seaplane, it’s best to stay on Hulhumale. If you are taking the local ferry, then you should stay in Male. You can get a taxi to your hotel in Hulhumale, but for Male, you’d need to take the ferry.
 
You exit the arrival halls to the right and follow the walkway until you reach the banks. Then you cross the road and should find the ticketing booth for the ferry to Male. It costs MVP10 for the trip and they depart every 10 to 15 minutes. The ride is about the same amount of time.
 
The airport ferry port is on the northern side of the island while the main ferry terminal is on the southwest side. I recommend staying near either one for an easy walk to either for your onward journey.
 

Taxi in Male

Taxi in Male, streets of Male, Maldives | Laugh Travel Eat
The streets of Male with a taxi whizzing pass
Male is a small island and the taxis all charges a flat rate.
  • 6:00 – 0:00 MVP 25
  • 0:00 – 6:00 MVP 30
  • 1 luggage MVP5, MVP 10 for extra
  • Hiring per hour MVP 110 (I have no idea why this would be needed)
 
Unless you have a sizable luggage, you can easily walk around Male, though the traffic, especially around the coastline, can be chaotic. Male is a safe place to walk around, however, if you have valuables then taking a taxi to your hotel would be a good course of actions.
 
You can, of course, paid in USD, it should be around 2 to 3 dollars.
 

Maldives Transportation between Islands:

Local Ferry

local ferry to gaafaru, Maldives | Laugh Travel Eat
The view from the local ferry – slow but cheap
The local ferry terminal is located on the southwest side of the island. It’s right next to the Tsunami Memorial. It’s safe to say that the ferry prices is cheaper than speed boat or seaplane, but it does require more time.
 
It took me 3.5 hours to get to Gaafaru as opposed to an hour by speedboat. But it only cost 5 USD as opposed to 200 USD per boat.
 

Other options

Speed boat sin Maldives | Laugh Travel Eat
Speedboat is much faster but it’ll cost you
Your accommodation should be able to arrange speedboat or seaplane services for you, depending on how far you would have to go. Since I hadn’t tried either before, I don’t have much to say outside of the fact that it’s good to ask around before committing. But my friend Evie at Mumpacks Travel has gone on a seaplane in Maldives and here is her experience.
I have heard that they tend to jack up the prices for tourists, so be careful.
 

What to expect on the island:

Bikini beach Maldives

sunset at the bikini beach on Gaafaru, Maldives | Laugh Travel Eat
There are specific section of beach for tourist in swimwars!
Since Maldives is a Muslim country, you are not allowed to wear a bikini outside of designated beach on a local island. Such beaches are the so-called “Bikini Beach). It’s found on all local islands and is not the actual name of the beach. However, it’s definitely easy to remember and find. So if you are looking to walk around in your bikini, then resort islands are a better choice.

Mosque time

Grand Friday Mosque, Maldives

Grand Friday Mosque in Maldives | Photo credit: Shystie88 Flickr/Creative Common

There will be 5 prayer times a day at the mosques, completed with loudspeakers broadcast. It can be a shock for people who had never experienced it before, but aside from the potential 5 am wake-up call, it wasn’t hard to get used to. If you are a light sleeper, then it’s wise to look for accommodation away from the mosques in town.

 

Friday and Saturday are their weekends

Gaafaru music night, Maldives | Laugh Travel Eat
Don’t be surprised to different hours
Maldives weekends are on Friday and Saturday, and this will be reflected in their shop times. While I wasn’t affected by this, it would be worth noting that perhaps ferry schedules might be different.
 
Maldives is a Muslim country. With its local islands opened to tourism, there are a few things to beware of for first-time visitors:
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Written by Nam Cheah

Hi, my name is Nam. I am 24 and spent half my life in Hong Kong and the other half in UK. I believe there's endless experience and beauty in the world and this is me chronicling how to experience the best at the best price.

19 Comments

    • It really depends on what you want to see. The dry season (to avoid rain) is November to April! However, you are more likely to see Mantas during the stormy monsoon season.

  1. This is a great guide! My first time to the Maldives last year was on a volunteering package in Dhigurah – a local island. To the south, in the South Ari Atoll region, you can also see whale sharks. Whale shark conservation was what the volunteering program I joined is about. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise – but I quite liked being with the islanders anyway. I even came back in March this year.

    • Whale shark! They look like such lovely creature, what an amazing place to volunteer 🙂 I’ll definitely look it up!

  2. Thanks for the really helpful tips! I didn’t know most of what you explained, and Maldives are high on my bucket list, so I’m so thankful you went into so much detail. Great post, and I’m certain it’s going to help a lot of people! 🙂
    Beautiful photos, by the way 😀

    • I’m glad you find it helpful! Most of that information aren’t known to me until I did a little digging and arrived 😀

    • Thanks Natalie 🙂 I was there near April and the rain there was torrential (though it did end quickly too!)

    • It wasn’t a problem for me to cover up (though I did have to pack differently), but it can be troublesome to others!

  3. Gorgeous photos and very useful tips 🙂 . The Maldives conjure up images of pristine beaches, reef-ringed atolls, and luxurious bungalows on the water, where lucky guests can observe fish through glass floors and jump into the sea from their deck ! This island nation has always been on my “bucket list” !

    • The Maldives I saw still have plenty of sea life, reefs and pristine water – but staying on the local island also showed me the kind people, village life so it’s worth it (plus it’s cheaper ;D )

  4. Ni Nam,
    This really reminds me of Fiji. The mainland is so different from the paradisiac islands. Did you explore some of the islands too? Which one was your favourite?
    To visit the different islands, which is the more budget friendly by boat or plane?

    Telma @ Blank Canvas Voyage

    • I only visited the capital Male and Gaafaru. Gaafaru is my favourite of the two because of the island vibe and the kind people! It’s most budget friendly to use the local ferry, but it does take A LOT longer

  5. Hoping to go to the Maldives at some point soon, and this is perfect and exactly what I have been looking for. What a great guide and so nice to see a more local experience than the flashy fancy stuff I have seen before.

  6. This is by far the most thorough guide of the Maldives I’ve ever read!! I feel like way too often, bloggers just glamourize the place with pretty photos of their bungalows and beaches and don’t mention anything else at all… For instance, I had no idea that alcohol was banned or that modest dress was required. Super good to know haha. Saving this for the future!!

    • Thanks Christina 🙂 most people visit the resort island, where alcohol is allowed and no dress code is enforced! But I feel like you should visit at least one local island when you are there!

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