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Located just southwest of India in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are a chain of atolls stretching southwards over the equator. This is not a destination with a variety of attractions: visitors head to the Maldives for beautiful beaches, diving and other basic tropical island activities. Maldivian resorts are generally expensive, but of a high standard. They provide a launching point from which to enjoy the islands' rich rewards, like their gorgeous underwater coral formations and abundance of sea creatures, including whales, turtles, manta rays and sharks.
The two main towns (they can hardly be called cities) are Malé and Seenu and these make for nice day trips. The British, Dutch and Muslim influences which have created the modern Maldivian culture are of some interest for the tourist. But really, the best idea is to just stick to the sand.
Since very ancient times, the Maldives were ruled by kings (Radun) sultans and occasionally queens (Ranin) sultanas. Historically Maldives has had a strategic importance because of its location on the major marine routes of the Indian Ocean. Maldives' nearest neighbors are Sri Lanka and India, both of which have had cultural and economic ties with Maldives for centuries. The Maldives provided the main source of cowrie shells, then used as a currency throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast.
Despite being omitted or just mentioned briefly in most history books, the 1,400 year-long Buddhist period has a foundational importance in the history of the Maldives. It was during this period, that the culture of the Maldives, as we now know it, both developed and flourished. Buddhism probably spread to the Maldives in the third century BC, at the time of the Mauryan emperor Aśoka the Great, when it extended to the regions of Afghanistan and Central Asia, beyond the Mauryas' northwest border, as well as south to the island of Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands.
The interest of Middle Eastern peoples in Maldives resulted from its strategic location and its abundant supply of cowrie shells, a form of currency that was widely used throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast since ancient times. Middle Eastern seafarers had just begun to take over the Indian Ocean trade routes in the tenth century A.D. and found Maldives to be an important link in those routes. The importance of the Arabs as traders in the Indian Ocean by the twelfth century A.D. may partly explain why the last Buddhist king of Maldives converted to Islam in the year 1153.
After the 16th century, when European colonial powers took over much of the trade in the Indian Ocean, first the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, and the French occasionally meddled with local politics. However, these interferences ended when the Maldive became a British Protectorate in the 19th century and the Maldivian monarchs were granted a good measure of self-governance.
Maldives gained total independence in 1965. However, the British, continued to maintain an air base on the island of Gan in the southernmost atoll until 1976. The British departure in 1976 at the height of the Cold War almost immediately triggered foreign speculation about the future of the air base. Apparently the Soviet Union made a move to request the use of the base, but the Maldives refused.
The greatest challenge facing the republic in the early 1990s was the need for rapid economic development and modernization, given the country's limited resource base in fishing, agriculture and tourism. Concern was also evident over a projected long-term rise in sea level, which would prove disastrous to the low-lying coral islands.
Maldives consists of 1,192 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls, along the north-south direction, spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres, making this one of the world's most dispersed countries. It lies between latitudes 1°S and 8°N, and longitudes 72° and 74°E. The atolls are composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometres long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs north to south. Only near the southern end of this natural coral barricade do two open passages permit safe ship navigation from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of Maldives. For administrative purposes the Maldivian government organised these atolls into twenty one administrative divisions. The largest island of Maldives is Gan, which belongs to Laamu Atoll or Hahdhummathi Maldives. In Addu Atoll the westernmost islands are connected by roads over the reef (collectively called Link Road) and the total length of the road is 14 kilometres. Maldives is the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.4 metres, with the average being only 1.5 metres above sea level, although in areas where construction exists, this has been increased to several metres. However, more than 80 per cent of the country's land is composed of coral islands that rise less than one metre above sea level.
Of the 20 administrative atoll groups in the Maldives, only the following 10 are open to tourism (code names used - traditional names are in parentheses):
The remaining atolls are Gaafu Alifu, Gaafu Dhaalu, Gnaviyani, Haa Alifu, Haa Dhaalu, Laamu, Nyavinani, Seenu, Shaviyani, and Thaa.
A Dhoni is a traditional Maldives sail boat. The boat closely resembles an Arabian sailing vessel called dhow. This boat has been used for centuries for sailing between the islands. Traditionally these boats were built from coconut palm timber and used lateen sails. Today the boats are made from fiber glass and sometimes outfitted with a motor.
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Ranging from private islands to large scale luxury resorts Maldives is a great place to relax. Many of the resorts offer private beaches, restaurants, coffee shops, malls, lounges, bars, discos and diving schools. For people wanting a more eco-friendly there are now some more environmentally friendly resorts.
With amazing reefs to explore and underwater life to see the Maldives offer some excellent diving. Because these islands have excellent underwater scenery, great visibility and generally unpolluted water makes them one of the best diving locations in the world. Many of the resorts offer dive certification classes if needed. Remember diving here is not cheap.
Being a totally Islamic country, the Maldives celebrates the Ramadan period every year. Muslims fast during daylight hours and offices and government workers end the working days earlier. The event is held in the months of August or September, which is otherwise known as the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
The National Day is celebrated as the first day of Rabee-ul Awwal, which is held during the third month of the Islamic calendar. Falling sometime in February or March, you will see parades and marches across the Maldives.
One of the most important days on the calendar, Independence Day celebrates the freedom of the Maldives from Britain back in 1965. The islands are filled with parades, performances, food and festivities. It is held annually on July 26.
Although not as important as Independence Day, Republic Day is still an exciting event felt throughout the country. November 11 marks the day the Maldives became a republic for the second time in 1968. Male is the center of the celebrations, hosting parades throughout its streets and parks. Other towns and islands put on quite a good show.
For an interesting cultural experience, visitors should head to Male during the Prophet’s Birthday. The event is held on the 12th day of Rabee-ul-Awwal, which falls in the third month of the Islamic calendar. The mosques in the capital and around the country are filled with worshippers and offices and shops close early.
For the best feast of the year, the Eid Festival is the place to be. Held at the end of Ramadan in the month of September, Eid is a fantastic time to explore the cultural splendors of the Maldives’ religious faith. The event usually lasts for about three days, where grand meals are prepared across the country.
The Maldives have a tropical climate with abundant rainfall and high temperatures around the year. The northern islands have a rainy season from May to November with most rain in July and August. The islands near or south of the equator have rain more evenly distributed throughout the year and in the case of the most southern parts most rain falls in the period November to March. The northern islands are occasionally affected by tropical cyclones between August and November. These bring very strong winds and torrential rain. Temperatures are around 30 °C during the day and around 25 °C at night, with little variation between months and between the islands.
Malé International Airport (MLE) is the main airport with direct flights from Rome, Milan, Prague, Düsseldorf, Amsterdam, Paris, Moscow, Dubai, London, Munich, Manchester, Zürich and Frankfurt among others. In Asia there are connections from Colombo, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Shanghai. All these destinations are operated by foreign airlines.
There are no passenger services to and from the Maldives. A berth on a yacht or cargoship might be possible, but you have to be extremely lucky and it's not really recommended either. Costa Cruises offers a cruise via the Maldives, with a day stop in Male, but this is seasonal and limited to their schedule and routes. The Costa Luminosa was seen in the Male harbour in January 2011. Check with your travel agent if this option suits you.
Note that travelling around independently is discouraged. You need to get a special visitors permit to visit islands which don't have any tourist facilities. You can only get one if you are invited by locals living on the specific island you want to visit. In practice, this means that you will probably only visit Malé and one or two islands for relaxing, diving or fishing.
Island Aviation Services has domestic flights between Gan, Hanimaadhoo, Kaadedhdhoo Island, Kadhdhoo Island and Malé. Trans Maldivian Airways does the same. Maldivian Air Taxi provides private air charters and VIP flights between many islands.
Transport is mainly by seaplanes and helicopters.
Most islands are so small that you can easily walk around them within a few hours. In the capital Malé and a few other places you can rent motorcycles or bicycles. Taxis are available as well.
The main sea transport for locals is the dhoni, a traditional all-purpose vessel. Larger boats, called vedis, are used for longer trips to outer atolls. Most travellers won't use these local vessels, other than on arranged trips when boats are modified to meet tourist standards.
Some high speed boats connect the international airport with several of the atolls and islands. Islands further away are serviced by seaplane.
Visitors from all countries are issued a 30-day stamp on arrival. Citizens of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal are given a 90-day stamp. If you want to stay longer you will either need to apply for a visa or leave the country when your 30 days are over and then return.
While officially you are supposed to show US$30 for every day’s stay, this is not usually enforced, and showing a credit card will usually be sufficient. You should know the name of your hotel however (sometimes even naming a hotel is enough) and be able to show a return air ticket out of the country, if asked by immigration officials.
See also: Money Matters
The currency of the Maldives is the rufiya, which is divided into 100 larees. Notes come in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, five and two rufiya, but the last two are uncommon. Coins are in denominations of two and one rufiya, and 50, 25 and 10 larees. The value of the rufiya is pegged to that of the US dollar at 12.8 rufiya to a dollar. In hotels and resorts, other currencies are also generally accepted such as US Dollars and Euros.
Getting a job in the Maldives can be tricky. It is not the kind of place where you can just turn up and start job hunting. Generally the resorts take on a mix of local and international staff so you need to approach the resort Human Resources departments. There is a good mix of jobs but a lot of the roles are diving based (divemasters, instructors, photographers, etc.).
Most resorts are predominately one or two nationalities so finding the resorts that match your language skills helps. After that experience always helps (especially for diving instructors as the Maldives are well known for their strong currents and half of the time the currents will take you straight out into the Indian Ocean).
There is one university in Maldives (Maldives National University) which was inaugurated on 15 Feb 2011, the university was previously known as the Maldives College of Higher Education which was established in 1999, as part of a restructuring and rationalization of all government-run post-secondary education in Maldives. Operated under the aegis of the Department of Higher Education and Training, MCHE is the only public degree-granting institution on the island. The college offers a range of degrees, diplomas, and certificates, with particular emphasis on engineering, health science, education, tourism, and management. The average enrolment at MCHE is around 4,000 students in long-term (that is, more than one academic year) programs, and around 2,000 in short-term (shorter than one academic year) courses.
Maldivian Dhivehi, a close relative of Sinhala (spoken in Sri Lanka) but with borrowings from Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and many other languages, is the official language. It is written in a remarkable hybrid script called Thaana, which uses Arabic and Indic numbers as the base of the alphabet, written from right to left with Arabic vowel signs. The script is thought to have originated as a secret code for writing magical formulas so that outsiders can't read them, which would also explain why the ordering of the alphabet is, as far as linguists can tell, completely random!
English is widely spoken, particularly by government officials and those working in the tourism industry. Commonwealth English is the language of instruction in schools, which means that you will be able to communicate with the locals with varying degrees of difficulty.
Since Maldives happen to be a popular destination for German and Italian holiday goers, a sizeable number of local resort workers are able to speak fluent German and Italian. This may vary depending on the resorts you plan to visit, though.
All the resorts are self-contained so they have at least one restaurant, which generally serve the type of cuisine expected by their guests. ( i.e. modern European or generic Asian). Breakfast is almost always included, and most resorts offer the option of half-board, which means you get a dinner buffet, and full board, which means you get a lunch and dinner buffet. These can limit the damage compared to ordering a la carte, but your options are typically very limited and drinks are often not covered, not necessarily even water. If you're planning on drinking a lot, it may be worthwhile to go all inclusive, but even this typically restricts you to house drinks.
The only other place to find food is Male. This comes in two forms. Either small restaurants aimed at the tourists (of which there are a couple of nice Thai restaurants), which are often expensive, or small cafes called hotaa, selling local Maldivian food at prices as low as MVR20 for a complete meal.
Maldivian food revolves largely around fish (mas), in particular tuna (kandu mas), and draws heavily from the Sri Lankan and south Indian tradition, especially Kerala. Dishes are often hot, spicy and flavoured with coconut, but use very few vegetables. A traditional meal consists of rice, a clear fish broth called garudhiya and side dishes of lime, chili and onions. Curries known as riha are also popular and the rice is often supplemented with roshi, unleavened bread akin to Indian roti, and papadhu, the Maldivian version of crispy Indian poppadums. Some other common dishes include:
Snacks called hedhikaa, almost invariably fish-based and deep-fried, can be found in any Maldivian restaurant.
The Maldives had a longstanding policy of keeping tourists on dedicated islands, which meant they could only stay in full-service resorts where the cost of a night's accommodation started around US$200 and went up into the stratosphere, and the vast majority of visitors continue to opt for these. However, the brief democratic blossoming under Mohammed Nasheed's rule from 2008 saw all the islands open up to tourism, with backpacker-friendly guesthouses starting from US$30 a night now blossoming on inhabited islands across the archipelago.
Most resorts take up their own island (1500 x 1500m to 250 x 250m), meaning that the ratio of beach to guests must be one of the best in the world and it is hard to imagine that you would ever have to struggle to find your own private piece of beach to relax on. Many have a "no shoes" policy and with such soft sands it is easy to love this idea. A Maldivian classic is the overwater bungalow, built on stilts directly above a lagoon.
By now there are many guesthouses on inhabited islands. Maafushi island is popular among tourists looking for hassle-free accommodations of this sort. Low end prices are €25-35.
More examples include: Equator Village on Addu Atoll, a former RAF base converted to a 78 room hotel. Cost is around $100-150us pp/per day all inclusive (includes regular brand alcohol). Another unique location is Keyodhoo Guest House, this guest house is located on top of a recreation center build by Australian after the tsunami ($20 pp/per night). Most travelers to these locations are scuba divers for the diving or adventure travelers. Other Inns/B&B can also be found on Vaavu Atoll, Dhaalu Atoll, Kaafu Atoll, North and South Male Atoll. Only a few of these Inn/B&B have their own pool. Be sure to inquire if bikini is allowed on the local beach. Travel between the inn and beach are usually very close but be sure to dress appropriately with Maldive customs.
More indepent-minded travellers and those looking for cultural experience may consider renting rooms in villages. This will require either walking through the village and asking around if you're particularly confident of your social skills, or inquiring in Male whether someone can put you in contact with their friends or relatives on remote island for such an informal homestay. Prices can be as low as €15 per night for a clean functional room.
As the Maldives are Muslim, alcohol is banned for the local population. However, nearly all resorts and live-aboard boats are licensed to serve it, usually with a steep markup. Expatriate residents have an allowance that they can use in Male.
Maldivians generally do not drink alcohol although this is less true of the younger generation. They are, however, unhappy about being filmed or photographed while drinking.
Tap water in resorts may or may not be drinkable -- check with management. Bottled water is extortionately priced, with USD5/bottle being typical.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Maldives. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering the Maldives) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Maldives. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.
Vaccination against hepatitis B is sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. Although there is no malaria, Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, just use mosquito repellant (50% DEET) and sleep under a mosquito net
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
There is very little crime in the tourist resorts with their patrons often not venturing wider afield. Generally, Maldivians are honest, helpful and welcoming people although you are unlikely to come into much contact with them in resorts.
Homosexual activity between consenting adults is punishable by life imprisonment in the Maldives. Discretion should be exercised by LGBT visitors.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Maldives' country code is 960.
If you want to get a local SIM card, there is a Dhiraagu shop (the primary local telecom company) just to the left of the airport arrivals area upon exiting. A local mobile number is needed to purchase time at many Wi-Fi spots around the country (sometimes reachable from where live-aboards anchor for the night).
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