The Maldives is an insanely beautiful country with white sandy beaches, crystal clear, and an abundance of colourful, thriving marine life. It sure is a place that has left me feeling relaxed and in awe of such an incredible part of the earth. But it's also a place with many issues including rising sea levels and an infrastructure that can't appropriately deal with rubbish.
After spending 6 weeks in the Maldives in 2018, I compiled a list of all the things I wish I knew BEFORE visiting this remote paradise.
1. The Maldives is a very widespread island nation
Situated just below India and Sri Lanka, lies the Maldives which is made up of around 1200 coral islands in 26 atolls spread over a whopping 90,000 square kilometres of ocean. The islands are so widespread it can be very expensive and timely to get around. Once you arrive at the international airport you’ll need to get on another boat, plane or seaplane to get to your accommodation as the airport itself is on an island. Local ferries are the cheapest way to travel at under $10 for a fare, but seaplanes can be upwards of a thousand dollars to get to more isolated resorts. So make sure you book accommodation in advance, somewhere accessible and in your price range! You don’t want to land and find out you need a seaplane to get to your island destination that costs an extra $500.
2. Some Islands are disappearing
If you’re thinking of booking a trip to the Maldives, then do so as soon as possible as the isalnds are literally disappearing. With rising sea levels, over 100 islands have already gone. It is the flattest country in the world, some islands having to build sea walls to break the force of the waves. It's a scary reality knowing this beautiful destination might not be around in 50 years time.
3. The Culture
So little did I know before coming to the Maldives, that you can’t just rock up in shorts and a singlet. The Maldives culture is 100% Muslim meaning there are strict dress codes for men and women. Men have it a little easier but women can’t wear clothing that reveals their shoulders or knees, and especially not swimwear. You’ll notice how out of place you'll feel when women wearing full-length burkas surround you and even swim in them! Don't fret though, there are some designated 'bikini beaches' on the local islands so you can tan and enjoy the hot weather and it is usually okay to wear whatever you like inside resorts or on private islands.
4. Bring cash with you
The Maldives uses the local currency called Maldivian Rufiyaa, but most places also accept United States Dollars. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that there aren’t many ATMs around so if you don’t bring cash with you, you might get yourself into a bit of a pickle. On the island, I stayed there was no ATM and only one restaurant with an EFTPOS machine, everywhere else accepted cash only. Silly me!
5. Alcohol is illegal
Yes, you heard me right! Don’t even think about bringing duty-free alcohol into the Maldives, as the country is 100% Muslim it is against the law to have or consume alcohol. The only place you can get past this rule is by boarding a ‘bar boat’, (very self-explanatory, a bar on a boat in the middle of the ocean) or by staying in a private resort that offers alcohol.
6. Surfing is expensive
If you want to surf in the Maldives, be warned. It’s not cheap. Some of the most famous waves in the Maldives are now owned privately meaning you will have to pay upwards of 200 USD a day to surf there. Some waves are still free but make sure to do your research before jetting off on a surf trip. If you’re planning to learn to surf in the Maldives, I’d also think twice about this. The reef can be very unforgiving, and the waves quite advanced.
7. The rubbish problem
I’m sure you’ve seen the incredible photos from this place, but don’t be fooled by pretty pictures. The Maldives has a bit of a dirty secret. The Maldives only grows papayas, coconuts and some fruits and vegetables meaning the majority of the food is imported. A downside to this means that a large amount of food wrappers, single-use plastics, drink bottles, straws, cans and more, are also imported. The Maldives has only one recycling plant so in most cases, islands have to stockpile rubbish often sending it away to a designated island ‘rubbish island’ to burn. An unfortunate truth that most people visiting the Maldives ignore and don’t know about. With a lack of education around inorganic products and packaging, most locals don’t understand that most man-made plastics and products do not decompose naturally like coconut shells, fish and fruit.
8. The drinking water is processed
Most of the water you will drink is recycled. But please do not take this as a good reason to buy bottled water that has been imported. The country has a tough time dealing with waste already. The drinking water that is available is desalinated to make it drinkable which means that it is very safe to drink but may lack a few nutrients. Make sure you bring your reusable water bottle to fill up from the water dispensers at your accommodation or choose an eco-friendly resort that provides clean water in glass bottles such as Reethi Beach Resort or Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu.
9. There is not an abundance of Whale sharks
Well, there is, but they don’t just swim around everywhere! If you want to swim with whale-sharks do your research before you go as you’ll want to pick a resort in the south Ari Atoll where the whale sharks tend to reside. To see manta rays you’ll need to head to the North of the Maldives. On most islands, you’ll be able to see an abundance of colourful fish, maybe some rays, dolphins and reef sharks too.
Be wary of what you’re paying when you book accommodation and eat out. Tax is usually not included in the prices listed on the menu in a restaurant or online for your accommodation. There is also a thing called 'The Green Tax' which is the daily rate tourists need to pay to stay in the Maldives. It's around 6 USD and was enforced in 2015 to help towards efforts to stop rising sea levels and eventually help fund a carbon neutral future.
I hope after reading this you'll be a little more clued up about the Maldives than I was before I arrived. If you do decide to visit this incredibly beautiful destination please make sure you respect the culture and choose accommodation or a resort that is eco-friendly.
Thanks for reading!
Imagery by Ellen Taylor