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by Adrian Neville, The Daily Telegraph, October 28, 2016
An insider's guide to the Maldives, featuring the archipelago's best hotels, restaurants, bars, attractions and things to do, including how to travel there and around. By Adrian Neville, Telegraph Travel's Maldives expert. Click on the tabs below for the best places to stay and what to do while you're there.
These are the most beautiful small islands on Earth. They are safe; there are no hawkers selling sarongs and taxi tours and, unless you seek them out, no distractions. There is no agriculture and no industry and the turquoise lagoons are crystal clear. Strange to think that the idyllic Maldives have only been a holiday destination for 40 years or so.
The Maldives are made up of 26 coral atolls in a chain reaching down to cross the equator. Within those 26 atolls are roughly 1,200 islands and of these around 200 are inhabited and 100 are resorts.
The Maldives are the most beautiful small islands on Earth
Which is not to say that this is not also one of the most sophisticated holiday destinations in the world. A race to the top has seen the standard of service, rooms and cuisine rise exponentially in the last 10 years. Now, instead of the dreaded buffet, there is superb à la carte cuisine; there are cellars for cheese, charcuterie, wine and chocolate. The world’s first underwater restaurant, under-water nightclub and underwater spa are all to be found here.
The explorer Thor Heyerdahl sums it up perfectly in his book The Maldive Mystery: “That afternoon we passed the most beautiful palm islands I have ever seen. With the sun low on our starboard side it threw a glowing sidelight on the tiny islets, which seemed to float by like flower baskets ... Under the spell of this picture of an earthy paradise I made an entry in my notebook that the Maldives are even more beautiful than any of the coral atolls in Polynesia.”
When to go
The Maldives has a benign climate, with year-round temperatures between 79F and 86F (26C-30C). It never suffers from tornadoes though it does have a monsoon season in November which is best avoided and unsettled weather can persist well into December, though then the rain tends to be in short, afternoon bursts only.
The perfect months are January, February and March when the sky is blue and the water so calm it could be glassCredit: Fyle - Fotolia
The high season stretches from November to April, with Christmas and New Year being the most expensive time to travel. The perfect months are January, February and March when the sky is blue and the water so calm it could be glass.
As April is a 'shoulder’ period, the prices are lower; then May sees the start of the low season when the weather is less predictable but rarely bad enough to disturb a holiday.
Holidaymakers arrive at Male International Airport. This takes up the whole of Hulhule Island, which lies, like a mighty aircraft carrier, a short distance from the capital island, Male.
All charter flights from the UK are direct, as are scheduled flights operated by British Airways ( ba.com ) and most Sri Lankan scheduled flights ( srilankan.com ), although some of the latter’s go via Colombo. The other carriers go through their hubs: Emirates ( emirates.com ) through Dubai, Qatar Airways ( qatarairways.com ) through Doha and Oman Air ( omanair.com ) through Muscat. Direct flights take between 10 and 11 hours. A free 30-day visitors’ visa is issued on arrival.
Transfers used to be a matter of jumping into a dhoni and chugging off to your resort. These days the resorts span the whole archipelago so your transfer could be by boat, by plane, or both. Speedboats have replaced dhonis for the nearer resorts; seaplanes take guests to the more distant ones, and fixed wheel planes carry guests to the five regional airports, from where it’s another trip on a speedboat.
But there are two more hurdles to negotiate before you can be whisked off to your resort: the queues at immigration and sometimes longish waits for transfers. Be patient and know that once you reach your resort, the frustration and anxiety soon slips away.
You probably won’t as once you’re on your resort, you’re almost certain to want to stay put, bar the odd excursion. Even a two-resort holiday is not recommended – the transfers waste too much precious holiday time, not to mention the hassle and the cost.
Once you’re on your resort, you’re almost certain to want to stay putCredit: Copyright Ken Seet
However, if you’re determined to see more of the region, consider a cruise. For historical reasons the pleasure cruise has been slow to take off but dive safaris have been the core of non-resort holidays since the beginning of tourism here and almost all 'liveaboards’ are concentrated on this aspect.
Surfing safaris are a fairly recent innovation and fast growing as more excellent breaks are found and the Maldives' reputation for surfing spreads. There are fishing safaris, from casting for a Giant Trevally in a lagoon to fishing for big game from an anchored chair. Even a whale- and dolphin-watching safari organised each year by Dr Charles Anderson ( whale-and-dolphin.com ).
For cruises it is worth checking that the company you are interested in is a member of the Liveaboard Association of Maldives, the only respectable industry group ( liveaboardassociation.mv ). Cruise companies worth looking at are Voyages Maldives ( voyagesmaldives.com ), Maldives Dive Travel ( maldivesdivetravel.com ) and Maldives Cruise Guide ( maldivescruiseguide.com ). For the finest cruise in the country you must pay handsomely for The Four Seasons Explorer ( fourseasons.com ).
Know Before You Go
The Maldivian currency is the Rufiyaa but tourists have no need of it. Resort bills are best paid by plastic at the end of the stay and other expenses, such as tips and purchases when on excursion, are best paid in dollars.
Local Laws, Etiquette
As tourists remain ensconced on separate islands, local laws and customs do not apply. But do be aware that topless sunbathing is not permitted. When visiting local inhabited islands, it is recommended that you dress modestly. It is not a matter of covering your head but simply means not showing too much flesh.
When visiting local inhabited islands, it is recommended that you dress modestlyCredit: Ken Seet
You can rightly feel safe on your Maldives resort island, where there are almost no records of guests suffering crime and little record of medical issues. Even the mosquitoes have been eliminated, though the Maldives has no Malaria anyway. The resort management is your first port of call for any issues, and then the following:
The British High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Tel: 00 94 115390639; email: [email protected] .
There is a good, very friendly Honorary Consul in the Maldives, Paul Van Driessche. Tel: 00 960 7909442.
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This article was written by Adrian Neville from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.