10 Things you should know if you are travelling to the Maldives on a budget

With the advent of local island guesthouses and low cost flight carriers there has never been a more affordable time to travel to the Maldives. At Male International airport it is becoming a far more common sight to see guests arriving with backpacks and not matching Louis Vuitton luggage. These travellers are here to experience a destination previously perceived to be only for those seeking luxury. So may be it’s time you considered putting the Maldives on your travel map!

Whilst budget travel in the Maldives is a growing sector of the tourism industry there still remains limited information available for would be travellers and backpackers. So the team at Secret Paradise put our heads together to provide what we feel are the Top 10 tips every budget traveller should be aware of.

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  1. Clearing Immigration and security

To enter the Maldives no pre-arrival visa is required, a thirty day free visa is issued on arrival to all nationalities, provided the following conditions are met:

  • Be holding a valid passport ( requires to be valid for 6 months from date of arrival) and have a valid ticket to continue your journey out of the Maldives
  • Confirmation of a reservation in a tourist resort or a hotel either in the form of a hotel voucher or online reservation and have enough funds to cover the expenses for the duration of your stay (US$100 + $50 dollars per day)

The right to refuse entry lies at the discretion of the Immigration official, so make it easier for yourself and organise your accommodation prior to your arrival. Online sites such as Booking.Com, Airbnb and Trip Advisor are a great place to start or if you are looking for more of an experience and not just accommodation contact Secret Paradise.

Once you have cleared immigration, collect your luggage and enter the arrivals hall where a representative of the guesthouse or resort should be waiting for you. Importing goods such as alcohol, pork items, pornography, idols of worship and narcotics into the Maldives is strictly forbidden. To make life easier declare the Buddha that you have purchased in Sri Lanka and the bottle of vodka picked up in duty free, the authorities will hold any items declared or undeclared for you to collect as you depart at the end of your stay.

2. Currency Exchange

The Maldives has a non-convertible currency – Maldivian Rufiyaa – this cannot be purchased beforehand. One Rufiyaa is 100 Laari and is available in 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 Rufiyaa notes. The US Dollar is accepted as legal tender throughout the Maldives. Should you arrive with no USD$ then other major international currencies can be exchanged at the Bank of Maldives Foreign Exchange counter located in the arrival hall. In Hulhumale, foreign currency can also be exchanged at the Currency Exchange counter at Newtown Inn. It is advised not to exchange currency in Male where bank queues are common and waiting time lengthy.

Only major foreign currency will be exchanged for local currency MVR. Hold on to your exchange receipt as you will need to present this upon departure at the exchange counter if you wish to change local currency back to foreign currency.

3. Paying in USD$

One US Dollar is equivalent to 15.42 Rufiyaa. However, the exchange rate offered on US$1 and US$5 notes by local businesses may be lower.This is because there is a 3% handling charge made by the bank on the deposit of US$ notes of US$5 or less.

The banks in the Maldives are very particular about the condition of bank notes and will refuse deposits of old style US$, even though still an active currency, damaged notes, badly creased, well-worn, or defaced notes will also be rejected. Therefore, if presenting such a note as form of payment you may be requested to change to a note of better condition. Please do not take offence, it is purely that the note will have no worth to the individual to whom you are paying.

Generally, any change given on a purchase made in US$ will be given in local currency MVR.

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4. ATMs and Credit Cards

Most banks represented in Malé provide ATM services. The Bank of Maldives has several branches in Male as well as other major population hubs such as the Male International Airport, Hulhumale and Gan. Several other regional banks also operate in Male and Hulhumale, including the State Bank of India, Bank of Ceylon, and MCB. There are no banks on resort islands nor on many local islands. However, there are now a greater number of local guesthouse islands with an ATM, these include Maafuishi and Thulusdhoo. Only local currency MVR will be dispensed from ATMs. There is an ATM at the Male and airport branch of the Bank of Maldives dispensing US$, however, it only dispenses to Bank of Maldives cardholders.

All major credit and debit cards can be used at resorts, hotels and many shops and restaurants in Male as well as on local islands. Note however, that a credit card payment fee may be applied to the total value of your bill. This charge can fluctuate dependent on the credit card payment processing company and may be up to the value of an additional 5%.

5. Local Tax

All services directly related to guests will incur 10% service charge and 12% T-GST (Tourism Goods and Service Tax). The 10% service charge is applied to the total value and 12% T-GST applied to the total value + service charge.

On local islands GST (Goods and Service Tax) is imposed on the value of goods and services supplied by a registered business such as a local cafe, local restaurant or local shop.

Environmental ‘Green’ tax will be applied to all stays in accommodation registered as a hotel, resort or liveaboard from 1st November 2015. This adds a further US$6 per person per night and is not subject to T-GST/GST.

From October 2016 $3 will be charged per person per night for guests staying on local islands in guesthouses.

Always check the small print online or ask if it is not clear to ensure that all appropriate local tax is included. What at first appears to be a great deal may not turn out to be.

6. Tourist Information

Unlike most destinations, don’t expect to find a tourist information centre that will provide answers to all your questions. There is an Information Desk within the arrival area of the airport who are happy to point you in the right direction, assist you if you need to contact your accommodation provider and provide you an information booklet. They are not there, however, to organise accommodation, excursions or transfers. Once you arrive at your hotel, guesthouse or resort they will be able to offer advice on excursions and activities or check out Trip Advisor for local operators providing these services.

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7. Transferring from the airport

If you have booked with a tour company such as Secret Paradise or with a hotel, guesthouse or resort it is likely that you will have provided them with your flight arrival details. If this is the case then it is usual for them to send a representative to meet with you at the arrival gate. They will then take care of your onward transfer meaning less hassle for you!

The opening of the Sinamale Bridge at the end of August 2018, linking Male with Hulhule Island and Hulhumale, has brought about a number of changes to transfer choices to and from the airport.  It is now possible to take a private taxi to Hulhumale or Male from the taxi rank directly outside the arrival area. Note that vehicles are currently not allowed to wait but from our experience there appears to be a steady stream of vehicles so you should not have to wait long. The current charge is 65MVR to reach Hulhumale or Male, which also entails crossing the bridge!

To reach Male independently you can also take the airport public ferry, charge MRF10 or US$1 per person one way, leaving every 15 minutes. The ferry leaves from the new water front jetty, beneath the waterfront food court and opposite the domestic terminal. When you arrive in Male, after just a 10 minute public ferry ride, you will be able to hail a taxi from the ferry terminal to your destination, guesthouse or hotel. A one stop drop regardless of distance is 25MVR plus an additional 5MVR per item of luggage.

To reach Hulhumale independently you can either enquire as to if a guesthouse vehicle has room on their return journey, the charge would usually be around US$10 one way or take the public bus or a taxi as detailed above. The airport bus departs every 30 minutes from the airport and Hulhumale on a 24 hour timetable. On the hour and on the half hour except on Fridays during Friday Prayer when there are no buses between the hours of 11:30 and 13:30. The charge is 20MVR per person one way and it is a journey of 15 minutes. Luggage is accepted and stored in the luggage compartment. At the airport the bus stop is located in front of the domestic terminal, which is to the right hand side of the  International arrival area as you face the ocean. In Hulhumale the bus stop is at the T Junction of Nirolhumagu and Huvandhumaa Higun.

Due to the location of the airport terminal it is currently not possible to walk to Hulhumale, although this will change with the final development of the airport area.

If you are transferring on to an island outside of the immediate capital area it is likely that transfer arrangements offered will include speedboat or for islands further afield a domestic flight. These methods will add a minimum of $25 per person one way dependent on distance and if the service is scheduled. Note the Maldives covers a distance of over 800KM north to south. If you have done your homework it is possible to take a local ferry to many central atoll islands. These local ferries depart from one of a number of jetties in the capital Male so ensure you have allowed time to cross to the capital and locate the correct jetty.

8. Business Hours

It is important to know that the Maldives follows a business week from Sunday to Thursday.  Most places are closed on a Friday until after Friday prayer. No public ferries operate on a Friday with the exception of those operating in the capital area between Male, Hulhumale and Villingili. These ferries also stop operation between 11:30 and 13:30 for Friday prayer.

The shops in the Maldives open at different times in the morning but usually before 09:00. Most shops close for prayer times for an interval of 15 minutes. The latest time for the shops to close business is 22:00 and cafes and restaurants 23:00.

9. The Maldives is a Muslim country

The Maldives is a 100% Muslim country and care needs to be taken in relation to the dress code on local islands. Whilst it is acceptable for men to wear T Shirts and shorts or swim shorts; females should avoid causing offence by maintaining a more conservative approach to clothes by wearing T Shirts, loose shorts or sarongs and avoid wearing bikinis and swimwear unless on an uninhabited island, picnic island, sandbank, dive boat or resort island. Whilst the law restricts the wearing of bikinis on local islands, many guesthouses now provide dedicated tourist beaches or private gardens and sunbathing terraces.

Most hotels and guesthouses can arrange visits to nearby resorts where bikinis can be worn freely and alcoholic beverages are available. Note that resorts charge an entrance fee and access is subject to availability.

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10. Don’t be afraid to travel in low season

With a tropical climate, plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 30°C throughout the year, there is never a bad time to visit the Maldives. There are however two distinct seasons; dry season (northeast monsoon) and wet season (southwest monsoon), with the former extending from January to March when rates will be at their highest and the latter from mid-May to November. The rare thunderstorm in the Maldives (especially around the southwest monsoon months) can be a welcome respite from the sun.
There can be heavy rain showers pretty much any time of year, but they tend to be short and cannot be accurately predicted seasonally (in other words – don’t worry too much about them – you will quite possibly experience some rain showers, but the majority of the weather should be great, and you will be unlucky to get several consecutive days of heavy rain).

Diving is good all year-round, although a basic rule is that reef life is more varied and visibility is better on the western side of any atoll from May to November and on the eastern side of any atoll from December to April.

As the Maldives is situated so close to the equator it is possible to burn even on a cloudy day and sun screen should be applied as a matter of course.

For those travelers who are looking for a helping hand to arrange a budget trip to the Maldives, require advice on which island or guesthouse to choose or want to experience more of the cultural elements of the Maldives the Secret Paradise team are just an email or phone call away!

Let your Maldives adventure begin!

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10 things to do in the Maldives on a Backpacker Budget

For a long time the Maldives has not been considered a destination suitable for back packers, yet alone affordable. But with the introduction of local island guesthouses and budget airlines flying from Asia, the Maldives is beginning to find itself on the backpacker map.

So how do you enjoy the Maldives without breaking the bank? Here are our top ten budget ideas to enjoying the Maldives the local way.

1. Jump aboard the ferry

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With daily ferries from Male to many nearby local islands travelling by public ferry is a cheap and fun way to discover the Maldives. Sit up top and enjoy the view or sit inside and chat with the locals.

2. Explore the capital

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We don’t just mean the cosmopolitan world of Male, where modern technology sits beside tradition and culture. Travel to the quieter side of city life and explore the suburbs on the islands of Hulhumale and Vilingili.

3. Discover the underwater world

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Got your own snorkel and mask then head to the east beach in Vilingili. Wanting to venture a little further afield Secret Paradise offer daily snorkelling trips from $40 to close by coral reefs.

4. Join the coffee culture

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If the Maldives had a national drink it would be coffee! Join the locals in one of the many coffee shops and watch the world go by.

5. Ride the waves

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The surf break on the eastern side of Male is a popular spot with the locals. The break known as Towns is accessible from the shore and is one of the few spots in the Maldives that you don’t need a boat to get to.

6. Hang out at the beach

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In Male head to Artificial Beach or the local beaches on Hulhumale and Vilingili. At weekends and also late afternoon the beach is a popular destination for locals to enjoy an evening walk, swim or relax with friends and family.

7. Contribute to the environment

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There are plenty of ways in which you can volunteer for Save the Beach.You can choose when and how to volunteer. Come and clean the beach any day, or volunteer to assist with any of their projects. Whether you want to get your hands dirty or be part of different projects, the degree of involvement is totally up to you.

8. Count your lucky stars

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With minimal light pollution and the many days of clear skies, the Maldives are a great venue for star gazing. Just lie back and watch for shooting stars,

9. Watch the sun go down

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Sit back and enjoy a magical sunset. Top locations in Male to sit back and watch the sun go down include West Park Café and Salt Café.

10. Check out a local band

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With no clubs or bars in the capital you have to be a little more savvy about seeking out musical vibes. Check out Facebook pages for local cafes and restaurants and for our favourite local group Hiyani.

5 Top Tips for a Rainy Day in Male

Should you be unlucky enough to get caught in the capital area of the Maldives on a rainy day all is not lost! You may not be able to take advantage of many of the excursions and activities on offer or relax on a white sandy beach but our top five tips will ensure you still make the most of your time in Male.

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1.Soak up some culture

Museums are always a great destination for a rainy day. Not only do you get to spend time in the dry you also get to learn more about the history and culture of the city or country you are visiting. The National Museum of the Maldives located on Chandhanee Magu is no exception. The museum has a large collection of historical artifacts, ranging from stone objects to fragments of royal antiquities. Pick up a museum guidebook at the admission counter.

Opening Times and Admission Prices:
9am – 5pm, Sunday-Thursday (closed Friday and Saturday)
Admission tickets available at Museum entrance from 9am – 4pm
Tourists – Adults US$5, children $2.50.

2. Eat like a local

It has to be said you can’t beat home cooked food. Urban Adventures offers a half day tour providing a taste of local life. Not only do you assist in selecting the ingredients from the local market in Male you get to spend time with a local family preparing local dishes which you then get to enjoy alongside the family in their home.

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3. Head to the cinema

What isn’t there to like about watching a newly released movie and munching your way through an extra large bucket of popcorn! Schwack Cinema located on Haveeree Hingun shows a range of Hollywood and Bollywood movies daily. Whilst if you fancy more of a virtual reality experience head to X D Cinema located on the first floor of the STO Centre. Here with the aid of a simulator you get to feel as though you are part of the movie!

4. Pamper yourself

The local beauty salons in the capital may not equal the elegance and ambiance of a luxury resort spa environment, however, at a fraction of the cost you can indulge in a range of hair and beauty treatments. Our tried and tested personal favourites include Glam Salon, Male and Sheri Salon now in Hulhumale and Male.

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5. Hit the water

Enjoy the experience of stepping into a giant warm bath! There’s something special about being in the water whilst it’s raining, providing you’re not in the ocean during a major storm of course! Wear a pair of swimming goggles and watch the rain hitting the surface from below.  Beaches available at Artificial Beach, Male, Villingili and Hulhumale. Ladies just remember the dress code is shorts and a T-Shirt.

Look But Don’t Touch

As a Responsibletravel.com member and with a team who have a passion for our marine environment, we get angry  and upset when we see images taken in the Maldives where marine life is being held, poked and prodded for no other reason than to create a ‘selfie’. We do not condone this irresponsible behaviour and we hope that by educating our guests on how to snorkel and dive responsibly good behaviour will breed good behaviour.

There are many reasons as to why divers and snorkelers should only LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH. In the case of this turtle it would not know what a scuba diver is and probably assumed it was a shark attempting to eat it. The turtle would be doing everything possible to escape and hide. Turtles breathe air, they swim to the surface of the ocean to breathe and use a breath-hold technique to eat and also to escape from danger. Holding a turtle that has been underwater holding it’s breath is highly likely to give it a heart attack and it’s chances of drowning are increased.

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The preferred method of defense for most marine life being touched or attacked is to swim away, however, if an aggressor is persistent marine life will retaliate. Some will bite, some will sting and some will segrate a poison. Hence the easy phrase to remember LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH.

Contrary to popular belief, marine life doesn’t go about looking for swimmers, surfers, snorkelers and divers to attack. Generally theses creatures are looking for food and if they do bite it’s because it has either mistaken you for a tasty meal or you have put your finger or hand somewhere it shouldn’t be, most probably in the entrance to it’s home!

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Without defense mechanisms marine life would end up being dinner for a larger marine creature. It is not always apparent what the defense mechanism may be and that is another reason why you should LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH.

Sea Urchins have spines which are pretty obvious but there are many fish who have them too. Most spines are found on a fish’s fins where they are erected when necessary. They are sharp, hard and will not be nice to hold and could potentially bring your underwater encounter to a painful end.

Not only do the Stonefish and Scorpionfish possess poison loaded fin spines which can result in fatal injuries on anything attempting to touch or eat them, they are also the masters of disguise keeping themselves well camouflaged within their environment.

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A further reason to LOOK BUT DO DON’T TOUCH is that by touching coral and marine life it is very likely that YOU will pass on germs and bacteria. At the very least you will remove the anti bacterial mucous skin cover that fights infections, keeps out parasites and keeps marine life fit and healthy. What may seem like a small insignificant action can ultimately result in the suffering of a creature and ultimately death as it’s system is weakened by disease.

LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH applies regardless of the size of creature, even if marine life appears inquisitive. For example in the Maldives manta rays may approach seemingly enjoying the tactile stimulation provided by human contact as well as the bubbles from divers breathing apparatus. Touching a manta ray, even if they present their bellies for a rub, will remove some of the mucus described above. Our advice, keep low to the reef or as a snorkeler remain on the surface and just watch these beautiful creatures as they perform a graceful underwater ballet.

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It’s not just the marine life that has fins and tails where the LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH rule applies. Coral is actually a fragile living animal and when you touch it with your fins or hands you kill it. Not only can you break it or crush it, you can poison it. The results of touching may not appear for weeks to months but are evident for years and years to come.

If you are planning a trip to the Maldives make the commitment to observe responsible snorkeling and diving practises http://www.projectaware.org/zh-hant/project/10Tips

LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH, ask for photos that include marine life without touching. If you work in the Maldives avoid feeding, touching, or handling marine life. You may think guests will be impressed by you handling a sea creature but they will admire you more if you show our marine life and environment the respect it deserves.

Still not convinced about the LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH approach? Well how about one of the team drop by your home uninvited, maul and grope you, stress you out and then drop you far from home??

When you travel on a Secret Paradise snorkeling or diving tour our guides will always act responsibly, offer advice and guidance and ensure that your experience is one to remember for the right reasons.

10 Guidelines for visiting Maldives Local Islands

Part of the enjoyment of travel is experiencing local culture. Learning how others live. Understanding through history and religion how a country was established. Tasting new cuisines. Observing daily life. Meeting new people. Sharing stories and developing new friendships.

In the excitement of visiting a new country or booking your dream Maldives holiday at a fantastic price it can be easy not to consider the different customs, laws and regulations that you are likely to encounter. So if you find you haven’t had time to do your research follow our guidelines below. They will ensure you get the most out of your Maldives local island holiday without causing offense or being disrespectful to those who welcome you.

1. The Maldives is a Muslim country and care needs to be taken in relation to the dress code on local islands. Whilst it is acceptable for men to wear T Shirts and shorts or swim shorts; females should avoid causing offence by maintaining a more conservative approach to clothes by wearing T Shirts, loose shorts or sarongs and avoid wearing bikinis and swimwear unless on an un- inhabited island, picnic island, sandbank, dive boat or resort island. Some guesthouses do provide private sunbathing areas on a tourist beach or on the terrace of the guesthouse, however, it is not acceptable to walk around the island wearing a bikini.

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2. Who wouldn’t want to get into the water in the Maldives, be that for a paddle, to swim or just to float. Bikini or swimming costumes should be limited to resorts, boats and designated tourist areas on local islands. In the majority of cases on a local island we advise T Shirts and shorts as the norm for all female travelers. If you are not travelling with Secret Paradise and are unsure ask for advice from your guesthouse. It is their responsibility to ensure guests are dressed appropriately.

3. Maldivians, as Muslims, are prohibited from consuming alcohol; hence there is a total restriction on alcohol being available on inhabited local islands, which includes the capital Male. Please don’t bring alcohol through the airport as it will be confiscated. Don’t even try the vodka in a water bottle trick! If you are visiting a resort or a safari boat where alcohol is readily available for tourists, consume and enjoy whilst you are there but avoid bringing it back with you to your guesthouse.

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4. Pork is also forbidden so don’t expect bacon butties for breakfast, Instead take the opportunity to try a traditional Maldivian breakfast dish: masshuni and roshi – flaked tuna, grated coconut, chilli and lemon mixed together and eaten with a flat style bread which makes a refreshing change and should you be converted it is very easy to make at home!

5. Staying on a local island means that you will be staying within the community and will witness many aspects of daily life. One of these will be the call to prayer. This compelling and melodious sound, particularly at sun rise and sunset can be quite mesmerizing. Should you have the opportunity to visit a mosque men should ensure their legs and body are covered. Whilst women should also ensure their head and shoulders are covered by a shawl or sarong for example.

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6. When meeting a local for the first time, a handshake is the most common form of greeting. The greeting, however, between a man and a woman can be slightly different as many men and women generally do not engage in physical contact. On these occasions a simple nod or a slight bow will do. If unsure let the woman offer her hand first.

7. Learn a few simple words and phrases. If you can say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ for example locals will respect the effort you have made to be polite in their language

8. Should you be fortunate enough to visit the home of a Maldivian be sure to remove your shoes before entering, leaving them at the front door or where you see others have left theirs. As you enter the home it is usual to express the following greeting ‘as-salaam alaykum’. Gifts are by no means expected when you visit a family home however, they are always gratefully received. If you know you are going to visit a family home consider bringing a small item from your home country or something that is not available in the Maldives. Hot Cross Buns and apple crumble have always worked for me!

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9. If you choose to invite your new Maldivian friends for a coffee or a meal at a restaurant, you will most likely be expected to pay so don’t be surprised when the bill is presented to you!

10. Finally, we all want to take home memories of our travels in the form of photographs but do always ask permission if you wish a local to be the subject of your image. Not only is it the polite thing to do  – it is likely to lead to a far more rewarding experience for you both.

If you remember nothing else remember this:

You are a guest in the country you are visiting. Guests respect the places where they visit and act in a way that makes them a welcome guest. By following this small piece of advice you will not only find that you fit in with the culture, but that you are treated with respect and made welcome wherever you go.

When you travel on a Secret Paradise tour the above points will always be honoured. Our  local representative will offer advice and guidance and ensure that your experience is one to remember for the right reasons.

Visiting the Maldives during Ramadan

Ramadan falls in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar which in 2019 begins on the 5th May. Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, smoking and other physical needs during daylight hours. It is not just a time to purify the soul and refocus attention on God. It is a time of reflection and consideration to give thanks for what you have in your life. It is also an important time to think of others and perform good deeds. This observance is regarded as one of the five pillars of Islam.

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Guests visiting Maldives’ resorts during the holy month are unlikely to be ‘inconvenienced’ by Ramadan, however, for those visiting local islands the following will assist you to make the most of your holiday and plan accordingly.

  • Local cafes and restaurants are closed during daylight hours until sunset at approx. 18:15.
  • Guesthouses and hotels that have in house restaurants however, offer food and beverages to both in house and non resident guests. In Male , Seahouse, Hotel Jen and at the airport Hulhule Airport Hotel all serve non residents.
  • Public bus and ferry services do not operate between 17:30 and 19:00. Some ferry timetables may change to take this into account.
  • Public service companies such as banks and the post office open only between 10:00-14:00.
  • Shops close at 18:00 for Iftar and evening prayer and re-open between 20:00 and 20:30.

It is also possible that the first day of Ramadan is given a public holiday, so make sure you check the ferry and public speedboat timetable as services may be altered if you are planning to travel on this day.

Whilst there are no rules and regulations for non-Muslims in the Maldives during Ramadan, it is courteous and respectful to refrain from consuming food and drink and smoking in public during the fasting hours of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

In general it a period of time when life on local islands during the day is quieter and the pace of life a lot slower, but isn’t that what holidays are about?

Whilst some may find visiting the Maldives a challenge during this time for others it provides the perfect opportunity to gain a unique insight into the country’s faith and culture.

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