The jewel of the Indian Ocean, last year alone the Maldives saw more than 600,000 visitors journey to this remote corner of Asia to experience a holiday of epic proportions. Located only 400 miles southwest of India, the island chain is seemingly a world away from any other destination on Earth in terms of beauty and extravagance.
The Maldives is famous for its simplicity. Holidays in this nation can consist of weeklong gorging, relaxing, swimming and sunbathing. However, for the more active traveler, the Maldives also produces a buffet of atolls, each with unique landmasses and coral cays to pamper snorkelers, scuba divers and boat lovers. With more than 25 atolls and hundreds of inhabited islands, the Maldives provides the perfect backdrop for sun-seeking vacationers.
With the likes of Fushifaru Thila, Fish Head, and Banana Reef luring scuba-diving-lovers from around the world, the Maldives is not short on splendors. The city of Male, which is the only major ‘metropolis’ in the country, has a range of interesting landmarks. Many of these, such as the Old Friday Mosque, give tourists insight into the religion of the Maldives, a culture unmatched anywhere in the world. In addition to the Islamic structures, numerous historical and shopping sites make Male an interesting day trip for visitors.
If tourists are looking for total sunshine, then the best time to visit the Maldives is during the months of January, February and March. This period is certainly the sunniest time of the year and has the best weather, but also is the most in demand and resorts jack up their prices. The Maldives is not cheap at any time, but especially during the high season, the budget will certainly be stretched.
The cost of rooms, food, and transportation tend to drop following the dry season, especially in May and October. Many tourists opt not to travel to the Maldives during the rainy season. However, rainfall doesn’t occur every day, and is certainly not a lengthy downpour when it hits. This makes it possible for visitors to still enjoy the beautiful beaches amidst the bouts of tropical storms.
Currency: Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR)
Official language: Maldivian (Dhivehi)
The Maldives was first inhabited by Dravidian and Sinhalese populations, and Buddhism became the dominant faith in the country until the 12th century. Even today, ancient Buddhist sites can be explored throughout this largely Islamic destination. The Maldives didn’t begin to experience ‘Western’ influences until the arrival of European and Arab traders.
By the 12th century, the Maldives was converted into an Islamic nation. Over the next few centuries, society began to flourish as sailors and trade merchants kept the local economy flowing. Textiles, wooden goods and coir (dried coconut husks – used for making sturdy products and rope) became the main Maldivian exports along the trade route.
Despite the fact that the Maldives was an Islamic sultanate from 1153 to the mid-1900’s, the British colonial forces transformed the islands into a British Protectorate at the end of the 19th century. This meant local Muslim culture could continue as long as it influenced British foreign policy. The protectorate began on December 16, 1887 and in return for signing, Britain provided the Maldives with a military force and promised not to interfere with local government proceedings. That lasted until 1965.
Following WWII, Britain lost its advantage in the colonial stranglehold of Asia, which was felt as far south-west as the Maldives. On July 26, 1965, the islands became an independent sovereignty as British control ceased. Two years later, the archipelago became the Republic of Maldives. Tourism began in the 1970’s, sparking an economic boom that changed the face of the modern Maldives forever. The commonly labeled ‘autocrat’, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, seized power in 1978 and stayed in office as an unopposed leader through fear-mongering tactics for 30 years. His reign came to an end in 2008, which saw Mohammed Naseed take control.
In 2004, the Boxing Day tsunami destroyed much of this low-lying country, causing more than US $400 million dollars in damage. In addition, a military coup forcefully ousted the President, leading to political unrest and social upheaval in the capital. Sultan Park and the National Museum (Chaandhanee Magu, Male, Maldives) provide great insight into the history of this atoll-filled nation. A stark reminder of the 30-year Gayoom regime is evident at the Maldives National Defense Force HQ (Bandaara Koshi, Bandeyrige, Male).
The Maldives is one of the strictest nations on the planet when it comes to religious freedom. The practice of another faith outside of Islam is prohibited; meaning anyone residing within the country must be of the Islamic faith. A majority of the citizens in the Maldives are Sunni Muslims. The country’s cultural influences come from southern Indian origins, Sinhalese influences and Arabian backgrounds.
However, despite the fact that alcohol and pork is banned throughout the streets of Male (Maldives’ capital city), the island resorts around the Maldives are relatively free of Islamic restrictions. Tourists will notice that hotels reside in a bubble, complete with a separate culture to the modern Maldives.
The Maldives is a tropical archipelago, and therefore experiences a hot and humid climate pretty much all year round. However, the Indian Ocean does soften the high temperatures at times. The country generally has two distinct seasons, although there is still a slight variation between the northern and southern atolls. Both seasons are largely influenced by the monsoon patterns of the South Asia
Between the months of April and October, the Maldives is hit with the southwestern monsoon, which brings heavy rain and rough seas. May and October see the highest rainfall, averaging around 10 inches a month. The daily temperature rarely drops below 80°F, regardless of the time of year.
The second season is the shorter dry season, which lasts from January through March. Rainfall drops significantly, and an average of two hours of sunshine per day can be expected. This weather is larger influenced by the drier northeastern monsoon. High temperatures throughout the year generally do not exceed 91°F.
Cyclones are rarely an issue in the Maldives. However, the country does feel the edge of those formed over the Bay of Bengal. This tends to occur during or after August, and brings heavy rains to the island country.
In order to enter Maldives the Indian nationals visiting Maldives as a tourist do not require any pre-arrival visa. A free Maldives Tourist Visa which is valid for approximately ninety days is issued to Indian nationals on arriving at the Male airport.
The Maldives is one of the only countries in the world with a unique sea-plane taxi network. The two busiest companies include Maldivian Air Taxi and Trans Maldivian Airways. These sea planes are relatively convenient, completing most routes around the Maldives in less than 60 minutes.
On many of the inhabited islands around the Maldives, visitors can literally walk from one end of the cay to the other in less than half an hour. This means taxis and motor vehicle transportation are generally not required. However, in Male, taxis are regularly found throughout the streets, offering quick and easy transportation around the island-city. Fine Taxi (+960-321-414) and J.R. Taxi Services (+960-321-919) are two of the more well known cab companies found in the nation’s capital. The islands are not overly large, so car rental is not required. Taxis are cheap, and most places can be reached on foot.
Water taxis regularly travel between the atolls and islands of the Maldives from the far north to the southernmost landmass of Seenu. Upon arrival into the country, travelers will most likely get to their resort destination by speed boat or water taxi. Boats that run between islands come in a range of sizes and styles. They are affordable, especially when compared to the other inter-island transport option, sea planes.
There are no trains operating in the Maldives. Due to the atoll landscape, a network would simply not be possible. However, there are buses found around the capital city of Male that was recently opened in 2011. Tickets are cheap and rarely crowded.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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