Tips for first-time travellers to the Maldives

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I’ve often been asked “what top tips for first time travellers to the Maldives” I may have? We are self-confessed Maldives junkies. We have Maldive-itus. This is a recognised condition that frequently occurs after your visit to this amazing escape in the Indian Ocean. You’re compelled to return. In fact, we’ve been known to plan our return trip either on the last day of our holiday or on the plane home.

We’ve just completed our 13th visit to the Maldives. Please don’t think this is bragging, as I’ve previously explained Maldive-itus plays a big part. But I hope that it shows that as we’ve visited so many times, we can kind of answer most people’s questions and offer in-the-know handy tips – especially to first time visitors to the Maldives. So buckle up and let’s get going!

Before you fly …. packing tips, visas & cash

Do you need a visa for the Maldives?

At time of writing, if travelling from the UK, you don’t need to apply for a visa in advance. A tourist visa is issued on arrival. For the latest travel advice, always check your government website.

At time of writing, whilst a PCR test is no longer required, you do have to complete the Maldives Immigration IMUGA traveller declaration within 96 hours of travel. Find a link to the IMUGA form here.

To all-inclusive or not all-inclusive – what’s the best option?

All-inclusive cocktail in the Maldives

Each resort offers different packages: bed & breakfast, half board, full board or all-inclusive. What you decide to book is entirely up to you but for us, we find all-inclusive is the best option. You don’t have to worry about any extra costs (well, with the exception of the spa treatments!). And, whilst we’re not big drinkers, even the cost of water and soft drinks can really add up on a two-week holiday. Remember, everything has to be imported and with that comes a cost … even for a Diet Coke.

Luggage tips for first time travellers to the Maldives

Most long-haul airlines, especially the Middle Eastern carriers like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar allow a very generous 30kg luggage allowance. But before you go and fill the cases to the brim with your wetsuit, hair straighteners and a mountain of hardbacks, be mindful of the local luggage allowances in the Maldives.

If your transfer is by seaplane, then it’s restricted to a 20kg hold case and 5kg carry-on. Luggage gets weighed at check-in and a per-kilo excess will be charged if you’re over.

What should I wear whilst I’m there?

It’s smart-casual all the way in the Maldives. But, as temperatures rarely dip below 30 degrees, go for cottons and linens. Pack plenty of cover-ups for swimwear (you tend to live in these in the daytime) plus shorts and t-shirts and dresses in the evening. Gents are fine wearing shorts in the evening but I’d recommend packing a pair of long trousers just in case it’s a stipulation at any of the a la carte restaurants.

Don’t forget, it’s a Muslim country, so don’t go topless and if you do head into the capital, Male, cover your arms and legs out of respect.

To protect yourself from the sun, remember to pack and hat and sunglasses!

Will I need to wear shoes in the Maldives?

I’m short and I like to wear heels but I definitely leave them at home when I’m visiting the Maldives. Even wedges. Quite frankly it’s pointless. Flip flops, sliders or bare feet every time! It’s too hot and humid for heels. You’re soon sinking in the sand and that’s without high heels getting stuck in wood decking walking to your water villa. I wouldn’t ditch shoes entirely – decking can get very hot so use sandals rather than burning the bottom of your feet.

There are some resorts that have hard floors in public places so you’d benefit packing a pair of flats just in case. But at other islands we’ve been known to take our shoes off on arrival and put them back on for the journey home. Shoes became redundant as the entire island was sandy.

She wears sea shoes to walk on the sea shore!

There is one pair of shoes that you shouldn’t forget and that’s sea shoes. They’ll be a godsend, especially if you love a dip in the warm ocean. Some beaches wash up stretches of broken coral, so without them getting into and out of the sea can be an excruciating experience for your feet. They also come in handy if you fancy a short snorkel and don’t want to bother with fins. I wouldn’t go to huge expense – on occasion, you can even find them in the central golden aisles in the likes of Lidl or Aldi!

Don’t do Duty Free (well, the alcoholic kind)

If you’re tempted to buy some booze to enjoy whilst you’re on holiday – then save your time and money. Maldivian law does not permit alcohol to be brought into the country. It will get confiscated on arrival and returned to you on your journey home. Don’t try and hide it – your luggage gets scanned!

What about currency? Do I need to take cash?

You can use credit cards (Visa / MasterCard) but we’d recommend taking some cash too.

– US Dollars. It’s the currency that’s quoted for additional extras like water sports or spa treatments. And, if you want to buy a coffee or some souvenirs at the airport, it’s dollars that you’ll need. Dollars also come in handy when you want to recognise any special service – read on for more about tipping.

Tips for first time travellers to the Maldives once you arrive …

Transfers

We’ve got more detailed information on how to navigate Male International Airport on a separate post but broadly …. 

Once you’ve cleared customs and enter the arrivals hall, there is a plethora of island representatives, some holding boards as soon as the arrivals doors swing open, others are waiting by their individual booths. They’re easy to spot – just look out for the island name boards.

There are a number of ways you can be transferred to your chosen island:

Water Taxi to take you to your Maldives resort
Seaplanes take you quickly and efficiently to your Maldives hotel.
  • Speedboat / Boat: these depart from just outside the International Airport Terminal. You will normally be asked to take a seat in the arrivals hall whilst they assemble everyone together. If you suffer from sea sickness and the weather looks to be inclement and likely to be choppy, I’d probably recommend popping an anti-sickness tablet. Having said that, we’ve never experienced anything other than a few big waves.
  • Sea Plane:  you will need to check in again to the Trans-Maldivian Airline, where your baggage will be weighed (see luggage for important note on this). You will then hop on a small minibus for about a 5-minute ride to the sea plane terminal. Thankfully, these vehicles are always air-conditioned and lovely and cool. Each island resort has it’s own lounge where you can relax, enjoy drinks and snacks before your seaplane leaves. This could be a few minutes, could be a couple of hours but they always try to get you on your way as soon as they can. Remember – sea planes don’t fly at night, so if your plane doesn’t arrive until late afternoon/ evening, you’ll probably have to overnight in Male.
  • Domestic Flight: again, you’ll need to check into the domestic terminal. Flights are usually well-timed so there’s not lots of hanging around but do be prepared to be here an hour or so. Most likely, once you’ve landed at the domestic airport, a speedboat or perhaps a dhoni will complete your journey to the island.

In your room / villa / bungalow …

What about plugs? Do I need an adapter in the Maldives?

The Maldives uses three-pin plugs like those you find in the UK. Some villas have limited socket space and others recommend taking an extension lead with you (although you sometimes find such a lead in your room). Personally, we’ve never struggled but we’re not big gadget people.

Are there hairdryers in the room?

Hairdryers can be found in the room but they are often wired and not too powerful. It’s fine for me as I have short hair but if it was thick and long I’d perhaps be tempted to pack my own. But, it’s worth remembering that humidity will likely take hold – so get ready to embrace your natural curls!

Around the island …

Snorkelling gear
Snorkels and fins are sometimes included in all inclusive packages

Diving vs Snorkelling

In order to dive, you’ll need the PADI certificate and on some islands, it’s possible to study and get certification during your holiday. You can hire all the necessary equipment but note additional charges apply.

Check whether your island offers complimentary snorkelling equipment. If it does – happy days. Although it’s possible to hire or buy snorkels, masks and fins in the island shop, costs can add up. It’s probably worth investing in a set before you go and packing into your case.

Once you’ve become a diving / snorkelling aficionado, then when you get out of the sea, remember to wash out your ears. This will help to prevent any ear infections.

Don’t get bugged by bugs – pack mosquito repellent for the Maldives

You’re in the Maldives. It’s tropical. There are bugs. Say hello to sand flies and mosquitos. So, we definitely recommend packing some mosquito repellent to spray on any exposed ankles in the evening. Why is it that mozzies love a munch on your legs? If you do get bitten, I find that Tiger Balm is good to get rid of any itching. I’ve also used Avon’s Skin So Soft in the past which apparently is a good repellent.

What about tipping in the Maldives – when and how much?

It’s a question we often hear and it’s a very personal decision. Fundamentally, only tip what you can afford and use US Dollars $$$$

Some people prefer to ‘pay as they go’ whilst others (including us) wait until the end of the stay and reward those who have offered great service. Either way, you’ll be provided the same great service irrespective of whether you tip each day. As a rule of thumb and bear minimum, we’d suggest recognising the room attendant, any bar staff and waiters who’ve gone above and beyond and the teams at speciality restaurants (where service is typically exceptional).

Keep yourself and the Maldives healthy

It's important to use an SPF sunscreen when you're a first time visitor to the Maldives as you are holidaying near the Equator.
Image Credit: Viktoriia Zinovieva (istock)

Slather on the sun cream!

Respect the sun! You’re near the equator and it doesn’t take long to burn. So, slather on a high SPF and make sure that you take plenty with you for the duration of your trip. You can usually buy sun cream from the island shop but expect to pay top dollar (plus more) so it’s important you don’t run out. Make sure you use waterproof cream when you’re snorkelling and don’t forget the tender bits. There’s nothing worse than doing the hot seat shuffle just because you’ve missed the top of your legs.

Also, if it looks cloudy, still use your SPF. You can still burn!

For the best reef-safe sunscreens, take a look at what the Independent recommends.

Medication / Island Doctors

Fingers crossed you never need medical attention but if you do, larger islands often have their own doctor. If you are reliant on medication, make sure you take enough for the duration of the holiday and a few extra days – anything can happen. We once got stranded in the Maldives as the UK airports were closed due to bad weather. Make sure you also have a good supply of paracetamol, indigestion relief, antihistamine etc. although you can usually find these bits in the island shop.

Only leave footprints – be coral aware & take your plastics home

It’s vital that tourists are coral aware. NEVER stand on live coral (as it won’t be live for much longer!). Don’t stash seashells or interesting coral in your bag to take home – or expect a huge fine. Instead, leave for others to enjoy.

Tourism is essential to the Maldivian economy but there is also a downside and that includes the huge amount of non-recyclable rubbish that gets generated. So, if it can’t be composted, take it home – it’s much easier for us to recycle our empty bottles of sun cream and shampoo at home. A good mantra is to leave footprints in the sand – and nothing else.

Top tips for first time travellers to the Maldives
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