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Maldives travel guide

Blissful, turquoise-lapped dots in the Indian Ocean, the islands of the Maldives offer great beach lazing but also great diving and whale watching, too

Since the advent of tourism here in the 1970s, the Maldives managed a one island, one resort policy and managed to keep visitors separate from the inhabited islands. Running a smooth operating machine, tourists were transported by seaplane or speedboat to their packaged holiday. Now with more mid-market options adventurous travellers are discovering the islands, for the first time being able to stay at guest houses, springing up all over the country and to travel outside designated 'tourist zones'.

The appeal to travellers is huge with 1,200 islands and only a hundred or so of them being utilised as either inhabited islands or exclusive resorts. It is safe to say, much of the Maldives remains unexplored – a final frontier. The Indian Ocean is scattered with virgin islands that have not seen a human footprint for many years. It is certainly not an easy place to negotiate travel, being geographically, politically and socially challenged, but travellers are now arriving in their thousands, hoping to discover the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle and engage with local people. 

The capital of the Maldives, Male, is a melting pot of activity – a pulsing commercial centre where 80% of the county’s population are squeezed in. Tea Houses are no place for a woman traveller – if you are female and brave enough to venture inside, expect long unwelcome stares. The younger generation can be spotted hanging out at Sea House, sporting their crazy poodle-perm haircuts and skinny jeans. Male is unlike anyplace else in the Maldives. The people love gadgets and everyone will have a cooler phone than you!

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A good place to start is the Hulhule' Island Hotel (HIH), which is adjoined to the airport. This 70s-themed bar is Male’s one and only expat watering hole. It is easy to strike up a conversation with one of the established expats who know the country inside out and can point you in the direction of adventure.

Addu, originally a base for the British RAF, is easily the most budget-friendly atoll. Unique in the Maldives, the Brits built a causeway across six islands. Hire a bike and explore the islands, getting up close and personal with the locals.

Venture off the beaten path and discover the Shaviyani Atoll. Close to Komandoo island – where a chain of five uninhabited islands are connected by a sand bank. At low tide it is like walking across a long white desert crossing one island to another.

Maldivian culture and heritage can be found on Ari Atoll, home to communities that have lived on these islands for centuries. Some of these islands have ruins and artefacts of ancient Buddhist and Hindu settlements prior to the arrival of Islam.

Wanderlust tips

Remember this is a Muslim country. Be aware of local customs. On local islands it is forbidden to wear bikinis on the beach – there are huge signs prohibiting the wearing of swim wear or revealing clothing.

During prayer time, shops shut and buses stop running at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and early evening. During Ramadan tourists are not allowed to eat or drink in public as everyone observes a strict fast during daylight hours.

On the more remote, local islands it is recommended to learn some basic words and phrases as some shopkeepers do not always speak English.

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