The Republic of the Maldives

AWESOMENESS!Our relative measure of how cool this place is. COST$ = cheap $$$$$ = resort TRAVEL TIMEEstimate of how long a round trip here from California would take TRAVEL DIFFICULTYHow much effort to get here? "Low" is hop on a plane and the resort picks you up. "High" is hitchiking in a foreign language DIVINGIf there is diving here, how good is it?
good $$$$ 3 day simply very good

The Maldives, like the Seychelles, get hyped as another playground of the European rich and famous. Similar to the Seychelles, it's a bit true and a bit false. The 1200 or so islands that make up the Maldives have their share of resorts that cater to those hiding from paparazzi, but an island resort here really wouldn't be all that different from an equivalent sand bar in the Bahamas. The difference here is the space between. Both above and below the waves, the beauty of the Maldives is the ocean.
In this traveler's opinion, a scuba dive boat wandering the atolls is the way to see the most of the Republic of the Maldives as well as all the amazing sea life below the waves. There are also 'safari' boats that act as floating resorts to show you the various islands, but I think it's too much trouble to come out here if you're not diving. Go to the Seychelles for island paradise.


The Maldives are a huge expanse of ocean filled with coral atolls sprouting little bits of land here and there. Most of the population lives on a handful of larger islands, while many of the habitable small islands are either covered in resorts or privately owned. As a country, it is very difficult to 'visit' without being in a resort or on a dive boat. Between the large distances between islands, the poor quality of accomodations outside of resorts and the government not wanting you to be outside of resorts, it's just not inviting to make your own path.
The resort islands all had a similar look: nice bungalows and a small chunk of beach that you'd be trapped on with all the other tourists. The resorts usually have boats that will take you to nearby 'local' islands, but that's just a couple hour adventure. You're going to have to work pretty hard to get any sense of what local life is really like here.
There are uninhabited spits of sand that make for nice lunch stops; in fact, one is called "Picnic Island". I think it was next door to "Sunshine Island". The 'locals' islands are interesting, but they are similar and prepared for the regular tourist visits.

The Diving

For me, the real reason to be here is under the water. The Maldives are known for sighting whale sharks, schools of hammerhead and squandrons of manta rays. That's really why you come here. I read a lot of dive trip reviews before we booked this and it seems most people see some combination of the big fish. Some more some less, but it's near guaranteed that you'll see something cool. That said, our dive guide said the group before us had bad weather and basically saw nothing. Too bad for them.
We, on the other hand, saw it all. We had poor visibility, so no encounters were picture perfect, but we had big encounters on about a third of our dives. Whitetip sharks made it for over half our dives. Be prepared for the lack of macro life, though. When the big fish aren't around, it can be a real struggle to find something to do. We spent a handful of outer wall dives playing charades and wrestling because it was plain boring. But then the mantas come along and everything is ok!
Currents can be quite high, but nothing like we expected based on trip reports we'd read. Only a couple times did we ever really have to hang onto the reef to keep from blowing away and I would argue that it was just poor dive management by the guide that forced that to happen. It's really sad, though, to see all the lazy or poor "experienced" divers drop meathooks into the reef and hang on for dear life when they could easily swim to a better position and enjoy scene.
Is it worth it in the end? If you have good weather and see the big fish, yes.

Practical Matters

Getting There

Flights to the Maldives are easy from Europe, Bangkok and Singapore. From the US, it's at least one stopover somewhere on the way. Once you arrive, the resort or boat will take care of everything.
One detail to work out - make every effort to schedule your flight in and out during daylight hours. The colorful patterns of the islands, reefs and atolls are amazing from above. You can also book small planes from Male that will take you on a quick sightseeing tour overhead.

Staying There

The only ways to visit the Maldives are in a resort or on a boat. There are a few hotels in and around Male, but everything you are in the country to see is not there. We stayed for a while on nearby Hulhu-male island at Fuana Inn, but we were just waiting out stormy Paris weather :)
You can fly to the southern Addu atoll to get a different view of the country, but even there you will stay at the Equator Village Resort.
I think a dive boat is the only way to make the Maldives worthwhile. We spent two weeks moving through the five of the atolls and could have kept going. A week diving might seem like a lot, but it goes by very fast once you are there. Two weeks was getting tiring, but I'd have felt cheated with less. Remember also that you're playing the odds to sight the big fish. 12 days diving pays better than 5. There are plenty of options in boats. We went with the MV Stingray through and recommend both the boat and the booking company. The Stingray had good food, comfortable rooms and they haven't killed any divers lately. We've used save-money-diving a couple times and they do have good pricing and customer service.