Located in the Indian Ocean and south-west of Sri Lanka, the Maldives has long been a top honeymoon destination for its romantic and exclusive island appeal.
But that should not be the only reason to visit this paradise on earth. Travelling there with family or friends – or alone, even – can make just as great a holiday.
For a long time, those who wished to visit the Maldives had only resorts listed by the travel agencies to choose from. That was not ideal, as more often than not, one ended up at a touristy resort robbed of the isolated charm of the Maldives.
And, staying at a crowded and generic resort makes it easy to overlook the real gems located among the 1,190 islands.
Photo: Asnah Ahmad
Tourism in the Maldives started in 1972 when two island resorts – Kurumba and Bandos Island Resort – were set up. Today, there are more than 105 resorts in the Maldives.
Despite that, there is little information on each of the islands aside from a general description of the accommodation. This makes choosing a resort challenging, especially for first-time visitors.
Here is what you should you look out for when choosing a place to stay in the Maldives:
Contrary to popular belief, the Maldives has more than high-end water bungalows. There are resorts to fit all budgets, including that of a backpacker.
The backpacker-style guest rooms are located on Maldives’ five inhabited islands, so one will be living among the locals and soaking in their culture.
Photo: Asnah Ahmad
2. Island features
The Maldives is formed by 26 natural atolls, or chains of islands. Male, pronounced as “Maaley”, is the capital.
Each resort sits on its own island, and each island has its unique shape and form.
This means that the facilities and amenities available on the island resorts vary.
The islands – which are located tens or hundreds of kilometres apart – have their own climates. It may be raining on one island but bright and sunny on another. The northern islands receive significantly less rainfall over the year.
If you want to snorkel among the corals, ensure that the house reef (the reef closest to the island) is near enough to swim to.
The house reefs on certain islands are so rich that you can spot eagle rays, black-tipped reef sharks and hundreds of different tropical fishes.
Some resorts have calm and crystal clear lagoons that are perfect for swimming and windsurfing but require a boat trip to get to the coral reefs. These excursions can easily add to your expenses.
On some islands, you do not even need to get your feet wet to catch a glimpse of the teeming marine life.
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Getting around the Maldives is unique in that as soon as you arrive at the airport in Male, your transfer to another island will be by boat or seaplane.
Depending on the resort you choose, the transfer can be as short as 10 minutes by boat or as long as an hour by seaplane.
The journey is impressive with aerial views of the atolls and bright blue sea, and arriving at your island resort in a seaplane is an adventure in itself.
But note that seaplane transfers can take place only during daytime.
So if your flight arrives after dark, you will need to stay a night in Male. That will be the case, too, if your flight home is in the wee hours of the morning.
Remember to check with your resort on its transfer schedule and ensure that you have accommodation in Male after or before your flight to the Maldives.
When arriving at the island resort, the seaplane will usually land in open water or near a floating platform, which will take you straight to a beach.
At some resorts, there are even landing stages – you will feel the sand beneath your toes as soon as you step off the seaplane.
4. Type of accommodation
Most of the island resorts have several types of accommodation to cater to varying preferences.
Typically, these resorts have water villas that extend out to the open sea, and bungalows built on the sandy beaches.
The accommodation options are double-storey at most. You will not find high-rise buildings on the island resorts.
The price is based on factors such as the number of rooms, the location of your unit and the view from it.
As for the water villas – which are built on stilts that extend out over the water – there are some with steps into the water, allowing you to go from your unit for a swim or snorkel.
But most water villes are accessible only via a jetty. You will have to go back to the beach if you want to take a dip.
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5. Meal packages
Another important factor to consider is the meal package offered by the resort.
As everything is limited to what is available on the island, the resorts often have several meal plans for their guests to choose from. The common ones are bed and breakfast, full board and all-inclusive.
For most resorts, bed and breakfast is the standard option.
Full board includes one’s three meals for the day, while the all-inclusive plan includes free flow of soft drinks – even alcoholic ones.
Some resorts even include snacks and sandwiches for those times between the three meals.
The meal plans cost extra, but they often work out cheaper than paying for the meals separately – the meals and drinks in the Maldives are expensive, especially since the prices are listed in US dollars.
The original version of this story was published in The New Paper on February 3, 2017.