In Male’, go along the waterfront to the eastern end of Boduthakurufaanu Magu by the airport ferry jetty, and you’ll find many dhonis waiting in the harbour. Most of these are available for charter to nearby islands. The price depends on where you want to go, for how long, and on your negotiating skills – somewhere between Rf1000 and Rf1500 for a day is a typical rate, but if you want to start at 6am and go nonstop for 12 hours, it could be quite a bit more. You can also charter a dhoni at most resorts, but it will cost more (maybe US$200 or US$250 per day) and only if they’re not all being used for excursions or diving trips.
Resorts more than 10km or 15km away from the airport usually offer transfer by speedboat, which costs from US$45 to US$105 depending on the distance. This is generally included in the package price, unless there is the option of transfer by dhoni, in which case a speedboat is priced as an extra.
The boats range from a small runabout with outboard motor to a massive, multideck launch with an aircraft-type cabin.
Most big travel agencies can organise the charter of launches from Male’, which, if you can afford it, is absolutely the best way to get around. Inner Maldives (3315499; www.innermaldives.com.mv) has very good value launches for charter at around $350 per day, excluding the (substantial) fuel prices. For the price you’ll get the services of the captain and a couple of crew members for a 10-hour day. If chartering a boat for the day, standard practice is for the client to pay for the tank to be refuelled on arrival back at Male’.
A vedi is a large dhoni with a big, square-shaped wooden superstructure, and is used for trading between Male’ and the outer atolls. Sail-powered vedis once made trading trips to Sri Lanka, India, Burma and Sumatra, but these days the vedis are diesel powered and used only for interatoll transport.
No vedi will take you as a passenger to an atoll unless you have a permit to go there. To get a permit, you must be sponsored by someone from that atoll, and it’s best to have that person arrange transport. Vedis use Inner Harbour in Male’, west of the fishing harbour.
Travel on a vedi is slow and offers basic food and no creature comforts. Your bunk is a mat on a shelf, the toilet is the sea and fellow passengers may include chickens. A trip down to Addu Atoll, the most southerly and distant atoll, will take at least two days and cost around Rf300.
The only places where visitors will need to travel by road are Male’ and the southernmost atoll, Addu. Taxis are available in both places and driving is on the left.
There are a few ferry services foreigners can take without a problem, all departing from Male’ and going to nearby islands. Plans for a new interisland ferry service, due to begin operation in 2004, have been shelved for the time being.
Most travellers in the Maldives are far more likely to use the services of the two charter seaplane companies, Trans Maldivian (3312444; www.tma.com.mv) and Maldivian Air Taxi (3315201; www.mataxi.com.mv), both of which fly tourists from the seaplane port next to Male’ International Airport to resorts throughout the country. Both companies fly 18-seater DeHavilland Twin Otter seaplanes under contract to resorts throughout the Maldives.
All seaplane transfers are made during daylight hours, and offer an amazing perspective on the atolls, islands, reefs and lagoons. The cost is between US$140 and US$350 return, depending on the distance and the deal between the resorts, and it’s generally included in the package price. If there is an option of a boat transfer, or you are an FIT, the seaplane will be charged as an extra.
Charter flights for sightseeing, photography and emergency evacuation can be arranged. Call both companies for rates and availability. Note that cargo capacity on the seaplanes is limited. All passengers and baggage are weighed before loading, and some heavy items may have to wait for a later flight or be transferred by boat.