Getting there & away
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
There are no restrictions on foreign nationals entering the country. Israelis and people who have Israeli stamps in their passports are perfectly welcome, which is rare in the Muslim world. Visas are not needed for visits of 30 days or less. Theoretically travellers must have US$30 per day for the duration of their stay.
If you’re on a package you’ll usually have no choice about the airline you fly, as it will be part of the package. Fully independent travellers (FITs) should shop around for both scheduled and charter deals. More and more chartered airlines are selling flight-only seats and these can be good deals. The other advantage of charter flights is that you can fly direct from Western Europe to Male’, without the usual change in the Middle East or Sri Lanka common for scheduled airlines.
Despite the obviousness of this route, it is currently impossible to travel between Sri Lanka and the Maldives by boat. There are no scheduled ferries operating, nor do cargo ships generally take paying passengers. You might be lucky if you ask around in Colombo, but we don’t recommend this.
Yachts and super yachts cruise Maldivian waters throughout the year – this is after all one of many playgrounds for the rich and famous. However, with the Maldives being somewhat out of the way, this is not a standard port of call. The Maldives has not been a popular stop for cruising yachties, but more are coming through and official policy is becoming more welcoming. The negatives include: the maze of reefs that can make it a hazardous area; the high fees for cruising permits; the officialdom; the restrictions on where yachts can go; and the absence of lively little ports with cheap cafés and waterfront bars.
A new 100-berth marina has been built at Island Hideaway in the far north of the country, and this is the only place currently set up for servicing yachts in a professional way. Addu, in the far south, has a sheltered anchorage, a tourist resort and refuelling and resupply facilities.
The three points where a yacht can get an initial ‘clear in’ are Uligamu (Haa Alif) in the north, Hithadhoo/Gan (Addu Atoll) in the south, and Male’. Call in on VHF channel 16 to the National Security Service (NSS) Coastguard and follow the instructions. If you’re just passing through and want to stop only briefly, a 72-hour permit is usually easy to arrange. If you want to stay longer in Maldivian waters, or stop for provisions, you’ll have to do immigration, customs, port authority and quarantine checks, and get a cruising permit. This can be done at any of the three clear-in facilities.
If you want to stop at Male’, ensure you arrive well before dark, go to the east side of Viligili Island, between Viligili and Male’, and call the coastguard on channel 16. Officially, all boats require a pilot, but they don’t usually insist for boats under 30m. Carefully follow the coastguard’s instructions on where to anchor, or you may find yourself in water that’s very deep, or too shallow. Then contact one of the port agents, such as Island Sailors (3332536; www.islandsailors.com) or Century Star (3325353). A full list of agents can be found at www.customs.gov.mv/agents.htm.
Port agents can arrange for port authority, immigration, customs and quarantine checks, and advise on repairs, refuelling etc. They’ll charge about US$175 for a two-week stay, including all government charges – it would be a nightmare to do it all without an agent’s help. After the initial checks you’ll be able to cross to the lagoon beside Hulhumale’, the reclaimed land north of the airport. This is a good anchorage. The bigger stores, like STO People’s Choice and Fantasy, have quite a good range of provisions at reasonable prices. The port agents can advise on other necessities such as radio repairs, water and fuelling. Diesel fuel is about Rf5 per litre.
The cost of a cruising permit increases greatly with the length of stay – the first two weeks are free, the first month is US$200, and the second month US$300. Customs, port and inspection charges increase with the size of the boat. If you go cruising in the tourism zone, you’ll be able to stop at many of the resorts to eat, drink, swim, dive and spend your money, but you should always call the resort first. Usually you have to be off the island by sunset.
Before you leave Maldivian waters, don’t forget to ‘clear out’ at Uligamu, Hithadhoo or Male’.
Entering the Maldives is simple and hassle-free. However, you must know the name of your resort or Male’ hotel, and if you are travelling independently and don’t have one arranged, then be prepared to make one up – the immigration officials will view anyone just arriving in the country with great suspicion.
At the time of writing there was only one international airport in the Maldives – Male’ International Airport (MLE; 3322075; www.airports.com.mv), on the island of Hulhule’, 2km across the water from the capital. It’s a decent airport that was being upgraded to include new departure and arrival areas at the time of research. The current domestic terminal on the southern island of Gan is also being upgraded to a new international airport, and should be taking international charter flights some time in the near future.
There is no national carrier; the carriers serving Male’ can roughly be divided into scheduled and charter airlines. Some airlines only fly in certain seasons and the list of charter airlines changes frequently.
Austrian (OS; 3334004; www.aua.com)
Emirates (EK; 3315465; www.emirates.com)
Air India (IC; 3310111; www.airindia.com)
Malaysian Airlines (MH; 3332555; www.malaysiaairlines.com)
Qatar Airways (QR; 3334777; www.qatarairways.com)
Singapore Airlines (SQ; 3310031; www.singaporeairlines.com)
Sri Lankan Airlines (UL; 3310031; www.srilankan.aero)
Note that most charter airlines don’t have offices in Male’ and should be contacted via the home country.
Britannia Airways (BY; www.thomsonfly.com)
Blue Panorama Airlines (BV; www.blue-panorama.com)
Condor (DE; www5.condor.com)
Corsair (SS; 3310111; www.corsair.fr)
Edelweiss (EDW; www.edelweissair.ch)
Eurofly (GJ; www.eurofly.it)
First Choice (FCA; www.firstchoice.co.uk)
LTU (LT; 3334004; www.ltu.com)
Martinair (MP; 3323069; www.martinair.com)
Monarch (MON; www.flymonarch.com)
Neos Spa (NO; www.neosair.it)
Australians usually reach the Maldives via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas or a combination. The few Australian visitors to the Maldives makes this an expensive flight. There are no chartered flights currently operating between Australia and Male’.
Flight Centre (131-600; www.flightcentre.com.au)
STA Travel (1300-733035; www.statravel.com.au)
Charter flights operate between Charles de Gaulle and Male’ on Star Airlines and from Paris Orly on Corsair International during high season. The rest of the year Emirates, Qatar and Sri Lankan offer the best connections and prices.
OTU Voyages (0 820 817 817; www.otu.fr)
Nouvelles Frontières (0 825 000 825; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
Voyageurs du Monde (01 42 86 16 40; www.vdm.com)
Germany has a huge number of charter airlines bringing huge numbers of visitors to resorts year-round. Direct flights from Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich as well as from other cities are available on a number of chartered airlines.
There is an excellent charter choice available from Italy to Male’ – most are nonstop flights, although some pick up in two or more Italian cities en route. For scheduled flights, Emirates followed by Sri Lankan and Qatar have the best connections from Rome and Milan. CTS Viaggi (840-501150; www.cts.it) is a recommended travel agency.
British travellers have a choice of several charter flights from London and Manchester that go direct to Male’ and scheduled flights from London via Doha (Qatar Airways), Dubai (Emirates) and Colombo (Sri Lankan).
Bridge the World (0870-4447447; www.bridgetheworld.com)
Ebookers (0800-0823000; www.ebookers.com)
Opodo (0871-2770091; www.opodo.co.uk)
STA Travel (0870-1600599; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (020-79383939; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
The sheer distance involved in travelling between North America and the Maldives makes the US and Canadian tourism market minuscule. People travelling from North America will usually fly via London and then continue by Qatar Airways, Emirates or Sri Lankan. From the West coast travel via Singapore makes most sense.