The Maldives may be the smallest country in Asia, but it’s also the world’s most dispersed, with its 115 sq m (298 sq km) of land divided across 1200 islands that lie scattered across a whopping 90,000 sq m (233,100 sq km) of Indian Ocean. It’s no surprise then that sea and air travel are the key modes of transport.
Many travelers come to "fly and flop", but if you’re too itchy-footed to spend two weeks in one spot, it’s easier than you might think to travel throughout the country. From public buses to luxury yachts, here’s how to get around in the Maldives.
Book your domestic flights well in advance
There are 17 regional airports scattered throughout the Maldives, with regular domestic flights provided by FlyMe and Maldivian. If you’re traveling to local islands, ask your guesthouse to book flights for you, as they’ll be able to access discounted tickets. Flights do sell out, so try to book far in advance if you want to avoid an overnight stay in Malé (though there’s plenty to see there if you do get stuck).
Seaplanes offer unbeatable views of the islands
No runway? No problem. Seaplanes run by Trans Maldivian Airways and Maldivian allow locals and tourists to reach almost any island in the country, and give passengers unbeatable views of the country’s key selling point: countless sandy islands ringed by aquamarine water. The endless blue is so alluring, sightseeing flights are a popular pastime for visitors with deep pockets.
Resorts often charter seaplanes – or in some cases, own their own – to transport guests from A to B as quickly and smoothly as possible. Flights only take place in daylight hours however, so you’ll want to book an international flight that lands in the morning to take advantage.
Public ferry is best for budget travelers
If you plan to see the Maldives independently and you’re on a budget, traveling by public ferry is your best option. They connect all inhabited – or "local" – islands (not private resorts, which require speedboat or seaplane) and prices range from $5 to $30. But be warned: timetables can be complicated and services unreliable. If you’re planning on island hopping, be prepared to spend lots of time waiting around – you may even need to spend the night on interim islands to get to your destination. Check online timetables to see what’s possible, but it’s worth contacting your guesthouse directly to get the most reliable information.
There are several different speedboat services
There are various types of speedboat journey in the Maldives. Many visitors take speedboats to their chosen resorts from Velana International Airport or Malé, which are arranged well in advance. They typically cost $100 to $400, but the fare is often absorbed into the price of the vacation package. Prefer to have your pick of the seats? Private transfers can cost anything from $65 to $1200, depending on the distance traveled. Local islands are served by scheduled speedboats too ($30 to $110 one-way) and are quicker and more convenient than ferries. Check Atoll Transfer for more details.
Charter a dhoni for a day out
If you want to hop between uninhabited islands, stopping at empty beaches and off-the-radar sandbars, consider chartering a dhoni – a Maldivian boat made of coconut timber traditionally used for fishing and ferrying cargo around the archipelago. Your chosen guesthouse or resort will be able to help you arrange a charter; local boats start from $70–150 a day, while resort prices range from around $400–800 a day – exact costs depend on how far you want to travel, and for how long. You can arrange a group dhoni cruise in advance – check out the tours from G Adventures or Responsible Travel for inspiration.
Luxury yacht cruises are widely available
Dream of sailing around the Maldives in a luxury yacht usually reserved for the likes of Hollywood A-listers? Planning a very fancy family reunion? Private crewed yacht and catamaran charters are widely available, but come at an eye-watering price: anything from $20,000 to $300,000 a week. Depending on your deal you can follow set routes or decide your own itinerary on the fly. Some luxury resorts offer day trips or overnight trips to give guests a taste of the billionaire lifestyle.
Cycling is perfect for getting around the larger resort islands
Road cyclists looking for long-distance rides and hill climbs won’t find what they’re looking for on these low-lying islands. But if pedaling along palm-lined trails towards the breakfast buffet sounds like your kind of bike ride, you’ll want to choose a larger resort island such as Soneva Fushi, Anantara Kihavah and Six Senses Laamu, where each villa or bungalow comes with your own private bicycles. Many guesthouses also offer free bike rentals or cycling tours – check out Beach Villa Ukulhas and Barefoot Eco Hotel for starters.
Bus services are limited to Malé and Addu City
Buses in the Maldives are cheap and comfortable, but services are limited to Malé and Addu City. The handiest one for travelers is the shuttle between Velana International Airport and Hulhumalé.
Most of the Maldives is car-free
Besides the traffic-clogged capital city and a few inhabited islands, the Maldives is blissfully car-free. Pint-sized Malé is eminently walkable, and other large local islands are easy to traverse by bike – though taxis are available if you need them.
Accessiblity needs aren't easily met in the Maldives
The Maldives isn’t the easiest place to travel if you have accessibility needs – for example, there are no jet bridges at the airport, meaning you’ll need to embark and disembark via the aircraft stairs; guide dogs (all dogs in fact) are prohibited throughout the country; and getting on and off speedboats and public ferries can be a hassle if you use a wheelchair. But staff are unfazed by such challenges and are more than willing to offer manual assistance – it also helps to let your resort or transfer operator know about your requirements in advance.
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