Whether it's by seaplane, charter or a regular domestic flight, air is the main way to cover long distances in Maldives.
Airlines in Maldives
There are 12 regional airports in the country, all of which are linked to the capital by regular flights. Domestic flights are run by two domestic airlines, Maldivian and FlyMe. Flights fill up fast, so reserve in advance to ensure you get the flight you want. Guesthouses get access to discounted flights, so it's best to ask your accommodation to book your flights if possible.
The use of seaplanes means that almost every corner of the country can be reached by air, given that they don't require a runway. Travellers mainly use the services of Trans Maldivian Airways and Maldivian. Both fly tourists from the seaplane port next to Velana International Airport out to resorts on 18-seater DeHavilland Twin Otter seaplanes. Normally each resort has a contract with just one of the carriers, though some resorts have their own seaplane, which they operate independently.
All seaplane transfers are made during daylight hours and offer staggering views of the atolls, islands, reefs and lagoons. The cost is normally between US$350 and US$600 return, depending on the distance and the deal between the resorts.
Charter flights for sightseeing, photography and emergency evacuation can also be arranged. Call either company for rates and availability. Note that cargo capacity on the seaplanes is limited to 20kg in most cases, with extra weight charged at a premium, and some heavy items may have to wait for a later flight.
Bicycle is an excellent way to get around bigger islands, and bikes are often supplied to guests at larger resorts and some guesthouses free of charge. While long bike rides are hardly possible on the small islands (nor desirable due to the heat), you can rent bikes easily in Addu Atoll or Laamu Atoll, where there are the two largest stretches of land in the country.
For short hops, boat is nearly the only option for getting around, given Maldivian geography and its almost 1200 islands, only a few of which are connected to each other by causeways.
Most resorts or guesthouses will be able to help you arrange a dhoni charter. The price depends on where you want to go, for how long and on your negotiating skills – somewhere between Rf1000 and Rf2000 for a day is a typical rate on an inhabited island, but if you want to start at 6am and go nonstop for 12 hours, it could be quite a bit more. From a resort, charter will cost more (anything from US$400 to US$800 per day) and you’ll only get one if they’re not all being used for excursions or diving trips.
The national public ferry network, established in 2010, means that all the inhabited islands in the country are connected by ferry to at least somewhere else, even if it is just a couple of times a week to another island in the atoll. This means that if you have plenty of time, independent travel to even the most remote inhabited islands is possible. These ferries will not, however, help you travel between resorts, as they only stop at inhabited islands. To reach resorts you’ll still need to do so by far pricier speedboat or seaplane transfers.
For specific timings you’ll need to check with the guesthouse you’re heading to, as they will have the most reliable and up-to-date transport information. Timetables can be found on the websites of Maldives Transport and Contracting Company – go to www.mtcc.com.mv/content/comprehensive-transport-network – or Atoll Transfer, but services are often cancelled or timings changed at short notice, so never rely on online information alone.
Resorts in North and South Male Atoll, as well as some in North and South Ari, Vaavu and Faafu atolls, transfer their guests from Male airport by speedboat, which costs anything from US$80 to US$450 return depending on the distance.
One relatively new trend that has massively changed things for independent travellers is the growth of regular private speedboat services between Velana International Airport or Male to inhabited islands. These services, aimed primarily at tourists and wealthy locals looking to travel between atolls fast and relatively affordably, have cut journey times to many islands by two thirds or more. There are at least daily services between both Male and Velana International Airport and over a dozen inhabited islands in North and South Male Atoll, North and South Ari Atoll, Vaavu Atoll and Faafu Atoll. These are offered by private companies and timetables can be found online at www.atolltransfer.com. The best way to find out the full list of services between either Male or Velana International Airport and the inhabited island you want to visit is to ask the guesthouse you intend to stay at, as they will have all the up-to-date transport information you need. Guesthouses will also be able to book you a place on the speedboat, which is important as some services won't run without a certain number of bookings.
Some Male-based travel agencies offer speedboat charter from Male, which, if you can afford it, is absolutely the best way to get around. Inner Maldives has good-value launches for charter at around US$600 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.
There are bus services in Male and Addu City, which may be of use to travellers. The main bus service travellers are likely to use are those connecting Velana International Airport with the seaplane terminal and Hulhumale.
Car & Motorcycle
The only places where visitors will need to travel by road are in the island cities of Male, Fuvahmulah and Hulhumale, and between a few islands in Laamu and Addu Atoll that are connected by causeways. Taxis are available in all these places, and driving is on the left, UK style. There are no local car-hire firms.
There are no rail services in Maldives.