There isn’t an awful lot to say about the Maldives. Why? Because the photos should tell you all you need to imagine or remember from your journey(s) there. Lucky us, for we made a maiden journey in 2007 and returned for a second bite in 2011.
Like a string of pearls, the Maldives stretches over nearly 90,000km² of the Indian Ocean. However it only has an official land area of around 300km².
So you can imagine the amount of seas that separate these disparate/dispersed atoll islands. Most of these islands are low lying, so low that they are on average just 1.5m above the sea level. Imagine what rising sea levels can do to the country and folks living on them.
This page summarizes the two journeys we made to the atolls and shares with you the beauty that the world risks losing, even if one does not to subscribe to climate change. When we were writing this combined page, the question was what should we take from both travelogues?
First up, we’ll start on the geography of the atoll islands.
As you can see in our handy map extracted from the web, the atolls are roughly grouped together. From the southernmost point which we truncated off the map (Gan International airport) to Kulhudhuffushi atoll all the way to the north (also truncated), it would take about 4 hour 10 minute flight to traverse the distance of approximately 830km. Remember this is not via jets but probably propeller aircraft. Hopefully this should give one an impression of the immensity of the dispersal, and of the number of atoll islands which you can choose your resort stay.
A good place will be to start from the point of arrival in the Maldives.
Hopefully wherever you are from, you would be arriving in the day time. As the plane descends from an altitude of 10km on a flight path to Male international airport, you will be able to look out of the aircraft window to start salivating at the views.
So window seats are quite strategic to have. Repeat: you need to arrive in the day to have this experience.
At a couple of hundred feet above ground as you land, it does not matter about the weather, as you will have that bird’s eye view. Not unless you are arriving in the eye of a cyclone. We aren’t sure if sitting on either side of the plane will be more advantageous, but from Singapore (ie flying East to West), being seated on the side facing the south (left side of the plane?) was better for us.
With that out of the way, it is then resort selection that will next be critical.
Now most resorts are alright, though some are quite dated. You can obviously read enough from Trip advisor to be in sufficient know to make your decision. What we want to say is – if the resort is within speedboat distance, eg North or South Male Atoll group, then you will miss out on the seaplane experience. Our first journey was to an Atoll island about 18km from Male (Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru). We had arrived late in the evening and had a speedboat transfer to the resort. So no views, no nothing but the darkness of the sky and spray of the sea water. No it is not an open top speedboat…but both to and fro transfers were at night, so we cannot share much in the way of photos. Perhaps just what we saw at the pier, which was nothing.
Our second journey was to a resort on the South Nilandhe atoll group (Read here about Velavaru). It lies 140km to the south of Male and cannot be reached with a boat, unless you are cruising. Now that’s another option we have yet to try though some friends have done so…hmm…
Sea planes only depart in the mornings and we were already at the “seaport” by 8:30am to obtain our boarding passes and wait for our flight. So excited …These planes are not running a regular flight schedule in the sense a full service airline does. They are essentially charter for hire by the resorts (our experience here). Now if there are customers, of course they will fly to those destination. We are not sure whether smaller resorts or those with fewer guests will have to combine flights…One thing though, you cannot carry on any luggage. Just a small bag that will have to fit on your lap. Your checked-in bags can also not exceed 20kg… We’ll have 16 folks cram onto the plane for the duration of the flight. Obviously no in-flight service, but who needs that? Look out the window, that will be your in-flight entertainment!
The 140km took our seaplane 40 minutes to fly from Male to our destination. Along the way we must have (not sure) flew over the atolls of Felidhe group. The slideshow should steal the limelight from these written words…some of the photos are intentionally blurred, reminds you to stay focused!
Finally, our plane found the “landing spot” in the waters of the atoll. From the ‘runway’, we took the local tender boat to our island resort suite.
By the way, one thing to note : since you are ‘marooned’ on the atoll island resort (of your choosing) throughout the period of your stay, better to arrange for full board. Or if you are calorie counting then half board can be arranged. Ordering ala carte is most probably a more costly affair. And it is not like you can charter a boat to a nearby restaurant or something to that effect. Not useful even if you take the evening fishing trip excursion…
Now we don’t dive, so surface floating and watching is all that we do. But if you dive, the Maldives is a wonderful place to plunge in. Most resorts will have introductory dive lessons if you have sufficient time and interest.
Even if you do not dive, fear not. You will still enjoy the natural wonders of the coral colonies. We normally snorkel around the lagoon(s) of the resort ourselves and join in the open water ones with the guides. And we recommend that you use life jackets to help you float.
Yes we are able swimmers, but you know it is hard to swim, watch the fishes and awe at the corals at the same time. At least the life jacket will help you float and take better underwater pictures.
Surprisingly the fishes weren’t all too shy. We had unicorn fishes coming up close. Perhaps the only shy ones were the trigger fishes – they seem to like darting about but not coming close.
In our first journey, we snorkeled in a lagoon that are frequented by black tip sharks and large sting rays. The resort had been feeding them for some time (rays), and they seem to bond well with the marine lab keepers. Unfortunately guests cannot feed the them! But in any case it would be too risky to do so…
The sharks on the other hand are actually rather shy. And most of them are the smaller juveniles seeking out shelter from the open water. Melvin had not made prescription goggles at that time and could not see a large juvenile swimming very close by…could have bumped head onto the bugger!
In many resorts, there will probably be conservation programs of some kind. On our first journey, we swam out to the rehabilitation cage where green sea turtle babies were held until they were deemed large enough to be released into the ocean.
Now if you join in the daily activity of guided snorkeling, we are sure you will be able to enjoy the sights that our slide show suggests. It is a good thing to buy a waterproof camera, it can be really useful to record how the denizens of the deep live!
Eating, playing, be merry
If you, like us chose the meal plans at the resorts, then meals are really a time to enjoy. However, beware. Our first journey was full board. After three days, we are too stuffed to eat! Learning from this experience we settled on half board in our second journey.
Aside from the sea, we had been lazing around the beach, or our seafront suite lapping up the scene that plays out in front of us. The resorts we had checked into did not have TVs in the suites. Wi-fi is sparse and the signals only strong in the common areas. In any case the bandwidth is not large and with so many users, spotty at best. So there was not an awful lot in the way of connecting to the rest of the world. Believe this has probably changed now. What a pity…
Between 11am till 3pm, we avoided the open and sought refuge in our own pool to cool off. Evening sunsets are the best times to take a stroll, especially after a hard day’s “work” snorkeling and photographing the lives of the coral cities.
What we recommend you avoid
Now you will see in brochures, websites etc all espousing the sights you can experience on the main island of Male. Our recommendation is that you do not waste your time there. A day away from the atoll islands is a day lost.
On our second journey we had arrived early in the morning. Part of our package was a stay in 4-star hotel in the “city” (really just a town) before the next day’s seaplane flight. In the afternoon, we spent some time exploring the city. We had spent barely an hour to walk to the old market where the fish market was. But throughout there were so many touts around, that the experience was not pleasant. We retreated back to the area of our hotel (yay! no touts) and had a nice dinner (recommend Poppadums if you happen to be there). Actually we did not even have photos of that afternoon’s mini adventure!
It was regretful, but as the seaplanes only depart Male in the mornings (and return in the afternoons), we could not catch the day’s connection. So plan your journey wisely!
August 2007 / March 2011