Maldives In-Depth Travel Guide: Know Before You Go!

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Maldives travel series serves as a complete trip guide for those curious travelers who like to know everything about their destination before they go, This post is all about Maldives & it’s people, the Maldivians. For more read-bits on Maldives, search for Maldives on our website using the search feature on the top right corner.

What’s Covered Inside This Post

Maldives – The Country With Unusual Landmass

With the total area of 90,000 square kilometres and 99.9% of it submerged under water, Maldives is left with just 297 square kilometres of land surface. This tiny country is located just south of India and to the west of Sri Lanka, deep in the Indian ocean.

Divided into 26 atolls (officially divided in 21 atolls as administrative divisions), this independent island country is actually a collection of as many as 1200 islands; these include small coral islands, sandbanks, inhabited islands and Uninhabited islands. An atoll is a ring-shaped coral island which surrounds a body of water called a lagoon.

Some islands are so flat that they may disappear during a high tide and reappear when the tide is low; obviously these islands are uninhabited but quite a spectacle nonetheless. BACK TO TOP

People From Maldives – The Maldivians

Maldives is an Islamic country with majority of its population practicing Sunni Muslim tradition. People are comfortable with this and there is almost no scope for religious dissent. People of Maldives are devout Muslims and highly conservative but this does not deter the arrival of several Non-Muslim tourists who come to the island in large numbers every year.

The Maldivian government has cleverly and very carefully designed the entire tourist industry in a way that ensures that there is minimum interaction between the local population and the Western tourist; this is done so that the conservative culture and beliefs of the locals doesn’t get influenced by Western liberalism, which may eventually result in unrest in the country. This is why as a tourist, you’re restricted to enter the non-tourist designated zone in Maldives. Even in the tourist zone, the system encourages tourists to be accompanied by registered guides and licensed tour operators.

Maldivians, by nature, are hardworking people. Disconnected from the main-land countries and surviving on an Island with a sensitive ecology, has encouraged Maldivian people to follow healthy and disciplined work ethics. They are friendly by nature and are more than willing to chat with tourists; they love light heart conversations and this is noticeable as soon as you arrive in the Island country.

Politically, Maldives remains a non-aligned country with no particular allies or enemies. As such, there is no hatred or bad sentiment among Maldivians, towards other nationalities. BACK TO TOP

The Capital Of Maldives – Male (Pronounced as Ma-ley)

Male is the place from where you’ll begin your Maldivian trip, the Velana International Airport is located near Male and serves as the primary gateway to Maldives for the majority of passenger flights.

Velana International Airport - Male, Maldives
Velana International Airport is located near Male and serves as the primary gateway to Maldives | Image Source: Simon_sees

Male is home to almost a quarter of the country’s population; approximately 143,000 Maldivians of the total 550,000 Maldivians, live in Male (Stats Yr. 2017). Locals are friendly and are happy to chat, also English is widely spoken in Maldives. You’ll meet a lot of locals in local tea shops, eateries & at local street markets.

You may also plan a day trip to one of the non-touristy yet pristine small surrounding islands from Male by a ferry or speedboat. Male serves as an important hub from where you can get ferry’s, speedboats, sea-planes or boats (Dhonis) transfers to different surrounding islands & resort islands.

Note, you’ll need to organize a licensed guide or tour operator to show you around the non-tourist islands which are outside the government designated tourist zone. Entry for foreign nationals to non-resort islands are restricted and require special permits; generally day trip permits are easily granted for visit to some non-resort village islands; the cut-off time for day trip is 6:00 PM, by this time you must exit the village island.

Few village islands are actually quite close to some resort islands; if you are in a group, you can charter a safari-boat for a “Island Hopping” trip to the nearby islands. The operator will arrange permits for the entire group and since Safari boats come with onboard accommodation facilities, you can stay overnight in the boat itself.

If you are an individual wanting to go Island Hopping, you can charter a small boat (locally known as Dhoni) to ferry you around; but this won’t have the overnight stay facility and you’ll have to get back to your base by 6:00 PM, if you are on a day trip permit. BACK TO TOP

The Maldivian Lifestyle

Ever heard of the term “villagers” to denote people who live in villages? Well, in Maldives you’ll get familiar with the term “islanders” which denotes people who live in islands and atolls outside the Capital Male.

Life in Male is relatively more comfortable than in the rest of the country.  Male is home to almost a quarter of the country’s population; approximately 143,000 Maldivians of the total 550,000 Maldivians, live in Male (Stats Yr. 2017).

Male is flooded with modern luxurious and technologically advanced equipment. Obviously, like many other urban cities around the world, Male faces a space crunch and it is getting increasingly difficult to accommodate the large number of islanders who want to live in Male.

To counter this, Hulhumale region which is located near the North Male Island is being developed to meet the existing and future housing, industrial and commercial requirements of the overcrowded Male region. Hulhumale is being developed as a planned city, where an artificial island is being developed on reclaimed land.

Apart from Male, on other Islands, life is pretty much simpler, less hectic and less extravagant. People stay with extended families, are extremely conservative and place high importance on their traditional values. Men on islands are generally bread-earners and their primary occupation is fishing; while women are generally homemakers, they look after children cooking and perform daily house-hold chores.

Off late, village islands have been laced with modern equipment like Televisions, Mobile Phones, Telephones, Radios & Air Coolers. BACK TO TOP

The Primary Occupation Of Maldivians

The primary occupation of people in Maldives closely revolves around the sectors associated with exporting fishes from their country and importing tourists into their country. Scope for ambitious and creative people of developing careers outside these prime sectors is limited and generally not well-encouraged. This is the primary reason why many Maldivians prefer going to overseas countries for education and employment opportunities. BACK TO TOP

Schooling & Career In Maldives

Schooling facilities are available on all inhabited islands, where children start learning & reciting the Holy Quran verses usually from about the age of three. English is taught as a second language and is widely spoken across the country. Maldives boasts an impressive adult literacy rate of 97.73% (Stats. Yr. 2016).

Scope for ambitious and creative people of developing careers outside the primary sectors of fishing and tourism industry, is limited and generally not well-encouraged. This is the primary reason why many Maldivian students prefer going to overseas countries for education and employment opportunities. The primary destination for Maldivian university students for overseas studies are usually Sri Lanka, India, Britain, Australia or Fiji. BACK TO TOP

The Native Maldivians

The Sinhalese from Sri Lanka and Dravidian from South India are believed to be the initial inhabitants of Maldivian Islands. Later on, there was an influx of settlers from the Middle-East and Africa. BACK TO TOP

The Native Maldivians
The Sinhalese from Sri Lanka and Dravidian from South India are believed to be the initial inhabitants of Maldivian Islands.

Religion & Religious Practices in Maldives

Maldives is a Islamic country with majority of its population practicing Sunni Muslim religion; no other religion practices are permitted. People are comfortable with this and there is almost no scope for religious dissent.

Liberal forms of Islamic religious practices are followed in Maldives; unlike the much stricter traditions of some Islamic countries of the Middle-East. It’s not compulsory for Maldivian women to don a burka, though some women may wear a headscarf (hijab).

Attending the mosque is the main religious activity for islanders. Children start learning & reciting the Quran verses usually from about the age of three.

Most mosques are simple and may look similar to each other; though some older ones may bear a distinct appearance. Some important occasions that call for celebration on islands are, when a boy child is circumcised around the age of 6 years and other important occasions are marriages.

Only Muslims may become citizens of the Maldives and can follow only Islam after attaining citizenship.

If you are curious to know how Maldives, from being Buddhist country until early 12th century became an Islamic country. Check-out Maldives History & Interesting Tale On Why It Adopted Islam. BACK TO TOP

Idolatry in Maldives

Foreigners are prohibited to carry Idols of Worship & Non-Islamic holy scriptures into Maldives. All Maldivians are devout Muslims; as such the authority is sensitive towards objects and practices which may hurt or offend Muslim beliefs.

Small articles representing religious symbols for personal use, like a Buddha pendant or Crucifix worn as a jewelry or any other small articles that are generally for personal use, may not necessarily be a problem to carry into Maldives. However, carrying larger size non-Islamic religious symbols or figures that are generally used for display purposes, are not usually allowed.

Similarly, for holy scriptures, you may carry a copy of Holy book for your personal use; however if you are carrying multiple copies of non-Islamic scriptures, it would indicate to the authorities that they are for distribution purposes and you won’t be permitted to carry them with you into Maldives. As mentioned earlier, Maldivian authorities are concerned about letting in objects that might influence the Islamic beliefs of the local population. BACK TO TOP

Prayer Times

Like in all Islamic states, Maldivians follow the practice of praying 5 times a day. The first prayer session is generally before the sunrise, the second is around noon, the third is in mid-afternoon, the fourth is at sunset and the final session in the early evening.

The call to prayer is delivered by the muezzin by loudspeakers on the minaret. Some TV channels and radio stations may broadcast a reminder during prayer time as a reminder. Generally shops and offices close for 15 minutes upon each prayer call. Mosques are the busiest for sunset prayers on Fridays. BACK TO TOP

Ramadan In Maldives

As a tourist, you should consider avoiding travel to Maldives during Ramadan (also called Ramazan) month as the majority of the local shops & restaurants are closed for the better part of the day during this period. Ramadan month falls generally in the first half of the year; exact dates vary from year to year. It is the month of fasting which follows and occurs according to the 28-days/month lunar calendar.

As a tourist, you may find it extremely difficult to roam anywhere outside your resort during the Ramadan month; as the majority of eateries and retail shops are closed for most part of the day during this period. Offices operate for a shorter duration during this month and people in general may be occupied with their religious commitments during this holy month.

Moreover, as a visitor, during the Ramadan month you will be expected to avoid eating, smoking or drinking in public places; some places may even impose restrictions on playing music on loudspeakers during the day.

Since people are rigorously fasting for most part of the day, afternoons are generally reserved for long rests. Although, the end of Ramadan on Eid, is a major event and often celebrated in a grand manner. BACK TO TOP

Sports In Maldives

Soccer is the most popular sport played all around Maldives. On a clear day, you will often spot young boys playing Soccer on the white sand beaches and grounds. Soccer is even played professionally at the club level in Maldives; where different soccer clubs compete in a soccer tournament, professionally  organized in the stadium.

Apart from soccer, Cricket is the second most popular sport in Maldives; just like for Soccer, there are professional Cricket Clubs and tournaments organized regularly. Other popular sports that Maldivians engage themselves in are Volleyball, Badminton & Basketball.

Traditional Maldivian games are becoming less popular as the younger generation are getting increasingly inclined towards western games. BACK TO TOP

The Maldivian Architecture

Maldivians are well-disciplined and hardworking people; living on remote islands with no direct land access to any main-land country; plus their extremely sensitive ecology has taught them to live with strong ethics towards the environment, their surrounding, their work and pretty much everything they engage in. This reflects well in the way they live and it’s clearly visible everywhere on their islands.

Constructions on Maldivian islands are systematically designed and are well-organized; you’ll be particularly impressed with the neat and orderly layout of Maldivian villages, even on non-tourist islands. The streets are well-maintained, wide, neat & clean. Houses are constructed in an orderly manner, mostly using concrete and coral stones.

Most houses will have an average sized courtyard, which is sometimes open to sky or covered. These courtyards serve as an outdoor room, typically for family get-together. Most Maldivian homes, guest-houses & home-stays will have an open air bathroom; this is more of a traditional way of construction, however, most western tourists find this feature attractive. BACK TO TOP

Women In Maldives

Long before the call for gender equality gained momentum around the world, women were literally empowered in this small island nation. In the early 14th century, Maldives was ruled by women. One of the earliest female rulers of any Muslim nation, Al-Sultana Khadeejah held throne and ruled Maldives for nearly 30 years; she was the earliest female ruler of the few other female rulers in the recorded history of Maldives.

History suggests that the status of Maldivian women has been fairly high and this can be duly verified by the fact that Maldives was among the first few of the Islamic countries to have a female at the throne; recorded history of Maldives suggests existence of four Sultanas (Female Rulers) in the past. BACK TO TOP

Present Day Maldivian Women

In the modern world though, religious conservatism accompanied with economic development & rapid consumerism has drastically changed the traditional way of life in Maldives, for women especially. More so in the past few decades as technology advanced and connectivity improved globally with the Internet, Maldives has turned towards increased religious conservatism.

Women are expected to don a veil – the headscarf (hijab) in public places, though this practice is not strictly imposed, women who choose not to wear it, often face social stigma from their own family members as well as the society. At public events, there’s often a separate space reserved for women.

Although there is a sanctioned national dress for women, for daily wear most women prefer western formals & western casual wear like long-skirts, t-shirts and jeans; another popular attire is the Indian styled dress. Most women don a veil over their attire in public places. BACK TO TOP

Marriage Customs

For Maldivian women, marriage in the early 20’s is considered as a must and you’ll rarely find a woman in their late 20’s or 30’s, who are not married or have never married before. At one point of time, divorces were treated quite casually and Maldives had the highest divorce rates in the world. Husbands could initiate and grant divorce to their wives without giving any satisfactory reasons for their actions. Hence marriages at an early age and more than one marriage for women were treated quite casually, without any stigma; although history suggests that women also had the right to initiate divorce.

Women retain their names after marriage and generally do not include or accept their husbands’ name, this may be primarily because more than one marriages are quite common still.

Off late, the Maldivian authorities have tried to strengthen their family law in order to lower the divorce rates by increasing the minimum age for marriage to 18 years and by making mutual divorce illegal. Earlier, where a man could divorce his wife by merely expressing it, today the couple have to go to the family court to initiate a divorce; which is granted only after all due reconciliation procedures fail. This has brought the divorce rates considerably down and strengthened a woman’s’ position to exercise her rights.

On the other hand, like in most Islamic countries, Polygamy marriage is legal where a man can marry more than once and can have up-to 4 wives at once, although the practice in not very common on this island country. A traditional practice of dowry is still practiced in some remote parts of the island, where the husband has to pay an agreed amount to the would-be wife or her family at the time of marriage. BACK TO TOP

Work Opportunities For Maldivian Women

In today’s society, modernization and development have given rise to more employment opportunities and better education structure for both, men and women. While traditionally women were homemakers, today women are expected to earn as well as fulfill their household responsibilities; this has become more of a necessity rather than a choice for women in urban settlements like Male.

Increasing number of women are opting for higher education and specialization studies; as a result, a higher number of females are joining the workforce. Nowadays, there are employment opportunities for women in almost every industry, many women are attracted towards teaching, nursing or administrative desk jobs.

Women on the village islands are homemakers and self-employed, they look after children, cooking and perform daily house-hold chores; in their spare time they usually engage in weaving, making coir products like ropes and mats, drying fishes, e.t.c. These products are then sold locally on nearby bigger islands and to tourists on resort islands and in the capital Male. Women in the tourist zone islands, engage in growing fruits and vegetables which they eventually sell to the resorts. BACK TO TOP

Women Safety

In the past few years, harassment on streets has become a major problem for women, especially in the capital – Male. Officially there is no restriction on movement of women, although in Maldives, society in general considers home as an ideal place for women. BACK TO TOP

Maldives – Environmental Challenges & Global Climate Change

Have you ever heard about the flattest country on Earth? Yes! Of course, it is Maldives. With the highest point in the country, not higher than 2.4 meters and the majority (approx. 80%) of land at just 1 meter above the sea-level; the flattest country on the face of our planet “at the moment” is Maldives.

However, this title of being the flattest country on Earth might not stick with Maldives for a long time; according to a number of reliable forecasts with regards to rising sea-level due to global warming & climate change, it is expected that Maldives will be completely submerged in the Indian ocean by the end of this century. BACK TO TOP

Frequently Asked Questions By Tourists

Which is the biggest island in Maldives?

Island Hopping Maldives

Gan combined with adjoining islands of Maandhoo in extremely close proximity, is the largest island in Maldives which is located in Laamu Atoll – also known as Hahdhummathi in Maldives. This island is approximately 250 kms south of Maldives Capital, Male. The Maandhoo island to the south of Gan, features a domestic airport and serves as a connecting hub for local islanders. Please do not confuse this Gan with another island named Gan located in Addu Atoll – southern most atoll of Maldives.

Which is the most budget friendly island in Maldives?

Maafushi Island can be considered as the most budget friendly island in Maldives. It is located in Kaafu Atoll, just 27 km south of the capital Male. Maafushi’s close proximity to the only international airport in Maldives and it’s ability to cater to travelers on low budget, makes this place a popular island choice among tourist visiting Maldives. The island offers cheap hotels/resorts stay option and other budget friendly amenities to low budget travelers.

Which is the most expensive island to stay in Maldives?

The Kuda Hithi Island, is actually a private island is owned by Coco Privé; where a night stay will cost you upwards from USD 45,000$/night, making Coco Privé Kuda Hithi Island one of the most exclusive private islands in the world. Other expensive islands in Maldives which are known for the luxuries they offer, are Velaa Private Island & Vommuli Island.

How should you address a Maldivian?

You may choose to address your Maldivian guide or Resort staff directly by their last name; since Mohammed, Ahmed, Amin or Ali, are quite common for first names of men, it may get quite confusing. Some of the honorary titles given to show respect are Maniku or Didi.

How many days are enough to explore Maldives?

5 to 7 days are more than enough to explore & experience Maldives. Most places of tourist interest are located in and around the capital, Male. Also, Maldives only international airport is located in Male; so naturally some of the most popular tourist islands & well maintained beaches are located withing close proximity of Male. Resorts on the nearby tourist islands organize island hopping tours for tourists.

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