The obvious starting point for deciding when to visit the Maldives is the monsoon periods. For those whose main priority is sun, October to April are the months when rain is least likely, with February-April being the hottest and driest period of all. Unfortunately, this is the key draw for most visitors, so this inevitably means higher prices during these months. In June to October, wind and rain are more likely, although the islands are still warm and weeks can often go by with no sign of the latter. The European holiday in August can send prices up even during this time. The Christmas/New Year period of course sees them rocket.
For diving and snorkelling, there is a slightly different agenda. May-November brings larger swells and strong winds, which can make diving on exposed reefs difficult (although the many protected dive sites within the atolls are still a memorable option). It also brings large schools of pelagics (such as sharks, eagle rays and tuna) on the western side of the atolls, and the possibility of diving with mantas on their eastern side. From November the currents change, and are at their strongest around January. From here on, they begin to calm - which makes for superb underwater visibility between Dec-April, all the better to see the pelagics on the eastern side of the atolls. April-May brings a current reversal once again, with the most notable arrivals around this time being sperm whales, pilot whales and huge schools of dolphins. Mantas move back throughout this time to the atolls’ western side once more.
On a different note, for those planning on spending any prolonged time on Malé, it is advisable to avoid Ramadan , although those staying in the resorts will not be affected by it. But if sightseeing away from the resort, it is vital to be respectful of this (there is no food or drink consumed at all between sunrise and sunset). As the Maldives is a 100% Muslim country, Christian celebrations (including Christmas) are not acknowledged here - although many private island resorts provide suitable festivities. In addition, no alcohol is permitted to be consumed in any public places - although, again, most resorts have special licences that exempt them from this law so long as the alcohol remains strictly on the island.
Other Islamic festivals include:
Kuda Id: at the end of Ramadan, celebrates the sighting of the new moon with feasting
Prophet's Birthday: celebrating the birth of Mohammed
Huravee Day: celebrating victory over the Indian Malabars
Martyr's Day: commemorating the death of Sultan Ali VI under the Portuguese (Aug/Sept)
National Day: on the first day of the third month of the lunar calendar (March/April)
Other public holidays include:
New Year’s Day - 1 January
Independence day - 26 July
Victory Day - 3 November
Republic Day - 11 November
Fisheries Day - 10 December
With so many islands, spread across different atolls, it is not that easy to move around the Maldives at a whim. Upon arriving at the international airport on Malé, your resort (and certainly our featured resorts) will generally arrange for either a speedboat or seaplane transfer, depending on the proximity of your intended destination. The seaplanes (usually 16 seaters) are run by Trans Maldivian Airways and Maldivian Air Taxi. These take off from the lagoon a short ride from Malé International Airport and do a circuit of the requisite resorts (more remote resorts may need to make individual arrangements). It is possible to charter seaplanes and speedboats for exclusive use, but this is naturally extremely expensive.
Once ensconced on your island, inter-island transfers are uncommon. For those travelling between different resorts, it is usually a case of heading back to Malé and out to the next resort from here. For day visits to local islands, speedboats are the general choice - although a more leisurely alternative is the traditional local form of transport , wooden sailboats or dhonis.
Visas do not need to be acquired before arriving in the Maldives - only a valid passport, an onward or return ticket, a completed landing card and evidence of ‘sufficient funds’ to cover your stay are needed. Upon arrival, most visitors are issued with a free 30-day visa - although some entrants from nearby countries and those who apply via a resort or hotel may get an extension for stays of up to 90 days.
There are no major tropical diseases prevalent in the Maldives, and no vaccinations are required (although those arriving from a Yellow Fever-infected area need to have a valid immunisation certificate, and tetanus, typhoid and Hep A are recommended). Malaria is rare, with a few cases limited to the outer atolls. Medical care is OK - there are private clinics - but expensive. Travel insurance is a must, and be aware that cash is almost invariably required before any major treatment is undertaken at the hospitals.
The key health hazards are:
Sunburn/UV rays - the sun in the Maldives is fierce, and out in force most of the time. It is therefore vital to take suitable precautions when exposed to it for any period of time.
Dive risks - always an issue in a popular dive destination, although the leading resorts have extremely well-equipped dive schools with high-tech equipment, where safety procedures are taken seriously. Should a re-compression chamber be required, there are currently 2 available in the Maldives: 1 near Malé, near Bandos Island, an the other in the North Ari Atoll.
Jellyfish - not overly common in the Maldives, but they do occur. Many are harmless, or inflict only tiny stings - however, there are species that can be more painful. Ask the resort if any have been noted, and just keep an eye out. Do remember, however, that jellyfish drift with the currents, so will not ‘swim’ to you.
It is also not advisable to drink the tap water - stick to bottled water, which all resorts should be able to provide.