Diving in Maldives
The Maldives have fascinated divers and snorkelers for many years but their remote location has kept many North American divers at bay. These days, however, access is better than ever to one of the world's most revered dive destinations. Located south of India in the Indian Ocean and spanning the equator, the archipelago stretches almost 550 miles from North to South and 90 miles from east to west. Sunny, unique and unspoiled, the Maldives is an archipelago comprised of 1,192 islands in 26 atolls.
The destination is unique in that outside of the capitol of Male, there is very little in the way of commercial development. Resorts are predominantly private island resorts which are accessed by speedboat or seaplane. PADI 5-star operators are plentiful and capable of catering to the needs and desires of the experienced certified diver as well as providing introductory scuba for novices in a plethora of languages.
The optimal way for divers to experience the Maldives is a combination of both live-aboard and land-based stays. Plan at least 7 nights aboard one of the several top-rated "safari boats" (as the live-aboards are called in the Maldives) and visit a wider range of atolls and remote sites not accessible from land-based resorts and dive 4-5 times per day. Then check into one of the luxurious private island resorts for a few days of sun, spa and a more relaxed dive schedule. Strangely enough, while most visitors to the Maldives are from Europe or Japan, prices in many resorts tend to be set in US dollars. Credit cards are widely accepted as well as hard foreign currency in resorts and on live-aboards.
The vast majority operate out of Male and most (if not all) were constructed in the Maldives and vary greatly in both their quality of construction and the crew's expertise and knowledge of the regions diving and their ability to deliver the highest quality experience. It is vitally important to travel with operators that not only have the experience and expertise but practice safely and responsibly while providing divers with optimal service and accommodations.
The weather in the Maldives is sub-tropical, with two monsoon seasons – hot, humid and dry in northeast monsoon (November to March) and rainy in southwest monsoon (June to October). The sun shines year round. Average temperature around 84-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Visibility can drop significantly at some locations during the southwest monsoon but the trade off provides a larger concentration of mantas and other big animal encounters (including whale sharks).
The Maldives are home to some of the most diverse marine fauna and flora in the world. Thousands of reefs, a thousand recorded species of fish, over two hundred species of coral and hundreds more species of other marine life - no wonder many see this as one of the greatest dive destinations on Earth.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
A valid passport, along with an onward/return ticket and proof of sufficient funds for the time you are staying, is required for entry. A no-cost visitor visa valid for thirty days is issued upon arrival. The Department of Immigration and Emigration routinely approves requests for extension of stays up to ninety days for travelers who present evidence of sufficient funds and who stay in a resort or hotel or present a letter from a local sponsor. Anyone staying over sixty days without proper authorization faces heavy fines and deportation.
EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All visitors departing the Republic of the Maldives (except diplomats and certain exempted travelers) must pay an airport departure tax, which is usually included in the price of an airline ticket.
Travelers need a yellow fever immunization if they are arriving from an infected area. Check with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel to Maldives at Traveler's Health CDC
Culture and Customs
Islam is the only national religion; no other religions are permitted. All Maldivians belong to the Sunni sect. Only Muslims may become citizens, marry, or own property in Maldives, and daily life is regulated according to the tenets of Islam. The political, judicial, and religious systems in Maldives are so closely intertwined that the political leaders and judges are also the country's religious leaders. The president is considered the primary religious leader, and judges are responsible for interpreting Islamic law in the courts. Most holidays are based on the Islamic lunar calendar. In accordance with the Islamic faith, the people of Maldives believe that people go to heaven or hell after death, depending on how faithfully they adhered to the five tenets of Islam while still alive.
The legal age for marriage is eighteen, although half of the women marry by age fifteen. Marriages are not arranged. In accordance with Islamic law, a man can have four wives at any time if he can support them financially, but polygamy is uncommon. Sex before marriage is a punishable offense and marriages can take place only between Muslims. Maldivians are brought up to respect elders and those who are educated while conforming to an Islamic code of conduct. Strong loyalties tie the individual to the extended family.
Rice and fish are the staple foods. Fish is the most important source of protein in the average diet. Very few vegetables are eaten. Betel leaf with arecanut, cloves, and lime, known as foh, is chewed after meals. Meat other than pork is eaten only on special occasions. Alcohol is not permitted except in tourist resorts. The local brew, raa, is a sweet toddy made from the crown of the coconut palm.
Electricity, Telephone and Internet Access
Electricity in Maldives is 230 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travel to Maldives with a device that does not accept 230 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter.
The international access code for the Maldives is +960. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States). No city/area codes are required. IDD facilities are available at all resorts and card phones are available on all inhabited islands. The major islands are covered by the mobile network; the local operators use a GSM 900 network, which is compatible with many international cell phone operators, but it is best to check whether your network has roaming agreements with the Maldives. Dhiraagu, the Maldives Telecommunications Company provides mobile telephones for daily rental. Internet access is available in hotels and main tourist resorts.
It is advised to boil all drinking water or to drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes.
Language & Currency
Dhivehi is the spoken language throughout the Maldives. It has its roots in old South Asian languages, intermingling with Arabic, Hindi and English words. English was introduced as the medium of instruction in most schools in the 1960s, while Dhivehi is still the language used for the overall administration.
Maldives currency is called Rufiyaa [Rf], which is divided into 100 Larees. Maldives Rufiyaa comes in different denominations of notes and coins. The notes come in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 while the coins are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25 and 50 Larees.
Major currencies can be exchanged at banks, tourist resort islands, hotels and leading shops. Payments in hotels can be made in most hard currencies (particularly US Dollars) in cash, traveller's cheques or credit cards. Most major island resorts, local and souvenir shops will accept American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Arrangements vary from island to island.
Maldives Standard Time is 5 hours ahead Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+5). Maldives does not observe Daylight Saving Time.
History, Art, and Culture
Maldives comprises 1,191 islands in the Indian Ocean. The earliest settlers were probably from southern India. Indo-European speakers followed them from Sri Lanka in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. In the 12th century AD, sailors from East Africa and Arab countries came to the islands. Today, the Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of these cultures, reinforced by religion and language. Originally Buddhists, Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the mid-12th century. Islam is the official religion of the entire population. Strict adherence to Islamic precepts and close community relationships have historically helped keep crime low and under control.
The writing system is from right to left. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools. Some social stratification exists on the islands. It is not rigid, since rank is based on varied factors, including occupation, wealth, perceived Islamic virtue, and family ties. Members of the social elite are concentrated in Male'. The early history of the Maldives is obscure. According to Maldivian legend, a Sinhalese prince named KoiMale was stranded with his bride--daughter of the king of Sri Lanka--in a Maldivian lagoon and stayed on to rule as the first sultan.
Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean littorals. Mopla pirates from the Malabar Coast--present-day Kerala state in India--harassed the islands. In the 16th century, the Portuguese subjugated and ruled the islands for 15 years (1558-73) before being driven away by the warrior-patriot Muhammad Thakurufar Al-Azam. Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate for most of its history from 1153 to 1968, the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until July 25, 1965. In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt at a republican form of government, after which the sultanate was re-imposed. Following independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another 3 years. On November 11, 1968, it was abolished and replaced by a republic, and the country assumed its present name.
Location and Size
Maldives is located south of India in the Indian Ocean.
Area: 298 sq. km. (115 sq. mi.), over 1,100 islands; twice the size of Washington, DC.
The total population of Maldives is 300,000 (plus 67,000 expatriate workers who are not counted in the census).