It’s on a fairly recent thing for tourists to be allowed in local islands in the Maldives. This means that there’s an option between the fancy (and expensive) private island resorts and smaller hotel/guest houses that are more affordable. See below for some interesting facts, particularly if you’re thinking of staying at a local island.
It’s crazy how I had no idea the big 2004 tsunami affected the Maldives, with only 9 of their islands not being impacted. When touring some other local islands I saw some building wrecks still not recovered and marks left by the water levels (6 metres). With this means all the ground water was contaminated with salt water and now all fresh water comes from rain tanks/imports. So as much as I struggled with single use plastic bottles being offered everywhere, you can empathise that there isn’t much else they can do- literally in the middle of the ocean.
Following in from number 1, the Maldives can be as affordable or expensive as you want. Obviously if you are after luxury, there are villas on almost every pretty patch of shallow -crystal clear- water ready for you to spend thousands. However, if you aren’t after that life or price tag but still want the beach, lifestyle, water sports & sea life; then I’d suggest local islands. Tourism is the main source of income (followed by fishing) now in the Maldives so there are guest houses coming up quickly. If you want a REALLY quiet escape, local islands like Guhli have 1-2 guest houses and few tourists. But you’ll be having to travel for tours or most watersports. If you want a bit more variety, Maafushi is where I stayed. There’s lots of choice to shop around for tours (I went with Crystal Sands and Moana and rate them both very highly), lots of options for food, watersports and in low season I didn’t feel like tourists were TOO big of an issue.
This comes as a shock to most people, but if you do intend to stay on a local island you should be aware of dress rules. Unless you are on the designated ‘bikini beach’ of a local island, you are required to dress modestly. The Maldives is a Muslim country, as just like most Muslim countries, it’s respectful to respect the culture by dressing appropriately. This doesn’t mean head to toe or anything I would thing is restrictive. It means T-shirt’s covering the shoulders and shorts/skirts covering the thighs. There are signs up around beaches with detail that sheer items e.g. sarongs do not count as covering up. This means if you choose to swim anywhere else on the island (Maafushi has a beautiful coral regeneration on on side) then you need to thing about rashies and board shorts. And this includes the fellas.
Having said that, off the local islands this rules doesn’t apply. So at luxury resorts on private islands, on the offshore bars (yep that really exists) and when swimming/touring, etc away from the island you are able to wear whatever you want.
I was surprisingly happy about this rule when I heard about it. As the local islands practice Islam, there is no alcohol permitted or sold on them. It wasn’t as strange as I thought to be in a tropical setting without people drinking their cocktails and doing stupid drunken things in bikinis/board shorts. Instead it kind of made the islands feel more relaxed and safe.
And if you want a fix, there are boat bars off Maafushi at least, that your hotel/guesthouse can organise a lift to. Additionally if you want to fork out US$90+ to visit a resort for the day you can drink to your hearts content all day before heading back.
There are few places where I’ve felt as taken care of as I did in the Maldives. The service was second to none, little things like the staff at my guesthouse all knowing my name, the tour guides getting to know everyone & taking GoPro photos & videos for everyone as well as being allowed to stay in my room until 12:30pm as I had a later flight. Also regardless of whether you book your shuttle boat with your guesthouse or not, they will organise to have someone meet you and drop you off at the end of your trip, both times refusing to let you carry your bags- it was a strange feeling for this usual backpacker.
I felt safe and welcome throughout Maafushi in particular. I respected the dress code, and was greeted by most locals as I walked past, tour operators were friendly and honest with prices/deals but never pushy, and some would just let you chill in their comfy offices when it started to pour.
Being in a tropical place, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the temperature in the Maldives is the same all year round (usually 28-30 degrees Celsius). However there are two seasons, from May- October is one and November-April. Generally these are called ‘monsoons’ however the southwest monsoon from May-October usually brings more rain and wind, therefore the ‘wet/low season.’ I took my chances by coming during the end of this season so did experience some wet and wild weather but also some beautiful sunshine- always hot though. It’s up to you whether you want to chance the weather or come during the drier and busier season.
Cash & currency
The local currency, MVR, is used for most things on the island but isn’t necessary if you don’t have any. Most tourists have US dollars and they are accepted everywhere/ are the currency to use for all tourist payments such as accommodation and tours. For any food, supermarkets, etc they will give you the prices in both MVR & USD. One thing to know is there are generally no ATMs on local islands (I didn’t find any at least) but you can pay on card for most things. I’d suggest having some US cash for tours, food as it makes it more simple.