Maldives

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Introduction to Maldives

Resorts in the Maldives woo tourists with promises of 'the last paradise on earth', and if your idea of paradise is a pristine tropical island with swaying palm trees, pure white beaches and brilliant turquoise lagoons, then the Maldives will not disappoint.

It's also a major destination for scuba divers, who come for the fabulous coral reefs and the wealth of marine life. But it's not a place for low budget backpackers or amateur anthropologists who want to travel independently and live as the locals do.

Tourism in the Maldives is carefully managed. The lack of local resources makes it necessary to import virtually everything a visitor needs, so it can't really compete on price. The strategy has been to develop a limited number of quality resorts, each on its own uninhabited island, free from traffic, crime and crass commercialism.

The tourism strategy also aims to minimise the adverse effects of tourism on traditional Muslim communities. Tourists can make short guided visits to local fishing villages, but must then return to their resort. To stay longer or to travel to atolls outside the tourist zone requires a good reason, a special permit, and a local person to sponsor the visitor.

Caution

Extensive damage to the Maldives from the 2004 tsunami is being slowly repaired.

Full country name: Republic of Maldives

Area: 298 sq km

Population: 301,475

Capital City: Male

People: Sinhalese, Dravidian, Arab, African

Language: Divehi, English

Religion: Sunni Muslim

Government: republic

Head of State: President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom

GDP: US$500 million

GDP per capita: US$1,840

Annual Growth: 5.8%

Inflation: 6.3%

Major Industries: fish processing, tourism, shipping, boat building, coconut processing, garments, woven mats, rope, handicrafts, coral and sand mining, coconuts, corn, sweet potatoes, fish

Major Trading Partners: Sri Lanka, US, Germany, Singapore, UK, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visas are required for most nationalities, but are free and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days.

Health risks: sunburn (In the tropics, the desert or at high altitude you can get sunburned quickly and seriously, even through clouds. Use a strong sunscreen, hat and barrier cream for your nose and lips. Calamine lotion and aloe vera are good for mild sunburn. Protect your eyes with good-quality sunglasses)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +5

Dialling Code: 960

Electricity: 230V ,50 Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Most holidays are based on the Islamic lunar calendar and the dates vary from year to year. The most important religious event is Ramadan (known locally as rorda mas), the Islamic month of fasting. Other noteworthy events are Kuda Id, the sighting of the new moon (celebrated at the end of Ramadan), and the Prophet's Birthday, which commemorates the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. Fixed holiday dates include: National Day (the day Mohammed Thakurufaan and his men overthrew the Portuguese on Malé in 1573, the first day of the third month of the lunar calendar); Victory Day (victory over Sri Lankan mercenaries who tried to overthrow the Maldivian government on 3 November 1988); and Republic Day (which commemorates the current republic, founded on 11 November 1968).

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Best time to Visit

If you're looking for a few extra hours of sunshine then you should visit the Maldives between December and April, which is the dry season. This is the high season, however, and resorts can be fully booked and prices are higher than the rest of the year. The Christmas-New Year period is the busiest and most expensive part of the high season. Between May and November it's still warm, but the skies can be cloudy, humidity is higher and rain is more likely. This is the low season, and there are fewer tourists and prices are lower. The transition months of November and April are said to be associated with increased water clarity and better visibility for divers.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Rufiyaa

Meals

Budget: Rf7-12

Mid-range: Rf12-25

High: Rf25-65

Deluxe: Rf65+

Lodging

Budget: US$30-160

Mid-range: US$160-500

High: US$500-800

Deluxe: US$800+

If you stayed in Malé on a budget, you could get by on around USD35 per day if you shared a room. The cheapest resorts start at around USD50 per day in the low season, for a standard double room with full board. At most resorts, for most of the year, a double room with full board will cost around USD100 a day or more. Diving costs vary from resort to resort but keen divers expecting to undertake about 10 dives a week should allow about USD350 per week if they have their own equipment or USD500 per week if they rent everything. On a dive safari, the costs can be anywhere between USD60 to USD160 per day, depending on the luxury, plus another USD70 or so for diving. Unless you're content to bask on the beach all day, expect to spend around USD30 per day hiring windsurfers, snorkel gear, tennis courts, etc.

If you stay at a resort, you don't need to carry money at all since everything will be billed to your room and you can settle up when you leave with travellers' cheques or credit cards (American Express, Visa and MasterCard are best). It's best to carry money in US dollar denominations, but British pounds and euros are pretty acceptable. You won't need Maldivian rufiya unless you're using local shops and services.

Officially, tipping is discouraged in the Maldives. Unofficially, if the service is good - and it usually is - it's quite customary to tip room staff and waiters in your resort. USD10 per week is a suitable amount. A few resorts add a 10% service charge, in which case there's no need to tip. Bargaining is limited to tourist shops in and around Singapore Bazaar in Malé and at island village souvenir shops where prices are not fixed.

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Attractions

Malé

About 2km (1.2mi) long and 1km (0.62mi) wide, Malé is small, quaint, and densely settled. Though not spectacular, it is quite unique as a capital city. It's clean and tidy, with mosques, markets, a maze of small streets and a certain, sometimes sleepy, charm all its own.

Malé is packed to the edges with buildings, roads and a few well-used open spaces. Officially, the population is around 65,000, but with foreign workers and short-term visitors from other islands, there may be as many as 100,000 people in town - it certainly feels like it.

Resorts

The vast majority of visitors come to the Maldives on package tours, staying at one of the 70-plus resort islands. Most resorts are in the three atolls closest to the capital - North Malé Atoll, South Malé Atoll and Ari Atoll. Despite their apparent similarity, however, they differ considerably.

Judging by the brochures, all the resorts are beautiful and are blessed with white sand, blue sea and swaying palm trees, and they all promise great diving. But they can vary distinctly in their comfort, cuisine, clientele, character and their suitability for various excursions and activities.

Seenu (Addu Atoll)

This is the 'second city' of the Maldives, and the resort here is the best base from which to visit traditional Maldivian island communities. The Addu people are fiercely independent, speak differently from folk in the capital and at one time even tried to secede from the republic.

Tourist development in Addu has been slow to start, but a resort has been established in the old RAF buildings on Gan. Gan is linked by causeways to the adjacent islands, and it's easy to get around them by bicycle, giving unmatched opportunities to visit the local villages and see village life.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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