The Maldives

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Sunset scene The Maldives are a collection of about 1200 islands grouped into 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean. They are on the Chagos-Laccadive ridge south west of India and Sri Lanka.

The Maldives is an independent republic and an Islamic state. On entry you are not allowed to import several things including alcohol, pork products, idols of worship or spearguns. If you do have any alcohol with you, then you can declare it at customs. They will give you a receipt and you can claim it back when you leave. They usually X-ray all incoming luggage, so any undeclared bottles are likely to be found.

However, drinks and pork are available on the tourist islands and on liveaboards. The resort islands are separate from the other inhabited islands. However, since 2009 the law has been changed and there are now guest house on some of the inhabited islands such as Maafushi. In practice most resorts do a shopping trip to a nearby island. Women are requested to dress conservatively when visiting these islands. Away from the resorts and Male itself, it is quite a conservative culture. Topless sunbathing is illegal even on the resort islands, though this is sometimes ignored.

Each resort island usually has one hotel on it. The guest rooms are normally small huts which are located around the edge, so that everyone has a view of the beach. In the middle is normally the staff quarters, and the desalination plant and the generator. The theme is simplicity. You don't need to dress for dinner. In fact, you don't need to wear shoes for the entire duration of your holiday.

When I first went to the Maldives back in 1995, a lot of the rooms didn't have airconditioning and the bathrooms didn't have hot water. Since then, the hotels have been upgraded and they all seem to have both now. Most hotels are now 4* and the rooms often have fridges and satellite TV. The food has also improved since those early days. On my first trip, every other meal featured fish, and whilst I like fish, and it was certainly very fresh, it did get a bit repetitive after a while.

I have always stayed in the Maldives on an all-inclusive basis. The prices of food and drink, if you have to pay, are expensive. This is partly because everything is imported and partly because they have a captive market. If you're on one of these small islands, there's nowhere else to go. If you're paying for drinks, expect to pay about US$3.50 for a beer, US$2.50 for a bottle of Coke and about US$3.00 for a large bottle of water. The tap water isn't drinkable, though drinking water is usually available.

Male is the capital of the Maldives and the airport is on a neighbouring island called Hulule. The whole island used to taken up by the airport, but in recent years the island has been greatly expanded to include residential accommodation. It must have one of the only runways in the world with a fringing coral reef. Transfers from the airport are by boat or sea plane. Transfers can take a while. It's a really good idea to change into suitable clothing before you disembark the plane. The airport is airconditioned, but it's not turned up that high. If you arrive early for your flight home, you won't be allowed inside until check-in is open. There are open air areas in the shade, but there isn't a lot to do. Expect it to be in the thirties Celsius and dress accordingly.

Originally all the resort islands where in North and South Male atolls and Ari Atoll. Now more of the atolls are open to tourists and hotels are appearing in some of the others. If you're staying at any island not in the North and South Male atoll, it's a good idea to go for a sea plane. Otherwise, it's quite a long trip, which you don't need after a lengthy plane journey to get there. I always enjoy the seaplane trip. You get a great view of the reefs and islands as you fly over.

The currency of the Maldives is called the Rufiyaa. You probably won't see any unless you do a day trip to an inhabited island or a trip to Male. Most resort hotels price everything in US dollars. Credit cards are accepted by the hotels. I was once charged a surcharge but that was back in 1999, and that hotel definitely no longer does.

Tipping is customary in the Maldives. Budget to tip US$10-20 a week for your roomboy and your waiter. On your first night, you'll be assigned a table and will have the same waiter for the whole holiday. If you're diving it is customary to tip the Maldivian boat crew, but not the instructor/divemaster, who are usually Europeans or South Africans. If someone carries your luggage, a tip of US$1-2 per piece is customary.

There are two mobile networks both operating 3G/EDGE/2G. You can also buy Pay As You Go sims at the airport. I paid US$14 for a 3G sim card which gave me 30 days access and a data allowance of 750Mb. The download rate was quite speedy, better than I get with Vodafone in the UK, though it did drop out a few times. If you need to top up, you'll probably have to get a staff member to get one for you in the staff shop. The electricity supply is 220-240V and the plugs are usually UK-style with 3 square pins. Some islands also have old-style UK plugs with round pins.

Male airport has reasonable selection of Duty Free shops, and prices aren't too bad though not as good as Dubai. The Burger King there is certainly the most expensive I've ever seen.