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In this article, we will talk about the transport system in the Maldives. This is one of the tricky topics that should be studied before the trip. The matter is that getting around in this part of the world is very different from other Asian countries with developed tourism infrastructure. We will discuss various types of transport, the best way to get to the right place and its possible alternative ways, as well as the reason for different plans for everyday travels. Do you think it’s because of the weather? No. More precisely, not only because of it. But more details below.

About finances. Many Maldivian resorts (if you book a tour directly with them, exclusive the flight) will help you with transfers. For the all-inclusive option, the transfer is usually included in the price (and it’s 10-15% cheaper than if you book it with the tour operator).

By the way, hotel prices on website wiotto.com already include a transfer and all taxes, so you will not need to pay extra for a transfer to the hotel upon arrival.

But if you organize a transfer in the Maldives, what is the smartest way to spend your own money? On the most expensive seaplane flight (which is not necessary at all since your island is a few hours from the airport by speed boat) or an extra day of diving? Or on a yacht tour? Or on parasailing? Or on an individual excursion to the reef? Or... There are more than enough tempting ideas about how to spend the money saved on the transfer in the Maldives. Let’s try to understand the details: how to optimize travelling, feel the unparalleled beauty and see the unobvious, but so exciting!

Seaplane in the Maldives
Seaplane in the Maldives | Ekmeds Photos

Maldives geography: how to navigate an atoll necklace

Looking at a satellite or any other map of this part of the Indian Ocean, it is easy to go crazy - how can anyone navigate among thousands of tiny islands? Even the capital of the state - Male – is settled on one of these small pieces of land with an area of less than seven square kilometres. Although, in the administrative-territorial sense, the capital of the state is located on the four neighbouring islands of the North Male Atoll. In addition to them, Male includes the Hulhumale quarter, which is actually a satellite city that grew up on the artificial island at the beginning of the 21st century. Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is also nearby, on the island of Hulhule, a few kilometres from the capital. A traveller might get to know the capital better even if he had not planned to do this before by spending the first night in Male (or Hulhumale). Why? This is described below - in the section about the features of trips to the Maldives.

Space Image of Male
Space Image of Male | Source - Bing.com

It is easy to see on the map that the atoll necklace making up the republic stretches from north to south for about eight hundred kilometres. Most of the lands are not populated by people, and many of the inhabited territories are equipped exclusively for tourists.

Space Images of Maldives
Space Image of Maldives | Source - Bing.com

The “tourist” island is a hotel or a chain of water villas, which has a relaxation area nearby with restaurants, shops, diving centres and beaches. There is no actual need to travel by transport since the size of the average island is about a kilometre or two in length and several hundred metres in width. Many hotels have electric buggies and bike rental, but this is more fun than a means of transport. 


Maldives | Asad Photo Maldives

When choosing an island for relaxation, you should pay attention not only to the hotel comfort and infrastructure but also its remoteness from civilization. If you want to save time instead of getting to the remote atolls by ferry, or if you do not have much money to fly there by plane, you will like a hotel near the airport, for example, half an hour away by speed boat. The Maldives is unique everywhere, no matter what the atoll the traveller has chosen.

  • The most distant atolls are Haa Alifu in the north and Addu (Seenu) in the south. Almost each of the 26 atolls has hotel islands, but most of them are located in the central part of the Maldives - on the South and North Male, forming together the Kaafu Atoll. Tourist life is bright here. One of the reasons is the proximity to the air gate to anywhere in the world.
  • Each of the archipelagos is interesting in its own way - for example, Noonu Atoll, famous for its untouched wildlife. The most luxurious and comfortable VIP resorts in the Maldives are popping up there like mushrooms after the spring rain. It also has its own Maafaru International Airport, which accepts both regular and private planes of wealthy guests. However, it does not mean that non-millionaires cannot come to Noonu Atoll. You can get there by ferry, like to any other archipelago. It just takes a lot more time to travel.
  • Noonu Atoll has more than a dozen islands inhabited by locals. You can find budget accommodation at such places without any problems. For example, the Maldivians live on Velidhoo and its tiny islands. There is an active mosque, shops and several resorts of different classes. Or Foddu Island: 70 USD per night in Sabba Summer Suite (comfortable room with a private beach and a house reef nearby). What do you think about this price? Yes, it is not a separate resort island exclusively for tourists because prices at such places are much higher, and it is impossible to get to such a secluded resort by public transport.

When choosing a place to stay, you must understand how the Maldives conceptually differs from other countries in Asia, where tourism is also actively developing. The landmark of the Maldives is the luxurious resorts on private islands. Naturally, such a vacation is very comfortable, but the prices there correspond to the level of services. If you are ready for simpler conditions and go to this country only to have the stamp of the “Republic of Maldives” in your passport, you should think about whether it’s worth the hassle. No? Then, it makes sense to think about the Philippines, island Thailand or Sri Lanka. If yes, then let’s talk about all kinds of means of transport.

Maldives Resort
Maldives Resort | Asad Photo Maldives

Transport in the Maldives: ride, fly or sail?

Regular ferries and “Fruit ferries”

Regular ferry services (Ferry Boat, Slow boat or Dhoni) linking all the Maldivian atolls appeared less than ten years ago. Ferries are now the main means of transport for locals, but tourists can take advantage of this inexpensive and reasonably convenient means of transport too. Ferries look like river buses or even electric trains. They have a schedule, which they mainly observe. Those wishing to plunge into the local flavour (and save a couple of hundred dollars on a flight or a speed boat) should know a few rules.

  • Ferries never stop on resort islands but only local islands where locals live. Often, a lovely private hotel is located nearby and is visible on the horizon. By the way, island excursions are organized frequently for those who relax on neighbouring local islands.
  • Ferries that run between the islands of the same atoll (which is why they are called atoll ferries) do not operate every day. For example, you can get to the famous tourist island of Thoddoo, located about 70 kilometres from Male, by ferry in 6 hours, having paid 4 USD. However, not every day: on Monday and Thursday - in one direction, on Sunday and Wednesday - in the other one. If you correctly plan the itinerary and do not rush anywhere, you can even enjoy this method of transport. From the Maldivian capital, ferries run to distant atolls, and such travel can take even several days.
  • If you want, you can combine ferries, thus “jumping” from one island to another. The ferry traffic map is available on the website of the main state carrier. Ferries depart from the Villingili Ferry Terminal located in the south-west of the island. GPS coordinates: 4.171916 N, 73.501702 O.

On average, a ferry can take a hundred passengers. It is quite comfortable, with benches, mostly wooden ones. On its way, like any other public transport, it makes stops.

In addition to regular ferries, the Maldives also has a kind of transport, which you can ride for a nominal fee. These are the so-called “fruit” boats belonging to private owners. Such cargo ships sail at night, and they are called “fruit ferries” because they bring fruits grown on islands to the capital or other cities of the country to supply the markets before sales in the morning. The ferry schedule is very conditional. Their departure and arrival places are different from the rest of the ferries, but it won’t stop extreme lovers. If you really want to try such an exotic means of transport at least once in your life, with bananas, coconuts and mangoes, take your chance!


Passenger ferry in the Maldives

Regular & private speed boats

Speed Boats are a very common way to travel in the Maldives. They are comfortable, and they will take you to the right place quickly and rather inexpensively. Boats of different capacities take on board from a few people up to 40-50 passengers. The deck of such a vessel has an open part, which allows you to see all the surrounding beauty and capture panoramic views. The sides of speed boats are covered, protecting them against splashes.

  • Most travellers like travelling on speed boats for romance and speed. However, some will forever remember only seasickness... Speed boats are often used for tours and long trips to luxury resorts, and they are merely irreplaceable as a water taxi. Speed boat pier is located a short walk from Male Airport. You can buy a boat ticket (it will be sent to you by e-mail) here.
  • Despite all its convenience, this type of transport has one disadvantage: its operation depends on weather conditions. If the weather is bad, the trip is cancelled even without prior notice to potential passengers.
  • In addition to regular high-speed boats, a private carrier network is well developed. Many VIP hotels have their own speed boats, and for servicing clients, these resorts have separate waiting rooms at the airport. To find out information about the availability of the boat and its schedule, write to your hotel or tour operator. Those who care about their reputation respond clearly and on time. Moreover, hotel representatives will describe all the possible options for how to get to their island hotel and how much it will cost (but do not wait for information on ferries because this means is believed to be a transport for locals).

The main pier for private speed boats is located opposite the stadium in Male, in the south of the island. You can buy a ticket an hour or two before departure, but so as not to risk, it is better to ask your hotel to book a seat for you. Your hotel will also tell you from where exactly and at what time the boat departs.

Speed boat
Speed boat

Domestic flights

The Maldives has a well-developed air service. In addition to the capital’s airport, Velana, there are several more, in different parts of the country. You should consider the possibility of a domestic flight when planning a trip, even if you intend to use other means of transport. Just as an alternative. After all, airplanes fly at any time of the day and are almost independent of the weather.

The national airline Maldivian, which flies to about a dozen islands, operates domestic flights. Schedule and price information are available on the official website of the carrier. As for prices and distances: a flight from Male to Gan Island, for example, lasts an hour and a half and costs 230 USD.

The private airline FlyMe also flies to the Maldives, but so far, it has only two aircraft and flies from Male to two islands: Maamigili in Ari Atoll and Dharavandhoo on Baa Atoll. You can fly in economy class from Male to Dharavandhoo in half an hour, having paid 112 USD.

The domestic terminal is located at Male Airport, 200 metres from the international one. It has hotel lounges and a shared lounge, which will cost you 25 USD per hour.

Aircraft FlyMe
Aircraft FlyMe | Asad Photo Maldives

Seaplanes

Seaplane is the most expensive and, at the same time, the most exotic type of transfer. Until recently, the local company Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA), which can set the price, has been a monopoly in this transport sector in the Maldives. It serves more than 70 island resorts in the country. At the end of 2019, another seaplane operator appeared in the sky of the Maldives - Manta Air, but so far, it has a few regular flights.

Anyone who has flown a seaplane at least once remembers a flight for life. A small airplane with a capacity of about a dozen passengers starts and finishes on the ocean water, which gives a fantastic feeling. The flight operates at a low altitude and allows you to see bright lagoons, resort hotels and uninhabited islands from the air along the way. The twin-engine Havilland Twin Otter is manufactured in Canada. They are robust, reliable and safe, and the fleet of the Maldivian Twin Otters is the largest in the world.

How to buy a seaplane ticket? This is not what can be done by the guests themselves but by the employees of the island hotel where you are booking the villa. It is the responsibility of the guest to promptly (no later than 48-120 hours before the scheduled date) inform the hotel or tour operator of the arrival of your flight to the Maldives so that the staff can book your air taxi.

Some details of the flight can be found out independently - either on the website of one of the two carriers or upon arrival at Male Airport, at the desks of Maldivian Air Taxi, Trans Maldivian Airways and Manta Air. By the way, airlines also operate charter flights, which is convenient if you are travelling with a group. However, it happens according to preliminary requests of hotels.

  • Seaplanes depart from the Seaplane Terminal located near Velana International Airport. The three-storey terminal building has a special entrance for landing a seaplane, Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a caf? and hotel lounges. You can have a snack while waiting for boarding (sometimes, it takes several hours). During short flights, meals onboard are not provided.
  • Hydroplanes have restrictions on the weight and quantity of luggage: 20 kilogrammes of checked baggage and 5 kilogrammes of hand luggage. Every extra kilogramme is 5 USD. In size, hand luggage should not exceed 20x12x7 inches. Special conditions apply to windsurf equipment: if this is relevant for you, ask about the details during the flight booking process.
  • Please note that luggage during the flight is not stacked overhead or under the seat, as usual, but in the back of the aircraft (it is better to take a video camera with you on board just in case).

Sometimes, a seaplane takes guests of two or three island resorts at the same time, and they are let off in turn, giving the rest the opportunity for additional romantic “splashdowns”.

Seaplane in the Maldives
Seaplane in the Maldives |  Asad Photo Maldives

Boats (Dhoni)

A boat is an indispensable item for snorkelling. In the Maldives, you just need to rent a boat and sail to the neighbouring uninhabited islands or the reef. Mini transport waits while you are swimming nearby, in a mask and snorkel, periodically diving underwater. And there is such a beauty... Multi-coloured corals, among which there are many of the most unimaginable underwater inhabitants.

Maldivian Dhoni
Maldivian Dhoni | Ahmeed Hassam

Buses

The chances of using buses in the Maldives are low, but still, it happens. You can use a city bus to go from the capital to the airport, for example. The cost of a single fare on the islands of Male (or Hulhumale) is equal to 3 Maldivian rufiyaas (about 20 US cents). Regarding the schedule of this type of transport, it is worth noting that city buses operate from 06:00 to 15:00. 

Taxi

You would ask, “What do I need to know about taxis in Male and other cities in the Maldives?” At least, the fact that it will take you 5, maximum 10 minutes, to get from one part of the island to the opposite one. And the fact that the pavement in the cities is made of paving stones. It matters if you travel with a suitcase on wheels. In this case, a taxi is quite useful. The cost is 2-3 USD.

Yacht

An excellent way to travel around the Maldives is to rent a yacht. Depending on the size, class, capacity, a distance that you plan to travel, as well as other parameters, the rental price will vary. And it starts from several thousand US dollars.

Yachts in the Maldives
Yachts in the Maldives | Naail Hussain 

Different ways to get from the airport to Male

There are several ways to get from the airport to Male - the capital of the Maldives. 

  • Ferry. There is a ferry at the pier next to the airport arrival hall. A ride costs about 1 USD and lasts about 15 minutes.
  • Speed boat. It departs from the pier too. Ticket price: approximately 1.6 USD or 25 Maldivian rufiyaas. Travel time: less than 10 minutes.
  • Bus. Buses operate at half-hour intervals. You can see a bus stop to the left of the exit from the airport. You will need to walk for about 50 metres (GPS coordinates: 4.187784 N, 73.526361 O).
  • Taxi (in Male or Hulhumale). You can take a taxi or ride a few stops with a city bus. However, distances on both islands are so small that walking to most places is easy.
  • If your hotel provides a transfer, its representative will meet you at the airport and take you to your place, so you don’t have to worry about anything.

Getting to the islands, alternatives, advantages and disadvantages of modes of transport 

It all depends on the distance and class of the hotel where you intend to spend your vacation.

  • If your island is not far from the airport, within the atoll, a ferry (cheaper, but longer) or a speed boat (faster, but more expensive) will do.
  • A seaplane is the best transfer option if your resort is located hundreds of kilometres from the airport, closer to the outer atolls of the country. If it’s too expensive, you should think about a regular plane, in an extreme case - a speed boat. Speed boat trips are rarely cancelled due to the rough waters, but you should be ready for strong boat motions for several hours.
  • In case of cancellation of a ferry, you can always take a boat. The main thing is to keep this thought in mind and have money for additional expenses.
  • Often, a traveller has a choice: a seaplane or an ordinary airplane. The difference is not only in price. A plane is less dependent on weather conditions and the time of day. The only “but” is that, from the airport where you land, you will have to take a private boat to get to your hotel (island), and most likely, you will have to pay for the entire vessel (if there are no other travellers).

Motor boat in the Maldives
Motor boat in the Maldives | Mohamed Sameeh

Prices for different modes of transport

  • The transfer to a typical five-star hotel (for example, Kodhipparu, located in the coral ring on the North Male Atoll, just a 20-minute speed boat trip from the airport) will cost 180 USD per person (round trip). The local water villa will cost from 438 USD per day.
  • Fruit ferry from Male to Thoddoo - 10 USD.
  • Seaplane excursions (not transfers) - from 150 USD per 15 minutes of flight.
  • 2.5-hours transfer by speed boat from Male to Sabba Summer Suite Hotel (Noonu Atoll) - 165 USD per passenger, single fare.
  • 45-minutes seaplane trip to Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Resort (Manadhoo Island, Noonu Atoll) - 525 USD excluding taxes (round trip).
  • Domestic flight by MaldivianAero “Male - Maafaru” (Noonu) - 165 USD one way.
  • Male - Thoddoo ferry (distance - 67 kilometres, trip duration - 6 hours) - about 4 USD.
  • You can get from the capital to the island of Maafushi by ferry for 2 USD, by a regular speed boat for 25 USD, and by a private speed boat for 150-200 USD.
  • Luggage storage at the airport - 5-10 USD per unit for 24 hours.

The price of transport for locals and tourists is different.

On wiotto.com, hotel prices already include a transfer and all taxes, so, upon arrival, you will not need to pay extra for them.


Night, weather and friday in the Maldives

In the Maldives, seaplanes can take off safely from the water and land only during daylight hours - from sunrise to sunset, that is, from about 06:00 to 15:00, but fortunately every day. Therefore, if you must get to your hotel on the day you arrive in Male, you should keep this information in mind and plan your arrival early. However, nothing terrible will happen if, due to late arrival, you have to spend the first night in the capital or satellite city (experienced travellers say that the second option is better). At the same time, it’s an opportunity to dive into the local atmosphere smoothly...

  1. As a rule, transport on the islands observes the schedule, but flight delays are possible quite often, primarily because of the human factor. When a plane is late, and passengers have speed boat seats reserved, the speed boat can wait for its passengers. In the meantime, you should not blindly trust this approach.
  2. Weather (strong winds, storms, showers) alters the schedules of almost all modes of transport, except for domestic airlines. You should not forget about this and have it ready as plan B.
  3. And one more important thing is that the day off in the Maldives is Friday. This day, many shops, banks and currency exchange offices do not work. All ferries, except Male – Hulhumale ferries, which have only a lunch break, do not operate. It means that if you arrive on Thursday and do not immediately catch a ferry, you can get to your island only on Saturday. An alternative, in this case, is a speed boat.

Motor boats in the Maldivian resort
Motor boats in the Maldivian resort | Asad Photo Maldives

Conclusions

The conclusion is only one: the Maldives is beautiful. There are no hopeless situations for getting around the islands. Instead, there are several ways at once. Have a nice trip!

Seaplane flight
Seaplane flight | Asad Photo Maldives

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