By Red Hunt
The Maldives Islands are one of those rare travel destinations that can live up to the label of ‘paradise’, but for most people they’re out of reach either because they’re so far away or cost so much to visit.
If you can fore go the extreme luxury treatment and pampering, then there is a lesser-known adventurous way to enjoy the islands at a very affordable price. What is even better? You don’t have to be a couple on your honeymoon to enjoy the affordable Maldives.
Taking a Maldives Dhoni Cruise is not only the most affordable way to visit the islands, it is also the only way to explore around some of the more remote atolls and uninhabited islands. To put it in perspective, spending 36 hours at one of the nice (not ultra luxury) Maldives resorts costs as much as a 7-day cruise.
There are a few suppliers out there, Voyages Maldives has a solid reputation and was the company I was with. You can book direct with them, although if you don’t mind giving up some privacy, you can book an organized tour from them via G Adventures. The Voyages Maldives crew was amazing and made the trip a real cultural experience too, not just a relaxing escape to the Indian Ocean.
With a four person crew and an amazing chef on board for just me and the six other boat guests it was an extremely chilled out tour. Sure, the rooms were a bit cramped and hot, but there were three bathrooms between us and a ton of deck space to lounge around or enjoy some card games, watch the sun set or drink some beers.
That last point may be a big one for some people. The Maldives is a dry country. No alcohol allowed. The entire main island of Male’ is alcohol-free. The only places you can drink alcohol are at the resorts or on a boat safari. Be prepared to disconnect too, as you won’t have TV’s or internet while cruising around most of the islands.
Every day was full of laughs and surprises on the Maldives cruise safari, with multiple snorkelling expeditions every day. The colourful fish and reefs we visited were more impressive than anything I’d seen in places like Belize, the Galapagos and Malaysia. Part of what made it extra special was the near fish-like capabilities of our boat captain and guide. They were both so at home in the water that they could free-dive down to insane depths and hold their breath for minutes at a time. Leave it to them to find all the hiding spots for the most elusive sharks, eels, rays and fish!
Our cook would always greet us with some tea and either fresh coconut slices or chocolate cake after our snorkels too. Luxury? No. Pampered? We thought so! Spicy, spicy was the name of the game for lunches and dinners. If you like hot food, then you’d love some of the meals in the Maldives, where we’d usually have a spicy and plain version of each salad we had. While we did have some chicken and meat, the big thing – not surprisingly – was fish.
In fact, we had more than one lunch disrupted as our fishing lines trailing the boat had caught huge deep sea fish. The crew would spring into action to haul in the fish, which would become that night’s dinner or tomorrow’s lunch. I have no idea what most of the fish were that we caught but they were big and they were tasty.
Trips to some of the smaller inhabited islands were a real treat too. The islands that are home to people of the Maldives, not resorts. We had to get special permission from the local chief to visit these islands and see where local children went to school, how people lived on the islands and what they did for entertainment. The Muslim influence was quite evident, but the people were surprisingly outgoing as well.
The further north we went, the less touristy the islands became and I loved it. Fewer and fewer resort islands, more and more traditional islands where they still built wood boats, fished for a living and everyone owned their own patch of coconut trees. This was the real Maldives, not the Maldives found in glossy honeymoon magazines. Probably the most relaxing trip I’ve taken anywhere in the world.
If you’re thinking of visiting the Maldives, here are some helpful travel tips.
First, don’t forget alcohol isn’t permitted. Your luggage does get checked and alcohol gets confiscated. If you’re transiting through the Maldives, you can usually have your alcohol stored away at the airport so you can pick it up when you leave.
Second, the airport is on it’s own island and you cannot arrive without a hotel or accommodation booking. They won’t let you leave the airport until you’ve booked something. If your cruise or resort stay doesn’t start on the day you arrive, you do have a few options.
There is one hotel on the airport island called the Hulhule Island Hotel, which is convenient but pricey. There are many hotels on Male’ Island, which is a quick 10 minute ferry ride away (ferry taxis run at all hours). Some of them such as the Mookai Hotel are safe, simple and affordable. Or there are a few resort islands within a 30 minute fast ferry ride of the airport. Most resorts only run their shuttle ferries or seaplane transfers during daytime hours so if you need to go far and are arriving at night you’ll need to use one of these other options.
Third, don’t forget to bring a weaterproof camera with you! They really aren’t that expensive and will provide you with some stunning photos above and below the water.
Finally, especially if you take a safari or cruise in the Maldives, is bring your own snorkel equipment. While it is provided, you are in the water so often that ensuring you have fins, a mask and snorkel that fit properly is crucial and well worth the hassle of packing them in your luggage.
Editor’s note: Red Hunt is a former journalist and business analyst that now works in the world of travel marketing. Based in Toronto, Red Hunt has travelled to more than 40 countries over the past 10 years. You can find more on his adventures from www.redhunttravel.com