A tropical paradise, an elite retreat, 1,200 islands of pure heaven, Asia's most upmarket holiday destination - the superlatives come thick and fast when talking about the Maldives. Cheap flights to the Maldives may not be top of the A-listers' agenda when they are considering a holiday there, but for the rest of us saving money on flights will leave us with more money to splurge on luxuries once we're there.
The archipelago in the Indian Ocean is brochure-beautiful. Take a flight to the Maldives and you’ll find lush, green islands with palm-fringed, white-sand beaches that edge into aquamarine waters. The Maldives are all about the water; some of the islands are just a couple of metres above sea level. There is a dazzling array of activities - diving and snorkelling among the delicate corals and colourful tropical fish, windsurfing, surfing, parasailing and sailing, game fishing - on top of what's probably the main reason for visiting the Maldives, lazing on the beach.
Male is the capital and home to about a third of the population of the Maldives. It's one of the smallest capitals in the world, a bustling, busy city of government buildings, offices, shops, markets (Male Market and Fish Market) and historic sights such as the Friday Mosque (built in 1656), the Islamic Centre and the Maldivian National Museum (in the grounds of the Sultan's palace).
No matter which island you visit when you take a flight to the Maldives, the cuisine will be memorable. Fresh seafood, spicy dishes and exotic salads feature whether you are enjoying a romantic meal at sundown in one of the resorts or a short-eat in a busy tea shop in Male.
The islands have a Tropical climate, so temperatures stay about the 30-degree mark year round. When booking flights to the Maldives, take into account that April to October is southwest monsoon season; with June, July and August being the wettest months.
When to fly to Maldives
The Maldives are popular year round, but there are some peak times. December (including Christmas and New Year) to April is the high season, so if you are hoping to find a cheap flight to the Maldives it is best to avoid this time of year. Between May and November the weather can be trickier to predict, but lots of European visitors will arrive during these months as it is holiday season in the northern hemisphere.
Travellers should also factor in when visibility is greater for diving. Between May and November visibility is greater on the western side of an atoll, December to April is better on the eastern side.
The best months for surfing are between March and October.
Eid, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, is a time of great rejoicing in the Maldives. It's a very busy time to travel as Maldivians travel to other islands to visit family.
Although you may be competing with divers for cheap flights to the Maldives at this time, September, October and November are generally low-season months.
When looking for a cheap flight to the Maldives, bear in mind that Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar and marks 30 days of fasting. Working hours are shorter in government offices and in the private sector.
Getting around Maldives
There are three ways of getting around the Maldives - boats, sea planes and private yachts. Maldivians are a sea-faring folk and sailing between islands is as natural for them as driving is for Australians. Tourists will generally take planes and yachts. Transport between the airport and resort may be part of your package holiday deal.
Resorts will organise island-hopping trips. Independent travellers may take a scheduled ferry from Male but you'll need an Inter Atoll Travel Permit.
Air taxi services are provided by Maldivian Air Taxi (its planes are red and white), Trans Maldivian Airways (the oldest air transfer operator in the Maldives, flying yellow-and-blue planes) and Maldivian (used to be Island Aviation).
Getting around Male on foot is easy but the fastest way is on motorbike. Taxis are available too, costing Rufiyaa 20 for each trip (about $2 Australian).
Remember that cars drive on the left, a legacy of British rule.
Maldives insider information
Just 200 or so islands are inhabited by the Maldivians, about 100 of them are tourist resorts, and the other hundred are uninhabited. Careful planning has ensured that the islands' retain their Edenic character.
Lots of resorts, hotels and restaurants will add a service charge of about 10 per cent and tipsfor exceptional service are welcome too.
Felidhoo, South Male, North Male and Ari are the most-visited islands. They are not far from the airport on Male from where most of the "liveaboard" diving boats depart.
Dress appropriately and conservatively, especially when visiting inhabited islands and Male. Women should cover their shoulders and thighs; men can get away with shorts. Alcohol should not be brought into the Maldives. If you do have it in your luggage, it'll be impounded at the airport until your departure. There are different rules on the resort islands. Bars are well stocked with every type of beverage.
The Fish Market is west of Independence Square in Male. It's not the place for the squeamish as freshly caught fish are butchered there, but it offers a glimpse into the life of typical Maldivian fishermen and there's a cafe upstairs that serves the catch of the day.
The National Art Gallery is a relatively new addition to Male. It houses collections by noted Maldivian artists such as Afzal Shafiu Hassan and Sarudhaaru Dhon Manik.
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