It’s been a few years since the journey to Maldives, but it still is one of the most amazing places I have been to.
It all started a few years ago, when reading something online I bookmarked a resort in Maldives. It was more for daydreaming; I never thought I would be able to go there as Maldives seems one of those places where only extremely wealthy can afford to go. I thought it was a paradise, not available to ordinary mortals.
Years later I stumbled upon a profile of an acquaintance on social network site and saw 20 pictures from Maldives. This time my mood was different, seeing the pictures inspired me to check the prices and I was determined that I want to go there. I read all the available information online and wrote to a travel agency. I ended up buying a last-minute offer, departing in 4 days.
On a warm July’s morning we were headed to Frankfurt, where we were going to take a flight to Male. It took us almost 10 hours on the plane, flying right next to the border of Iraq and over Iran, wonderful Dubai beneath our feet and finally numerous small islands surrounded by the vast blue ocean. The first thing we noticed about the country was the heat. It was very hot and the air was very humid. A woman wearing head dress carefully checked the other stamps in our passports and finally stamped them with “employment prohibited”. After that we are headed to pick up our luggage, which is checked again through a scanner. You are not allowed to bring alcohol or entertainment suitable for adult audience (not even on the laptop or phone).
After leaving the airport we met our agency guide, who introduced us to the hotel representative. Our bags were registered for the next flight (and they weight the hand luggage again as well!) and we took a small bus to get to Transmaldivian Airlines airport just next to the international one. We were taken to Kuramathi Lounge, which is a special waiting area just for the guests of our island. They gave us cold drinks and snacks. We spend time observing the hydroplanes going up right next to us, watched the small fish in the water and texted our relatives at home that we have been met as royals! Waiting time was roughly an hour before everyone else scheduled for our flight arrived. Everybody got earplugs and the best part of the journey begins!
Kuramathi is 1,8 km long island in Rasdhoo atoll, where it’s one of the five islands. It’s quite close to Male, and it only takes us 20 minutes until we land near the island in the water. Motorized boat picks us up and we are finally headed to the island. Right next to Kuramathi you can see an island inhabited by locals – Rasdhoo. You can immediately see the difference, as Kuramathi is perfectly clean, without any garbage, while on Rasdhoo there are plastic bags in the trees, bottles on the ground, pieces of torn fabric and run down houses. Later on, when we venture into the employee living quarters on Kuramathi, it unfortunately looks much the same. So it makes you wonder if it’s a good or a bad thing that we, tourists, come here and what it does to the environment. There are posters all around inviting to protect corals, not to step on them, not to litter, at the same time some locals apparently litter everywhere. Anything left by the tourists is picked up immediately, but the locals garbage is all over the place.
Once we reach the island on the boat, we are headed to the reception. The sky is cloudy and we start to think that maybe we should have taken the warning about rainy season more seriously. But it doesn’t rain just yet.
Each of us the guests gets a key to the room, we are lucky and get upgraded to deluxe villa with a Jacuzzi, although we booked a villa without one. I believe Jacuzzi is an unneeded luxury here; we didn’t turn it on a single time and didn’t feel like we missed anything. The difference between regular and deluxe beach villas was the size, although ours still was not too big. It was possible to book garden villas as well, and it seemed that some of those were even closer to water than ours (roughly 7 m from the door to water in ours). But you were not supposed to swim near the garden villas, as either the beach had stones and was not suitable for swimming or you had water villas in front of you. There were also long lines of houses with hammocks in front of them, with a much higher concentration of people (same with water villas), so we were happy that we didn’t see or hear any neighbors. We also had our own set of beach chairs (which a Portuguese couple at one point decided to “borrow” without a permission), which we could use either next to our villa or at the beach.
Who are the people who come to Maldives? Quite many were on a honeymoon, most were couples and there were a few kids (mostly older than 5, but a few infants too). We also saw a few solo travelers or groups of friends. We stayed 11 nights and from what we saw in our restaurant, where among the longest staying visitors. Although I did meet a few people on the island who said that they have been there for two weeks already, most people stayed only 3 nights (from nearby countries in Asia). Who were the other tourists? A lot of German, British and Russian couples, staying at least a week, also some people from India, Korea and China. Everyone behaved very well, I did not notice any disturbances our loud noise from any of the tourists. Maldives is more of a place for peace-seekers rather than party animals.
One day we had a chance to observe a vows renewal ceremony of a Russian couple up close. Since Maldives is a Muslim country, other nationals are not allowed to officially get married. The ceremony was really nice, the bride had a beautiful dress and bouquet. A photographer took pictures, and after ceremony they had a romantic dinner. The flowery arch was built about an hour before the ceremony and then removed 10 minutes after it. I really wanted to take a picture next to it, but we were already sitting at a really nice table to see the sunset and did not want to lose the spot, so I only have a picture of the arch. I know there has been some controversy regarding vows renewals ceremonies since the unfortunate event with a French couple, but I believe this has been addressed since, as tourism is very important source of income in Maldives and actions have been taken to prevent such occurrences in the future.
We had booked a full board at the hotel, which meant food three times a day, free coffee/tea water for breakfast, but for a fee during other times of the day. All of the charges are done in dollars, so there was no point to do any currency exchange. I am not sure how it is done if you visit other islands, but I believe dollar is a dollar everywhere.
The prices of drinks were the following: large bottle of water $4, small $2,5, 300 ml coke/Fanta/Sprite $3,80, tea in a small pot containing three cups $5, non-alcoholic cocktails $8, small glass of whiskey $9. In addition to those a service fee of 10% and 3,5% tax was charged. The food in the restaurant was changing every day; one day it was Italian, the other French, American, Island and many other, Italian repeating a bit more often than the others. The food was tasty, there was enough of variety, many types of desserts, fruits (and small local bananas!), salads. There was a lot of fish too.
What to do with the tips? I exchanged a few dollars into smaller bills (had to go to a bank, as smaller exchange kiosks in Riga refused to do that). The salaries are not too big in Maldives, so even a dollar or two is a reasonable tip. For the housekeepers we left $1-2 every time, same with ordering drinks and at the bar, left something for our waiter, as it was always the same person. There were no payments in cash, everything is put on the room. Actually, we did not notice anyone else leaving any tips, but maybe they did it in the same subtle fashion, I imagine since our visit the hotels must have incorporated the possibility to write the amount of the tip on the bill.
Being Taken Care Of
Never before I’ve seen such amount of employees in a resort. I think on any given time there were more employees than visitors. Men in green shirts were constantly planting something, cleaning the terraces, picking up dried palm leaves and otherwise busy gardening. White shirts and skirts were either waiters or housekeepers, always watched by other men in white shirts and pants. On the last day we also understood why we were upgraded to a villa with Jacuzzi, since the island was nowhere near fully booked. In one of those days the waiter at the restaurant told us that on that particular evening his restaurant was expecting only 44 guests, although the capacity is 182 and usually there are around 160. Apparently due to low season, the villa we had requested was being renovated, they were repainting the walls, planting new trees and fixing something at the bar in that area, so there were no bookings done for that part of the island.
On several occasions I have heard people say that there is nothing to do on these islands. Maybe if you are looking for high-intensity vacation where you don’t sit down even for a moment and feel tired all the time, Maldives really is not the place to go to. But if you are looking forward to relaxing at the beach, stargazing, reading a book, having a massage or finally getting a good night’s sleep, its perfect!
We went snorkeling twice; I also chose to do a snorkeling course, as I had never done that and was slightly afraid of the ocean. Renting mask and fins was $10 a day. The underwater world in Maldives is breathtaking. There is a reason why Maldives is considered to be among top destinations in the world for diving. Just right next to the shore, few meters deep in completely transparent water there are such fish I never imagined exist. Bright blue, striped, with dots and spots, schools of fish and individual ones, circling the corals. We saw also quite a few black-tip sharks, but they are not dangerous, as they feed on food in the reefs. Every evening a man wearing a wet-suit was feeding stingrays, a bucket per night. You can also go diving, they had courses for adults and children, at the time 4 day PADI course was $600.
We wanted to visit the capital of the city, Male, but the receptionist told us the airplane ticket is $125 per person, leaving at 6:30 am and coming back at 3 pm, but there is no guarantee regarding the way back, as sometimes the plane does not come back in the afternoon due to weather or some other reasons and you are stuck for one more day. We did not want to do that, and visiting the neighboring islands did not interest us either.
I went to the SPA twice, where second time I was greeted by the masseuse “Are you model from Russia?”. I had an amazing Thai back massage and Indian neck/shoulders and head massage, both included free sauna. The prices are not the cheapest, but if you compare those to premium spas at home, they are similar. It was an amazing experience, being at the spa, listening to the waves, drinking tea and relaxing.
Before I came to Maldives, someone once told me that these are the kinds of places where you can take a picture without having other people in the background. Yes and no. During ordinary daytime walks you really could take a picture without anyone else in the background, definitely no such masses as in Turkey, Tunisia or any other place not far from Europe. But the most beautiful places like the sand trail at the very end of the island was full during the sunset. We chose to come at sunrise, 6 am, and were the only people there. We were also the only swimmers during the rainfall, water was amazingly warm, warmer than air, waves had white caps and the sky became a dark shade of purple grey.
The Best Vacation to Remember
We took a little over 600 pictures, I managed to read only two books and also got a bit sun-burnt. We kept walking around the island to see every place there is, swam every day in the ocean and the swimming pool and ate way more than we should have. Kuramathi is an island where you need a watch only to know if you can go for breakfast yet, where everything has been taken care for you and you don’t need to worry about anything. If on the first day we were worried about the rain, and it really started pouring during the night, at the end of the vacation we were happy that it did rain, as it was a pleasant change of scenery. We got to walk in the garden, holding hands under an umbrella, watch how raindrops are falling down from the roof made of palm leaves, and listen to the awakened ocean right next to us. Rainy season is definitely a good time to visit the Maldives! There were so many flowers in full bloom; we heard birds and flying fox (the fruit bat) saw hundreds of lizards and hermit crabs. You get to see tropical fish even without snorkeling, as they are crowding below the pier and swimming right next to you in the water.
What is Maldives? It’s a place where it’s just the two of you. Where shoes are not mandatory, and it’s never cold. Where you can lie on your back and wait for the wave to take you to the shore. It’s a place where to observe lizards crowding at the night light or wait for hermit crabs to look at you from the safety of their shells. It’s a place where you can pick shells and leave them in the garden. You can see stars in the night sky, not polluted by city lights. Sit at the pier, dangling your feet in the water, drink jasmine tea and watch the sun go down and lights turn on, fish in the water and waves change during the tide. Wake up in the middle of the night and hear the ocean. Fall asleep during the massage and wake up feeling whole again. It’s a place to sleep, relax, and be away from the world and the worries.
Practical Tips & Tricks
You must take with you:
- Bug spray effective on tropical mosquitoes, there are quite a few of those during rainy season
- At least SPF 30 sunscreen, which you must put on every 2 hours or right after you return from swimming. I would recommend a burn treatment cream too, as you never know what might happen
- Hat and sunglasses, otherwise it’s impossible to read in the sun
- A good book (or a Kindle with many good books!). There are many books left behind by tourists in English, German and Russian if you forget to take one or are done with yours
- Cotton clothing, as it’s very moist and you’ll want a natural fabric. If you wash something on the island, you’ll have to keep it in a conditioned room, otherwise it never seems to dry
- Taking your own snorkeling gear would be cheaper for the whole stay
- Flip flops and band aids, as you might cut your feet on a piece of coral or shell. Did not happen to me, but might to someone else.
- All the medication you might need, as there is nothing in the tourist shop and it isn’t cheap anyway
Most of the souvenirs you can buy on the island are from Sri Lanka or India. There is almost nothing produced locally, so forget about chocolates saying “Maldives” and the like. If you would like to buy a scarf, buy that in the airport, it will be 5 times cheaper. It’s not allowed to collect the seashells, but you can buy some in the airport, although they are quite expensive, around $30 each.
This picture of the storm later on became a winner of the National Geographic Latvia photography competition “Deep Water”. All of the pictures here are done by my wonderful husband Jekabs Andrushaitis, be sure to check our more pictures from Maldives in the gallery in the upper part of the article!