You know what was the most challenging part of traveling in the Maldives? It isn’t about which island is better or deciding what to do, it is the figuring out the transportation system. Even with lots of experience navigating in countries where I don’t speak the language, I underestimated the Maldives (well, more like, I trusted an inaccuracy online) which ended up costing me a bit. Here is how the entire transportation system of the Maldives works and hopefully you find it as fascinating as I did.
Unless you are Pitbull or the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, you will likely arrive by airplane into Male. Actually, I think Pitbull came by plane too… anyways. Male Airport is simple, efficient, unique, and very safe. It is also pretty much the only true International Airport in the country. Other airports have the title of International Airport, but so far, none have direct flights to places outside of the Maldives.
When you arrive in Male, you will be questioned to death by the immigration officer. The Maldives is the only country in the world that allows every single country visa-free entry, but they do want to see a full itinerary of your plans including booked accommodation. Upon exiting customs and getting your bags, your transportation options vary widely depending on where you are staying.
The Maldives boasts the largest sea plane ‘air-port’ in the world. The terminal is within Male International Airport, but you have to go through another ticket checking booth before heading to the gate. Sea planes need to be pre-booked and fly directly to resort islands all around the Maldives. Charted flights are also available for the super rich, but if that was you, you wouldn’t be reading this bummy ass blog now would ya? Many luxury resorts offer this as an option, so check with them first. Watching one take off and land was enough for me :).
This is where it gets a bit complicated. Speedboats in the Maldives come in a few forms: They can either be provided by a resort to shuttle you to and from the airport, they can be chartered, they have set routes between islands (usually Male and a large local island), or they can be negotiated for a short trip to a nearby island.
Airport <-> Resorts – Resorts and their packages come in a range of luxury, and for those hoping to be baller, but not too baller for the sea planes, a speed boat is the next most luxurious way to travel. When you book a resort on a website like Agoda, usually, there is fine print at the bottom explaining the cost of transport by speed boat to and from an island. To be absolutely clear, it is best to book directly with the resort and sort this BEFORE booking accommodation. Some resorts plan their speed boats on a schedule so it just saves you time and probably money.
Male <-> Resorts – The fee for a speedboat to go directly to the airport is rather high. If your resort is not exactly the Conrad or Four Seasons, it is quite possible you need to make it to Male first and take a speed boat from a terminal there. sorry, you’re not that baller. This requires you take the Airport<-> Male ferry which costs a dollar and is explained below. In any case, the resort will tell you exactly how to reach the speedboat, and in all likelihood, someone will meet you at the airport to hold your hand through the mean streets of Male’s airport. Heaven forbid you get one too many friendly hellos.
Chartered – For the right price, anyone with a boat will take you anywhere you’d like, anytime you want. A boat the distance from Mahibadhoo to Male (about an hour and a half) can go for about $550 USD starting. This seems extreme, but if you’re traveling with a large group of 10 or more people, it could be worth it.
Male<-> A Local Island (public speedboat) – This mode of transportation was actually the inspiration of this post because the info I got online was simply misinformed. From some articles, I got the idea that speedboats sometimes just don’t show up. This turned out to not be true, but I figured out why some travelers felt that way.
Due to the growing popularity of local island travel, and a middle class that is exploding all over the Maldives, the market demanded faster travel than what the local ferries provided (also explained below). However, the main customers are locals, not tourists. In both speedboats I rode, there were about 20% tourists and 80% locals. Anyways, a speedboat could be scheduled to go from Male to Mahibadhoo at 9:00am (which is the actual schedule). However, the speedboat arrives at the port around 7:30-750am. Locals know that spaces are limited and start arriving at 8am-8:20am. Once the boat is full, it leaves since there really is no point in waiting as no more people fit in the boat. On both of my trips, the boat left early. If you arrived at 8:40am looking for the boat, it will seem like it never came.
In any case, the speedboat from Male to Mahibadhoo is anywhere from $20-$30. Locals usually paid 300 Rufiyaa (roughly $20) but tourists, including ourselves, usually made the deal with a local island guesthouse who paid for us and charged $25-$30. I know I wrote an article showing my rage for the “foreigner price,” but I’ve grown out of being such a penny pincher now and didn’t really mind. The schedule, along with the schedule for the local ferry can be found here.
The speedboat from Dhigurah to Male was $70 for foreigners and I saw locals paying around $60. These had to be called in and pre-booked a day in advanced. We paid $10 more, but they made us some to-go breakfast at TME Resorts (not an actual ‘resort’), which was pretty nice.
Local Island to anywhere nearby – This is a form of transportation I didn’t consider earlier. Many of these islands are very close to each other, so to make a little more pocket money, many offered their services if I required them. This is particularly useful if you don’t want to choose between a local island or a resort (link) experience and decide to mix the two. For example, Dhangethi is less than 10 minutes by speed boat from the Ranveli Resort. Both the Ranveli and locals from Dhangethi were willing to take us for $10-15. In addition, Noovilu also offered to take us to Dhigurah for about $40 a person if we happened to miss our local ferry or if we just decided to stay in Mahibadhoo until later in the night. This option is perfect for those who don’t want to miss a day in transport and don’t mind spending a little more. What’s $40 when you’re saving $300 a night by staying in local islands after all.
Your single best resource for ferry schedules is the official Atoll Transfer website. Here you can find every single local ferry route and their schedule. Note that the schedules are… kind of estimates at best, and for better results, ask the locals at what time it REALLY comes by. I found myself waiting 30 minutes extra in the Dhangethi->Dhigurah ferry, but the Mahibadhoo->Dhangethi one was rather punctual since it was the starting point.
In general, the way it works is that ferries depart from Male to the capital or a large island within another atoll. From here, there are multiple ferry lines that go along the atoll if you want to reach more remote islands. Sometimes, they are scheduled so that same day transfers are possible, but not always. All fares are paid in the boat and you get a receipt for it. It is generally safe and there are no scams I am aware of.
Be aware that Friday is the holy day in Islam and this local ferry system does not run on those days. The price runs from $1.50 – $5.50 USD depending on distance and route.
Currently, China is building a bridge that connects the airport island and Hulhumale to the main capital island of Male. This should be completed around April, 2018. Until that day comes, transport to Male is by the airport ferry that departs every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes or so in the middle of the night, operating 24 hrs a day. Unlike the local ferries, this one does not close on Fridays because of their essential need to reach the international airport.
Using it is very easy. Simply exit the airport through the right hand side (facing away from the gate you came out of after customs) and find a booth that says “Male Ferry” or something to that effect. The ticket is 1 USD per person. On the way back, you simply go to the jetty and buy a ticket to Male in a similar looking booth.
Despite Male being incredibly small, and crossing it from the furthest points can be done on foot in about 30 minutes, there is still a booming taxi fleet. Taxis can be found mostly in Male and have a very easy to follow standard rate, sometimes displayed within the cab. Calling a cab from the street can be easy and straight forward.
There, I think I covered everything. Whether you choose to stay in a resort or a local island, hopefully the transportation system of the Maldives has been demystified and you can enjoy your vacation.