Backpacking in the Maldives: Getting There

When you tell someone you are going to the Maldives the first questions you will likely get are “Where are the Maldives?” and “How do you get there?” The answers to these questions are as follows:

The Maldives is a collection of over 1000 coral islands located south-west of India, however only 185 are inhabited. The Maldives gained its sovereignty from the UK in 1965 and are now a republic with a predominantly Sunni Muslim population. The local currency is the Rufiyaa which at the time of this post has an exchange rate to the US dollar of 15-1.

Getting to the Maldives from Canada required a fair amount of research which, of course, was done by Steph (Cheryl helped). Some of our options were to fly to Dubai, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur from Vancouver and then catch a separately booked flight to Male, the capital of the Maldives. Because the flight from Vancouver was going to be so grueling, we opted to fly to Singapore and overnight, giving us the opportunity to explore the city before our flight the next night.

We stayed at the Bright Star Hotel in Little India because A) it would be close to Indian food…yum! B) it was located a 10 minute walk from the Sky Train which only cost $2.4 Singaporean dollars to ride from the airport. I arrived on a China Eastern flight a few hours earlier than Steph and Cheryl who flew Japanese Airlines. It has been determined that their flight was far dreamier than mine with ice cream being served twice, plenty of legroom and a toilet museum in their Tokyo stopover. The advantage of my flight was that it was $300 cheaper and I was able to use the Sky Train, which had shut down by the time the other two arrived full of ice cream.

The following day in Singapore was spent eating Dosas and Parathas, our favourite South Indian Food, exploring the Lau Pa Sat food court, the Olympic Walk, the Marina Bay Mall (to be fair this was for free aircon and internet access) and a lovely walk through China Town (definitely worth a visit). Despite having all day to get to our flight we managed to go to the wrong subway stop when heading back to our hotel and had to take a taxi back to the airport for the sake of time. Steph and I are somehow always in a rush to the airport, no matter how much time we give ourselves.

China Town

The flight to the Maldives lasted around 5 hours and after clearing customs at the Male Airport and picking up our bags (for anyone planning a trip Tiger has a 15 kilo bag limit) we exited the security area and found the money exchange booth. There was also an ATM, however, the bank fee was roughly $10 Canadian dollars so exchanging at the booth seemed to be a wiser decision. We had been warned by guide books and blogs that there are no ATMs on the islands outside Male, so we had come prepared with all the American cash we needed. Most places will accept American, but we were not going the resort route and certain situations such as ferries and more locally geared restaurants expect the local Rufiyaa.

It was difficult to predict how much Rufiyaa we would need, however, the currency exchange told us to hold onto our receipt and we could exchange back any unused Rufiyaa after clearing security at the airport when flying out of the Maldives.

The ferry ride from the airport to the city of Male only took 10 minutes. It was a clear night as our boat approached Male and a crescent moon lay on its back over an impressive skyline of buildings. It was hard to imagine how this illuminated city came to be in the middle of a vast ocean. We disembarked and began navigating alleyways towards our hotel using the offline google map we had thought to download earlier that day. Despite the heat, Steph had no choice but to leave her sweater on since she was only wearing a tank top underneath. As I said earlier, the Maldives is a Muslim country and the women who walked past us wore burkas and hijabs and we are not exactly ones to challenge a country’s standards on women’s apparel.


We found our hotel nestled in an alleyway with the help of some good samaritans on the street. Our room was located on the 9th floor and it was quite the squeeze to have 3 of us with our bags and a hotel employee in the European sized elevator. Steph got out first and immediately turned around to re-enter the elevator saying “this can’t be the right floor.” The man smiled and assured us it was. We walked through a room under construction and he unlocked a door marked 902. At first, we figured they must have lost our reservation and this would be the only room possible. The room itself was finished and clean, maybe a bit small for 3 people, but the construction outside was definitely questionable. We had done our research before coming and the hotel did not have the most stellar reviews, but honestly, no hotel in Male did. It is doubtful that many people going to the Maldives visit Male, it is just a transition point to the other islands. The islands have only been open to budget travellers for a few years and those with money get picked up at the airport and are taken directly to their resort islands.

our hotel under renovations

We were all struggling with jet lag and had woken up by 4:30 (I don’t think I have ever seen Stephanie wake up at 4:30 without an alarm). We tried to go back to sleep, but eventually the sound of morning prayer echoed throughout the island from the mosque and I was up with my camera taking pictures of the sun rising over the city from our 9th floor room. By six we were wide awake and reading, eagerly awaiting 7am breakfast. This breakfast contained the first of many hotdogs we would be served while staying on the islands.

sunrise over the buildings of Male

hotdog breakfast – The first of many!

The hotel wasted no time once they realized we were awake and it promptly became construction site. After spending a bit of time getting packed up in our room we opened the door to leave and found ourselves staring at the feet of a man standing on a ladder painting the trim of our bedroom door. Luckily for him, our door opened inward.

The hotel arranged for an employee to walk us to the street and wave down a taxi for us. As we were waiting, a man approached us claiming that there were over 2000 people trying to take the public ferry that day because it was a holiday, but we should not worry since he could get us onto a speed boat for $20 each. We rightly ignored the man and took the taxi to the jetty and had no problem boarding the comfortable $2 public ferry to truly begin to enjoy the Maldives on the island of Maafushi.


Extra traveller tips:

Money: As a note for anyone planning their own trip, we exchanged $200 US and used $180 of it between the three of us for 7 nights, and the rest of our expenses were on credit card or in cash. As a side note we did see multiple ATMs in Male and there is a large Bank of Maldives with an ATM on the island of Maafushi, but we never tested them out.

Dress: Things seemed more relaxed on the local islands with guesthouses like Maafushi and Fulidhoo, however this might have been because tourists just aren’t respecting the dress code and others tourists are seeing this and following suit. Those surviving off tourism are unlikely to lecture their paying clients on what they are sporting. While you may get away with wearing tank tops and short shorts on the other islands I would not recommend pushing the boundaries of dress code in the country’s capital.

Flights and Boats: It is best not to wing it in the Maldives because the transportation can be quite the puzzle. Airlines only fly on certain days to the Maldives and the public ferries only run between islands on certain times. You can opt to get a private speed boat, but depending on the island this can cost hundreds of US dollars per ride. Make sure you know how you are getting to and from each island before you commit to booking your accommodations. Read our post Moving in The Maldives: Ferries and Speedboats for more info.

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