The Maldives is the ultimate, iconic Indian Ocean holiday destination. This is one of the few places in the world where the reality will outlive your expectations. No picture can do justice to the colour of the sea and no words can describe the all-consuming sense of peace and solitude that the islands inspire. Its fame and popularity aren’t surprising, but how little people know about the country is. To paint a picture for you, the Maldives is made up of a string of islands stretching over 750km from north to south through the Indian Ocean. You can expect roughly a 10-hour direct or 12-plus hour indirect flight from the UK followed by a speedboat (15-30 mins), seaplane (20-40 mins) or internal flight (30mins-2 hours) transfer to get you to your chosen resort. So, the question is: what’s the best way to get there and where should you go when you land?
When planning your international flights, you have three main choices. The first (and easiest) option is to fly direct with British Airways. BA runs their service three days a week during high season (October to March). The obvious benefit here is the overall flying time (only 10 hours). It’s also worth noting that you arrive at 9.40AM into Malé which is perfect for onward connections. The downside is the lack of choice for dates (only Sunday, Wednesday, Friday going out and Monday, Thursday, Saturday coming back). Also, if you want to travel between April and September, you will have to look at alternative options.
The second choice (favoured by many) is to transit through the Middle East. Etihad, Emirates, Oman Air and Qatar Airways all offer indirect services into Malé from London Heathrow. The benefits? With this much competition on a popular route the airlines are all vying for your business, which leads to some competitive prices. You will also have access to a wider range of departure/arrival times giving you unbeatable flexibility. Add to this a very reasonable 12-13 hour flight time and the exceptional service level the Middle Eastern airlines offer and you’re onto a winner. Also, you could build in a stopover (perhaps Dubai or Oman), often at no additional cost. This breaks up the journey nicely and adds an extra dynamic to the holiday.
Your final option is to travel with Sri Lankan Airlines. This up-and-coming airline offer some excellent prices and with a flight time of only 13-14 hours they are definitely worth considering. When faced with the choice between one of the Middle Eastern carriers and Sri Lankan Airlines would I choose the latter? Probably not. However, they do have one unique advantage over their rivals: the option to make it a genuine, multi-centre holiday. What could be better than a tour around vibrant Sri Lanka, followed by a week recharging on the beach in the Maldives? Cultural and relaxing. Action-packed and slow-paced. For the right person, this could be the ultimate holiday.
Getting to Your Resort
As I mentioned earlier, you have three choices for onwards travel from Malé: a speedboat transfer, a seaplane or an internal flight. Each has its benefits and no one choice will be right for everyone. Figuring out which is the one for you is the challenge. I will outline my thoughts on each below.
Flexible, fast and easy, a speedboat transfer is a great way to get to your chosen island. After passing through customs you will be met by a resort representative who will guide you to the appropriate boat. Your bags are whisked away, not to be seen again until you reach your room and generally the whole process feels slick. Unlike an onwards flight, resorts will often organise a boat transfer for each international arrival/departure, so waiting times are normally very short and you can really make the most of your last day if you have an evening flight home. Total transit times vary but are usually around 15-30 minutes. The only noticeable downside is the relative lack of isolation. Compared to some of the more remote resorts, you definitely don’t really get that ‘Robinson Crusoe’, middle-of-nowhere experience. Nearby islands and views of Malé in the distance are unavoidable (not from all sides of the island however).
What could be better than starting your holiday with a short 20-40 minute flight to your resort in a plane that takes off and lands on water? The views over the islands and corals below are exceptional and the sense of perspective is truly unique. The experience itself will be a highlight of the holiday and you haven’t even reached your resort yet (did I mention that the plane lands on the water?!). Seaplanes have one major flaw: their inability to fly (or more specifically land) in the dark. If you have a flight arriving late or departing early from Malé then you will have to make alternative arrangements.
The final option you have is to take an internal flight from Malé to another atoll. If you’re looking for the ultimate, middle-of-nowhere, desert island experience this is the way to get it. The level of isolation will be unparalleled and you can go whole days without seeing anyone from outside of the resort. Cut yourself off and relax: ‘no shoes, no news’. The pitfalls here are fairly obvious. Internal flights are far less frequent. The total travel time is much longer. But when you get there, it will all be worth it.
When all is said and done, it’s important not to get too hung up on the details. However you get there and wherever you stay, the Maldives is a very special destination and chances are if you have the privilege of visiting once, you will want to go back again and again.