Cruising the Maldives: An Enjoyable Experience
Published 12 years ago, updated 5 years ago
Visiting the Maldives from March – June 2012
Before we left from Thailand towards the Maldives we read many articles by yachts who had visited the country. Unfortunately, most of them were in a negative mode, so our expectations were low on arrival. To balance these reports we have submitted our own experiences of two months in the country during the summer of 2012.
Our experiences from sailing in the Maldives only are valid for North Male Atoll at it´s the most northerly point, down to Gan on the most southern point of the Maldives. The situation in the northern Atolls from Uligan to Male may be different from what we have found.
Leaving Thailand – Threatening Fisherman
We left Ao Chalong in Thailand on 23rd of February 2012, bound for the Maldives, with Sri Lanka as our first stop. When getting close to the coast of Sri Lanka after nine days of sailing in light E-NE winds, fishermen came close by to beg for alcohol and cigarettes. As we normally don’t give away liquor, we refused, and they left without complaint after receiving our last oranges. the next fishing boat that approached LOVINA was manned by a very aggressive crew. They demanded whiskey and cigarettes and tried to force us to stop LOVINA. After not receiving anything, the crew got very angry, waving their fists and making preparations to enter our boat. They finally left after some very close, almost collision incidents, screaming and yelling.
To enter Galle and visit Sri Lanka was no longer a tempting option, so we decided to proceed directly towards Male in the Maldives, arriving on 11th of March after struggling against NW winds most of the way.
Maldives – Male
On arriving in Male for checking in, one is supposed to enter the main Harbor which is a very busy, swelley, crowded and dirty place. We decided to proceed directly towards the yacht-anchorage in Hulumale, well protected, with good holding, close to the airport. After informing our agent ANTRAC by email, a Customs barge arrived 9.30PM with officials from Immigration, Customs, Health Department and Harbor Master office, together with a representative of ANTRAC.
All were very friendly and welcoming. The formalities were completed within half an hour, accompanied by small talk and coffee. No charge. Three days later our sailing-permit was ready to collect from the ANTRAC-office. On applying it is necessary to check in at least at one Resort on each atoll to be granted permission, for formality reasons. All our requests were granted.
There is a convenient ferry service running from the jetty in Hulumale to close to the center of Male town, every 30 minutes, except between 0200 and 0400. Very cheap and reliable. Care must be taken when tying up the Dinghy on a small, rusty dock nearby, as well from the ferries and passing cargo ships is considerable.
To survive the first hours in Male City is an adventure. Thousands of motorbikes are jamming the streets and there are many “close-call” situations. After some days we got used to this crowded and busy town with a little bit of fatalism and started to love it.
There is a reasonably fair supermarket in town, but also many small, specialized shops where delicacies are available, which we haven´t seen for a long time. The fresh market by the waterfront is only for local products, with a good variety, and very cheap. The nearby fish market does not have much to offer, maybe because we were there in the wrong season. Both are best visited in the early morning.
Three Yacht Chandleries are easily accessible in the center, one of them very well equipped, but as all are imported goods they are a little bit pricey. Many useful items can be found in bigger hardware-stores, all around.
The small laundry in town is hard to find, hidden in a yard, but is very reliable and provides washing and ironing within one day, at fair prices.
We recommend obtaining a SIM-card, both for telephone and internet access. The coverage is often very good even on remote atolls and to be able to check on GOOGLE-Earth before approaching a lagoon is a good complement to the electronic Charts.
If health problems arise there are two hospitals in Male. One is communal and the other private. Both are very busy. There are also several small Hospitals on different local islands. Your agent will be happy to help you, with all the information required by phone, if requested.
Male is crowded with Taxis, all of them running on a fixed low price.
Men´s barber-shops are easy to find, but ladies hairdressers are hidden behind blind windows and with no signs, to not expose their hair to wild, uncontrolled men. Ask any well-dressed lady to find these “Beauty-Shops”.
Male is full of small hidden, specialized restaurants, a small oasis in this crowded town, all providing excellent service. We normally don’t tip, but started with it in Male because of very friendly, fast and warm welcoming service. Prices are in the middle range, even for budget-sailors. For people in a hurry, there are plenty of “small eating” places, where locals meet all day for tea and local fast food.
Sailing the Atolls
In the month of March, April and early June, during our visit, we never experienced strong winds. Light to moderate winds from different directions was common. Outside the atolls, there is a considerable and sometimes heavy swell, even in light conditions.
Our concern, after reading many reports of yachts who were disappointed after being asked to leave the sheltered lagoon of a private resort, was without reason. For us, it was seldom necessary to anchor in a resort-lagoon, as there were almost always local islands with good shelter or fishing harbors nearby. Very friendly, welcoming, and without any charge. Many helping hands when docking in, and sometimes friendly invitations to locals’ homes for dinner or lunch.
Only on 5 occasions where we anchored in a resort-lagoon and were never asked to leave. Only one resort did not allow us to go ashore as they were “sorry, we are fully booked”. Still, it may have helped that we never anchored close to the resort-beach, as there is plenty of room, not to offend owners or guests.
The situation in local villages is changing fast. The former law, which only allowed foreigners to visit after sunset and before sunrise is now only a distant memory. Locals have taken advantage of the new situation and there is vibrant construction activity going on to build small guest houses and to transform parts of local houses to guest rooms. All we have seen was on a basic basis, to attract budget-travelers and hopefully also in the future let local families benefit from the tourist industry. For travelers who are interested in meeting local people and learn from their culture and daily life. Interesting development and alternative option to luxury resorts, where rich people meet other rich people.
Yes, there is a huge, difficult and time consuming bureaucratic system present. We strongly recommend using an agent. It saves a lot of time and unnecessary trouble. You can clear in and out by yourself and save some dollars, but if you do, harness yourself with patience and flexibility. Our agent ANTRAC not only took care of all bureaucracy, but they also provided all kind of valuable help whilst we were in the country.
We made a mistake ordering a new VHF from West-Marine, to be shipped by FedEx to Gan. Without the diplomacy, endless and many hours of discussion by our ANTRAC-agent Muhammed, and the FedEx-office, we would never have received this item.
All international goods are to be obtained personally by the receiver at Male Customs. No matter where it is addressed. Not easy, when already in Gan, hungry to check out for Chagos. Another reason to use a good agent in the Maldives.
Normal mail-service seems to work fine but slow when outside Male.
There is no need to stock up heavily in Malaysia or Thailand before departure. All common food is accessible in Male at prices very like those in Malaysia. Except for pig-products and of course all alcoholic beverages, which are only allowed to be sold in resorts, very expensive.
The choice of products and variety reduces in small, local islands, remote from Male, but all basic food, together with locally grown vegetables and fruit is easily obtained in small shops, all around the atolls at very fair prices.
For our two month stay, with visas, clearance and sailing permit, we spent all together 1.400.- USD., including the agency-fee.
The price level in the Maldives is on a very varying level. Costs for groceries, meat, fish and vegetables are very much the same as in Malaysia, but slightly higher, compared to Thailand. Restaurants in Male and other major towns are on a medium price-level. In local villages, the eating is very cheap and on a basic level.
Diesel and petrol are around 1.20 Dollar, slowly rising, but can be obtained cheaper in fishing harbors where diesel is sold in 200-liter barrels.
Resorts are expensive! A buffet-lunch in an average resort is from 35.- USD, and upwards. Some resorts welcome yachties, others are “fully booked”.
The Maldives provides a huge amount of interesting anchorages with crystal-clear water and a fantastic marine-life. We enjoyed the variation to anchor near local villages or in fishing harbors, to provision and make friends (very easy in the Maldives), and to spend some time in remote lagoons, just by ourselves. Even if the electronic charts don’t show it, there is almost everywhere a passage into the lagoon, easy to find by just following the edge of the enclosing reef in good light. Once inside, anchoring in the sand at 7-15 meters is common. We very seldom anchored deeper than 15-18 meters and only a few times at 20-23 meters.
Care must be taken when anchoring together with fishing-boats or even big yachts in local harbors like Hulumale, even when far away from these boats. They normally don’t have a windlass. Instead, someone is rowing out VERY long semi-floating lines in different directions with a toy-like anchor on the end. These lines can be as long as 200 meters and can foul your propeller.
There have been lots of complaints from yachts about unfriendly, unwelcoming resorts. These privately owned islands and surrounding lagoons are often very sheltered and well protected. Visiting yachts need to understand that entering a resort area without permission is like entering someone’s house and garden without invitation. Guests who spend their holiday in a resort are paying thousands of dollars to use the swimming-pools, tennis courts, gyms, restaurants and other luxury facilities. Some fancy resorts have a butler for each family, to look after all their needs and wishes. It pays off to ask in advance by telephone if you can anchor or visit the resort.
Culture and Customs
The Maldives is a traditionally Muslim country. No other religions are allowed. In Male and other major towns, cultural traditions have loosened up with many women no longer wearing the traditional headscarf and clothing. In small villages traditions still remain strong, and even if people are very forgiving and flexible towards foreigners, proper clothing is expected.
As there are only a very few yachts every season visiting the huge area of the atolls, you will be welcomed as a guest and often invited to people’s homes. It is easy to make friends in the Maldives and people are very helpful, also in crowded towns like Male. If you are asking for a location in a small shop it is not unusual for the shop-keeper to close his business and show you to the right address, without expecting anything in return, except a smile and a “Thank You”.
We had no problems, what so ever, and did not hear of any security problems from other sailors we met on our path. Still, there was unrest in the Maldives during our stay. Demonstrations in Male were common, with heavily equipped police and military watching. A tense and sometimes frightening situation. In some villages photos of police brutality were shown on big screens in social meeting places. People spoke freely about their anger to have their elected, very popular president replaced by the military in favor of the old rule. Also in Gan, where the police station had been burned down, there was very active agitation going on.
Snorkeling and Diving
The diving and snorkeling are excellent in clear, warm water. To find wonderful snorkeling is easy, along with the inside ridge of the reefs. Lots of colorful, live coral and many different reef fish, turtles, mantas, turns every expedition into a great memory.
To find rewarding diving is more tricky. We bought the Maldives Diving-sites book before leaving Male, but it only tells of what to expect and where, but no positions. As the spots often are in open water, without any marking, this is often too little help. To protect the local dive companies that are tied to the resorts seems most important. As internet-connection often is fast and reliable, GOOGLE is a good source to find proper positions. There are divers, who have been there before, willing to share info.
There are only very few decompression-chambers in the Maldives, and this can cost many thousands of dollars to use in an emergency, so valid dive-insurance is highly recommended.
Departure from Gan
We checked out in Gan, together with some other boats, most of them bound for Chagos. It is possible to enter the narrow and shallow little harbor beside the police station in a high tide and good light, but there is not much room inside and it is sometimes crowded. Most yachts anchored outside, near the edge of the reef. This was one of the few anchorages where we anchored in depths over 20 meters. Addu- atoll with its capital town Gan is one of the smallest in the Maldives. Waves normally don’t pick up uncomfortably, but this low atoll provides little protection from strong winds.
There is a nice restaurant-garden within walking distance from the Police harbor, and some other friendly eateries with good food along the waterfront, a short dinghy ride away.
Provisioning is easy in Gan. Several small supermarkets together with small vegetable huts will satisfy most basic needs. One shop offers to bring in ordered food of your choice from Male, within a few days. Both supermarkets will happily bring your items to your dinghy in the nearby harbor.
To obtain diesel, you have to order it from the local fuel-station which will send a truck to the harbor for filling up your boat. Diesel and petrol is slightly more expensive in Gan, compared to normal prices. Water can also be obtained from a truck. Very cheap, but with a taste of mud. Your agent will help you if needed.
Clearing out takes a few days, so plan your departure early.
When leaving the Maldives for Chagos, our expectations where far too high. All what we found in Chagos, we already had in the Maldives, added with a warm, welcoming society.
Friendly Greetings from Peter and Ulla on SY/LOVINA