THE PARADISE EVERYONE IS DREAMING OFF..
So me and my fiancee decided to spend our annual vacation in Maldives last July 2016. Our decision was partly influenced by one of our friends who convinced us to take a group booking in one of the travel agencies in Dubai so we can cut the cost of travelling to this sought-after tropical-island nation and tourist destination. It was our first time to travel together outside our own home country – the Philippines since both of us are working in United Arab Emirates.
We were able to get the package from our the travel agency, which was on promo sale at that time, for 1799 United Arab Emirates Dirhams (AED) or about 490 U.S. Dollars (USD) each person. the package was good for 4 days and 3 nights (bed & breakfast) stay in the Maldives. Holiday Factory sent us our travel documents via email probably a month before the actual trip. They gave us a group booking confirmation which they instructed to print and present the document to the airport check-in upon our departure in Dubai. The only bad thing we experienced with them was that they had rebooked our flight a week before our trip and moved our departure in Maldives at an earlier time of our last day of our package tour (it was the airlines fault as the call center explained).
HOW TO GET THERE
In order to get to the beautiful Island of Maldives you need first to book a flight from Dubai to Male and take the ferry if you are going to the farthest atoll of the country. Maldives is composed of different atolls that’s why their island is not that crowded.
Moving forward, we arrived at Dubai Airport Terminal 2 about 4 hours before our scheduled flight time. We were very excited that we did not even care to exchange our money to US dollars, we were so confident that Maldives will have money changers that accept all kinds of currency – this was the biggest mistake we made. We also had to wait for an hour before we fianlly checked-in our luggage. By the way, we only managed to bring one small luggage (which we bought for 100 AED/27 USD at a local department store), an SLR camera and my very reliable Hawk backpack. So at exactly 11:00 pm we boarded our plane and as the usual practice, food was not free since the trip to Maldives only lasted for about 5 hours from. The people who were inside the plane were mostly bound to Colombo,, Sri Lanka or were part of the group booking from Holiday Factory.
We arrived at around 8 in the morning Maldives. The international airport of Maldives itself is a small one and is situated in the man-island of Hulhumale (near the capital island of Male). In my assessment it can probably accommodate up to five passenger planes at a time. Upon entry to the arrival area, we were asked to write an arrival card before passing to the immigration to stamp our passports. The immigration officers were friendly and didn’t ask a lot of questions, probably they’re aready accustomed to seeing a lot of visitors in their country. By the way, Filipino passport holders do not require visas here, and I think it holds true to most of other nationalities. I was a bit groggy after that overnight flight and the first thing that came up to my mind was to change our money to USD at the nearest foreign exchange counter. But this was the first challenge we had to encounter, the banks in Maldives do not exchange AED to USD. You can only exchange USD to their local currency, Maldivian rufiyyah, and you should keep the receipt as you can exchange the excess local currency when you leave the country into USD again. So what did we do? Luckily there was an international ATM at the airport and I used my personal ATM card to withdraw some local currency but the odd thing is that they do not exchange their local currency to USD. It’s really weird! Nevertheless, shops and stores accept both the ruffiyah and dollar as means of payment.
WHERE TO STAY?
There are different cheap hotels in Maldives if you opted not to stay in the famous water bungalow. Since we are on a group booking and it is included in the package we got, we stayed at Hotel Lonuveli. Try researching the internet, there are a lot of Hotels in Maldives and it is way cheaper if you will stay far from the city. The farthest the atoll in the airport the cheapest it is, the nearest it to the airport the expensive it is.
WHERE TO GO?
After checking in our room and had a quick rest, we started our Maldives tour by discovering Male, the capital city of the country. Our tour guide for the Male tour dropped us in the pier area were we boarded a small ferryboat and had a 20-minute ride before reaching Male. By the way, the Male tour cost us 10 USD each, it was the cheapest tour in our 4-day stay in the country. The town is a small bustling community with thousands of motor bikes roaming around its narrow streets (our tour guide told us that the ratio of people living in Maldives to its motor bikes is 1:3). Historic buildings and modern-day stores sprawl the city blocks of about a 100,000 people (almost ⅓ of Maldivians live in the capital). The city also boasts of Islamic architecture as this country had been an adherent of the Islam faith since the 12th century. We were able to see the Presidential palace, the town’s main mosque, the marketplace and some souvenir shops (though I suggest that you should not buy on these shops because prices are way more high in Male than in other islands).
WHERE TO EAT?
Walking around the town just took us about 40 minutes then we headed back to our hotel to rest our tired feet. In the evening, we managed to stroll around the vicinity of our hotel, enjoyed some the sea breeze and ate dinner at a newly opened restaurant. It was a good thing that we mate a Filipino working in Male and told us that the restaurant offers Filipino food aside from the local and Southeastern Asian delIcacies. Another tip when eating at night is that most restaurants in Maldives prefer dim lights so you have to be patient while eating your dinner. We ordered sizzling beef and pasta for our first dinner in Maldives which cost us probably around 50-60 USD.
WHAT TO DO IN CINNAMON DHONVELI?
It is basically a day tour which means you have to experience all what a normal guest can do but limited only to a lunch buffet, swimming pool, beach access, changing rooms, unlimited water and of course free photo session in the famous water bungalows. Yes, you will be touring inside the resort from 10 AM until 5 PM and you can do unlimited snorkeling. The resort also offers scuba diving, kayaking, paddle boat and a lot more.
CRUISE SHIPS AND SOUVENIRS
For our third day in Maldives, we decided to join the cruise ship tour along with some new found friends in the hotel. The tour lasted for a day. We took a small speed boat on board the cruise ship where we had spent the whole day. The ship was not that luxurious-looking (not the music video type kind of cruise ship that you see in MTV) but decent enough to compensate the price we paid for the tour. We started by going to a snorkeling spot where we stayed for the rest of the morning. There was a dare where everyone should jump off from the top of the ship down to the sea and I think everyone joined except for me and some Indian family. After that, we wore our snorkeling gear and snorkeled for about an hour. I felt sick after the snorkeling activity and during lunchtime, I wasn’t able to eat properly because of nausea. Some of our companions also vomited due to the strong tide that kept our ship rocking back an forth. After lunch, one of our friend whom we met in the hotel gave me a medicine to stop my nausea then I just slept for the rest of the afternoon because of my dizziness. When I woke up, our cruise ship was headed to a small island where a lot of cheap souvenir shops sell goods that you can bargain for big discounts. In deed, we were able to buy stuff that are way cheaper compared to those being sold in Male. We bought magnets, t-shirts and tea at very reasonable prices. After the shopping relief, we headed back to the cruise ship and went off to Hulhumale before dusk came. For our last night, we ate Indian food with our friends at Tandoori flames and drank coffee and tea at Coffee Story.
Our departure flight was 8 in the morning and we had to be in the airport at least 2 hours before the flight. It was a good thing that the hotel was nice enough that they were able to arrange breakfast and airport transfer for us early that day. It only took us a 20-minute drive before getting off the airport premises. After entering and passing through the immigration, it was time to bid goodbye to Maldives (we were not able to get “Visit Maldives” stickers from the immigration but luckily, one of my roommates visited Maldives a week after we went there so she was able to get those stickers for us). As I reminisced our whole adventure in these magnificent islands, I came to wonder as to when will I be back again and hoped that it will be sooner than later. Maldives is a true treasure for keeps.