Guidelines for Visiting Maldives
January 17 2019
January 17 2019
There’s nothing quite like a relaxing holiday spent in the Maldives; the highly coveted island destination, with its flawless beaches, tropical waters that shimmer in an array of vivid blues and sublime resort islands needs to be seen to be believed and needless to say, it lives up to the hype. While allowing yourself to be lulled into peaceful relaxation and tempted by luxury comforts is a must, there are also a few rules and regulations in the Maldives to be aware of.
If you are heading to this island paradise for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, here are a few guidelines for visiting the Maldives to keep in mind to ensure that your trip is as streamlined as possible:
Religion and local laws
Religion and local laws often go hand-in-hand in the Maldives due to the fact that the country observes an Islamic faith. As is the case with many Islamic countries, there are certain rules in the Maldives that, if broken, can come with a hefty fine or even time in prison—something you definitely want to avoid.
This is not cause for concern, however, as long as you remember a few rules. Firstly, as is the case with most countries, it’s illegal to import weapons, explosives and drugs of any kind to the Maldives. It’s also against the law (as it’s against the Islamic faith) to bring any of the following into the country: alcohol, pork (and pork products), pornography, idols for worship and religious texts (including the bible). While you should be able to get through with one bible, it’s probably best just to leave it at home if possible.
The local laws don’t allow for other religions to be practised in public and it’s important to be aware that it’s actually illegal to invite or encourage locals to religious gatherings where a religion other than Islam is being practised. This is a punishable offence and it could mean being fined, deported or thrown into jail (or a combination of all three). In short, it’s best to keep your religion and religious practices private.
In line with Islamic laws and regulations, alcohol is not allowed in the Maldives, but an exception is made on the resort islands, where you can buy alcoholic drinks. You can’t bring alcohol to or from these islands, however, and you can typically only enjoy alcohol at the main bars on the resort islands.
While the Maldives is renowned for its stunning beaches and excellent year-round weather, according to Islamic laws, you are required to dress modestly. Nude and topless sunbathing is totally prohibited the country over, but bikinis are allowed on the resort island beaches.
It’s best to dress conservatively (covering legs and shoulders) at all times when on non-resort islands and in Malé. Public displays of affection, no matter how tame (such as holding hands) is frowned upon and likely to offend locals in non-resort islands. Homosexuality is still against the law (and punishable) in the Maldives, but homosexual couples shouldn’t have any problems at the resort islands.
It’s best to be particularly respectful during the holy month of Ramadan. While there is again, an exception on the resort islands, it’s recommended to avoid drinking, smoking or eating in public to not offend the locals. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during Ramadan and it could be perceived as rude to ignore the tradition.
Drug offences in the Maldives are dealt with harshly. While there is no death penalty for possession of drugs, if you are caught with even a small amount on you, you could be seen as a trafficker and given life in prison.
Interacting with the locals
Part of the sheer joy of travelling is being able to learn about new cultures, countries and people. Maldivians are generally known for their warm dispositions and friendly natures and any interaction with the locals is sure to enhance a trip to the Maldives. There are a few things you might just want to keep in mind, given the difference in religion, local laws and customs:
- When meeting someone for the first time, a handshake is common, except between men and women. Because of their Muslim faith, Maldivian men may nod or bow instead to a woman, but if you are unsure, you can extend your hand and take their cue.
- If you are able to go to a mosque, it’s important to dress conservatively, the body and legs need to be covered for men, and women should ensure their legs, shoulders and heads are covered.
- If you are invited into a local home, take off your shoes and place them at the front door where you see they have placed theirs. As you enter you should greet them with ‘As-Salaam Alaykum’. Gifts are not expected but always appreciated, especially if it’s something unique from your home country.
- If you invite your Maldivian friends for coffee or a meal at a restaurant you will be expected to pay.
- It’s best to ask the locals for permission to take a photo of them.
- It’s much appreciated and polite to learn some basic phrases or words in Maldivian, such as “hello”, “thank you”, “goodbye”, ‘please” and “thank you”.
Unrest in the Maldives
The bomb that went off in 2007 and injured a few tourists is very much an isolated event, and while there is a little unrest in the country, much of it occurs in Malé. If this is something you are concerned about, then you can simply make your way directly from the airport to your resort island. If you do head to Malé and a demonstration breaks out, steer clear of it. Petty crime is slightly on the rise so, as with all main cities, it’s best to be vigilant while travelling around Malé. The reality is that it’s not considered a dangerous country, and you are probably more at risk under the coconut trees than anywhere else in this small country.
Seeing the different islands
While the ideal activity for some would be to go island hopping in the Maldives, there are some non-resort islands that prefer not to have too many tourists. Being a Muslim country, there are only so many parts of it that they want to be influenced by foreigners. If you would like to see other islands, it’s best to do so by organised tours where you will have a guide to take you around. Remember to dress modestly when on non-resort islands.
When it comes to the resort islands, contrary to popular belief, they are not all the same, and actually quite unique. Do your research and find the best one for your stay.
The safety standards in the Maldives aren’t necessarily on the same level as other countries. While the seaplanes and speedboats that take people to and from the high-end resort islands are generally in good shape, it’s important to be a bit more discerning with the non-resort island ferries.
Arriving by yacht
If you are heading to the Maldives on a yacht, just know that wherever you anchor you are likely to be met by Maldivian immigration, and their laws dictate that you will need prior clearance from agents in Malé.
As mentioned, crime rates are quite low in the Maldives, but things do go missing from beaches, rooms or bags on occasion. Be vigilant but also think about leaving any valuables in your room safety box instead.
Buy Souvenirs wisely
While you might be tempted to buy local crafts made out of turtle shells or corals, it’s important to know the exportation of these items is illegal. There are also conservation concerns with these kinds of items, so try not to support the sale of them.