Maldives – What to Know Before Traveling

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Maldives is a collection of thousands of small Islands identified as 26 atolls. It has around 298 square kilometers which provide homes to around 450,000 people. It is identified as the world lowest country with average 1.5m above sea level. Here are some important facts for the first time travelers to this Island Nation, Maldives.

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Visa

Maldives offers On-arrival visa  for all nationalities. You can check further details from following link. Entry to Maldives.

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Weather

Maldives generally has a constant warm weather along the year but the northeast monsoon affects from May to October creating a wet season and making the November to April dry season a famous holiday attraction.

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Transport

Main transport method of Maldives is boats as it is the most feasible and cheapest option. They are called “Dhoni”s and normally they are used to travel in between residential islands. But there are few Resort Islands which has facilities to accommodate domestic flights, which is the most expensive transport option. If you are in a hurry, but little light on budget there are speed boats to be rented for a price in between. Most hotels provide airport pickup and drop services using speed boats free of charge.

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Communication

Almost every resort Islands to budget hotel provides free wifi. There are two service providers called “Dhiraagu” and “Wataniya”. Since the islands are small, you can survive with hotel wifi. But if you are planning to visit Male town or Hulumale, it is better to activate roaming or buy a sim from local service provider.

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Culture

At Present Male is an Islamic country and there language “Dhivehi” is somewhat similar to “Sinhala” (Used in Sri Lanka). Maldivian culture is bit conservative, but women play major roles unlike in other Islamic countries.

Drugs and Liqueur are prohibited in residential islands. Also there are certain limitations to beach wear in residential areas. But they have adapted well to tourism, which is their main income; making liqueur available in resort islands and cruise ship floating restaurants. Also there are public beaches in residential Islands which allows bikinis like swim wear.

Generally the Maldivians are friendly and fluent in English. Other than tourism, fishing related exports play a major role in their economy.

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Food

As this is an Iisland nation, fish is the most common food item. They are famous for Canned fish and “Maldive fish (Umbalakada)”. Other dishes are somewhat related to the cuisines of surrounding countries. Most western food items are available in all restaurants.

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“Do”s and “Don’t”s

  1. There are many items prohibited in Maldives, Therefore make sure you check this list beforehand. (Note that Pork is considered a banned item as this is a Muslim country)
  2. Do not engage with marine life (Fish or Corals) while snorkeling or Diving.
  3. Dress modestly when visiting residential islands and non – bikini beaches, Take off footwear before entering a home or a religious place.
  4. Do visit Local Markets in Male, There are lots of fresh produce for cheap prices.
  5. Change your USD at the airport or in the hotel (If the service is provided) to local currency if you are planning to visit residential islands like male or hulumale. You can use USD for purchase items, but the exchange rates used by the vendors will be very disadvantageous.

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Must Do Activities

  1. Snorkeling
  2. Para Sailing
  3. A Sand Bank Visit
  4. A resort Island Visit
  5. Visit to the Local Markets in Male

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Hot Air Ballooning

MapCrew : 13
Transportation : Cars (To Dambulla), Hot Air Balloon
Duration : Two days

One of my friends invited  me to join for a Hot Air Balloon ride. I was surprised by the invitation as i thought it was a bit unaffordable luxury, and immediately inquired about the cost. It was way cheaper than i was expecting, so i confirmed my participation without a hesitation.

The Balloon ride starts early in the morning, so me and few other friends thought it will be best to go to Dambulla on the day before. Three of us came from Colombo directly to Dambulla by bus. The one who invited me, drove his car all the way from Kurunegala and picked me and another one from Kandy. We all reached Dambulla around 2.30 pm and decided to have a late Lunch. It took us more than an hour to finish the lunch as we were busy talking, than eating.

We had reserved a place in Dambulla for six of us to stay, and it took a while to figure out the exact location. It was a hot evening in Dambulla, so we rushed in to the rooms and turned on the AC’s. It was around 7.30 pm when I finished resting and had a shower.
😀

It was time to search for a place to have dinner!
We walked to Dambulla town under the faint street lights. The streets were less crowded, but there were few long distant buses waiting for passengers. We settled for a place with privacy and Air condition after checking out few other restaurants. They offered the menu and we had a very hard time deciding what to eat. But when we are going to place the order, the waiter said there is only Fried Rice and Noodles! So we had to select again, but it was easier to pick one out of two.

When we were going back to the hotel, I met an old lady selling “Pera” (Guava) outside the restaurant. I was wondering, are there anyone interested in buying Guava from the street around 9pm. I felt bad for her and bought one. We had to take showers again after the walk and felt asleep as soon as head hit the pillow.

The alarms rang and I woke up within a second with the excitement for a ride of a lifetime. We were ready by 5am and the guys from “Sri Lanka Balloon” contacted us to inform that they have arrived to the Hotel gate. We hurried in to the van. They picked up two foreigners on the way and started driving on a narrow road towards a village. Soon we saw a Lorry, carrying the basket of the Balloon. It was the first time for all of us to see a Balloon, so we focused our excited eyes and cameras for a glimpse of that through the darkness.  The take-off point was a school ground. The rest of our team arrived there by two cars. One was from Colombo and the other one from Kandy. There were 13 of us in the team, five girls and eight boys. We completed the payments before take-off and watched the crew working hard to prepare the Balloon.

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There were two Balloons, one for us and another one for few foreigners. It took two lorries to carry the basket and the Inflating part of a Balloon. They assembled them together and started filling air with portable industrial fans. Our pilot then took position in the basket and blew “Hot Air” in to the Balloon. It only took about 15 minutes to fill the balloon with air and we were asked to jump in to the basket.

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With another shoot of gas in to the Balloon, we were ascending over the trees. It was a gentle take-off and no one was afraid at that moment, though we have analyzed the risks earlier. Still the sun was sleeping and sky was dark. Within few minutes we were about 700 meters high and watching the very first rays of sun light over the Kandalama Lake. That was a breathtaking scenery to watch, up from the sky. We all were busy with our cameras to capturing that awesome moment. Our Turkish pilot, Umit was very friendly and shared his experiences and showed photos of his Balloon rides in Turky.

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There were another two Balloons in the sky with us. We had to spend some time over the Kandalama Lake as there was less wind to carry us away. We saw people coming out of the houses to have a closer look at the Balloons floating over. Though ballooning has started some time ago, most of the villagers were excited to see us. We saw the lorries (witch brought the balloon to the take-off point) were following the balloon. Umit said that as the pilot can only control the vertical movement of the balloon, the landing destination depends on the wind at that time. We were able to see Dambulla Cave Temple, Sigiriya and Pidurangala from the distance, after the mist faded off. After about 1.5 hours we were floating tree height in search of a good landing place. We were able to pick the leaves from top of the trees and wasn’t afraid of a crash landing as we saw how skilled our pilot was.

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I was hungry at this point and was glad that I took the Guava (that i purchased last night) with me. It was tasty and I regretted not buying more. There was an empty space between few houses near a road. Our pilot descended the balloon about ten feet high above the ground and threw the Sand bag attached to the basket by a rope to the crew in the ground. They pulled the rope and tied it. The landing too was gentle and we didn’t feel a thing. The crew asked us to stay in the basket and the pilot opened the top part of the balloon to let the hot air out. Then we came out and the crew was busy folding the balloon. There were around 20 people staring and photographing our landing. The Crew gave us small gifts to distribute among the village kids and we felt like celebrities!
😀

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After few minutes we gathered in a nearby open space, There was a Champagne to celebrate, and soft drinks. There was an action camera hanging from the side of the balloon and they were recording our ride. We purchased the video and received certificates for the balloon ride. It was around 8.30 in the morning and they provided transport back to our hotel. We quickly packed our bags and checked-out. Our next stop was the place we had brunch yesterday. The Breakfast was tasty and we had a lot to talk about until 10.30 am. Then we decided to visit Sigiriya, the rock fortress of King Kashyapa and came back to Kandy around 5.30pm.

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Photo Credits : Amila Dananjaya De Silva, Chamitha Rathnayake, Chamith Nilanka Wijesinghe, Cabe Abeyrathne

Contact : Sri Lanka Balloon, https://www.facebook.com/srilankaballoon/