Quick Guide: Maldives

2013-07-10 19:01
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Over 1 000 islands on 26 atolls make up the Maldives, a paradise that barely sticks out above sea level (its highest point is 2.4m, the lowest of any country in the world). Here’s a quick glance at the Republic of the Maldives.
The Maldives lie in the Indian Ocean around 400km south west of India, and 700km southwest of Sri Lanka. There is very little else around the isolated nation. If you were to swim due east for 3,000-odd kilometres you’d hit the coast of Sudan, and due south you’d find nothing until Antarctica. Its closest neighbour is the Seychelles, a couple of thousand kilometres to the south east.
Capital: Male 
The capital city is also the most populous in the Republic of Maldives. It is geographically located at the southern edge of North Malé Atoll. Administratively, it is a city-class constituency and is governed by the Malé City Council.

Population: 320 000
Head of state: President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, although he took power in a coup, replacing democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed in 2012. Officially, Nasheed resigned, but has since made it clear this was forced.
Area: 298 km2
Languages: Maldivian (also known as Dhivehi), closely related to Sinhalese (one of the official languages in Sri Lanka). English use is widespread.
Currency: The Maldivian Rufiyaa, one of which will currently cost you around R0.60.
Climate: Throughout the year you can expect warm weather, with a range from 24 to 33 degrees. However, you’ll want to avoid the rainy season so aim to visit between the beginning of November and the end of March.

Time zone: UTC +5 – three hours ahead of South Africa.  
When to go: The best time to visit is between November and March, because the rest of the year will see virtually guaranteed rain. However, surfing season runs from March until October – while you’ll see some rain, resorts will be at their cheapest. Also take note of when Ramadaan is, as this will affect where and what time you can eat in populated centres.
Food to try: Coconuts and tuna are the islands’ most popular dishes, usually served along with a starch. But restaurants in resorts and cities will offer a full spread for visitors, so you won’t struggle to find Asian and European inspired dishes. Bear in mind eating in the Maldives is expensive, so consider all-inclusive, or full or half board deals before deciding to go.  
Useful phrases: The Maldives cater to the wealthy, so if you’re visiting you will likely need to learn to ask “What is the price?”: Agu kihaavareh?
Official carrier: Maldivian
Getting there: Although the country’s official carrier is Maldivian, it doesn’t fly to South Africa. The easiest way to fly from South Africa to the Maldives will be with Emirates, Turkish Airlines or Qatar Airways.  
Visa: All tourists are given a free 30-day visa upon arrival. This can be extended to up to 90 days for a fee.

Scuba diving and snorkelling: Incredible visibility and water that stays warm throughout the year makes the Maldives a diver’s paradise. Diving is excellent even within the vicinity of Male, but gets better and better the further out one travels. In the dry season the sea is calmer and the sun shines more often, which means visibility can be over 30m. It isn’t cheap to dive in this part of the world, but might just be worth it. Expect severe attention to be paid to safety standards.
Hukuru Miskiiy (Old Friday  Mosque): Hukuru Miskiiy is the oldest mosque in the Maldives, dating back to the mid-1600s. The outside doesn’t look all that good as it is protected by corrugated iron, but the inside is stunning and intricately beautiful. The temple was originally built to face the sunset, so worshippers face a corner of the building that faces Mecca while praying. The carpet indicates the correct direction.
Whale Submarine: For a price, board the Whale Submarine for a motorised underwater trip off the Maldivian coast, as deep as 40m. Although you aren’t actually going to see any whales, passengers can see a plethora of fish, stunning coral, turtles, White Tip Reef Sharks and a two-metre long Giant Grouper. Depending on what time you board the submarine, possible sights could include shipwrecks. Even if you don’t see anything (the chances of which are virtually nil) you get to ride in a submarine. 
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