Cruising Maldives: freedom to roam


It was only a few years ago that visiting islands in Maldives was relatively restricted; tourists weren’t just funneled to resort islands, they were actually banned from islands populated by locals. Lifting of the tourism ban in 2009 meant that cruising boats were no longer restricted to uninhabited or resort islands, but can visit populated islands as well. There’s a small but growing industry of guest houses and services for independent travelers. As a cruiser, we don’t need those much, but I’m immensely grateful: since it’s hard to imagine visiting a country where we’re effectively barred from getting to know the people and the culture.

B- village gate
old homes have coral walls; it’s banned now, and newer build is all concrete

Sure, we’re dosing heavily on the incredible natural beauty, and “what we did today” generally includes time spent in the water. A lot of time in the water.

busy reef
I mean, can you blame me? It’s simply spectacular!

But while our days near villages represent a relatively small portion of our time, they have provided a disproportionate share of the memories that stick, the experiences we seek:that chance to connect with people from another culture, learn from them, and broaden our horizon of understanding.

B- rocks
kids are the same everywhere: two boys throw rocks in the water


b- new friends

Like the anchorage we picked for the pretty spit of beach that turned out to be adjacent to a friendly family. We’re conscious of our differences in this relatively reserved culture and don’t want to foist ourselves on anyone, but the day we arrived we were welcomed into their circle, fed snacks and drinking coconuts, and shown heartwarming hospitality.

We were told about the family business selling catching trevally and snapper to the markets in the capital, Male, and taken to see the artful and swift filleting of a day’s catch. Sitting together on their beachfront, we had a surprisingly frank discussion about the state of Maldivian politics and their hopes and fears for the future.

b- fishy

But sometimes, our differences feel very present. Arriving at one island for a Koran recitation festival, even covered up from wrist to ankle I felt uncomfortable and unwanted at times. It’s OK, though. It’s incumbent on us to be good guests, and our visibly obvious differences aren’t always comfortable to our hosts.

b0 market
We detoured and delayed so we could make a weekly market on one island

Lifting the tourism ban doesn’t entirely mean we have freedom to roam. Generally, resorts aren’t too keen to have random visitors popping in, and levy stiff fees to encourage us to stay clear. We’ve heard $50 and $75 for privilege of landing a dinghy on the beach; the kids were asked for $7 each from the caretaker of an abandoned resort where they wanted to play on the beach. Generally, yachts are not considered welcome scenery within ½ mile of facilities. No, it doesn’t matter that you’d like to patronize the restaurant, or purchase a dive excursion. But there are also resorts which are welcoming. It’s easy enough to find out in advance by making a call or emailing to find out if they’re happy to have cruisers, or if you should save yourself the trouble and anchor elsewhere.

B- vote
The smallest villages have tidy political graffiti on common walls

Given the sky-high room rates and especially given an expectation of privacy in the open-air / ocean facing bungalows, I don’t think it’s so unreasonable to keep our distance. In truth, this isn’t an issue for us, because we’re happy to try another Maldivian curry than eat a “western” meal that costs as much as week of our groceries. And sure, splashing out on pampering would be lovely. But we’re not missing the absence of it, either.

our “kid fleet” anchored in the harbor together

Instead, we keep a slow and steady pace southwards, from one beautiful spot to another. The perfect anchorage here has a trifecta of good snorkeling, good fishing, and a nice beach for an evening gathering. And, when we’re lucky, it comes with local knowledge, shared in friendship.

Clicking through to read this on Sailfeed tips a little change in our cruising kitty. Thank you!

6 Responses

  1. I love reading your posts and following your adventures. We are a homeschool family currently living in Hawaii.

  2. So good to hear that the Maldives have opened up in this way and that you’re making friends and learning a bit about the culture, always some of the most lasting memories for sure! Envious of your snorkeling excursions, too 🙂

  3. Beautiful pictures! I’ve always wanted to see the Maldives, and this is really isn’t making that feeling go away. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. JoJo, I recommend…just submit and go! Even if you’re not on your own boat or part of the resort set, changes in the last few years make it a surprisingly accessible country- many villages have guest houses, and the prices are remarkably affordable.

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