Maldives might be the closest thing to paradise on earth for those looking for a sunshine holiday. As the water villa and overwater bungalow capital of the planet, the Maldives has over 80 private-island resorts with overwater.

But how do you get to these private islands in the Maldives? To be honest, it's a bit confusing and mysterious until you've done it once yourself, so I've put together this easy to read guide to show you exactly how it all works. Whether you are taking a speedboat or sea-plane to your resort, I'll show you how to do both, and you can see most of it in the video I made below.

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Malé International Airport arrival information

Most people call it Male International Airport (including some booking websites), but it is officially called, Velana International Airport, previously known as Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. It’s located on Hulhulé Island, which is just a 10-minute ferry ride from the tiny Maldivian capital city of Malé. There are no jetways or anything like that, so your airplane will pull up and park in front of one of the 3 gates, and you’ll disembark down a flight of stairs and then proceed into the terminal.


Once you’re inside, it’s a relatively short walk to the Immigration desk, and you’ll usually be processed pretty quickly because tourism is the primary business here and they have enough staff to process a plane full of people in 15 minutes or so. This is relatively unheard of anywhere else, and is considered a big plus for visitors who hate waiting at airports in long lines.


After Immigration you’ll of course make the short walk to baggage claim. Again, they usually process only one plane at a time at this airport, and it’s pretty small, so you should have your bags not long after you’ve gone through Immigration.

Customs and alcohol

After you get your bag you’ll walk through the Customs line where you are asked to declare any commercial goods or prohibited items. Alcohol is strictly forbidden in the airport and if they find alcohol in your bags they will take it away from you. I’ve heard that they will give it back to you when you leave, but I’m not sure how that works, or if it really happens.


They do NOT x-ray or hand-search each suitcase or piece of hand luggage, so a person could potentially get away with bringing in alcohol. Also, I believe even if they find it, there is no fine so it’s just that they take it away from you. Still, the Maldives is a fairly strict Muslim country, and it would be very disrespectful to begin your holiday by smuggling illegal alcohol in.


There is no duty-free alcohol at the airport, and in fact the only alcohol available in the area is at the Hulhule Island Hotel (close to the airport). The good news for drinkers is that almost every private-island resort is awash in alcohol, though at a higher price than you may be used to, and about 20 Maldives resorts offer all-inclusive plans.


You are also prohibited from bringing in any pork products, just in case you were thinking about bringing a slab of bacon or some sausages.

Video showing arrival, resort check-in, speedboat, and sea plane details

Exiting Customs and checking in at your resort

This is shown clearly in the video I made and posted above. Once you exit the Customs area into the open part of the airport, you’ll find your resort’s representative in one of three ways.


  1. Someone will be holding a sign with your name on it, or…
  2. You will locate the check-in counter for your resort by number, or…
  3. You will find the air-conditioned check-in and waiting area for certain resorts

Your resort will provide you with important details before you arrive

During the process of booking your resort holiday, your chosen resort will contact you to get your arrival and departure information. Also, you’ll want to note that you can’t just fly into the Maldives and then choose a resort because all of the transportation is pre-booked and private. So before you even get on your flight to the Maldives, you will already know exactly where to go, and the resort will know the flight you are on and be expecting you. This helps to take away a lot of potential travel stress and is a great way to start your holiday.


There are about 40 international flights into the Maldives each day, and most of the resorts might have 10 to 20 incoming guests that day. As a result, they will have a representative at the airport waiting for you when you arrive, but only when they have guests arriving.

Find the numbered counter for your resort

As mentioned above, some resorts have a rep waiting for you with your name printed out on a piece of paper that they hold out in front of themselves, and a few of the most expensive resorts have private check-in lounges where you’ll be told to go. These are both very easy to find and aren’t confusing at all. But most guests will be told to look for a specific counter, where a resort representative will be waiting for them behind a small desk.


After you walk out of Customs, you’ll walk about 10 steps and you’ll clearly see one group of counters on your right and another on your left. Each has a clearly marked number, so it should take not more than 1 or 2 minutes before you are standing in the exact right place. Again, this is a relatively simple and easy process.

Check-in process

Again, each rep knows who is on which incoming flight, and when each flight has landed, so someone will be standing there waiting for you and perhaps a few other passengers that happen to be on the same flight. They will find your name on their check-in list, and let you know how long you will wait for your speedboat or sea-plane transfer, and where you can wait.


Depending on the specifics, you might be the only group from your flight or around that time of day going to your resort, and you’ll be led directly out front to board your speedboat. Or, if other incoming guests are coming on a flight landing shortly, you might be asked to wait in a lounge area for up to an hour or so.

Speed boat departures

If your resort is close enough to the airport to be served by speedboats, the rep will lead you and your group out to the front of the airport, where the speedboat docks are literally right there. You can see in the video posted above, that it’s a walk of maybe 100 meters or so from the check-in counters to where you’ll step onto the speedboat. It may sound a bit confusing, but it could not be easier, or quicker.


>Maldives water villa resorts close to the airport

Sea-plane departures

If your resort is too far to be served by speedboats you will be taking a sea-plane there, which you’ve already booked through the resort at the time you made your reservation on-line. There are no ferries or other alternatives, so your only choice is to book the sea-plane through your resort when you book.


After you find your resort rep and check in with them, they will lead you to the check-in queue of one of the two sea-plane companies ( Trans Maldivian Airways or Maldivian Air Taxi) operating out of the airport. One is much older and larger than the other, and each has contracts with specific resorts so you’ll go with the one that your resort works with.


Once you’ve checked in for your sea-plane flight, and again, they’ll know you are coming and be waiting for you, you’ll be guided to an air-conditioned shuttle bus right behind their check-in counters. Once everyone for your flight is on board the shuttle bus, it will take the 10-minute drive through several security check-points around the southern tip of the airport and then to the appropriate sea-plane terminal on the east side of the airport.

Sea-plane departures

n about 10 minutes you’ll pull into the secured area for sea plane departures, and a representative there will guide you to your sea plane. Once everyone is on board, the plane will taxi into the lagoon and then take off. It’s worth noting that your luggage may not be on the same sea plane as you, but it will get there soon and it should make it all the way to your room without you touching it, which makes travel a bit easier. You can take hand-luggage on the sea planes, but not large bags.

The sea-planes usually make a few stops, so you might be the first to be dropped off, or you might have stopped at another resort or two before you reach yours. The sea planes rides are quite expensive at around US$300 to US$600 per person, including return, but they are also one of the major highlights of almost any trip. The Maldivian islands are gorgeous, and there is no better way to see many of them from the window of a sea-plane. Because of this, many guests will have their phones or cameras out and ready for a few pictures taken through the windows.

Arrival at your resort

Whether you’ve arrived on a speedboat or a sea plane, the resort will know exactly when you’ll arrive, and they will have someone there waiting for you at the dock. Unless you are arriving in part of a large group or chartered trip, you will probably receive personal attention and be welcomed by your name immediately.


Again, you can take small hand luggage with you on your person, but your main luggage will all be handled by staff members. At almost all private-island resorts, your luggage will be brought directly to your room without you having to lift a finger. Then all you’ll have to do is put your items wherever you choose within your rooms.

9 thoughts on "Why you don’t need a travel agent for a perfect Maldives water villa holiday"

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  1. Without a travel agent you are on your own!!! a total misconception
    that agents are a lot more expensive than online. What happens if something goes wrong the computer wont help but an agent will –
    do a bit more research to the original writer and i only hope you
    never need assistance apart from a computer to get you out of a situation!!!!!

    1. Roz,

      If I was a travel agent I’m sure I’d feel the same way. But the fact is that things don’t go wrong very often and even when they do it’s usually easy to fix as long as you deal with legit companies and resorts. For someone who has an extremely low risk tolerance travel agents are probably a great idea. For everyone else, it’s probably not worth it. -Roger

  2. There is so much more to a travel agent than just booking the trip. Yesterday I spend 1/2 my day changing a client’s flights and hotel reservations because her son suddenly got sick during the trip. Last weekend I had 2 sets of clients miss their flights so I spent my time accommodating and reassuring them, while they relaxed at the airport lounge. When a traveler is on vacation, unexpected things can happen. Emergencies can arise. A travel agent can handle all of this for them, so they can focus on their sick child, or whatever the case may be. "In all fairness", you are right. They may not NEED a travel agent for the booking process, but when the unexpected arises, they will need us then! And as the others have said, pricing is almost always the same whether you book online, or with an agent. We also have access to most all the same hotels as online…. plus the extra consortia perks, as Gabrielle mentioned.

  3. I have to agree with others that this article is just not true of what Travel Professionals truly offer a client. Most Travel Professionals don’t charge planning and booking fees. They often offer a low price guarantee and price match if they need to. Many Travel Professionals who do charge a planning or booking fee often apply it towards your balance and/or the tips and money they save you are far more than any planning or booking fee they may charge.

    Booking through a website (just a computer and not a true travel professional) is not a great option. Nobody is asking you the right questions to fit you to the best resorts/flights or council you on the merits of this and that because it’s a computer…..You can’t just go by the pretty pictures on the internet. We say "The Internet is for looking and not booking"

    Each resort has a different vibe, you need to be personally matched to the best accommodations out there that will fit you both because there are so many resort/flight/room choices out there and they’re not all the same or even good. There’s much to think about and consider when picking the right destination, travel dates-weather, resorts/flights/rooms.

    The question that you should ask yourself is, "Why would you take a chance on your Travel Investment and not call a Travel Professional" One whose actually been to the destination with hands on advice? A real reputable Travel Professional wants to talk to you or at least email you and not just put a website out there for you to self-book on while they try to make money on you while they sleep with website bookings that they’re making full commission on, that’s what they don’t want to tell you.

    Trying to talk potential clients out of booking with real Travel Professionals when you’re acting as an "absent" travel agent on a website and doing very little for the client in reality is ironic.
    I feel like this website/article attacks true Travel Professionals in an underhanded way so I will speak the real truth here.

    There are many Travel Professionals who highly specialize in Over Water Bungalows throughout the world, they’ve been to many of these resorts themselves so they have value in their knowledge and have professional relationships with resort owners, management and ground operators. Travel Professionals provide a wonderful service to you and that’s what its truly all about besides offering you some of the lowest prices with price drop guarantees and a host of many other perks!

    1. Heather,

      If I was a travel agent I’m sure I’d feel the same way you do. The point of the article is that savvy travelers (not necessarily first-time travelers) CAN book a Maldives holiday online and still get the exact same VIP experience that other visitors get. Websites like Agoda also book far more resorts than any offline travel agent does, so consumers get more choice. And many resorts do in fact offer lower prices when you book online.

      Some travelers are fussy and require hand-holding and make mistakes and want to make changes. It’s great that you are there for those types of travelers. But there is also a misconception that you NEED to use an offline travel agent to book a Maldives holiday and that’s definitely not true. Thanks for your passion and for all the help you give to those who need you. -Roger

  4. Hi there,
    With respect, I find the information in this article to be largely untrue. Travel agents work with all resorts (and even some B & B’s). They also have buying power and can secure better rates than what is seen online in a lot of cases. I think there is a real misconception out there from people who have only really ever booked online but really, there is a missed value, both monetary and experiential that goes with booking online. Also, many agents are part of a consortium that for example, will provide complimentary meals, complimentary nights, etc, whereas booking online you don’t get these kinds of things. Just my 2 cents anyway!

  5. disagree most of it!, i’ve always secured better deals from travel agents in the UK. Some of them offer upgrades, lounge access which were helpful. And most importantly we need ATOL protection for our whole booking which is only provided by the UK tour operators. This protects our flights all transfers and the resort booking. In any emergency we have the ATOL protection to bail us out.
    If you are not a fussy customer who wouldn’t mind ending up in a room that don’t wish to be, then booking from any other source is fine.
    Anyways, these are my thoughts. Hope you will publish this.

    1. Ryan,

      You make some good points and I guess each person has their own risk tolerance level. These days it’s common for purchases on many Visas and Mastercards to automatically have this kind of coverage, and you can buy travel insurance to cover it as well. Still, many people prefer a traditional high-street travel agent. My main point is that you don’t NEED a travel agent to book an ideal Maldives holiday because the online booking process is now so well organized and you don’t need any hand-holding once you land. Thanks for the comments. -Roger