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

But how do you get to these private islands in the Maldives? To be honest, it can be a bit confusing and mysterious until you've done it at least once before, so I've put together this easy to read guide to show you exactly how it all works. Whether you take 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

Though most people call it Male International Airport (including some booking websites), it is officially called Velana International Airport, which was previously known as the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. It is found on Hulhulé Island, which is a 10-minute ferry ride from the tiny Maldivian capital city of Malé. Becuase there aren’t any jetways, your airplane will pull up and park in front of one of the 3 gates available, where you’ll then disembark down a flight of stairs before proceeding into the terminal itself.

 

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

 

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

Right after you get your bag, you’ll walk through the Customs line where you’ll then be asked to declare any commercial goods or prohibited items. You’ll need to note that 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 this is something that really happens.

 

They do NOT x-ray or hand-search each suitcase or piece of hand luggage, and because of that, 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.

 

You’ll also want to note that there isn’t any duty-free alcohol at the airport. In fact, the only alcohol available in the area is at the Hulhule Island Hotel, which is close to the airport. The good news for drinkers is that almost every private-island resort is awash in alcohol, though it does come 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 the three ways listed below:

 

  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 both of your arrival and departure information. Also, you’ll want to note that you just can’t fly into the Maldives and then decide to choose a resort. This is 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 also the resort will know the flight you are on and will 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

Some resorts have an employee who will be waiting for you with your name printed out on a piece of paper that they hold out in front of themselves, while a few of the most expensive resorts have private check-in lounges where you’ll be told to go to. Both of these options are very easy to find and aren’t confusing at all, which will serve as a relief. But most guests will be told to look for a specific counter, where a resort representative will be waiting for them behind a little desk.

 

After you walk out of the Customs section of the airport, you’ll then walk about 10 steps and you’ll see one group of counters on your right and another on your left. Each has a clearly marked number, so it shouldn’t take 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 resort representative knows who is on which incoming flight, and when that flight has landed, meaning that someone will be standing there waiting for you. You might also find that there are a few other passengers that happen to be on the same flight. They will then find your name on their resort check-in list before letting you know how long you will wait for your speedboat or sea-plane transfer as well as where you can sit (or stand) while you wait for your transport.

 

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 a bit longer, so that everyone travels to the resort together.


Speed boat departures

If your resort is close enough to the airport and can be served by speedboats, the rep will lead you and your group out to the front of the airport, where the speedboat docks are located. You can see in the video posted above, that it’s a walk of about 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

You might be taking a sea-plane to your resort, especially if your chosen resort is just too far away to be served by a speedboat. Remember that your sea-plane ride is already precooked by way of your reservation online. There aren’t any ferries or other alternatives to select from, meaning your only choice is to book the sea-plane through your resort when you book your resort room.

 

After you find your resort rep and check in with them, they will then proceed to 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. You won’t get to choose yourself which company to use.

 

Once you’ve checked in for your sea-plane flight,  you’ll be guided to an air-conditioned shuttle bus right behind their check-in counters. Once everyone for your flight has boarded 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

After about 10 minutes or so you’ll pull into the secured area for sea plane departures, and a representative there will guide you to your particular sea plane. Once everyone is on board, the plane will taxi into the lagoon and then take off for a fun and exciting ride. 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.


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