Malé Airport: Arrival, resort check-in, speedboat, and sea-plane guide
The 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 accommodation.
But how do you get to these private islands in the Maldives? It’s a bit confusing and mysterious until you’ve done it once yourself, so I’ve put together this 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 exactly how it works, and you can see most of it in the video I made below.
Malé International Airport arrival information
Most people call it Male International Airport, but it is officially called Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. It’s located on Hulhulé Island, which is just a 10-minute ferry ride from the tiny capital city of Malé. There are no jetways, so your airplane will pull up and park in front of one of the 4 gates, and you’ll disembark down stairs and then walk into the terminal.
Once inside, it’s a relatively short walk to the Immigration desk, and you’ll usually be processed pretty quickly because tourism is their primary business here and they have enough staff to process a plane full of people in 15 minutes or so.
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.
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, 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.
- Someone will be holding a sign with your name on it, or…
- You will locate the check-in counter for your resort by number, or…
- 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 resort will contact you to get your arrival and departure information. 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 know exactly where to go, and the resort will know the flight you are on and be expecting you.
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 representitive there 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, 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. But most guests will be told to look for a specific counter, where a resort representitive will be waiting for them.
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, 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 on your 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 the front of the airport, and the speedboat docks are literally right there. You can see in the video posted above, that it’s a walk of maybe 100 meters 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.
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. 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 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.
In about 10 minutes you’ll pull into the secured area for sea plane departures, and a representitive 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. 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, 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.
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 get personal attention and be welcomed by name immediately.
Again, you can take small hand luggage with you on your person, but your main luggage will all be handled by staff. At almost all private-island resorts, your luggage will be brought directly to your room without you having to lift a finger.