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MALDIVES – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Maldives Flag

GEOGRAPHY

The Republic of Maldives consists of about 1,190 low-lying coral islands, of which only 200 are inhabited. Most of the inhabited islands are covered by lush tropical vegetation and palm trees, while the numerous uninhabited islands, some of which are mere sand spits or coral tips, are covered in shrubs.

Each island is surrounded by a reef enclosing a shallow lagoon. Hundreds of these islands together with other coral growth form an atoll, surrounding a lagoon. All the islands are low-lying, none more than 2m (7ft) above sea level.

The largest island of Maldives is Gan, which belongs to Laamu Atoll. The westernmost islands are connected by roads (9 mile long) over the reef.

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

Originally settled by Buddhists and Hindus from India around 500BC, the Maldives was eventually converted to Islam in 1153 and resisted all subsequent attempts to convert it to Christianity by the Portuguese, who controlled the islands on and off in the 16th century. The Maldives became a British Protectorate during the 20th century, until becoming independent in 1965.

The country’s modern history is largely shaped by Maumoon Gayoom, who was president from 1978 until 2008. Gayoom, who ruled the country virtually unchallenged, finally made concessions to allow for free and democratic elections in 2008. When no candidate gained a 50% share of the votes, a run-off was held, which was narrowly won by Mohamed Nasheed, long time political dissident and opposition leader.

Gayoom stepped down and Nasheed was sworn in as president in November 2008. Despite having been imprisoned on multiple occasions by Gayoom’s police, Nasheed signalled that his government would not prosecute any member of the previous administration and the new government has since focused on much needed reforms such as improving education, health care, social security and environmental protection. In March 2009 the government announced plans to make Maldives the world’s first carbon-neutral country.

THE PEOPLE

The largest ethnic group is Maldivian (Dhivehin). They are principally an Indo-Aryan people, closely related to Sinhalese, but there are also traces of South Indian, Arab, Malay and African genes in the population. There is also a small population known as the Giraavaru, who have now been almost completely absorbed into the larger Maldivian society but were once native to the Giraavaru atoll.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

The majority of the indigenous population does not mix with the tourist visitors, with the exception of those involved with tourism in the resorts and Male. Dress is informal, but locals who are Muslim will be offended by nudity or scanty clothing in public places, and the government rigidly enforces these standards. Bikinis and other scanty beachwear are not acceptable in Male or on any other inhabited island; they should be restricted to resort islands only. When entering a mosque, the legs and the body, but not the neck and the face, should be covered. Handshaking is the most common form of greeting. The indigenous population not involved in the tourist trade lives in isolated island communities maintaining almost total privacy. A large number of locals smoke, but smoking and eating during Ramadan are discouraged.

LANGUAGE

The national language is Dhivehi. English is widely used as a business language in government offices and the commercial sector. French, German, Russian, Italian and Chinese are widely used at resorts.

GOVERNMENT

The government of Maldives is the framework of a presidential representative democratic Republic, whereby the President is the Head of Government. Executive power is exercised by the government. The President heads the executive branch and appoints the Cabinet; Like many presidential democracies, each member of the cabinet need to be approved by the Parliament. The President, along with the vice President, is directly elected by the people to a five-year term by a secret ballot. He could be re-elected to second 5 year term, the limit allowed by the Constitution. The current President of the Maldives is former Senior Member of UNICEF, Abdullah Yamin Abdul gayoom, who was sworn into office on 7 February 2012.

TIME ZONE

Maldives is 9 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).

ELECTRICITY

Electricity in the Maldives is 220-240 Volts, which is double the voltage found in the United States. Therefore, travelers will need a voltage converter to use US-purchased electrical goods in Maldives. Most of the electrical plugs in the country are either two-pronged circular sockets or two-pronged circular sockets with a circular grounding prong. North American visitors will also need to bring an adapter when visiting the Maldives.

CLIMATE

The Maldives climate provides warm, tropical weather all year round, even during the wet season the temperature averages around the high twenties and low thirties. The Hulhangu Monsoon season runs from May to November leading to significantly higher rainfall, particularly on the southern islands; this period can see strong winds and fierce storms as well as overcast skies. However, it is still likely visitors will experience long hours of bright sunshine amidst the short, sharp torrential downpours of the monsoon. The Iruvai dry season sees a reduction in humidity and rainfall starting in January and continuing until April. February and March provide the most sun for holiday makers from Europe seeking refuge from colder climes back home.

The Maldives has a year-round hot tropical climate. There are two monsoons, the southwest from May to October and the northeast from November to April. Generally the southwest brings more wind and rain in June and July. The temperature rarely falls below 25°C (77°F).

CLOTHES TO WEAR

Lightweight cottons and linens are best throughout the year. Light waterproofs are advised during the rainy season.

LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

A valid passport, along with an onward/return ticket and sufficient funds, is required for entry. A no-cost visitor visa valid for 30 days is issued upon arrival.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration routinely approves requests for extension of stays up to 90 days for travelers who present evidence of sufficient funds and who stay in a resort or hotel or present a letter from a local sponsor. Anyone staying more than 60 days without proper authorization faces heavy fines and deportation.

Travelers need a yellow fever immunization if they are arriving from an infected area. Visit the Republic of the Maldives, Department of Immigration and Emigration for the most current visa information.

Arrival by private boat: Travelers arriving by private yacht or boat are granted no-cost visas, usually valid until the expected date of departure. Vessels anchoring in atolls other than Male must have prior clearance through agents in Male. Maldivian customs, police, and/or representatives of Maldivian immigration will meet all vessels regardless of where they anchor. Vessels arriving with a dog on board will be permitted anchorage, but the dog will not be allowed off the vessel. Any firearms or ammunition on board will be held for bond until the vessel’s departure.

Specific inquiries should be addressed to Maldives High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at No. 25, Melbourne Avenue, Colombo 4, telephone (94) (11) 2587827 / 5516302 / 5516303, or the Maldives Mission to the United Nations in New York, telephone (212) 599-6195.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Maldives.

Embassy & High Commission Locations

 U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka

210 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka

Tel: +94 (11) 249-8500

Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +94 (11) 249-8888

Fax: +94 (11) 249-8590

http://srilanka.usembassy.gov/

High Commission of Canada in Sri Lanka

33A, 5th Lane, Colpetty, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka
Tel: 00 94 11 522 62 32
Fax: 00 94 11 522 62 96

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/sri_lanka/contact-contactez.aspx?lang=eng

HEALTH

There is no 911 equivalent for medical emergencies in Maldives; 119 is for the police only, and the Coast Guard responds to 191 calls for maritime emergencies. A patient would have to call an individual hospital for ambulance services. The quality of medical care in such instances may be uncertain, as most ambulances are ill equipped.

Please note: Some medications may not be permitted in the country. Please check if the medication you are bringing is permitted in the country you are visiting.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

BANKS & CURRENCY

Maldivian Rufiya (MVR; symbol MRf) = 100 laari. Notes are in denominations of MRf500, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of MRf2 and 1, and 50, 25, 10, 5, 2 and 1 laari.

For tourists spending most of their time within the resort or hotel, the US dollar (USD $) is the most popular form of currency. There is no need for travelers to exchange money if a holiday is going to be solely based at the resort. Nevertheless, if visitors would like to exchange money, Male International Airport and banks in the capital (which is where the local currency will be needed) can be found. Local currency is the Maldivian rufiyaa, which is further divided into laari. The coins are quite unique, so most tourists keep them as souvenirs. Unfortunately for budget travelers, The Maldives is extremely expensive, and limited budget options are available. However, food, transport, room rates, and shopping can be paid for by major credit cards, due to the high prices.

COMMUNICATION

The international calling code for the Maldives is +960. Due to its size, the country doesn’t use city or area codes either. The local mobile network uses GSM 900. Roaming is sometimes available through Western networks, but visitors should check prior to arriving, as Maldives’ roaming network is expensive. Most of the resorts around the islands have strong internet, and several internet spots are located in Male.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food & Drink:

Maldivian food is a fairly limited affair, consisting of fish, fruit and spicy curries. Your only chance to try ‘real’ Maldivian cuisine is in Male, where cafés selling traditional snacks or ‘short eats’ (hedhikaa) are cheap and plentiful.

On resort islands, there are normally between one and ten restaurants depending on the resort’s size and level of luxury. Note that all restaurants on resort islands are run by the resort – there is no access to private enterprise. Cuisine is international, with all food other than seafood imported. All resorts have bars, where there is a good range of (usually pricey) alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available. It’s not possible to drink alcohol in Male or anywhere else outside resorts.

 Specialties: 

  • Seafood such as tuna, grouper, octopus, jobfish and swordfish is widely available.
  • Kavaabu (deep-fried snacks made from rice, tuna, coconut, lentils and spices).
  • Curries, such as chicken or beef, are widely available. Curry leaves are added to a lot of Maldivian dishes.

 Note: 

All bars are situated on resort island (no alcohol is available on Male, though it is available on the nearby Airport island). Locals do not drink at all.

 Regional drinks: 

Sai (tea; a Maldivian favorite).
Raa (toddy tapped from palm trees, sometimes left to ferment and thus slightly alcoholic – the closest any Maldivian gets to alcohol).

NIGHTLIFE
There is little or no nightlife in the Maldives and this is definitely not a destination for party animals. That said, most resorts have bars, the occasional live music act and a few larger ones even have small nightclubs. Beach parties and barbecues are also popular. Some resorts have occasional film showings.

SHOPPING

Lacquered wooden boxes are the most distinctive Maldivian handicrafts, and are most famously produced in Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll. The craft involves the process of shaping and hollowing out pieces of wood from endemic trees to form intricately crafted boxes, containers and ornamental objects. Beautiful reed mats are woven throughout the country, the most famous of which are those that are woven by the women of Gadhdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. Ranging from placemats to full-size single mattress mats, they are hand-decorated with intricate abstract designs.

In Male, most souvenir shops line the northern end of Chaandanee Magu, earlier known as the Singapore Bazaar for its many imports from Singapore. The local market offers stalls with a variety of local produce, mainly from the atolls, such as different kinds of local vegetables, fruits and yams, packets of sweetmeat, nuts and breadfruit chips, bottles of homemade sweets and pickles, and bunches of bananas hanging on coir ropes from ceiling beams.

Shopping hours: Sat-Thurs 0830-2000, Fri 1330-2000. Shops officially shut for 15 minutes five times a day in deference to Muslim prayer times; however, this rule is not always strictly adhered to in the tourist areas away from the capital.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.

LAUNDRY

Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers.  Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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