Tourism

Family Travel in the Maldives: Top 10 Things to do in Maldives with Kids

A destination that is still on our list is the Maldives. Easily one of the most picturesque places in the world, it’s easy to see why people visit. I was super excited when Alana from Family Travel Bites offered to share her family’s experience from their recent trip. You can read her awesome post below.

When I was planning our route around Asia I saw the Maldives on the map and thought “I wish”.

After a few google searches I realised that it is now possible to travel to the Maldives without having to get a second mortgage. Better still it was obvious that family travel to the Maldives is now encouraged! It is no longer just a destination for rich couples on their honeymoon!

Below you will find our full guide to things to do in Maldives with kids. Read about activities in Maldives will kids as well as practical information and advice on where to stay in Maldives with kids.

 

Islands in Republic of Maldives

Toddler saw everyone posing in the airport so insisted on the same!

There are 1190 islands that form the Maldivian islands archipelago. There are 3 main categories of islands: inhabited, uninhabited and resort. There is a fourth less commonly discussed island category called the ‘disappeared islands’.

At present, ~200 islands are inhabited by local Maldivians and a further 105 islands are ‘leased’ by a resort. The 900-plus uninhabited islands are used for agriculture by locals, or used for day trip destinations and ‘picnic’ islands for tourists.

Prior to 2009, tourists were only permitted to stay on resort islands. When these laws were relaxed many guesthouses and inns popped up on the inhabited islands. There is now accommodation to suit all budgets – resorts are not the only option!

Our Itinerary

Like most people do, we arrived into the country via Malé International Airport. The airport itself is on the island Hulhulé, which connects to an artificial island, Hulhumalé, via a causeway. This island was built to accommodate tourists close to the airport, usually while awaiting transfer to another island. As such, there is little more here than several over-priced ‘hotels’.

Having arrived in the evening, we spent our first night on Hulhumalé in a very ordinary hotel for an extraordinary $120 USD.

Our actual ferry was much bigger and much older!

The next day we took the local ferry to Malé before catching another ferry to our final destination – Kaashidhoo. This island is the 5th largest inhabited island in Maldives and is located just north of the Malé Atoll. For the next 14 nights this island was our home.

Budget

Your budget can be anything from shoestring to super luxurious. As we are slow travelling for over a year, we are on the shoestring budget!

My initial budget was $100 USD/day. We decided to get 2 rooms and that added on another $20 USD per day. The cost of accommodation on Hulhumalé was expensive for what you got. Most islands will offer tourists inclusive packages. We got one that included all meals, activities, part-time nanny, drinking water, tourist taxes and one-way transportation on the local ferry.

We paid $250 for a speedboat to return to the airport. I preferred the ferry. The ferry costs are very low at $1-12 USD depending on destination and the time of day. A speedboat is based on a per person or per boat cost. So, it can be expensive if you are not sharing the costs. A seaplane will be many hundreds of dollars each way. There is also a tourism tax you need to pay per person per day, so you need to factor in these costs.

Transportation between Islands

Local Ferry

You should try to match up your flight with the local ferry where possible. Not all island locations have a daily schedule. Irrespective of your location, the ferry, known as a Dhoni is slow moving.

You need to be very mindful on the ferry when travelling with small kids as the front and the back are completely open. We used a car seat after 3-hours of chasing our toddler around.

Back of the ferry was completely open.

You do need to be aware that some islands can be hundreds of kilometers from the capital and can take 12-14+ hours to reach.

Dirty, hot and tired. After 5 hours, we were all over it but knew we were close to our destination!

Speedboat or Seaplane

Both are easy to organize but expensive. Note that seaplanes will only fly to inhabited islands that have more than 30 guest beds.

I absolutely hated the speedboat we took to get back to the airport. Every bump was painful and the kids were scared. They laughed saying this was a ‘calm’ sea. It was 2 hours in the speedboat versus 5.5 hours on the ferry. Give me the ferry any day!

The ferry network only stops at inhabited islands so you are unable to get to a resort island via the public ferry.

Unhappy toddler. Happy parents.

Although our ferry did have kid sized life jackets, it appeared to be newer than many others we saw. The local boat we used each day had no life jackets, let alone small sized ones. This was non-negotiable for me as initially I was going to be traveling alone with 3 small kids. So, I bought ours from Australia.

Getting around the Island

The islands are small. Most locals just walk or use a push bike to get around. Everyone has access to a motorbike and no one wears a helmet.

It can be very hot so there are also ‘taxis’. These are essentially a motorbike with a small tray at the back. Not very comfortable but they get the job done. A few times we just jumped into the back of a truck to get a lift.

In terms of travelling with kids, having the stroller became tiresome due to the sand. A carrier was handy but it was too hot to use for extended periods.

Accommodation

To be clear, if you stay on an inhabited island you are not staying in a resort. You are staying in a guesthouse or inn. I would caution you to make sure you read reviews thoroughly.

We used Airbnb to find our accommodation. We got 2 rooms for ~$55USD/night for both. Admittedly, I negotiated a lower rate as we were saying for 14 nights. A google search for guesthouses or Inns + Maldives will show you just how many appear.

The ‘dining room’ in our accommodation

You can read more about accommodation in Maldives here.

Cuisine

Most guesthouse will offer a meal package. It is a good idea. The food options are very limited on inhabited islands.

Each meal will come with fish. Tuna is in most meals, even breakfast. If you have dietary requirements you would need to make them clear to the guesthouse.

Tuna is in everything!

Many of the local foods are spicy (and delicious) so you need to tell them to reduce the spice for your kids as it was quite hot.

Tuna for breakfast with roti bread. It was delicious.

Top things to do in Maldives with Kids

The following list of activities is similar for both inhabited (local) and resort island stays. The main difference is if you stay on inhabited island you can engage with local people and see their way of life.

1. Dolphin Cruises

Spinner Dolphins in Maldives – we saw this daily!

Dolphin watching is one of the activities in Maldives offered on all islands, even if not formally. There are 4 different species of dolphins present in Maldives and we saw Spinner Dolphins. Unlike the other incredible sea creatures that you might see – think whale sharks or blue whales – dolphins are common and present year-round.  The local people respect and care about their well-being and this was a welcome surprise.

We did a specific dolphin cruise three times on our trip but we were fortunate to see them on other boat trips too! These cruises were a major highlight of our trip. Even our 3-year-old absolutely loved it.

Around Kaashidhoo the ‘local’ pod numbered around 100 dolphins in size but in other parts they can get into the thousands! We never saw them all together – the baby dolphins usually hung around the shallower waters near the reefs while the adults were in the deeper water.

Also, only a quarter or so are swimming at the surface at one time and our underwater video footage is testament to that.

They are playful and curious creatures but be under no any illusions as to who is in charge! Several times we watched them perform amazing acrobatic tricks from a distance only to have then stop and swim away when we got closer. If they were inclined to do so however they would ‘play’ near the boat and it was nothing short of spectacular.

2. Finding Nemo: Snorkelling

Our 8-year-old snorkeling

The water in the Maldives is so clear. Even on average days, the clarity of the water surpassed anywhere I have ever snorkeled. The visibility was at least 10 meters!

Unlike many of the resort islands, there is no ‘house reef’ but it was only a short 5-minute boat ride to the reef. We chose an inclusive package and could snorkel every morning. Beware that if you choose to pay for things individually your costs could add up quickly as you will most likely want to be heading out again and again.

There were several snorkeling spots around Kaashidhoo and all abilities are catered for. Most islands have a similar geography. The shallower areas within the inner reef are an excellent place for learners and the less confident. Our 8-year-old started here but by the end of the trip was out with us on the outer reef where the sea floor simply vanishes into an abyss!

The marine life was abundant and plentiful and I was lucky enough to spot a turtle! To my husband’s dismay there were no sharks to be seen.

This little guy thought I was his mama!

Unfortunately, like all reefs in the world, the Maldives has been affected by coral bleaching. Our host informed us that this was only a recent phenomenon. Parts of the reef were recovering but it is far from its former glory.

3. Sandbank Swimming

Our boys on the sandbank off Kaashidhoo

Many of the Maldivian islands are themselves atolls. Within them among the calmer waters are often sandbars. Kaashidhoo is one such place.

It was a surreal experience- we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean in the clearest of water you are ever likely to see. The sun was setting and the water was warm! The level of relaxation was on another level. The baby was in heaven and didn’t want to get out.

Take care if there are rocks or coral present. I cut my foot on the rocks and it is still healing, 6 weeks on! I would recommend people take reef shoes.

4. Collecting Crabs

Kid and a tiny hermit crab

The boys love hermit crabs. We went to a few beaches on Kaashidhoo and one was literally covered in hermit crabs! You had to watch where you walked there we were so many. As you stopped, the beach started to move!

Sized from a couple of millimeters to up to a few centimeters they kept our kids entertained for hours.

5. Boats, boat and more boats: Captain Kid

Captain Kid

Just as most of us urban dwellers catch the train or bus, Maldivians catch a boat. There is lots of water, so boating is what you must do! It’s a bit more exciting for the Maldivians though – we saw jumping tuna, flying fish, dolphins and birdlife on our boat journeys.

We spent time on 4 different types of boats: public ferries, a modern speedboat, a small fishing dinghy and a larger fishing boat. I’m not sure if I grew my ‘sea legs’ though as I got sea sick more than once.

We also saw a ‘Safari boat’ being constructed on the island. It’s interesting to see how things are done in other parts of the world, to say the least.

Boat building on Kaashidhoo

On the fishing dinghy, our 8-year-old was put on skipper duty after a quick 30 second tutorial on how to drive the boat! I had to turn off my OHS and mum-brain to allow this to happen! The locals were so casual about this and in the end it was good for him in helping develop his confidence. He absolutely loved it!

6. Motorbike riding

Kid and toddler in “danger zone” heaven

Like most of Asia, local people ride motorbikes but it is FAR from the chaos of the cities. The boys had a few motorbike rides around the island and they loved it. They didn’t have helmets, so I looked the other way and took a deep breath!

7. Game fishing

One of Maldives things to do is to try to catch really big fish! We were hosted by local fishermen. They went out every night. We joined them to try to get a very prized catch in the Maldives – Yellowfin tuna! It was not what I was expecting though with no rods, reels or fish-finders in sight. In the Maldives, it’s all done with intuition and hand lines! There is an art to it.

We pulled up alongside a commercial fishing boat and the speed and fluidity of the fishermen was something to behold. On our boat, we could pull the line in when the fishermen had ‘taken control’ of the situation.

Young ones and the faint-hearted need to be warned – the process is confronting. The Yellowfin tuna are large fish, some more than 1 metre, and in order to get them out of the water a large hook is used. There can be a lot of blood, I repeat, a lot of blood.

When onboard the fish is quickly killed by a hard blow to the head and this results in a seizure which can last several minutes. I hid up the front of the boat when I knew it was coming the second time. It wasn’t nice. Fish that were not sought after were returned to the water.

8. Freedom and friends

Beach at Sunset on Kaashidhoo

The kids were a source of wonder to the local people. Remembering that inhabited islands have only been ‘open’ to tourism for a short period.

The boys were treated like kings! They ran into shops and they got given lollies. They ran around the streets and everyone wanted to touch their hair. They ran into people’s gardens and were invited inside. Our baby was taken from our arms when anyone had a chance to have a cuddle. The local kids would come and talk to us in English and wanted selfies with all the boys. It was so nice to see the boys having the freedom to just be kids.

Not everyone looked friendly, initially. Often, they would come and just stare at us. It can be confronting having a group of people just stop and stare. As soon as we smiled at them they would came over.

Language was a barrier but we would still communicate. A smile, a wave or a point or a show of fingers was enough. Just a short 50 metres to the shop would mean multiple stops and photos. The kids made friends with kids and adults alike.

9. Stay with a local family & have a babysitter

Toddler making friends with our host’s son

This is the one main thing you miss out on if you go to a resort on the Maldives. Getting to know the local people, you make friends and have some autonomy in your holiday decisions.

We met lovely caring Maldivian people where we stayed who got us a wonderful babysitter. She invited us to her home on the final day and it was a major holiday highlight. Having ‘Noni’ allowed us adults to participate in island activities but also to have some alone time. We knew they were being well cared for and we could enjoy the water activities!

The kids got to play with local kids and meet so many of the people. They were like celebrities and everyone knew their names.

10. Technology Detox: Reconnecting as a family

Family time on the beach

It was so nice just to be together. My husband must remain in Australia while we travel. Being in the middle of the Indian Ocean with no phone reception, no television and limited internet meant we could reconnect properly.

My 34th birthday on the Maldives, complete with personalized cake

Things to remember

Money and ATM access

Most local traders will accept USD or Maldivian Ruffiya (MVR). Currently $1 USD = 15 MVR. Change is typically given in MVR. There are ATMs and money exchangers on Malé and at the airport. If you head out to an inhabited island bring cash as ATMs are scarce; we had no access to funds on Kaashidhoo.

Beware that the USD you might tender must be in pristine condition or it will be refused. I know because it happened to me!

Religion

The Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) occurs 5 times a day. It is brief compared to some other Muslim nations but pretty much everything stops for at least half an hour.

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, all local people are fasting from sunset to sundown. The dates vary year to year as it is based on the lunar calendar, but often it is May or June. You should refrain from eating or drinking in the presence of Maldivians during this time.  If you are staying at a resort this would not apply.

Visa

Most countries can get a visa on arrival and it is free. Your visa is valid for 30 days. You may need proof of a return ticket, evidence of enough money to cover your trip and at least 6 months on your passport. Although, the only thing we needed was the address of our guesthouse.

Our toddler was being naughty. A passport control person approached and I thought I was just about to be scolded for not controlling my unruly child. She pulled us into the VIP lane – no line!

Modesty on Inhabited Islands

Outward displays of physical affection are considered an affront in Maldives. Signs explicitly state that holding hands and kissing in public is a civil offence! My 8-year-old asked me if that meant he couldn’t give me a hug! Was very cute and I explained it was for adults only. Kids can do as they please with kisses and hugs

Female attire is also under scrutiny. As a visitor you are not expected to be in a hijab or niqab. Aim to cover from your elbows to your knees as a measure of respect to your island hosts. Away from the island you are afforded a little more liberty.

For swimming, bikinis are only allowed on resort beaches or some islands have set up “Bikini Beaches” to allow tourists to swim in what they like. Local swimwear with long legs and sleeves can be purchased cheaply (I paid $15 USD) and is actually a really good idea given the sunburn risk.

Alcohol

Outside of the resorts alcohol is illegal. If you bring any duty-free alcohol in with you, it will be confiscated at the airport. You may be liable for a fine also.

Baby supplies

Portacots and highchairs are not commonly used unless you are at a family-friendly resort. We bought our own travel cot with us. Having a baby sling or carrier was also very handy. We did bring a travel stroller but it was useless on the sandy roads.

As all islands are very small you should bring any essential items like baby food. You could get nappies and formula on the Kaashidhoo but they were costly and the nappies were very thin. I have avoided buying baby wipes in most Asian countries as they have led to nappy rash. All toilets have a hose that you can use to wash the baby.

Healthcare

The level of healthcare facilities available will depend on the island. I suggest you google this prior to arriving if you have any chronic health issues or a clumsy toddler, like we do!

We were on the 5th biggest island in the entire archipelago with nearly 2000 inhabitants. Our toddler ensured we got the entire tour of the Kaashidhoo hospital as he sustained a deep gash next to his eye. They had a doctor who had limited English but lots of pointing and charades lead to a good level of care.

Should higher levels of care be required, people are transferred to Male by “Sea Ambulance”.

Environment

Heat

It is very hot and humid. I’ve never been so grateful for air-conditioning. It’s easy to get sunburned. I got severely sunburned on my legs, so badly they blistered. Rather than constantly applying sunscreen I would recommend using long sleeved ‘rashies’. They’re great for protection from sunburn and you can cut back on sunscreen which is good for the reef and marine life.

Some of this advice is common sense but I tried to limit the kids exposure to the sun from 10am to 3pm. I gave them water and fresh juice at every chance. It got to a point where my toddler would say “enough enough” when I gave him a drink!

Taking a hat and covering up is vital. I took cotton long sleeved tops for the boys to wear. I would bring a high SPF sunscreen with you from home. Although we could get some on the island I wouldn’t assume you purchase things like sunscreen particularly on smaller islands.

Weather

We visited at the end of April and only experienced one extreme down pour. The monsoon season in the Maldives is from mid-May to November. During this period, there can be very rough seas making water transport potentially dangerous and water activates unpleasant. Think: wet, rainy and rugged!

Water

Tap water is obtained from underground sources on Kaashidhoo and other islands. It was stinky but you got used to it. Either way, do not drink the tap water!

Rubbish

The locals throw their rubbish straight into the sea and pollution is an issue. Coming from Australia I was so shocked to see a woman throw an entire dirty nappy into the sea! It was not an isolated incidence.

The resort islands will not have rubbish issues like inhabited islands as they have proper waste management. Kaashidhoo seemed to have a much better grasp of the environmental impact of littering. They cleaned the beaches regularly.

Our guesthouse host said many Maldivians are simply uneducated about the issues of littering. It is something to remember if you are planning on going to different local islands. Some will be cleaner than others!

Coral bleach & global warming

Like the rest of the world’s coral reefs, Maldivian coral has been hit hard by coral bleaching. You could see signs of the coral trying to recover. As visitors, we can help by minimizing any impacts on the reef by not using sunscreen or bug spray prior to snorkeling. It goes without saying we shouldn’t stand on, touch or break off the coral.

As many people probably are aware, Maldives are arguably one of the most susceptible countries in the world to being lost to rising water levels. Our hosts said the inhabited islands have already started to ‘reclaim land’. They do this by digging up sand from one area in the atoll and building up the sides of the islands. That obviously has a raft of environmental issues associated with it.

Safety

You do need to be careful on Malé. They have a history of violent incidences. I would not choose to stay there. We felt perfectly safe on the inhabited islands even though they were having a local election at the time.

Our verdict

We had an amazing time. The Maldivian people are warm and welcoming; we felt like we were leaving family. I would encourage everyone to look beyond the resorts and get to know the real Maldives.

Like anywhere in the world there are upsides and downsides. The environmental issues were most obvious but there are people passionate about their country and striving for change.

Full details are available from the link below:

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