Maldives: Budget-friendly escapes for South Africans

2016-05-12 20:00 - Selene Brophy
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Europe and America, perennially feature on South Africans’ “Must-Visit” lists. But with the rand in the state it’s in, those wishes seem harder to realise. This hasn’t meant South Africans have wholesale given up on international travel.

In a sense, the rand’s weakness has led South Africans to be even more adventurous travellers. With our go-to destinations proving heavy on our pockets, we’ve seen an increase in travel to new, cheaper destinations.

South-East nations like Thailand and Malaysia have particularly benefited from this shift.

SEE: Thinking of visiting the Maldives? Here’s why you should...

Even more recently, South Africans have been "discovering’’ the Maldives as a holiday destination that, as its motto says, promises visitors “the sunny side of life.” Made up of 1 192 islands and 26 geographic atolls, the Maldives has an island for virtually every purpose. From newlyweds to business conferences, the Maldives can cater for everyone. Considering that there are so many islands, it is pretty amazing that only 187 of them are inhabited.

In 2015, according to data from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), the nation’s official tourism body, there was a 39.9% increase in the number of South Africans visiting. For most, in addition to white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, exclusive high-end luxury resorts are what comes to mind when thinking of the Maldives.

Harish Mohamed, acting Managing Director of the MMPRC, is proud of that. “That our Resort Islands are what we are most well-known for in the South African market, is a positive. Since 1972, when our first resort was launched, we have developed and championed the Resort Hotel model of tourism in the Maldives.”

The Maldivian Resort Hotel is an exclusive high-end luxury hotel, on its own island, populated solely by guests to the hotel and hotel staff. Entirely self-contained, a typical resort includes everything, from restaurants, coffee shops, shops, lounges, bars, discos and diving schools, a guest could need to have the dream holiday. A key element of the Resort Hotel model is that each resort is self-sustained, therefore each island has a desalination plant and a power-generator.

ALSO READ: The Maldives = Beach therapy

While high-end luxury accommodation is what the Maldives has built its tourism industry around, Mohamed notes that the island nation has recently started catering for travellers beyond the Resort Hotel model.

Guest house model over Resort stays

“For travellers on a budget, the guest house model allows them to now also experience the sunny side of life. Our guest houses on islands close to our capital, Malé, like Hulhumale, Maafushi and Thulusdhoo now provide accommodation that suits all pockets. These islands also offer the same white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters the Maldives are famed for along with facilities like dive schools, restaurants, and spa treatments.”

The development of budget travel options is not the only reason behind the increase in South Africans travelling to the Maldives.

It is one of the 97 nations South Africans can travel to without a visa, according to the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index for 2016.

However, the most enticing draw for rand-strapped South Africans, is probably the Maldives’ rufiyaah being 1:1 to the rand.

“Essentially, for South Africans visiting the Maldives, there won’t be any nasty surprises when looking at credit card statements when back home,” Mohamed says.

Quick guide if you're planning a budget break:

Average cost of high-end resort accommodation per person per night:  This depends on the resort chosen - it can range from $800 (about R12 000 at R15/$) - $20 000+

Compared to average cost of a budget guest house per person per night: From $60+(about R900 at R15/$)

Average cost of dinner for two and basic activities: Again this depends on the property visited, but you can get by on as little $100 (about R150 at R15/$)

Currency: The Maldivian Rufiyaa, one of which will currently cost you around R0.60.

Climate: Throughout the year you can expect warm weather, with a range from 24 to 33 degrees. However, you’ll want to avoid the rainy season so aim to visit between the beginning of November and the end of March. 

Time zone: UTC +5 – three hours ahead of South Africa.  

When to go: The best time to visit is between November and March, because the rest of the year will see virtually guaranteed rain. However, surfing season runs from March until October – while you’ll see some rain, resorts will be at their cheapest. Also take note of when Ramadaan is, as this will affect where and what time you can eat in populated centres. 

Food to try: Coconuts and tuna are the islands’ most popular dishes, usually served along with a starch. But restaurants in resorts and cities will offer a full spread for visitors, so you won’t struggle to find Asian and European inspired dishes. Bear in mind eating in the Maldives is expensive, so consider all-inclusive, or full or half board deals before deciding to go.  

SEE: Maldives: Discovering a culinary paradise

Useful phrases: The Maldives cater to the wealthy, so if you’re visiting you will likely need to learn to ask “What is the price?”: Agu kihaavareh? 

Getting there: Although the country’s official carrier is Maldivian, it doesn’t fly to South Africa. Airlines that fly from South Africa to the Maldives include Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Etihad or Qatar Airways. Click here to search flights

Visa: South Africans qualify for a 90 days for a fee. 

Maldives must-dos

Scuba diving and snorkelling: Incredible visibility and water that stays warm throughout the year makes the Maldives a diver’s paradise. Diving is excellent even within the vicinity of Male, but gets better and better the further out one travels. In the dry season the sea is calmer and the sun shines more often, which means visibility can be over 30m. It isn’t cheap to dive in this part of the world, but might just be worth it. Expect severe attention to be paid to safety standards. 

READ: Maldives' thriving atolls: A magical dive with mantas by moonlight

Hukuru Miskiiy (Old Friday  Mosque): Hukuru Miskiiy is the oldest mosque in the Maldives, dating back to the mid-1600s. The outside doesn’t look all that good as it is protected by corrugated iron, but the inside is stunning and intricately beautiful. The temple was originally built to face the sunset, so worshippers face a corner of the building that faces Mecca while praying. The carpet indicates the correct direction. 

READ: Maldives Top 5 activities: It is impossible to get bored

Whale Submarine: For a price, board the Whale Submarine for a motorised underwater trip off the Maldivian coast, as deep as 40m. Although you aren’t actually going to see any whales, passengers can see a plethora of fish, stunning coral, turtles, White Tip Reef Sharks and a two-metre long Giant Grouper. Depending on what time you board the submarine, possible sights could include shipwrecks. Even if you don’t see anything (the chances of which are virtually nil) you get to ride in a submarine.  

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