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Travel Safety Guide to The Maldives
The chances are you come from somewhere far more dangerous and over-regulated than the Maldives, that's why you're going after all. But the relaxed atmosphere does tend to lull some people into forgetting common sense. Just think about whether or not it’s a great idea to leave your wallet open on the table in a bar showing huge wads of cash while you go to the bathroom. Just think about how far from the beach you can stroll wearing just your swimming costume. If you wouldn’t do it at home – don’t do it in the Maldives.
Beach and Bag Security
Crime rates are low but theft of belongings left unattended either on the beach or in hotel rooms does happen. It will probably come as a shock to you, but thieves have worked out the trick of ‘hiding’ your money under your towel or in your smelly sandshoe. Use the safe deposit boxes back at the resort.
(look at all the thieves crawling all over this beach - er, hello! Anyone there?)
Sadly, the Maldives is experiencing a growing drug problem amongst its youth, and petty crime has risen as a result - although from a very low base. If it's going to happen it's most likely to be in the capital Male, so move your care factor up a notch (from zero) and know where your wallet is at all times.
Islam & the Law
The Maldives is an Islamic country and if you’ve never been to one you may be unaware of how much that affects the legal system. It’s a bit more than just R-E-S-P-E-C-T, in many Islamic countries not observing certain rules carries a prison sentence along with it.
It is obviously illegal to import explosives, weapons, firearms, ammunition and drugs, but in addition the importation of material deemed contrary to Islam such as pornography, pork and pork products, alcohol, idols for worship, bibles or any non-Islamic religious text is also illegal. Although in practice tourists travelling to the resort islands are usually allowed to bring in religious material for private use… but that means one bible, a whole crate-load will raise some suspicions about your true intent.
(Maldives and Islam meet in architecture - lovely)
Islamic law doesn’t exactly leave much room for tolerance of other religions, and public observance of any religion other than Islam is illegal. Religious practice is allowed within private residences, but it is illegal to either invite or encourage Maldivian citizens to attend such meetings. To show they’re serious about this, they can throw you in jail for it. So if you’re thinking about being friendly and inviting a Maldivian along for a some gospel singing, be aware that yes, they can put you in jail for that and at the lighter end of the scale you may face deportation or fines. Or all three if they really want to make an example of you.
Alcohol is generally prohibited under Islamic law, and in the Maldives it is only allowed on the resort and really should not be taken off a resort island.
Islamic law encourages modesty of dress so, nude or topless sunbaking is prohibited everywhere in the Maldives including on resort islands. Likewise, homosexuality is against the law and if you’re convicted of this offence you may face lengthy prison sentences, fines, deportation or - if you’re a born-again same-sex naturist couple - all three.
Be extra respectful during the holy month of Ramadan. People are likely to be sensitive to anything they perceive as a slight during this month and generally speaking, you should take steps to avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public. Ramadan involves Muslims not eating or drinking from dawn to dusk and it’s rude to ignore this custom – akin to taking a bucket of the colonel’s finest and a quart of soda to a Weightwatcher’s meeting!
When in the capital Malé or on non-resort islands, they’re not as accustomed to the sight of men’s legs in board shorts or women’s’ uncovered shoulders, so dress conservatively. Likewise, public displays of affection, including holding hands and kissing is likely to offend people in the non resort areas of the Maldives.
Drug enforcement in the Maldives is strict and penalties severe. They don’t have the death penalty for drug offences, but they do have mandatory prison time for anyone caught with even ‘soft’ drugs. Possession of minor amounts of can be considered trafficking, with a life sentence in prison attached to it.
For serious crimes such as murder on the other hand, they do have the death penalty.
Don’t Shell Out
During your visit you may well admire some nifty handicrafts made out of coral or tortoise shell. Apart from the fact the bangle used to be some tortoise’s home, be aware it’s illegal to export them, so you may end up with something you can’t take off the Maldives. Better not to buy it in the first place (the tortoise will thank you).
Tourists are, generally speaking, discouraged from visiting non-resort islands. This is largely because they want to keep a tight grip on where the tourists dollars are spent and to make sure the non-resort islands are not ‘corrupted’ by foreign influences (remember it is a strict Muslim country). To visit the non-resorts islands and outer atolls you will need to be sponsored by a local, so it needs to be pre-arranged.
In some cases it is possible to visit other islands as part of on organised trip run by licensed tour operators.
Travel to and from the different islands is by either boat or seaplane. Safety standards are often different from what you may expect in a western country. Most of the boats and planes are in fairly good condition, but some of them… well, unless you’re a licensed marine or aviation engineer and have brought your coveralls and a flashlight, you'll have to use 'gut feeling'. If it looks leaky or in disrepair, it probably is.
If you're a yachtie making your own way over the seas to these islands, wherever you anchor you’re going to be met by Maldivian immigration and you need to have prior clearance via agents in Malé.
Expensive? Oh My Word!
Why is it so expensive? The 1970’s saw an influx of hippies who had little money and tended to influence the local populace in all the ways the government didn’t want, along with looking funny and smelling bad.
The government solution was to maximise revenue and discourage hippies by making everything expensive. It worked quite well and expensive resorts dominate the tourism landscape. There are a few smaller and cheaper options in and around the capital Male and on smaller islands. These lodgings in people's homes or small guest houses are a new phenomenon, engineerd in the last few years by the government's wish for ordinary citizens to profit from tourism, not just big corporations.
Dangers: Natural & Otherwise
It is true that there was a terrorist bombing in 2007 that killed twelve foreign tourists, but it’s considered an isolated incident, and yes, there was great damage from the 2004 tsunami, but recovery and rehabilitation has come a long way.
Most likely dangers in the Maldives are getting sunburnt, grazing yourself on coral while snorkelling and swimming or worst of all, a coconut falling on your head. Sounds funny, but coconuts are very heavy and fall from a great height and that can kill you. Seriously (stop laughing!) don’t stand, lie, or sit beneath a coconut tree no matter how relaxing or appealing the idea may be to you.
Diving and snorkelling in the Maldives is top notch, and many novices are tempted into trying the sport. Make sure you get proper instruction, and watch out for the sharks.
(One of the friendly locals)
Yes, there are plenty of sharks in the waters, but despite that there has not been a recorded incident of a shark attacking a human. Don’t be the first. Pay attention and respect the fact that sharks are well, sharks.
On the other hand, there are plenty of other dangerous things in the ocean. On the lighter end of the scale, you could stung by an anemone, sea urchin or touch a lionfish. All of these things will hurt, and in the case of the Lionfish, hurt a lot. But these are creatures which don’t jump out at you and attack, just appreciate them and don’t touch.
A lot of people tend to assume that if it’s a fish that isn’t a shark, it’s not going to bite you. That’s oh so very wrong, and the Titan Trigger Fish is definitely ample evidence of this. Most of the time, the Titan Trigger Fish is a little freaked out by humans scuba diving or snorkelling and tends to stay well clear. During mating season however, things change. The aggressive posture of the titan trigger fish, is to head directly towards the target and extend the dorsal fin. So if you see what looks like a mohawked fish coming straight for you, be careful. The titan trigger fish isn’t venomous, but it does have a reasonably nasty bite that can require medical attention.
The most dangerous fish however, is the stonefish. It’s highly venomous and tends to hang out on rocks where it looks, as it’s name suggests, like a stone. It’s VERY well camouflaged and its venom can be (and usually is) fatal, so take extreme care where you put your feet when snorkelling, swimming or scuba diving amongst coral reefs.
If you’re going fishing, be aware that many tropical fish contain various biotoxins that are dangerous no matter how well the fish is cooked. Barracuda in particular should never be eaten, plenty of other fish may contain toxins such as snapper, grouper, amberjack, sea bass, and many tropical reef fish. So really check what kind of fish you’ve caught and look up whether or not it’s safe to eat before you decide to have a fish barbeque.
Dengue fever can be a problem in the Maldives, with an outbreak in early 2011 having three hundred reported cases with five deaths. Dengue fever as well as chikungunya fever are problems that occur periodically in the Maldives. Both of these are mosquito born infectious disease, and adequate mosquito protection is highly recommended.
The middle of nowhere
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Visitors to The Maldives are being warned to take extra care while transiting through, or visiting, the capital Male. The country's first democratically elected President resigned on 7th February 2012 after 3 weeks of political unrest, variously described as a mutiny or an opposition-engineered coup.
A spot of bother