Thousands of people visit this Indian Ocean paradise each year, but safety should always be your number one priority. The relaxed atmosphere does tend to lull some visitors into forgetting their common sense. Here are a few things to keep in mind for your holiday in the Maldives.
The Maldives is an Islamic country, and if you've never traveled to a Muslim country, you may be unaware of local laws and etiquette. It's a bit more than simply respecting customs like you would in Buddhist countries – in many Islamic countries, not observing certain rules can carry a fine or prison time.
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 traveling 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.
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 premises 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. Bikinis are perfectly fine in the resort areas.
In general, homosexuality is against the law and if you're convicted of this offence you may face lengthy prison sentences, fines or deportation. However, there has been no issues with LGBTQI+ couples checking into the resorts and enjoying a Maldivian holiday.
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.
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 whether you are heterosexual or LGBTQI+.
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.
It is true that there was a terrorist bombing in 2007 that injured 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.
Since then there has been a smattering of civil unrest incidents largely isolated to the capital, Male after the arrest of the Maldivian President in February 2015. Most travelers tend to arrive into Male and then travel onwards to the islands. But if you do find yourself in Male and a public demonstration breaks out, stay well clear and listen to media reports for more information.
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.
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 organize a guide or licensed tour operator to show you around. It is advised to dress modestly as well.
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.
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.
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.
During your visit you might admire some nifty handicrafts made out of coral or turtle shells. The material used in those bangles or fridge magnets were once a turtle's home. Never, ever purchase souvenirs that are made out of animal products (such as ivory, as well). Also know it's illegal to export them, so you may end up with something you can't take out of the Maldives. Some turtle species are also protected under international conservation law.
Even if you do manage to get this unethically crafted souvenir home, it could be seized on arrival by quarantine in your home country. Better not to buy it in the first place (the turtle will thank you).
For some quick health tips before you travel to the Maldives, read our guide to staying healthy and safe.
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