Hear about travel to the Maldives Islands as the Amateur Traveler talks to Jennifer Dombrowski of luxeadventuretraveler.com about her visit to this tropical paradise.
When asked why someone should go to the Maldives Jennifer says, “You know that screen saver that comes on when you turn on the computer for the first time and that pristine white sand beach with the palm trees that seem to be swaying at you pops up? I am convinced that those screen savers are pictures of the Maldives. It really just looks like that. You think before you go these pictures have got to be Photoshopped but they’re not. The water is that clear and the sand is that white. It’s such a gorgeous destination… how could you not want to go?”
“There are a lot of activities. First and foremost diving. It’s a world-class diving destination.”
Jennifer says “40 years ago no one had really heard of the Maldives. It is a country. It is located in the Indian Ocean southwest of India. What’s really special about the Maldives is that it’s this long chain of islands. All of these islands are geographically dispersed over a really large area. It’s actually 1,100 different islands that make up the Maldives although only around 300 are actually inhabited. The islands are very very small. For instance, the island we stayed on you had to run around it 7 times to make a lap of one mile. Typically a resort will rent out an island and it’s just that resort that is located there.”
Traditionally known as just a luxury destination. Jennifer says that is changing somewhat. “The Maldives government has recently recognized that they want to open up more to budget travelers and also to travelers who are seeking a more culturally diverse experience there. So something new that they’re trying, just within the last year, is that they’ve given permits to locals to open up guest houses. These are usually a private room in the local’s house that they will rent out to you.
As we arrived [by seaplane] there were dolphins jumping out of the water as if to greet us. You can see the dark blue of the coral reef that surrounds these sandbar islands and you’re just memorized by it”. Come listen and dream about this your vacation in the Maldives.
Guest Houses in the Maldives
Hotels and Resorts in the Maldives
Malé Ferry Service
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas reviews on TripAdvisor
Synanceia (stone fish)
Chris: Amateur Traveler Episode 500. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about sea turtles and whale sharks, coral atolls and over-the-water bungalows, as we go to the Islands of the Maldives.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. This is indeed the 500th episode, more or less, but rather than just do a show filled with self-congratulations, we’re going to try and do what we always try and do — give you some useful travel information. We’ll do some self-congratulations and reminiscing at the end, but first let’s talk about the Maldives.
I’d like to welcome to the show Jennifer Dombrowski from Luxe Adventure Traveler, who has come to talk to us about a definite luxury destination, the Maldives. Jennifer, welcome to the show.
Jennifer: Thanks, Chris. It’s great to be here.
Chris: We have known each other for a while, but we haven’t had you on Amateur Traveler, and I was looking for someone to talk about the Maldives. Where are the Maldives, first of all?
Jennifer: It’s funny that you say, “Where are they?” because I think even 40 years ago no one really had heard of the Maldives. And it is a country. It’s located in the Indian Ocean, sort of southwest of India. But what’s really special about the Maldives is that it’s this long chain of islands. All of these islands are really geographically dispersed over a really large area. It’s actually 1100 different islands that make up the Maldives.
Chris: That many, wow.
Jennifer: Although only around 300 are actually inhabited.
Chris: Excellent. And I talked about it was a luxury travel destination, because that’s how I know it. Am I on the mark there, or are there also backpacker hostels in the Maldives that I know nothing about?
Jennifer: There are no hostels. Until recently, it’s definitely been a luxury destination. And it’s really been sort of separated between the islands where the resorts are. And the islands are very, very small. For example, the island that we stayed on, you had to run around it seven times to make a lap of one mile. So they’re very, very small. These islands traditionally, a resort will rent out an island for a 20-year time period, and it’s just that resort that’s located there. And those were really kept very separate from the local islands. But the Maldives government has recently recognized that they want to open up more to the budget travelers.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Jennifer: And also to travelers that are seeking just a more culturally diverse experience there. So something new that they’re trying just within the last year is they’ve given permits to locals to open guest houses. And these are not hostels, but usually a private room in the local’s house that they’ll rent out to you. There’s not too many of those yet though. If you go on Airbnb for example, you can find some for as low as $40 a night for a private room. And what’s great is this initiative has done well so far, and the government is looking to have around 2100 of these guest rooms by 2017. So it definitely changes the way that people have traveled to the Maldives, and opened it up to not being the destination that’s just a dream.
Chris: Excellent. I want to interrupt you here for a second, because I’m still trying to wrap my head around seven times around the island is a mile, because the block that I live on is three-quarters of a mile around. So, we’re talking real small islands. Is that a typical size? What’s the largest island in the Maldives? They have to have something bigger for an airport, for instance.
Jennifer: They do. The airport is actually on a pretty small island, all of its own. And it’s located next to one of the larger islands where the general population of the Maldives lives, and that’s called Malé. So the airport, you’re kind of landing on a sand strip. And then from the airport you can take a water taxi, which costs just $1.30 over to Malé. And on Malé, there are quite a number of hotels, I think around 50 hotels there, and you can find guest houses in Malé as well. And you can expect hotels in Malé to run about $300 a night to start.
Chris: Okay. And the guest house is less than that, I’m assuming.
Jennifer: Yes. I took a look on Airbnb, and I did find some for as low as $40 a night.
Chris: Okay. Excellent. Why should someone go to the Maldives?
Jennifer: Well, you know that screensaver that when you turn on the computer for the first time, and that pristine, white sand beach, with the palm trees that just seem to be swaying at you pops up? I’m convinced that those screensavers are pictures of the Maldives. It really just looks like that. You go and you think before you go, “Oh, these pictures have to be photoshopped,” but they’re not. The water is that clear and the sand is that white. And it’s just such a gorgeous destination that, how could you not want to go? And there are a lot of things to do there, too. It’s not just, “Oh, I’m going to go sit on a beach for a week and relax” which if that’s your thing, of course you can do that. But there are a lot of activities; first and foremost, diving. It’s a world-class diving destination.
Chris: Okay. And what other things besides diving, snorkeling, swimming? So a lot of water things, I’m assuming.
Jennifer: Of course a lot of water sports, because like we talked about, you’re on a very small island. And unless you’re staying in Malé, where you can go on to the ferries and you can sort of ferry around to several of the closer islands, for about $3 to $20 depending on how long the boat ride is.
Jennifer: Unless you’re doing that, you’re really just staying and choosing just one resort that you’re going to stay at for the duration of your holiday, and there aren’t land based activities. So this is definitely a destination that if you don’t like the water, and you don’t like being in the water, it’s probably not for you.
Chris: You’ve come to the wrong place. Okay. When you talk about going to one destination, you stayed in a resort for instance for your stay. Did you take a ferry directly to the resort then?
Jennifer: One of the things that I think is important to consider when you’re choosing a resort is the proximity to Malé.
Jennifer: So almost all flights arriving to the Maldives, you’re going to arrive to Malé. And some resorts are close enough where you can reach them by speed-boat ride in, say, 15-20 minutes from the airport. Others are farther away, that you may need to take an additional seaplane flight. And that could be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour away. And seaplanes are not included in the cost of the resort. That’s an additional flight; that round trip is $500 per person.
Chris: Oh, wow. Okay.
Jennifer: So it’s something to think about, because that additional cost, if you have even just two of you, you’re looking at an additional $1000 once you arrive in Malé just to get to your resort.
Chris: Tell us a little bit about where you stayed, and what your experience was at that particular resort. Not that it’s the only resort there, but give us an idea of what the resort stay is like.
Jennifer: The Maldives is made up of 26 different atolls. And these are sort of island chains within the Maldives. And we stayed in the Baa atoll, which is a UNESCO biosphere destination.
Jennifer: So it’s very protected, there’s a lot of sea life. This is one of two atolls that you can go to in the Maldives where you can swim with the whale sharks, and the manta rays. It is further away from Malé, so we did have to take a seaplane ride to get to our resort. And we stayed at Anantara Kihavah Villas. It was absolutely magical. We arrived in our seaplane, and when you’re arriving in a seaplane to these islands, you’re sort of docking on this little chunk of wood that’s floating in the water away from the resort. A couple of people can stand on it, and that’s it. And as we arrived there were dolphins that were jumping out of the water as if to greet us.
Chris: Oh my goodness.
Jennifer: You can see the dark blue of the coral reef that surrounds these sort of little sand bar islands and you’re just mesmerized by it.
Chris: You mention them being coral atolls. One of the things I think that people should know with the Maldives is that they might want to get there now, because it is something that is threatened by rising sea levels, as I understand.
Jennifer: It definitely is. The highest point in all of the Maldives is seven feet.
Chris: Oh gee. Okay.
Jennifer: So not much more than the average man’s height if you think of a basketball player; that’s the high point of the Maldives. They really are just made up of bits and pieces of coral that have broken off the reef and washed together to form an island.
Chris: Interesting. So with the resort that you stayed at, I know that some of the resorts have the very stereotypical, over-the-water bungalows; what was the picture of the resort where you were at?
Jennifer: We did stay in one of the over-the-water bungalows. And the reason that the resorts typically do that, is because the land mass is so small, they can build more rooms by adding these over-the-water bungalows. There was the option to have a beach-front room or to have the over-the-water bungalow. And for us, we always sort of dreamed in staying in one of those over-the-water bungalows. And I think it is worth the additional cost for them. You really can just wake up in the morning, and jump off of your dock, and go snorkeling right from your bungalow; it’s fantastic. It’s the best thing in the world.
Chris: What was your biggest surprise with the Maldives?
Jennifer: I was really surprised, I think, about the variety of sea life. I had been living in Europe for a while when we went to the Maldives. And we used to vacation in the Caribbean every year, and we really enjoy snorkeling. We haven’t gotten to diving just yet. I wish we had done a certification either in the Maldives or prior to going. But after vacationing in the Caribbean, Europe’s kind of a disappointment when you really enjoy snorkeling. There isn’t coral reefs to snorkel on. You kind of look at rocks in the Mediterranean and there aren’t all the colorful fish. So this was the first place that we had been in quite some time that we had such lively coral reefs that really were just rich with different fish, and we saw fish that we hadn’t seen anywhere else in the world; anything has been hard to live up to it since.
Chris: The strangest or the most interesting fish you saw in the coral reefs?
Jennifer: We were just snorkeling off of our over-water bungalow and we had kind of looked at some books to see what the different types of fish were. Some of them are very good at camouflaging themselves; so if you don’t quite know what you’re looking for, then you’ll never see them. And there’s this fish called the Stonefish.
Chris: Oh, sure.
Jennifer: Who’s actually really deadly.
Chris: Right, you’re not supposed to step on those.
Jennifer: No, you can’t step on them. And we saw one really, really close up. We kind of got out of there quickly, but of course we took photos first.
Chris: Right, it’s not that they’re aggressive. It’s just that they have poisonous spines and the biggest way you can get yourself injured with a Stonefish is, especially if you didn’t have flippers on, and you just thought it was a stone.
Jennifer: So you definitely never want to step down; you want to just go and snorkel, and then come back to your ladder, and get out of the water, so that you can avoid stepping on anything that can potentially hurt or kill you in this case.
Chris: Right. Now, how much do you enjoy this sentence, “When we were snorkeling right off our bungalow”?
Jennifer: Oh, I know. That’s the best sentence that you can say, I think.
Chris: Now did you get a chance to explore much of the Maldives outside of the resort area?
Jennifer: No. Unfortunately, we didn’t. We stayed just at the resort, although you can decide to stay, as I said, in Malé for maybe a night or two, or the seaplanes also only operate between certain hours, from 6:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
Jennifer: So if you’re arriving on a flight that is coming in too late, they won’t take you out to your resort that night. So you might have to stay in Malé. And if you do, there are things to do in Malé. You can go and you can see the fish mongers, because of course the main job in the Maldives is fishing. You can see the fish mongers come in with their fish, and they have a large fish market there. You can also go spice shopping; there’s really good curries in the Maldives, so they have really yummy spices. I did pick some up at the airport on my way out. There are things that you can do if you do want to stay in Malé, and explore closer to the airport.
Chris: Okay. And I’m assuming that when you’re out at one of the resorts, you’re really some place that was probably an uninhabited island before they put the resort on it. So you don’t have as much opportunity to experience the local culture when you’re doing the resort stay.
Jennifer: Right. It is an uninhabited island that the resort leases for a set period of time. But what is nice is they do employ local Maldivian people.
Jennifer: So we did have opportunities to talk with locals that were working there at the resort. And some of them lived far enough away that they would come, and they would stay for five days, and then they would go home, and spend two days with their family, and then come back for their next work week. It was interesting to be able to talk with them about what it’s like living in the local islands.
Chris: And what did you learn from them?
Jennifer: What they described the local islands to look like is very different than if you’re at a resort. And we were there in 2012, so it had just been about, not quite 10 years yet since the big tsunami in the Indian Ocean. And that was very, very devastating to the Maldives. There were only around 59 islands that were unaffected by the flooding and just the sheer devastation that that tsunami had caused. And so some of the islands, the people had already been displaced, and had to move from their homes to other islands just because as we talked about it, it’s the height.
Chris: The storm surge put the whole thing under water, yeah.
Jennifer: Right. Just completely wiped out their island and it was never going to be seen again. These islands can wash away really with the current. So it was sad to hear some of those things, because of course, you’re there and you’re on this gorgeous beach, and you don’t think about what it’s like for the people to live in a place like that year round.
Chris: Any recommendations on Maldivian cuisine?
Jennifer: When you go to these resorts, of course, you’re sort of there. And around us we could see another resort which was the Four Seasons; that was nearby. But you don’t really island hop and go around to eat at different places. I think if you’re just staying at a resort, that’s kind of one of the things you also want to think about, is take a look at the number of restaurants that they offer, and the menu items to make sure that there’s enough variety to keep you entertained for the duration of your stay. As far as local food, the Maldives is a very fish oriented country.
Chris: Fish based diet.
Jennifer: So, they don’t have…
Chris: Big herds of sheep on their tiny little islands.
Jennifer: Right. So they’re catching their fish, and they’re eating their fish. And it’s hard to even plant vegetables and things like that to grow in the conditions that they have. So its very fish based. They have a lot of curries that they eat. There are coconuts of course, because there’s a lot of palm trees on these little islands. So they’ll mix things like tuna with coconut to make a patty. That’s really kind of the food that you can taste other than what the resorts offer, which of course are a little bit more international.
Chris: Okay. Well, like the islands, this episode is going to be smaller than average. Are there other things that we need to know before we go to the Maldives before we get to some of our last questions?
Jennifer: I would say that one thing that is a really memorable experience that we had, and something that you want to look for is a resort that has an underwater restaurant. There’s not too many of them in the Maldives, but there are more than the one that sort of became famous a decade ago, which was at the Hilton. And lucky for us Anantara did have an underwater restaurant. And that’s probably one of the most memorable meals that I’ve ever had.
Chris: So you’re sitting there, and I assume they’re not going out and catching your meal as you’re watching there, but you’re watching lots of different fish go by, great big things? Things that are wondering whether you were on the menu or what?
Jennifer: The restaurant is sort of sunk down along the side of the reef. So you have the reef around one side of it, and then the deeper water on the other. And I would recommend if you do an underwater restaurant, that you go at lunchtime, because you have the natural sunlight where you can see further through the water. And we did see sharks, and turtles, and loads of different fish. And as we sat there and we dined, we thought to ourselves, “This would be a great place to walk over, and snorkel around the restaurant.” So we did.
Chris: So you also became portions of the entertainment as well.
Jennifer: Oh, yes.
Chris: That’s funny. As we think about the Maldives, one thing that makes you laugh, and say, “Only in the Maldives.”
Jennifer: I think, being able to say, “Oh, I snorkeled around the restaurant” is something that you can really only do in the Maldives, because there are not too many underwater restaurants anywhere else in the world.
Chris: Okay. Besides your swimsuit, one thing you should pack when you go to the Maldives?
Chris: Okay. Yeah, I can picture that. Nothing else?
Jennifer: Sunscreen is a must.
Chris: Nothing else that caught you by surprise?
Jennifer: You want to think about things, of course, anytime that you travel like, bringing medications with you, especially these resorts, if you’re a 40-minute seaplane ride away from the nearest hospital, you just want to be prepared. And of course, the resorts have people that can help you in the instance that something does happen, but just for little things like, “I have a headache, and I forgot to bring some aspirin with me,” it’s very expensive to purchase those things at the resort gift shop. So it’s better to bring them with you, and be prepared just in case.
Chris: Excellent. Last three questions; you’re standing in the prettiest spot you saw in the Maldives, where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Jennifer: One of the great things that these resorts do is they often have a private island that there’s nothing on it. You can just go and you can have a picnic on it, and you can snorkel off of it. It’s that episode of some reality TV show, where you’re dropped off on an island, and there’s nothing else there. I think that that is the prettiest.
Chris: I think that was Gilligan’s Island. That wasn’t actually a reality TV show; common misconception. So you’re taken over by boat or you could swim over, or how close are we talking about?
Jennifer: They take you over by boat to the private island, and they’ll pack you up a picnic, and they’ll leave you there, and then they’ll come retrieve you some hours later.
Chris: Excellent. And finish this thought, “You really know you’re in the Maldives when…” what?
Jennifer: When you’re lying in a hammock, with a coconut in your hand staring out at the clearest water that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.
Chris: Excellent. And if you had to summarize the Maldives in just three words, what three words would you use?
Jennifer: Best beach ever.
Chris: Excellent. And our guest again has been Jennifer Dombrowski. Jennifer, where can people read about your travels?
Jennifer: They can head on over to our website which is luxeadventuretraveler.com. And of course, we’ve written all about our Maldives trip there, so they can see the beautiful pictures to get more of a visual of what we’ve been talking about.
Chris: Excellent. And Luxe has an E at the end, just for those of you who weren’t expecting that. You can find that link in the lyrics of this episode as well as in the show notes at amateurtraveler.com. Jennifer, thank you so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler, and sharing with us clearly, your love for the Maldives.
Jennifer: Thanks for having me.
Chris: In news of the community, as I mentioned this is the 500th episode. I said more or less, because we actually had a couple of special episodes in there that didn’t get episode numbers; live episodes of the show. And then there was at least one episode on Argentina that was a two-part episode that was named with the same number. So we may have hit 500 a little while ago, but this seemed like a good time to pause, and for one, say thanks.
I’m still having fun doing the show; I hope you’re still having fun listening to it, because I’m planning on continuing to do it. And two, what a wild ride. I could not have imagined when we started this show over 10 years ago, that we would ever get to 500 episodes. I could not imagine what the show would be like, it really wasn’t planned as a destination a week show, it was going to be all about my travel stories. But I didn’t travel enough to have enough travel stories that we could have done anything like 500 episodes. Thank you to all of the people who have come on the show from Jennifer Dombrowski who just came on this episode to Bernie Bernstein who was our first guest on the show, to some of the guests who have been on many, many times like, Gary Arndt, and Chris Willis. And I can’t possibly name everyone else who’s been on the show. But you have helped make it a wonderful time for me; I enjoy hearing your travel stories. And it’s been great for me when I have been able to do some of the travels to those places after we have done the show.
I have, like you, sometimes, I think, been walking around in destinations with ear buds in my ears hearing how I should enjoy Wahaca or Mexico City, or the Yucatan, or Jordan, or I can’t think of all of the different places that has already happened, but it has been a lot. So thanks to all the guests, thanks to all of the listeners, and what an amazing time it has been. I’ve had a chance to be paparazzi for the Pope. I’ve been invited to the White House for goodness sake. This has been a weird, weird thing. The Amateur Traveler as I mentioned before is used to teach English as a second language in the Canadian school system, the German school system, and at Oxford University. It is also used to test English proficiency in Thailand at the Foreign Ministry. What an odd, odd ride.
I have to say that I’m honored for those of you who have written and say that you use the show to actually plan your travels. That is what gives me the greatest joy. I’ve noticed recently in my Google Analytics people searching specifically for things like, Amateur Traveler, New Orleans, or Amateur Traveler, this destination, or Amateur Traveler, that destination, specifically wondering what we had to say about some place you’re going. And I’m honored that you think we’re worth your time. And I’m also really thrilled both for the people who have traveled with us on the two Amateur Traveler trips before, and the one that’s coming up to Cambodia. I’m sure that we’re going to have a wonderful time. I find when I hang out with you guys that I really enjoy it. So thanks to all of you. Thanks so much for listening.
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