Arriving in the Maldives, cruising at Jumbo height over the stunning aqua landscape, making the travel stained passangers going OOOHHH!, and AAAHHH!, every other minute, it is hard to believe that your quest in finding paradise might just have begun.
Everyone (except you guys with your own yacht, obviously) lands at Male International Airport (the Island is called Hulhule), a strip of tarmac smack in the middle of the ocean, like an exclamation mark that makes you send a quick prayer to whoever last checked the brakes on the huge aircraft just about to land - with you in it.
When you get off the plane, make sure to leg it to immigration counters and then, when your bags arrive, be quick to get outside. There you will either be taken care of by a representative for your chosen resort, or go to the counter with your resort's name on it. If you have a boat transfer, you will be escorted to the pier close by and a nice speed boat taking you to the Island of your dreams. If you have a sea plane transfer, they will assist you in checking in at the TMA (Trans Maldivian) desk. However, you must pass the resort's counter first. Here it is "first come, first served", so if you are quick to get to your desk, you will be an earlier apssanger on the transfer. Then you will be taken by (air conditioned) minibus to the seplane waiting lounge on the other side of the tarmac, takes about 5 minutes. There is very little Island and very much tarmac on Hulhule, see below.
Hulhule Island, Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and the harbor on the right, seaplane transfer Airport on the left.
So what is all the fuss about?? Seems pretty straightforward, right? Here it is; The seaplanes only fly in daylight. This means that if you arrive after 4 pm (16.00) you might be stuck on Hulhule (or go in to Male by boat) for the first night. Apart from the extra expense of a hotel night, it is guaranteed to make tired travellers in a not very happy mood. Also, if your international flight home leaves at night, say 8 pm or even later, you could be sitting (outside) the airport building for hours in the heat before you are even allowed in the airport building 2 hours before departure due to TMA's flight Schedules. Do not get me wrong, I am sure everyone does their best, but to schedule seaplanes in such a small area with safety measures (no one wants them to meet head on in the air, right?) and the nightmare logistic of the resorts to get many different nationalities with different departures to catch, on the seaplane transfer as smoothly as possible....well, no easy task.
I will give you an example. You are staying on a resort about 45 minutes from Male by sea plane. This resort, like many in the Maldives, have "Island time, that is 1 hour before Male time, to let their guests make the most of sunset. This way the sun will set around 7 pm (19.00) instead of 6 pm. Much better timing for a pre dinner drink. Your flight home is the Qatar Airways one at 7.30 pm (19.30). You will have to check out from you paradise home at noon (12.00) and your transfer leaves at 3.30 pm (15.30) if you are lucky and the resort does not need to send you off together with some other guests from Japan that have an earlier flight, to make it work.
Well, if you leave the resort at 3.30, you will be in Hulhule 3.15 due to the "Island time" difference and then the waiting begins......not to mention you could have spent that day on the beach instead.
What to do? The obvious is to land in Male in the morning to get an extra day when you arrive. Much easier to adapt to time difference too. Also, make sure your flight home leaves in the morning, though no earlier than 9.00 am (9.00). Otehrwise you might have to go to Male the night before. Another solution is simply to stay in a resort that is close enough for boat transfer. You could also end your trip on a resort close to the Airport. Why not have a few nights on a real luxury resort like Baros, Gili Lankanfushi or Cocoa Island??? :-)
I borrowed this pic because it clearly shows the capital Male in the forground, then Hulhule with the Airport and behind that, the new, manmade Island Hulhumale, built to accomodate all the people that want to ove to the capital, but there is simply no room for them.
Cocoa Island by Como in South Male atoll. No bungalows on the Island, just converted dhonis on the water. Very "ZEN" Island. :-) Can be reached by boat transfer.