I’m Going to Maldives and I’m Staying in…Malé

Maldives is lineb up to be my 150th UN country.

I booked it relatively last minute, learning the quirks of the American Airlines award chart ‘no 3rd region transit rule’. There are specific exceptions for such transits, though getting to Maldives in Middle East/Indian Subcontinent via the convenient Cathay Pacific route is not one of them. Going on Etihad or Qatar force long layovers in places I do not want to return, and did not have award availability. So I am unusually splurging on a business class award of Japan Airlines and Sri Lankan to get me to Colombo, and a cash ticket on to Maldives. Japan Airlines is one of the few business classes in the world I am curious enough to try to pay the award price.

(Side note: I had two different dates on American Airlines courtesy 5-day hold and on both the Sri Lankan segment disappeared somewhere along the way. Fortunately I could add it back. Beware leaving their flights on long hold.)

Much has been written in the miles and points world on the merits of Maldives resorts and their exorbitant transfers. My issue is I am going for 2 days and going alone. Even the near-to-airport Sheraton does not make sense once I read Lonely Planet mention “not suitable for snorkeling.”

My wife likes the theoretical idea of Maldives if she could visit on no more than a 3-hour flight without connections. Until such time, Florida is her spot.

The capital, Malé, does not have a great reputation, yet I will base myself there. This comes from a conflict of two of my travel principles:

  1. Visit what makes a place stand out. Not yet another cathedral or yet another beach. What is unique.
  2. Connect with local life.

In Maldives, what stands out is what disconnections from local life. Still, in places such as Las Vegas I am fascinated by the back of stage. The lives of the employees in fairyland. Malé will be a gritty perch to observe the Maldives.

Also, I was surprised to read that only recently has the Maldivian government opened to more direct interaction with locals through accommodation such as homestays. I haven’t picked where I will stay, and many homestays are on islands not easily reachable in a short time, so I may not get this experience. Maybe if I locate one on Hulhumale, which houses the airport and I understand a burgeoning backpacker scene, I may hop over there.

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  • John

    Love to hear more about the Male homestay if you choose to book it? What biz award did you book? Narita to Hong Kong/Bangkok/Singapore to Colombo? 30k miles is a steal…not exactly a splurge. China Eastern to Male from Colombo? Any plans in Sri lanka?

  • MFK

    I ran around Malé for about an hour between transfers on my way out of the country, after some insistence – I got the feeling they didn’t want tourists wandering around town. Why, I don’t really know, so I won’t speculate. Anyway, I found it to be more interesting from the air than on the ground (I’m not being sarcastic; the views of the city on approach and departure were fascinating to me – it looks like a floating city), but hopefully with more time to explore you’ll find its charm. Sri Lanka was amazing, though. I hope you have several days (or weeks) to spend there. Enjoy!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @John – JFK-NRT-PVG on JL then PVG-CMB on UL rather than overnight in NRT for the UL and lse half a day to boot. Sri Lanka is one of my favorites though only connecting this time. Will be on to Morocco and West Africa.

  • John

    That’s a nice award to squeeze in before the AA devaluation, since Sri Lanka will be changing zones after 22 March. Hear good things about JL’s biz class.

    How do you get from Colombo to West Africa?

    Will you have to get a transit visa for Colombo?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @MFK – I wish I had time to linger in Sri Lanka, a gem that I visited some years ago and want the time to return.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @John – good reminder that I should keep up to date on Sri Lankan immigration, been a long time since I was there. I am just directly connecting so it looks like I do not need to get the Electronic Travel Authorization.

    Another pre-AA devaluation one is MLE-AUH-CMN on EY, I don’t know if the rate is changing, but what the heck I did that in business for 45k, what appeals to me is the evening departure from MLE and short layover in AUH. So many different trips I have looked at US to Africa on EY and QR have 10-12 layovers in AUH and DOH that once in a lifetime is sufficient. Royal Air Maroc seems more or less the main West African carrier though similar theme of many 10-hour CMN layovers if I stick to them. Will they hurry up and join an alliance by next week, please?

  • MFK

    Too bad about Sri Lanka, but Morocco and West Africa definitely will be interesting. I’ve been researching a trip to Morocco off and on again over the years (most recently after seeing Bourdain’s episode on Tangiers), but haven’t been able to fit it in. Part of the problem is that I want to do Gibraltar and Western Sahara along with it, which requires some time and effort to work out the logistics and a good chunk of time for the trip. The other part is that I haven’t found a lot of award availability, other than BA and its exorbitant fuel surcharges. Anyway, enjoy!

  • John

    Not that you will change your ticket — you’re probably more short on time than miles — but here’s something to ponder. Fly MLE to Europe/Madrid for 30k AA in biz 40k in first (Etihad Apartment anyone?) and then connect between MAD and CMN for 4.5k Avios in economy.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @John – I did look at a few options through Europe, a day later the EY MLE-AUH-MAD would work great with a short AUH connection, that one doesn’t fly on the Saturday I need it. It is a good general point and will work for many. Mine it was a trade-off of 45k AA and a few dollars versus more connections, more cash, etc and the Apartment isn’t my big thing.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @MFK – I spent a good stretch in Sri Lanka in 2009 so not totally missing out

    I tried to fit in Western Sahara on a prior trip and didn’t work, the flight schedule is not ideal. One you can look at is the options through the Canaries direct to Western Sahara, I almost took that once and Canaries much better than Euro package tour reputation. Gibraltor I went as a separate swing, it is hard to combine them all.

    For Morocco I struggled to find what I really wanted, I have had enough souqs for sure, so I am going to do a 2-day self-drive loop up the Atlantic coast through Tangier and Spanish Cueta, then back down inland with stops such as Volubilis, as well as the separate 2-nighter for Western Sahara, and on to Mauritania on the Air Maroc flight.