How to Explore Maldives on a Small-Ship Cruise: An Essential Guide for Travellers

Embarking on a small-ship cruise across the stunning archipelago of the Maldives offers an unparalleled opportunity to discover its diverse marine life, unspoiled beaches and vibrant local culture.

Exploring the Maldives on a small-ship cruise offers an intimate, immersive experience of this tropical paradise. This journey allows you to navigate through the turquoise waters, discovering the rich marine life, pristine beaches, and local culture at your own pace.

This article will guide you through planning this unique adventure, from choosing the right cruise to highlighting must-visit spots and activities. It also includes practical tips on what to pack and how to respect the local environment and culture.

So, whether you’re a seasoned sailor or a cruising novice, this comprehensive guide will ensure you have an unforgettable Maldivian voyage.

Key takeaways:

  • Small-ship cruise offers intimate, immersive experience of Maldives
  • Consider cruise size, itinerary, duration, budget, and specialty cruises
  • Sea Farer and Gahaa cruise ships offer unique experiences and amenities
  • Baa Atoll, Vaavu Atoll, South Malé Atoll, Meemu Atoll, Dhangethi, Guraidhoo, and Madivaru are must-visit spots
  • Best season to cruise is during dry Northeast monsoon from November to April

Understanding Maldives Cruising Options

how to explore maldives on a small ship cruise

With a plethora of options at your disposal, choosing the perfect Maldives cruise may seem daunting. However, categorizing the options based on your interest areas can simplify the task. Here are the key points to focus on:

1. Size of Cruise: A small ship cruise offers closer access to the shallow waters of Maldives and personalized service. Consider a large ship for extensive onboard activities.

2. Itinerary: Evaluate the destinations covered by each cruise. Look for options that cover your desired locations such as the pristine Baa Atoll or vibrant Vaavu Atoll.

3. Duration: Depending on your travel plan, choose between short, medium and long duration cruises. Keep adequate days aside for post-cruise relaxation.

4. Budget: Identify your spend limit and pick cruises that align closely with your budget without compromising on the core experience.

5. Specialty Cruises: For particular interests like snorkeling, fishing or luxury travel, look for specialty cruises that offer curated experiences.

Remember, the ideal cruise for you is subjective to your preferences and expectations.

Familiarizing With Sea Farer and Gahaa Cruise Ships

Commonly selected for their intimate excursion style, both Sea Farer and Gahaa provide quite the distinctive sea journey. Sea Farer, a traditional Maldivian Dhoni, offers a nostalgic voyage experience, bolstered by modern conveniences. With a capacity of mere 12 passengers, the aim is an intimate communion with nature.

Sea Farer’s widely appreciated features include light-flooded cabins, a sun deck equipped with lounge chairs, and a communal dining area known for serving fresh Maldivian cuisine.

On the other hand, Gahaa, designed to mimic Maldivian fishing boats, accommodates up to 10 passengers. This makes for a specific appeal to those seeking serene solitude. Each cabin comes furnished with modern amenities.

Key characteristics of both vessels could be summarized as follows:

  • Capacity: Sea Farer – 12, Gahaa – 10
  • Design: Nostalgic (Sea Farer), Fishing-oriented – (Gahaa)
  • Cabins: Light-filled (Sea Farer), Modern amenities (Gahaa)
  • Communal Spaces: Sun deck, Dining area (Sea Farer)
  • Cuisine: Maldivian (Sea Farer)

Notably, both vessels are designed for environmentally conscientious traveling, emphasizing the preservation of Maldives’ unique marine life and pristine, blue lagoons.

Highlighting Key Locations: Baa Atoll, Vaavu Atoll, South Malé Atoll, Meemu Atoll, Dhangethi, Guraidhoo, Madivaru

Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is notable for its biodiversity, including manta rays and whale sharks. Vaavu Atoll features Felidhoo and Fulidhoo islands known for exquisite reef formations and a vibrant marine life. South Malé Atoll, separated from North Malé Atoll by a deep channel, offers plenty of exceptional dive sites including the renowned Guraidhoo Kandu South.

Moving on to Meemu Atoll, has two inhabited islands; Muli and Dhiggaru. Muli is appreciated for its tranquil scenery whereas Dhiggaru is known for celebratory events like Meemu Eid. The island of Dhangethi in the Alif Dhaal Atoll, presents an opportunity to wander through streets lined with Maldivian architecture, giving an doze of local culture.

Guraidhoo, located in the Kaafu Atoll, is renowned for its surf points; the reef break here known as ‘Guraidhoo Left’ attracts surfers globally. Madivaru features a stunning uninhabited island in Rasdhoo Atoll. Despite its deserted status, Madivaru holds a vibrant marine life and is a popular spot for picnic tours. Each of these locations provides unique experiences that make cruising the Maldives an unforgettable journey.

Best Season to Plan a Maldives Cruise

Denoting roughly two weather patterns, the climate of the Maldives is typically defining by the dry Northeast monsoon from November to April and the rainy Southwest monsoon from May to October. These factors together carve the optimal travel plan for the tourists:

1. The Northeast Monsoon period is characterized by clear skies, lower humidity, and minimal rainfall. As a result, this is considered the best season for cruising, showcasing the archipelago in all its sun-drenched magnificence.

2. In the months from November to April, the sea remains relatively calm, making it perfect for water-based activities and exploration such as snorkeling, diving, and dolphin watching.

3. The period from January to March is noted for the maximum hours of sunshine, ideal conditions for sunbathing and beach activities.

4. Even though the Southwest Monsoon brings rainfall, being a tropical destination, the Maldives experiences short and swift rain showers, after which the skies clear up. This is essential for travellers seeking less crowded cruising experiences with possible discounted rates.

Consequently, identification of the best cruising season entirely depends on the traveller’s preferences and activities of interest available on the cruise.

Handy Tips for Planning a Trip to the Maldives

1. Opt for the dry season running from November to April for less rainfall and clearer skies.

2. Book flights and accommodations in advance to avoid last-minute price hikes and to secure preferred itineraries.

3. Research visa requirements: Tourist visas, often issued upon arrival, are typically valid for 30 days.

4. Know your budget: While the Maldives is famous for luxury resorts, a small-ship cruise can offer affordable exploration options.

5. Prioritize your interests: If your cruise doesn’t cover all islands, select ones based on the available activities – diving, snorkeling, beach relaxation.

6. Understand local customs: Maldives follows Islamic customs and laws. Opt for modest clothing in the inhabited islands.

7. Health precautions: Carry sunscreen, insect repellants, and travel insurance for peace of mind.

8. Environmental consciousness: The Maldives struggles with waste management. Carry a refillable water bottle and avoid single-use plastics.

Insights On Packing for a Maldives Cruise

When packing for a Maldives cruise, consider the tropical atmosphere and aqua-centric activities. Favor light, breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen, for comfort in humid conditions. Sundresses, shorts, and lightweight shirts are ideal. Swimsuits are a must, considering the abundance of water sports available.

For footwear, flip-flops and water shoes work best. Don’t forget sunglasses, hats, and high-factor sunscreen to protect against strong equatorial rays. Carry waterproof bags for water-based excursions and to safeguard electronics. Include medications and personal care items, which may not be readily available on board.

Ensure a local adapter or universal travel adapter is included for charging devices, as the Maldives uses the Type D and G plug sockets.

Last but not least, lighter luggage makes ship travel more relaxed; a good rule of thumb is to pack and then remove a quarter, maximizing space and minimizing clutter.

Benefits of Carrying Snorkeling and Fishing Equipment

1. Optimal Equipment: Especially crucial in a destination like Maldives, where snorkeling provides the opportunity to explore the rich marine life present in the crystal clear waters surrounding the islands. Bringing your own equipment ensures fit and familiarity, maximizing your enjoyment and safety.

2. Unique Fishing Experience: The Maldivian islands are known for an abundance of marine life. Having your own fishing gear allows you to try your hand at the centuries-old Maldivian tradition of line fishing.

3. Cost-Efficiency: Onboard rentals can be quite costly. Carrying your own acclimated equipment can ease the strain on the expenses, while enhancing the overall experience.

4. Responsiveness: Fish and underwater creatures might not wait around. Having your gear readily available ensures you will not miss out on these fleeting moments.

Taking Into Account Specific Maldives Travel Advice

1. Be mindful of the local custom of modest dress, especially when venturing outside of resort or cruise ship confines.

2. Stay clear of photography in the vicinity of military installations.

3. Visitors to the Maldives are required to have a valid passport and confirmed hotel booking to obtain visa-on-arrival for 30 days.

4. Travel insurance is recommended, considering this is a remote island location.

5. Emergency medical services and resources are limited, especially on the outer islands.

6. Be careful with the coral reef systems in the region and avoiding touching or stepping on them.

7. Bear in mind, alcohol is outlawed outside of the resorts.

8. Prepare for a tax and service charge typically added to all services within the Maldives, including meals, spa services, and room rates.

9. In view of potential tidal changes, always follow maritime safety guidelines.

10. Remember, the Maldivian Rufiyaa (MRF) is the local currency, so carrying some for local purchases can be beneficial.

11. Given the equatorial location of the Maldives, sun protection is highly advisable.

How to Explore Maldivian Culture On a Cruise

Visiting the local islands provides an authentic glimpse into Maldivian culture. Interact with the locals to understand their way of life, with fishing at the heart of it.

1. Bodu Beru dance: A traditional music and dance performance to the beats of drums, highly recommended for cultural enthusiasts.

2. Maldivian craft: Get hands on with ‘Thun’dun’ making – a unique process of crafting a fishing line out of coconut husk.

3. Mosques and monuments: Explore the Islamic impact on Maldivian architecture.

4. Language: Pick up some Dhivehi phrases. A simple “Maruhaba” can go a long way.

5. Local cuisine: Relish Maldivian dishes such as ‘Mas Huni’, which are readily available onboard.

Remember, roaming around and talking to locals offer intangible but invaluable experiences that enhance any visit to the Maldives on a cruise.

Locating Whale Sharks At South Ari Atoll

South Ari Atoll, recognized globally for its significant congregation of whale sharks, offers an unparalleled opportunity for encounters with the ocean’s largest fish. These majestic creatures are not seasonal but permanent residents, increasing the chance of spotting them throughout the year. Despite their intimidating size, whale sharks are docile and harmless, allowing for safe close interaction.

Strategies for successful sightings include:

  • Understanding the feeding pattern: Whale sharks commonly surface to feed during specific tide movements.
  • Observing the currents: These gentle giants manipulate water currents to conserve energy while feeding.
  • Patience and respect: Maintaining a respectful distance enhances the experience while ensuring the safety and comfort of the wildlife.

Remember, ideal encounters are conducted in adherence to the Maldivian Whale Shark Research Programme guidelines, promoting responsible tourism.

Comprehending Vacation Packages for Maldives Cruising

Selection of the right package necessitates careful consideration of certain aspects. Appealing packages often incorporate meals, local transport, off-ship excursions, and sometimes even flight arrangements. Look at inclusion and exclusion features to discern the true value.

Crewed charters would be preferable for a comprehensive experience, offering full service including a professional crew and a gourmet chef. However, those seeking a more intimate adventure might opt for bareboat charters, which require self-navigation and catering.

Check whether the package encompasses popular atolls and pristine beaches such as the Baa Atoll or Vaavu Atoll. Packages offering unique experiences like fishing, snorkeling, or visiting the local sandbanks would provide a more authentic Maldivian adventure.

Ascertain transparency in costs. Ensure there are no hidden charges, such as local tourism taxes or environmental fees, that might occur later.

The reputation of the cruising company also carries significant weightage. Review their safety protocols, customer reviews, and any associated affiliations with tourism boards or eco-friendly initiatives.

Finally, keep flexible cancellation policies in mind, particularly under the existing global situation for added precaution.

Additional Activities During a Yacht-free Journey in Maldives

Opting for a yacht-free journey holds its own set of adventures in the Maldives. The vibrant displays under the rippling ocean waves have earned Maldives its recognition as a top scuba diving destination. The dives feature exotic marine life including mantas, sea turtles and multicolored corals.

Surfing is another thrill you can indulge in. Recognized worldwide, the Maldives is home to some top-notch surfing spots, mostly on the Central and South Atolls. Remember to pack the correct surf gear or rent them there.

Island Hopping brings you face to face with local Maldivian life. Experience the hospitality of the locals, sample the vibrant Maldivian cuisine and explore the small markets selling authentic Maldivian souvenirs.

Sandbank picnics are particularly popular among honeymooning couples. Pristine sandy banks, quiet lagoons and a basket full of delicious food offer an unforgettable experience.

These activities unfold a different side of Maldives, distinct from the luxury cruises, yet extremely invigorating and one-of-a-kind.

Deciphering Local Maldivian Cuisine On Board

Seafood forms the lifeblood of a traditional Maldivian cuisine with tuna, mackerel, and grouper being popular choices. They’re typically served grilled, curried, or sun-dried, offering an array of tantalising tastes.

The use of coconut in dishes, whether freshly grated, squeezed for milk, or as an oil, is another staple that adds a tropical flair to meals. Many recipes call for ‘Roshi’, a type of unleavened bread, and ‘Bis Keemiya’, a local spring roll.

Fruits like bananas, mangoes, and passionfruits also often find their way into main courses and desserts, gracing the dining tables on the ship.

Spices such as curry leaves, cardamom, and turmeric are introduced for their aromatic and flavourful qualities, inducing an authentic Maldivian dining experience.

The onboard chefs might also provide ‘Garudhiya’, a traditional fish soup, or ‘Mas Huni’, shredded smoked fish with coconut and onions, traditionally eaten for breakfast.

However, for those less adventurous culinary-wise, most cruise ships also offer a variety of international cuisines to cater to diverse palates.

Exploring Off-beat Places During a Maldives Cruise

While cruising the Maldivian archipelago, consider skipping the tourist trails to venture into lesser-known isles like Mudhdhoo, Dhangethi, or Athuruga. These unworldly islands are arguably the best places to intimately experience the Maldivian way of life untouched by mass tourism.

  • Mudhdhoo Island: Known for its unique bioluminescent beach that glows at night due to phytoplankton, giving a surreal experience to visitors.
  • Dhangethi Island: Perfect for travelers yearning to understand the local culture and traditions with its small-scale infrastructure and friendly locals.
  • Athuruga Island: Offers an exceptional snorkelling experience with its untapped coral reefs teeming with colorful marine life.

Remember to respect local customs and environment during your visit as these delicate eco-systems balance on a knife-edge due to climate change effects. Such offbeat tracks, when tread with responsibility, can provide a unique dimension to your Maldives cruising experience. Treat them as precious memories captured in your heart, rather than mere check-marks on your travel bucket list.

Connecting With Nature Through Maldives Cruising

Aboard the small-ship cruise, nature extends an invitation for an intimate Maldivian experience.

Unspoiled coral reefs teaming with marine life, reachable by short snorkeling or dive trips from the small ship.

Dolphin and whale shark sightings in their natural environments, especially around South Ari Atoll.

Observation of Sea Turtles, Manta Rays, and various species of tropical fish in their natural habitats.

Witness the bioluminescent “Sea of Stars”, a natural phenomenon caused by phytoplankton lighting up the ocean water.

Mingling with island wildlife, like hermit crabs and tropical birds, during beach excursions.

Exploring lush greenery and unique flora of the remote islands during island hikes.

Engaging in sustainable practices, like beach clean-ups, promoting conservation while enjoying nature’s beauty.

Immersion in the stunning tropical sunsets on the cruise ship deck, surrounded by the peaceful sound of the ocean’s waves.

This unobstructed connection with nature provides a serene backdrop to the small-ship cruise experience in the Maldives.

Adventurous Cruising Possibilities in the Maldives

Lively underwater exploration can be achieved with night-time snorkeling, swimming with gentle manta rays under the glistening moonlight. Experiencing these majestic creatures up-close provides for a thrilling break from the routine day cruises.

Imagine surfing off the cascading waves breaking near the atolls, catering to surfers of all skill levels. Surfing regions like Central Atolls and Male Atolls boast of consistent waves, earning their reputation amongst surfing vets.

How about the thrill of deep-sea fishing, battling against marlins and tunas in the vast Indian Ocean? Most small-ship cruises equip you with the gear and assistance required making the whole affair much more exhilarating.

Perhaps, engage in a shipwreck dive near the South Malé Atoll for an adrenaline burst. The remnants of sunken ships provide for a mysterious underwater landscape, painted with vibrant marine life.

Finally, seize the once-in-a-lifetime chance to scuba dive with ever-smiling dolphins and curious turtles at Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a magnet for marine bio-enthusiasts.

Remember, balance is key, and in the midst of all these excitement-laden activities, peaceful sundowners, yoga classes on the deck, or simply lounging off around the ship can be as captivating for a memorable Maldives cruiser experience.


Can you do a cruise around the Maldives?

Yes, it is possible to do a cruise around the Maldives, providing an optimal way to explore its numerous islands, diverse diving sites, and beautiful beaches in one vacation.

How do you get between the islands in the Maldives?

To travel between islands in the Maldives, one can utilize services of speedboats or slow ferries, with speedboats being popular for their daily services to many local islands, which though affordable, require pre-booking due to high demand.

Where do cruise ships dock in the Maldives?

Cruise ships in the Maldives dock at Male Sea Port, located in the capital city of Male, where passengers are transferred from the anchored offshore ships either through ferries or tenders.

How long is the ship ride from Kochi to Maldives?

The ship ride from Kochi to Maldives typically takes around 24 hours.

What are the environmental impacts of small-ship cruising in the Maldives?

Small-ship cruising in the Maldives impacts the environment through emissions leading to air pollution, waste disposal disturbing marine life, and potential damage to coral habitats due to anchoring and navigation activities.

What unique marine wildlife can one expect to encounter during a Maldivian cruise?

During a Maldivian cruise, one can expect to encounter unique marine wildlife like manta rays, whale sharks, and various colorful reef fish, as well as dolphins and sea turtles.

Are there specific seasons or times of year that are best for cruising the Maldives?

The best seasons for cruising the Maldives are during the dry Northeast monsoon from November to April when sea conditions are calm and visibility is high.