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how to travel between islands in the maldives

How to Travel Between Islands in the Maldives: A Complete Guide

World-class luxury, powdery white sands, and a galaxy of underwater worlds to explore, the Maldives is an obvious choice for a vacation of a lifetime. But each island has something different to offer, and you’re probably wondering how to see as much as possible. 

Island hopping has long been popular with visitors to the Maldives, but private speed boats and seaplanes can add up. The Maldives has undergone seismic changes in recent years, and it’s no longer just private island resorts separated from the local population that are on offer for tourists. So is the Maldives becoming more accessible to backpackers? And how can you get around?

From the public ferry routes and domestic flights to the private seaplanes and catamarans, this guide looks at all the ways to travel between islands in the Maldives, no matter your budget. Buckle up, and let’s get started. There’s culture and sun to soak up at every corner. 

What are the main islands in the Maldives to visit? 

How to Travel Between Islands in the Maldives
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The Maldives comprises around 1,200 islands and 26 coral atolls spanning across the equator in the north-central Indian Ocean. Although only a small percentage of these islands are inhabited, limiting yourself to just a few would be your first mistake when visiting the Maldives.

There are around 200 inhabited islands in the Maldives. Granted, you won’t be able to see it all in just a few weeks’ stay, but you can get a real taste for Maldivian culture if you branch out beyond your island resort. 

Malé Island is home to the capital city of the Maldives of the same name and is located 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka on the Malé Atoll. It’s the most populous region in the country and offers an exciting and surprising look at Maldivian city life. The Maldives is much more than the ubiquitous images of white sands and palm-fringed sandbanks that you see on travel brochures. Malé is home to the busiest international airport in the country, and numerous ferry and speed boat ports for onwards travel, making it a great place to start an island-hopping adventure. 

Biyadhoo, Maafushi, Baros, Veligandu, Filalhohi, and Huvahendhoo Island are among the best honeymoon islands in the Maldives. Each is home to exclusive luxury resorts, world-class spas, fantastic water sports facilities, and a romantic ambiance. But the unique geography of islands like the oval-shaped Thoddo, narrow Maradhoo, immaculate Ukulha, and artificial Hulhumalé make them equally alluring.

There are also several uninhabited islands with diverse marine life and pristine shores that are worth exploring, like Olhuveli Island, Hondaafushi, the Haa Alif Atof, and the Shaviyani Atoll. And for a taste of authentic Maldivian culture, the lesser-known Dhigurah and Thulusdhoo Islands shouldn’t go amiss, as well as the historically significant Utheemu Island and rustic Feydhoo Island.  

This list is by no means exhaustive, and all the islands in the Maldives are worth exploring for their own reasons. Check out this five-day Maldives itinerary for a suggested island-hopping itinerary if you’re undecided on how to split your stay. 

How hard is it to travel between islands in the Maldives?

private sandbank
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Traveling between the islands in the Maldives is something most travelers will do on their trip. So it’s surprising that the process can be relatively hectic. If you’re not based on a busy island, like Malé, there is often no scheduled travel between island resorts. This means you often need to arrange private speedboat or seaplanes transfers independently, although most hotels are very accommodating and should help you with the process. They might also offer inclusive travel options in your room price or as optional add-ons.  

Booking your travel between the islands in the Maldives involves advanced preparation. Even though speedboats and air travel are much faster than public ferries, it can still consume a good portion of your day to make the trip across the country, depending on where you’re headed. You need to be strategic about which islands you visit, especially if you only have a short vacation time, and contact your hotel before your trip to inquire about the private transfers on offer.

Once you’ve arrived in Malé, you can book internal flights and speed boats to your onwards destinations on your arrival day. There are several ports on the main island and no shortage of vendors. Still, it’s best to book in advance to avoid higher fees and ensure you guarantee yourself a seat, especially when it comes to domestic flights, as they can get swamped in the high season.  

What is the best way to travel between islands in the Maldives?

Three year old toddler boy with mother sitting on wooden jetty with boat. Summer family vacation at Maldives.
Photo by haveseen by Envato Elements

Unsurprisingly, traveling by boat is the best way to get around the Maldives. You can hire Dhoni charters and speedboats from Malé and nearby islands, or book onwards travels through your hotel. Taxi boats also take tourists between some islands. If you’ve booked a stay at an island hotel in advance, it is likely your resort with collect you and other guests who arrive the same day by boat from Malé or wherever your point of entry is.

The Maldives spans more than 500 miles from north to south and 80 miles east to west. If you need to get somewhere in a hurry or want to travel a greater distance between islands, a seaplane is your best bet. But bear in mind this will require more advanced preparation and incur higher costs.  

You can also book internal commercial flights. There are five international airports in the Maldives and 13 domestic airports. If you’re traveling by commercial plane to another island, there’s a high chance your journey won’t end there, and you’ll need to take a further boat trip to reach your final destination. 

One of the best ways to travel between islands in the Maldives, especially if you’re only visiting for a short time, is to make the most of your hotel facilities and the day trips on offer. Moving around with all your luggage can be a hassle, but nothing is stopping you from basing yourself in one resort and spending your days hopping from one island to the next. Do as many snorkeling trips, glass-bottom boats, and sunset cruises as you can, and you’ll likely get to stop off at several different islands for marine life explorations and beach lunches. 

Going on boat trips through your resort is also your only chance of getting to see some of the Maldives’ uninhabited islands. Spend the day relaxing on the barren sandbanks, cycling through jungle trails, and exploring the azure waters before making your way back to your accommodation by speedboat or another island for evening entertainment. 

How long does it take to travel between islands in the Maldives?

maldives from above
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The time it takes to travel between the islands in the Maldives will vary greatly depending on where you’re going. The fastest ways to travel are by seaplane and speedboat. With the Maldives spanning 500 miles, the longest a seaplane would take to travel between the furthest islands is around two hours. Although a speedboat wouldn’t cover this distance, they are great for traveling shorter distances between islands at high speeds. 

For example, suppose you’re arriving in the Maldives through Malé’s Velana International Airport, which is actually on the island of Hulhumalé adjacent to the capital. In that case, you can get a private speedboat to the nearby islands of Hmmafushi, Huraa, Thulusdhoo, and Gulhi Falhu in 10 to 20 minutes. 

The tropical honeymoon escapes of Baros Island, Thulhagari Island, Malahini, and Akasghoo, which is home to the Maldives’ Hard Rock Hotel, are all less than 30 minutes by speedboat from Malé’s ports. But if you’re heading slightly further afield to Veligandu, Laaalhos, or Thulhaadhoo, each on their own coral atoll, a speed boat could take between one and four hours. 

A seaplane would be the best choice for covering any distance over 50 miles, taking just 25-minutes to reach Veligandu from Malé. Once you’ve made it to any of these other atolls, you can travel by seaplane, ether to another atoll, or easily between the nearby islands by speedboat. 

Are there ferries between the Maldives’ islands?

the view from back of a ferry
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There is no public ferry to any private island resort in the Maldives. But ferry routes operate between local islands and some guest houses. Most ferries run within their atolls or from Malé to local islands, as these larger boats are much slower and less efficient than speedboats. It can take 90 minutes to cover the same distance a motorboat travels in 30 minutes on a ferry. However, they are the cheapest way to get around in the Maldives and require the least preparation. 

You can buy a ticket for a local ferry from Malé’s Velana Airport to the island city for just $1. These boats leave every ten minutes and need no advanced booking, although they can get packed in high season. From here, you can travel to Thulusdhoo, which is on the Kaafu Atoll 25km northeast of Malé, for only $3. This ferry typically departs once a day and takes an hour and a half.   

Malé is connected by local ferry to the Maafushi, Thulusdhoo, Guraidhoo, Gulhi, Himmafushi, Hura, Dhifffishi, Kaashidhoo, and Gaafuru Islands. Many inter-atoll ferries operate small distances within the Baa, Dhaal, Faafu, Meemu, Noonu, Shaviyani, Haa Dhall, Haa Alif Raa, and Lhaviyani Atolls. But most of these are used by locals for trade and travel to work. 

If you’re staying in a guest house or on a local island, consult with your homestay before arriving, and they might be able to help you book a local ferry or arrange a private speedboat.    

How much does it cost to travel between the islands in the Maldives?

seaplane
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With local ferries costing between $1 to $30 for a one-way trip, they’re the cheapest way to get around the Maldives. But the ferry routes are minimal, and it is unlikely you’ll be able to see much of the country just using public water taxis. 

If you’re lucky, and your first island destination isn’t too far from your point of entry, your hotel might include a speedboat transfer in the price of your room or at a discounted price. But this is as cheap as traveling between the islands in the Maldives will get. 

On average, private speedboats cost around $100 per person, increasing with distance from Malé. You can arrange shared boat airport transfers for about $50 per adult and $25 per child, but this depends on your resort and its location. Seaplanes cost even more, at around $200 to $400 per person, even if you’re only venturing half an hour from Malé. And some very luxurious resorts, far from Velana Airport, charge $900 per person for a return transfer by seaplane. 

You can travel between nearby islands once you’ve reached your final destination, but the lowest price for a shared boat is $25 a head, and longer distances can cost upwards of $100 per person. Boat trips for water activities or exploring sandbanks will cost twice as much as transfers.   

How many Maldives islands should you visit in one trip?

maldives beach
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Each island in the Maldives offers something different, but you’re at risk of limiting yourself if you stick to one or even two or three islands on a single trip. You’ll find pristine sands, luxury resorts, and amazing marine life on every palm-fringed sandbank, but you’ll get a real taste for Maldivian culture if you look beyond the tourist trails and at everyday local life.

How many islands you should squeeze into one trip depends on how long you have in the Maldives. Most resorts are situated on private islands, so staying on one island is like not leaving your hotel. To see most of the country, you should aim to do a combination of resort hopping and day trips and see at least five or six islands across at least two atolls. But the Maldives can get ubiquitous, so we recommend five to 14 days as the perfect amount of time to spend island-hopping. 

Traveling across the seas with all your luggage can be a hassle, so splitting your time between two resorts, ideally at different ends of the country, and visiting two to five other islands at each, will give you a good taste for Maldivian life. This is a great way to split two weeks in the Maldives, but you can still see a lot in five days if you’re short on time. Check out our ultimate itinerary for the perfect split.