Airport review: Velana International Airport, Male, Maldives

Maldives - View from Above

The Maldives is unlike any other island state. The islands are a collection of atolls, or submarine volcanic ridges, that only just break sea-level. Video courtesy of Boeing and Emirates


MI481 to Singapore, economy class


I've flown on a domestic flight into MLE from Dhaalu Airport on the small island of Kudahuvadhoo and it's just a short stroll from the domestic terminal to the international one. Many Maldives resorts offer transfers by seaplane, which arrive at a separate terminal, or by speedboat, which deliver you to a dock right outside the international terminal. The airport itself is located on Hulhule Island, a 15-minute drive or 10-minute boat ride from the capital of Male.


To reach the international terminal you have to walk through a busy outdoor plaza lined with shops and seaplane check-in desks, but once inside it's modern, clean, compact and air-conditioned.


There's no line at the SilkAir desk so I'm checked in and luggage-free in minutes. It's a similar story at passport control where I breeze through barely breaking stride.


There are two security checks: a bag scan before entering the check-in area and then the usual X-ray and laptop/liquid check afterwards. Both are quick and painless because we're the only passengers passing through. This could just be fortuitous timing but given the absence of a queue-shepherding barrier system, it's reasonable to assume long waits are rare.


Sigh…and things were going so well. Upstairs in the main terminal there are just two options: a Burger King and an outpost of The Coffee Club, which in addition to the normal cakes, sandwiches and pastries offers breakfasts, pastas, salads and Thai meals. Downstairs by the boarding gates is a Costa Coffee, a Gloria Jean's Coffees and a Dairy Queen that sells ice cream and unappetising-looking hot dogs.


The good news is that you can spend all the money you saved on food on Swarovski earrings, expensive Italian handbags and leaping porcelain dolphins. The terminal's duty-free section is expansive, sleek and brimming with luxury brands, but don't commit too soon because beyond it are high-end boutiques selling luggage, sunglasses, jewellery and – somewhat bizarrely – spices and teas. Survive this retail gauntlet and you're plunged into a large market selling every form of Maldivian-themed souvenir you can possibly imagine (plus many you probably didn't such as board games and Lego sets). No wonder there's no room for a decent restaurant.


If you're lucky enough to be travelling business class or have a high enough status with an associated frequent flyer program, you can access the cosseted surrounds of the Leeli Lounge. I'm neither but am told it offers comfortable seating, food, non-alcoholic drinks and free Wi-Fi. Allegedly, there's complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the terminal but there's nothing upstairs and the service downstairs is so patchy and unreliable that I give up before I hurl my laptop against the wall in frustration. Several standalone computer terminals near the gates promise internet access but none are working. There are, however, several charging stations with multi-region sockets and a small children's play area.


There's a day spa offering massages in the plaza outside and free showers inside the terminal.



As the gateway to one of the planet's most beguiling tropical havens, MLE is underwhelming. Unless you're a shopaholic, my recommendation would be to delay entering the terminal until the last possible minute. Instead, find a seat outside on the dock and watch the seaplanes and super-yachts shuttle back and forth on water such a mesmerising shade of turquoise you'll swear it's been Photoshopped.



Rob McFarland was a guest of Niyama Private Islands.

See also: Male, Maldives: Why you need to visit this island paradise's tiny capital city

See also: Niyama Private Islands review: A place so much like paradise, it's insane