The article will focus on Velana airport, the main international airport in Maldives. 99% of tourists arrive here for their holiday, and so will you. I will tell you everything a tourist needs to know about the infrastructure, duty-free shopping, luggage storage, and how to get to the airport from Malé. There will also be information about the other airports in the country.
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Velana international airport in Maldives
The full name is Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, named after the president of the Maldives who led the country until 1978, during which time the country opened up to tourism.
Interesting to know:Today, the official name of the airport is Velana International Airport. Velana is one of the names of President Nasir, and this name has been given to the airport since 2017.
All tourists arrive in the country at this airport, which is the only one out of 17 (more information about the other airports will be provided below) with a runway length of over 3000 meters. This means that it is the only airport in Maldives capable of accommodating wide-body aircraft, which is how tourists travel.
I will briefly and concisely tell you the history of this airport in Maldives. This will help you get a complete picture.
- The airport was opened in 1960. The runway was made of metal sheets and was only 900 meters long and had no lighting. In fact, the airport could only accommodate “crop duster” type planes and only during daylight hours.
- In 1964, a competition was held between the districts of Malé to build an asphalt runway. Four districts formed volunteer brigades that competed for speed. The district that built its section of the runway the fastest won the grand prize of 1000 rufiyaa. At today’s exchange rate, that’s about $60.
- After the start of the tourism boom, Velana Airport was rebuilt, the runway was extended again, and in 1981 it received international status, meeting all the standards of the time.
- In 2018, the runway was finally expanded to 3400 meters, making it capable of accommodating aircraft of any size from around the world.
- In 2020, construction began on a new passenger terminal. As of 2023, work is underway, but progress is slow. The estimated opening date for the new terminal is not earlier 2025-26.
- In November 2022, a new terminal for seaplanes opened at Velana Airport. For a comprehensive article on transfers between islands by seaplane, prices, how to buy tickets, follow the link.
Interesting fact:Prior to 2018, the Maldives’ airport in Male was located on a separate island, with only ferry access to the capital. In the middle of 2018, the Sinamale Bridge, over 2km in length, was opened, linking all three of the capital’s main islands: Male, Hulhule Island (where Velana Airport is located), and Hulhumale Island (the new and modern district of Male). Now, transportation to and from the airport is also possible by bus.
General information: online board, infrastructure, IATA code
- IATA code: MLE
- Coordinates of Velana airport: 4.188791539230475, 73.52857873558743
- For arrivals and departures, check the official website here: https://www.macl.aero/ (it’s user-friendly)
Now, let me tell you about the infrastructure.
Good to know:Velana International Airport in Maldives is not as large as major international hubs, so don’t expect anything extraordinary. However, it has everything you need, and it’s all very close, compact, and convenient.
- There’s a bank where you can exchange currency, but the rates are not very favorable. For more information on currency exchange, where to do it, and the best rates, check the link provided.
- There’s a luggage storage facility where you can leave your bags and explore Male if you have an evening flight and were brought to the airport at noon from your hotel. Prices depend on the size of the suitcase and range from $7 to $12 per day per bag.
- There are service centers for both mobile operators, as well as two SIM card vending machines in the arrivals area where you can buy a SIM card on your own. However, I recommend going to the service centers. For more details on communication and internet services in Maldives, including tariffs, prices, and speeds – read the article at the link.
Needless to say, there are fast food outlets, coffee shops, and restaurants.
As soon as you exit the airport into the arrivals area, you’ll see hundreds of hotel, resort, island, and private company counters. If you have a transfer or are flying on a package tour, all you need to do is find your counter and you’ll be guided to the right speedboat, seaplane, or taxi without any worries.
Duty Free and souvenir zone: assortment and prices
This part of the article contains more interesting information.
Important:In the arrival zone of Velana airport, there is not a single Duty Free or any other shop. You won’t be able to buy anything in the arrival zone. All Duty Free and souvenir shops are only available in the departure zone.
The assortment of alcohol and souvenirs is quite large. You can buy everything you didn’t get during your vacation, but the prices are quite high. Why is that?
- As for alcohol, it’s clear – Maldives is a Muslim country where alcohol is prohibited, so it’s very expensive where it’s available.
- The situation with souvenirs is different: most tourists spend their entire vacation in a resort on a private island. There are no shopping centers or stores on the resorts, only the hotel and the beach. At best, there will be a souvenir shop. Therefore, many people who want to buy souvenirs in the airport, because they don’t have many other opportunities to do so.
I won’t list all the prices for alcohol in Duty Free, but I’ll give you an idea. There is an unofficial criterion to understand the expensiveness of Duty Free in any airport in the world – it’s to look at the price of Martini. The standard price for cheap Duty Free all over the world is $8-9 per 1 liter of Martini. Below is a photo from the airport in Maldives ($20). Here, any alcohol is even more expensive than what I can buy at home.
As for souvenirs, it’s even worse: you won’t find a magnet cheaper than $5. Something more or less reasonable and interesting already costs $20-30-50. A small wooden magnet with a manta ray costs $25, while I bought the same one on a local island called Rasdhoo for $3.
Important:If you have the opportunity, buy all the souvenirs in advance before going to the airport. There are many interesting things at the Malé market and they are 10 times cheaper. The airport in Maldives is very expensive in terms of prices.
Here are two useful articles on this topic:
- Review of the city of Malé: what to see, the market, where to buy souvenirs
- What to bring as a gift from Maldives: you’ll learn not only about magnets.
Everything about alcohol confiscation and return at Velana Airport
Here’s a brief summary. In detail, about prices (starting at $100 per bottle), where to buy (almost nowhere), how much alcohol can be officially brought in (none), and how to actually bring alcohol in, you can read in the article “All about alcohol in the Maldives.” There you will also learn about baggage control and inspection at the airport.
Here, I will only talk about confiscation and return. The process is simple, so here are the main points:
- The limit for bringing alcohol into the Maldives is 0L.
- Anything you bring with you above this amount (0 – zero liters) will be confiscated.
- The luggage is scanned twice on arrival for liquids. Now there is an additional scanner in the green corridor upon exiting the arrival area.
- There are no fines. All alcohol is simply taken away and you are given a confiscation form to fill out. Some people are given a copy, some are not. The important thing is to include all your passport information.
- You can retrieve all your confiscated alcohol with your passport on the return trip when departing!
- The alcohol return counter is located in the same hall as the check-in counters. But after the first security checkpoint. In fact, this is the area where you cannot enter without a ticket.
Important:first retrieve your alcohol, then check in for your flight and drop off your luggage, into which you will put your returned alcohol. Otherwise, it will be confiscated again at the next inspection before the duty-free zone 🙂 This is an important point, as many people make this fatal mistake.
Airport in Maldives: how to get to/from Male
It’s quite simple here. As you may have noticed, the international airport in Maldives is located on an island. When you exit the airport, you immediately step onto the pier and face the ocean. You don’t have to walk a kilometer to a bus stop like we did in Montenegro or Qatar. Everything is compact here.
Interesting fact:Velana International Airport regularly appears in the top ranking of the world’s most beautiful airports. You will realize this even during landing. If you arrive during daylight hours, you will have turquoise water and paradise islands like in pictures in your window.
Here’s what you need to know about getting to/from the airport:
- All transfers to resorts by speedboats or seaplanes pick up their tourists directly from the arrivals hall.
- Many speedboats also depart from the main pier of the airport: Hulhule Ferry.
- From this same pier, a ferry departs every 10-15 minutes to Male and the northern island of Hulhumale. The ticket price is 10 Rufiyaa. In the evening, for some reason, they charge 15 Rufiyaa (Exchange rate: 1$ = 17 Rufiyaa).
- There’s also a bus that departs from here to Male every 15-20 minutes. The ticket price is also 10 Rufiyaa.
- Both modes of transport take 10-15 minutes to reach their destination.
- Ferry terminal coordinates at the airport: 4.18967460912598, 73.52686626060776
- Bus stop coordinates at the airport: 4.189204493188107, 73.52697925272528
- Where the ferry arrives at Hulhumale Island: 4.217383242149406, 73.53720945551848
- Where the ferry arrives in Male: Henveiru Ferry Terminal – 4.177906752166473, 73.51716442644583
- Where the bus goes from the airport to Male: Maafannu Bus Terminal at the Vilinigili Ferry Terminal – 4.169246657042577, 73.50466918752326
An important note for those who are traveling further by ferry:The ferry from the airport to Male only arrives at the old Henveiru Ferry Terminal. However, there are two ferry terminals in Male, about 1.5 km apart. Around 80% of all ferries to local islands depart from the new Vilinigili Terminal. It costs 2-3$ to take a taxi between them, or you can walk there in about 30 minutes.
Local airports in Maldives: general information and map
The international airport in Male, which was mentioned earlier, is not the only airport in the country. In addition to Velana Airport, there are 16 local airports with their own runways. There are also three hundred seaplane docks, which allow seaplanes to land right in the ocean.
I won’t go into detail about seaplane docks – if there’s water and a dock, it’s an airport. Seaplanes don’t fly at night or in bad weather, but classic airplanes do. These 16 local airports are crucial for logistics and transportation between remote islands. There are many flights, they fly often, and they are not weather-dependent. Tickets for tourists are expensive, averaging $200 per person one way for a 30-45 minute flight, and this isn’t even to the farthest atolls.
- You can find tickets, prices, and schedules on the official Maldivian airline website between these airports: https://maldivian.aero/
Good to know:Looking at the airport map above, it’s clear that there are no other airports in the central part of the country except for the main Velana Airport, despite there being 4-5 major atolls. For example, the popular tourist atoll Ari, which is located 60-70 km from Male, can only be reached by sea transport or expensive seaplanes. There is no classic airport there. For more information on atolls and which island to choose for the best vacation, see the link provided.
The characteristic feature of these local airports in the Maldives is their short runways, most of which are less than 2000m. This means that only small airplanes with 40-50 passengers can land. The main fleet is the 50-seat DASH8 twin-engine plane.
In conclusion, the international airport in Maldives is a modern building with all the necessary infrastructure. It is the main transport hub where 99% of tourists arrive. The airport is constantly being modernized, completed, and expanded. The next major update is expected to be the opening of a new terminal in 2026. But even today, it’s easy to sail/fly from Velana Airport to any island or atoll in the country.
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