Travel: Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts
Sunday 11 January 1998
I'd like to go island-hopping in the Maldives. Is this possible and which are the most interesting islands?
Jill Crawshaw replies: Independent island-hopping really doesn't exist in the Maldives as the islands are not linked by public ferries, and even tourist boats rarely venture further than return excursions to the capital, Male, and official organised excursions to so-called "local" islands where tourists are not allowed to stay without a permit.
So if you are thinking of Greek-style island-hopping, staying a few days here, a few days there, in small hotels, eating in local bars and restaurants, forget it; most of the islands which allow foreigners are uninhabited. Those that have accommodation in which you are allowed to stay are, with a couple of exceptions, just tourist islands with perhaps a single hotel, and facilities around the hotel - there's certainly no local life. What you'll need to do is to plan a holiday covering more than one island.
No-one even seems sure exactly how many islands there are, and they're spread over about 500 square miles of the Indian Ocean. The government claims there are 1,190, of which about 200 are classified as official "tourist islands".
The islands are completely different in character from those in Greece or the Caribbean. Most consist of a small coral atoll encircled by a reef with acommon denominator of a fringe of white sand, coconut palms, a lagoon, and excellent diving and snorkelling. You can walk round most of the islands in less than an hour.
One thing you need to check is the difference between the hotels. Some are five star and immaculate, with bars, a disco, several restaurants, and very expensive, while others are much more laid-back - but these tend to be further away from Male.
The less developed "no news, no shoes" islands include Ari Beach, little more than a sandy spit a mile long by 300 yards wide, with simple bungalows part of a laid-back open-air hotel. Reethi Rah is another very natural relaxed island with one of the world's best beaches. Merufenfushi has sand floor bars and thatched open restaurants. Baros and Nakatchfushi are less simple but still friendly.
Male is worth visiting, with the golden dome of the Grand Friday Mosque and the Islamic Centre above the trees. While it isn't a tourist island, it is interesting at last to mingle with the local people at the fish market and in the streets nearby. The National Museum is also worth a visit.
Gan island, once a Second World War Air Force base is also different - excellent for divers who can explore the wreck of the old British Loyalty sunken oil tanker. Here too you can see something of Maldivian daily life.
Kuoni (01306 743000) offers the largest programme to the Maldives, and also runs the simple workaday Atoll Explorer on weekly trips to six or seven islands with diving instructors on board. Prices start at pounds 998 a week including flights and half board. The company also runs two other "island hopping" trips aboard the Seafarer, a sailing yacht which carries up to eight people in simple accommodation, and drifts from island to island (from pounds 899 a fortnight), and Greenpeace, which takes only two people for pounds 1,250 a fortnight - itinerary at will. All prices include flights from the UK.
If you can sail, for the first time this year the Republic of Maldives is to allow "bareboat" or independent charters. Yacht charter specialist Sunsail (01705 222300) offers a two-week sailing package including flights and hire of 35-foot boats sleeping up to six, for pounds 850-pounds 1,400 per person.
Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.
Is the Yemen safe?
I have long wanted to visit the Yemen. Now however, in view of the uncertainties throughout the Middle East, I am concerned that as a Westerner I shall encounter hostility. What do you think?
The travel editor replies: I was in the Yemen about six months ago and encountered absolutely no hostility of any sort. On the contrary, the people I met were friendly, helpful and polite almost without exception, despite the fact that the "West" - generally speaking - is indeed viewed with contempt.
I see no reason why your experience should not be exactly the same - assuming that you yourself are friendly and out-going and willing to participate in Yemeni activities such as chewing qat and talking about world affairs.
Remember that travellers off the beaten track are quite regularly kidnapped in the Yemen, though few come to any harm (last summer an Italian who had been briefly kidnapped said afterwards how much he had enjoyed the experience of being held hostage by friendly Yemenis). As a member of a tour group, you are highly unlikely to experience problems of this sort.
Are there any good creche guides for European hotels?
I am trying to find a hotel with creche facilities and qualified personnel for the family holiday. Is there anything good covering Europe?
The travel editor replies: Remember that European hotels tend to be more relaxed and child-friendly than their British counterparts.
The large tour operators, which offer a range of holidays complete with facilities for children, are worth considering. Two of the most respected are Club Med and Thomson.
Club Med has facilities for children from four months to age 17 in over 50 per cent of its sites. Organised daytime activities stretch to 9.30pm, after which there are organised baby sitting and baby listening services in some of the villages. Call 01455 852202.
Thompson offers both "Superfamilies" and the more upmarket, "Sun for Families" holidays. Both have very high standards of child care such as family rooms with child-proof locks, baby-sitting services and free Mothercare equipment. Entertainment includes play areas and teenage hangout areas. Brochures are available from travel agents.
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