If you are looking for an exotic but essentially quiet vacation destination, the Maldives are a paradise in the Indian Ocean. This group of 1190 islands, of which 185 are inhabited and 106 are resort islands, lie off the south west coast of India, are spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometers/35,000 square miles. On the 185 inhabited islands, the total population is 300,000. Although it is the smallest country in Asia, both in terms of area and population, it is one of the world’s most dispersed countries.
More than 80 per cent of the country’s land is composed of coral atolls which rise less than one metre/3 feet above sea level. Many of these tropical islands are simply gorgeous. Imagine swaying palms, white sandy beaches, and deep blue shallow lagoons with live coral reefs situated on top a submarine ridge 960 kilometres/600 miles long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs north to south. The problem is how to choose from the large number of islands which feature resort hotels.
History of the Maldives’ Tourism Industry
The Maldives remained largely unknown to tourists until the early 1970s but today, tourism is very important to the Maldives’ economy. You may recall the devastating effect of the tsunami which took its toll on many Asian countries in 2004, following the Indian Ocean earthquake. The Maldives were a victim of this tsunami. Only nine islands were reported to have escaped any flooding, while 57 islands faced serious damage to their infrastructure. Six islands were destroyed and 21 resort islands were forced to close because of serious damage. Today, there is almost no evidence of this catastrophe.
Resorts for Every Taste
Every resort in the Maldives is, in essence, its own private island. At the top end, you have the world’s most exclusive hotel chains competing with each other, offering everything from personal butlers and private lap pools to in-room massages. However, there is choice beyond all this luxury. Some islands cater to families, visitors on a budget, divers wishing to indulge in their favourite pastime, and anyone not wanting all the extra trimmings. The Maldives are especially suitable for honeymooners.
Diving and Other Water Sports in the Maldives
The Maldives are renowned for their incredible diving opportunities. The crystal clear water and shallow lagoons are also perfect for snorkeling, while the reef walls offer a kaleidoscope of sea life for more experienced divers. There are over 2000 brightly coloured different species of tropical fish, ranging from reef fish and reef sharks to moray eels, rays and whale sharks.
Windsurfing and sailing are popular pastimes in the Maldives, as is surfing, at its best from March to November, with a great variety of waves ranging from 4 to 8 feet in height.
Sunset or night fishing is common. The ocean is a vital part of life in the Maldives. Both fishing and tourism rely on maintaining the balance of the delicate reef ecosystem. Taking part in one of these trips will give you an insight into the importance of the ocean to island life. You can head out in a traditional fishing vessel known locally as a Dhoni, to fish for snappers, rock cod, groupers, and other catch for dinner – which you can barbeque when you get back to dry land.
Fish not to be caught but to be observed are the dolphins. A dolphin watch at sunset is a popular pastime. Sightings are surprisingly frequent and certainly thrilling.
Luxury resorts can be imaginative with their options, and offer various venues for couples, such as taking off in a motorboat for a champagne breakfast on a lonely sand spit, or having a private romantic candlelit dinner in the shallows of a lagoon.
Island hopping makes a lot of sense when there’s so many delightful islands to choose from. Excursions offered combine visits to other resorts, inhabited and uninhabited islands. The inhabited island visit might include a walk around the town or a guided trip around the island, meeting the locals and visiting historical places of interest.
It is even possible to partake in a desert island excursion overnight, suitable for a couple, armed only with a mobile phone and bottles of champagne. This is called a Robinson Crusoe excursion and can be a very special experience.
Male, the Capital
Male is the capital and most populous city in the Maldives, with a population of around 154,000. This is where approximately 50% of the population is to be found. It is a densely crowded and extraordinary place… and a stark contrast to island life elsewhere in the country. It is also where most visitors land on their way to one of the outlying islands.
You might want to spend time here before or after your stay, as it does have a distinctive character of its own with its narrow streets and colourful houses.
The National Museum is housed within a palace and contains ornaments and costumes belonging to various kings and queens, musical instruments, sculptures, manuscripts, and photographs that depict the history and the rich cultural heritage of the country.
For an authentic experience, you can visit Hukuru Miskiiy, the oldest mosque in the country. Surrounded by modern buildings, this well preserved piece of history dates back to 1656. The impressive coral stone walls are intricately carved with patterns and scriptures, and the interior is famous for its elaborate wood carvings.
A great way to experience any destination is by visiting the local market. In Male, this is where people from the islands bring their items for sale, which includes fruit, vegetables, spices, and handicrafts.