The Maldives has long been considered a beach side playground for the rich and famous; the haunt of celebrities such as Leonardo di Caprio and Madonna.
I may not boast the bank balance of a megastar, but I was excited to visit the Maldives in search of my own glitzy getaway and a chance to live like a millionaire for a week. With the help of a last-minute deal on an all-inclusive Maldives package and a lot of saving, I had the chance to switch my backpack for a new bikini and head to the beautiful tropical islands.
While it was the beach that topped my “to do” list for the Maldives, I’m an intrepid traveler at heart and so I was also keen to look beyond the glitzy facade and find out more about the history and culture of the Maldives.
Getting to the Maldives
The Maldives are a collection of about 1,200 islands located in the Indian Ocean, about an hour’s flight southwest from Sri Lanka. While its proximity makes Colombo a popular stopover destination for air travel to the international airport of Male, there are also direct flights from destinations including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, and a host of European capitals.
Arriving into Male International Airport is an experience unlike any I’ve had in all my travels; my feet had barely touched the ground when an enthusiastic personal ‘minder’ had met and escorted us through immigration and towards a comfortable tourist lounge to wait for our onward flight.
See – while the Maldives may have a hedonistic reputation in the West, the local culture is far more conservative. In fact, the Maldives is the only nation on earth except Saudi Arabia to declare its population 100% Muslim, and tropical holiday staples such as bikinis and Pina Coladas are illegal away from the glitzy resorts. As a result, there is a deliberate attempt to keep tourists confined to the various islands that are privately owned. Nonetheless, this fact only heightened my curiosity and desire to learn more about this intriguing nation.
It wasn’t long in the transfer lounge before we were on our domestic flight, and then once against accompanied onto a speedboat for our final journey towards our resort, the 1960s styled Finolhu. After about forty minutes speeding over the waves of the Indian Ocean, we arrived at the jetty to begin our week in paradise, starting with a golf buggy tour of the island.
What to do in the Maldives
Given that the Maldives are a collection of more than a thousand islands – with transport costs between them extremely expensive – most visitors confine themselves to just one. Except for the few ‘local’ islands, this means staying within the premises of a sprawling resort, since they nearly all cover the entire island.
Relax, relax, and then relax some more
This means that a large part of the appeal of the Maldives is that you are forced to relax. For those (like me!) who are used to filling an itinerary with activities and landmarks, this may be a bit of a change of pace – but it’s hard to be dissatisfied when you’re surrounded by the mesmerizing beauty of the tropical Maldivian islands, snacking on delicious fresh seafood and sipping fruit cocktails.
Plus, the resorts are all designed to offer guests everything you could want – and then some. From the back of our golf buggy, we were introduced to the tennis courts (with a pro tennis player coach), the gym (with a world champion body builder to help you), luxurious pools and – of course – the magnificent beach. It’s an old travel writer cliché, but the water really was so clear that I couldn’t help but point to the small sharks and colorful fish darting around about 20m away from the shoreline.
Diving and snorkeling
The sea is really the Maldives’ great attraction, with divers in particular amazed by the reefs that I hear rival many tropical aquariums for beauty and diversity. Not being a diver myself, I was more limited to snorkeling around our villa and then a trip out by boat to the reef in search of the large endangered sea turtles that are indigenous to the Maldives.
While our only glimpse of one was as he darted down below the reef drop off, we were still entertained by the commentary from a qualified marine biologist and sight of other tropical creatures. On the way back to the shore, we were treated to an acrobatic show by a pod of dolphins – not a bad way to cap off our snorkeling trip. Of course, the free flowing champagne helped too.
Finding the “real” Maldives
Scratching the surface of the Maldives isn’t easy, although our resort did offer a day trip to a nearby island to find out more about traditional life.
In addition, the Government has recently loosened the tourism regulations, allowing for guesthouses and other budget accommodation to open on local islands. There are also plenty of opportunities to chat with the staff at the resort, all of whom seemed keen to share insight about life in the Maldives and the country’s history, which is truly fascinating. I loved hearing about the Maldives glory days, when the main currency of the area was a shell native to the Maldives – meaning money was literally washing up on the beaches.
So, while it may be the glitz and glamour of the Maldives that attracted me – like so many others – to visit its sandy shores, I certainly left knowing a little more about this fascinating country, but having several more questions I hope to ask on a return trip.