Welcome to the Maldives, where sands are white as the smiles of the locals, where fish swim happily in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, where the weather is a dream, and the deep rays of the sun wait to engulf you their arms.
Maldives has deep blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches and palm trees. It is also a place full of character, where its people have long spent their days languishing in the very essence of idyll living. While it is the perfect place to sit on a beach and watch a sunset with a cocktail balanced on your hand, it is also a geographical marvel, knowing that there are thousands of fish swimming around the vivid corals just a few feet away from where you sit.
Location and Geography
The Maldives lies in two rows of atolls in the Indian Ocean, just across the equator. The country is made up of 1,190 coral islands formed around 26 natural ring-like atolls, spread over 90,000 square kilometers. These atolls structures are formed upon a sharp ridge rising from the ocean, making way for their secluded uniqueness.
Each atoll in the Maldives is made of a coral reef encircling a lagoon, with deep channels dividing the reef ring. A string of islands take their places among this atoll ring; each island has its own reef encircling the island lagoon. The reefs of the islands, alive with countless types of underwater creatures and vibrant corals, protect the islands from wind and wave action of the surrounding vast oceans. This unique structure of reefs and channels makes navigation almost impossible for the passer-by without sufficient information about these waters.
Ninety-nine percent of the Maldives is made up of sea. The people of the islands are widely dispersed across the atolls, with about 200 inhabited islands. About 90 islands are developed as tourist resort and the rest are uninhabited or used for agriculture and other livelihood purposes.
The islands of Maldives appear in-between the trading route of the Indian Ocean. Thus settlers, and visitors from neighbouring regions and around the world have come in contact with the islands Such is the to-and-fro flow of people and their cultures, that a marked effect has been left in the Maldivian people, the language, beliefs, arts, and attitudes.
Maldivians are quite open to adaptation and are generally welcoming to outside inspiration. The culture has always continued to evolve with the times. Locals still eat fish and fishermen still spend days out at sea, but tourism now takes a standing prominence.
Weather and Climate
The weather in the Maldives is usually picture perfect: sunlit days, breezy nights, balmy mornings, and iridescent sunsets. The temperature hardly ever changes – which makes packing for your holiday an easy task. With the average temperature at about 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year, the sun is a constant on most days, shining through treetops, creating lacy patterns on your feet, healing cold-bones with its warmth. Maldives has two distinct seasons; dry season (northeast monsoon) and wet season (southwest monsoon), with the former extending from January to March and the latter from mid-May to November.
The rare thunderstorm in the Maldives (especially around the southwest monsoon months) can be a welcome respite from the sun. Cloudy skies and slate grey seas, and crashing thunder makes up for lovely reading weather. The warm temperatures will allow you to go for a walk in the rain, a verdant, wet, thoroughly enjoyable experience. For extra exhilaration, take a swim in the rain – the sea will be extra warm.
Things to Do
Over a thousand species of fish and other underwater creatures inhabit the Maldivian waters. The monsoon tides of the Indian Ocean create a collection of small marine creatures as well as microscopic plant cells. This in turn creates a hub for all kinds of underwater species who gather in these waters lured by the abundance of food.
The best thing is that you need not be a professional diver to enjoy the Maldives. All resorts and safari boats give you basic to advanced training using well-monitored diving facilities of a high standard. Even the most reluctant diver can enjoy the beauty of Maldivian underwater life on a drift dive with the guidance of experienced dive instructors. A dive in a house reef is equally rewarding, all you need to do is swim a few minutes from shore.
Dives in the Maldives usually take place along a faru (reef), a thila (a submerged aquarium like reef), on a channel where the atoll meets the ocean, or on a wreck. Night diving is particularly beautiful as is a macro dive that lets you see tiny, interesting and usually disregarded creatures up close and personal.
Maldives is a mecca to surf-enthusiasts from all over the world, with the southwest monsoon bringing with it massive swells, especially from June to September. The sizes range from 3 – 8 feet. There are several well-known surf breaks in North and South Male’ Atoll. Resorts near these breaks are perfect for surfing aficionados, as you can get the full Maldivian experience while riding the waves to your hearts content. The lesser-known, but amazing surf breaks further away from Male’ atoll can be accessed by specialised surf cruises (often referred to as surfaries) offered by cruise operators in the country.
· Local Islands
The best way to experience the life of an ordinary Maldivian is to travel to an inhabited island. Some of these islands are slightly more modern: with brightly painted house walls and harbour areas. There are also the quite fishing villages with lots of tree-shade, swings, and the traditional wooden holhuashi. A holhuashi is rather like an island-version of a gazebo, build with hollow wooden trunks tied together forming the large, bench-like seat, and often with a thatched roof. They are conveniently set up on beaches, often where the boats come in, and is a place where islanders wind off after a day’s work, exchanging news, telling stories, playing cards, and listening to local radio.
Fishing, agriculture, and fish related manufacturing is what most people in the islands do for work while some go away to find jobs in tourism and trading. Some islands are also good places to buy local handcrafts.
It is a typical island custom that everyone finish their work by late afternoon, take their daily showers or bath near their wells, dress the children in fresh clothes and go for a stroll in the island, visiting friends and relatives, delivering small bowls of fresh homemade curry, or taking some time to relax at the beachside, watching the late afternoon sun while the children play around at the beach.
Fishing is in the Maldivian blood. It is so entwined in the lives of Maldivians that there are celebrations when a good catch is caught, and complaints when fish is scarce at dinner tables. Maldivian fishermen wake up to the dawn call of island roosters, collect bait in nearby reefs and start a full day’s work at the deep blue seas, using the artful pole and line method of fishing.
A day-time trip to a desert island is an experience of its own. The raw, unspoilt vegetation surrounded by blinding beaches and dazzling sunbeam-lined waters are like a phantasm; everything feels imagined, and you are the only person in this beautiful universe.
· Spa and wellness
Just lying on a deserted beach of a Maldivian island, taking in nothing but the continuous rhythm of the waves, the sea salt in the air and feeling the soft white sand on your bare feet is enough to sooth your senses. Each island with its green vegetation and secluded setting is a natural spa in its own right, designed to soothe, caress, and heal.
Spas set in the Maldives, thus, are perfected as the ultimate getaway cocoons in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean. Traditional healing methods, that have been passed on for generations as family secrets by the hakeembe (healing experts), have been incorporated into special spa programs in the Maldivian islands.
Seaplane Photo Flights
Seaplane photo flight offers you the sightseeing sensation that gives you the opportunity of a lifetime. Enjoy your unparalleled Maldives holiday experience from the sky in one of the De Havilland DHC 6 Twin Otter seaplanes.
The seaplanes are ideal for sightseeing and photography. Their high wings, large view windows and untainted glass present panoramic views and unrivaled photo opportunities. The excitement of landing and taking-off from the sea is truly memorable.
You are guaranteed a magical tour above some of the most spectacular scenery in the Maldives. You will fly over the shallow lagoons, pristine and uninhabited islands, a variety of tourist resort islands, fishing villages and the continuously hue-shifting seas of the Maldives. Watch schools of dolphins, Manta and sting rays, and schools of fish as they cavort in the crystal clear waters.
Maldivian food revolves largely around fish (mas), in particular tuna (kandu mas), and draws heavily from the Sri Lankan and south Indian tradition, especially Kerala. Dishes are often hot, spicy and flavored with coconut, but use very few vegetables. A traditional meal consists of rice, a clear fish broth called garudhiya and side dishes of lime, chili and onions. Curries known as riha are also popular and the rice is often supplemented with roshi, unleavened bread akin to Indian roti, and papadhu, the Maldivian version of crispy Indian poppadums.
These incredible islands are open to independent travelers, meaning you no longer have to stay in resorts and be kept separate from the local population, something that kept backpackers away for decades. Intrepid individuals can now choose their own itineraries and travel from island to island, living among the devout but extremely friendly local population. With a national ferry network now in place and a growing number of privately run guesthouses on inhabited islands, the Maldives and its people are now more accessible than ever.
— HINAL SHAH