Located south of the Indian subcontinent in the lukewarm waters of the Indian Ocean are some of Mother Nature’s finest tropical creations. The Maldives are a widely scattered archipelago of low lying coral islands, perfect pearls cast against the deep blue of one of world’s greatest bodies of water, containing some of the finest resorts it has ever seen.
Every year, this tiny country welcomes hundreds of thousands of life and/or winter weary guests, treating them to some of the most seductive tropical scenery that they have likely seen in their lives. Yet there is more to the Maldives than this (though most of your experience here will revolve around the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure), with the main island and city of Male being packed to the gills with people – and as a side consequence, its culture.
Don’t put off a trip here for much longer, as this nation is directly in the crosshairs of the already irreversible parts of the predicted global sea level rise due to global warming. Once you see the beauty of this place, and the look upon the faces of this enclave of calm, doing what you can to save this planet will take on an entirely different meaning.
Currency: Maldivian Rufiyaa
Languages: Dhivehi, English
What To Do
All trips to the Maldives begin in the general vicinity of Male atoll, on the man-made airport island just off its coast. Don’t head off to a resort island from here straight away though … take a few days to experience one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Male. Packing 100,000 people onto an island that measures about one square mile exactly, this place is chocked full of the things that comprise the human experience.
First on the agenda should be the island’s two mosques. The Friday Mosque is the island’s original centre of worship and was carved from coral rock, opening to the faithful about 400+ years ago. It is etched with mesmerizing ornamental patterns, but don’t venture inside without permission, as you need the blessing of a local to proceed into this sacred spot. Then head over to the Islamic Centre, which can house up to 5,000 members at prayer times. Here, you are welcome to explore, provided you dress conservatively (cover all flesh, NO bathing suits), refrain from taking photos inside the structure and arrive outside of worshipping hours.
A especially popular thing to do for those with families is to take a submarine ride, offered by Whale Submarine. For 30-40 minutes, you will explore the coral reefs just off the coast of the capital city, giving those without diving certifications a chance to have a good look at the world beneath the waves in comfort. Word to the wise though: use the bathroom before departure, as the submarine itself has no facilities onboard!
Finally, before shoving off for your idyllic resort island, be sure to check out Male’s fish market, where copious quantities of tuna and other reef fish are brought ashore, haggling over, and gutted to the customer’s satisfaction. Those who wish to dine on some of the freshest fish in this corner of the Indian Ocean can do so in the onsite café, where the fish you just bought can be cooked for you right then and there, making for one of the freshest seafood experiences you’ll likely ever have!
Once you’ve had your fill of the overbearing humanity of one of the world’s most crowded places, it’s time to experience the sheer and utter decadence of your island of choice. Here, the pure silica white sand, picture perfect palm trees, and the overwater bungalow of your dreams await. For those who can’t sit still though, there are some options in many areas of the Maldives for island hopping, where you can visit other dreamy atolls that are a part of this dream destination. Often, your resort will offer these excursions, complete with snorkeling, games, and a BBQ lunch, among other offerings. Depending on where you are, it may be possible also to arrange your own transport with the locals via speedboat or dhoni, making for a more culturally significant experience in a country not known for authentic cultural exchange opportunities.
For those who enjoy riding the waves rather than just playing in them, surfing is also growing in popularity, with certain atolls getting better waves than others. Male Atoll has surf breaks that are well-known, but dependant on the time of year, most atolls in the archipelago get swells that are runnable, with the best success had during the monsoon season in the middle months of the year.
What To Eat
At the resorts in the Maldives, your exposure to true Maldivian cuisine will be limited at best. Most menus cater to the tastes of those accustomed to the offerings of all-inclusive resorts, with buffet lines as long as can be, stuffed with a belly-busting assortment of Western specialities and favourites, as well as generic nod to pan-Asian cuisine in general.
For those seeking out the dining habits of flesh and blood Maldivians, this is why we recommend spending a few days on the main atoll of Male. Here, you will find many hole-in-the-wall restaurants offering the dishes that the local inhabitants enjoy eating, day in and day out.
One of the most common foods here is Mas Huni, a dish which features shredded fish that has been smoked for hours, served alongside gated coconut and onions. Those wishing to sample this should be prepared to awaken with the Muslim call to prayer, as this is a meal that is typically only served for breakfast.
If you needed to catch up on your beauty sleep and you missed the most important meal of the day, then try having some Fihunu Mas instead. This is a BBQ dish, as fish is grilled over charcoal briquettes, while being slathered with a chili marinade for an added punch that will have you remembering this dish for hours after you ate it.
Finally, for those not into fish, Bambukeylu Hiti is a good alternative. This delicious meal is a curry with a coconut milk base, and primarily features breadfruit as the main ingredient, making it an ideal go-to dish for vegetarians/vegans in your party.