Paradise Awaits: Discover Maldives
For a country with a total land area smaller than that of many sprawling American cities, the Maldives are a surprisingly well-known place. In addition to being one of the world’s smallest countries by area, it’s also the lowest-lying and, as a long chain of islands and atolls a few hundred miles off India’s southwestern coast, the most geographically-dispersed. None of these attributes bodes well for the Maldives as sea levels rise, but for now, the country’s one-thousand-plus inhabitable islands are a major asset for its rapidly-growing tourist industry.
Climate and Environs
The Maldive Islands are the definitive tropical paradise. Located just north of the equator in the open waters of the Indian Ocean, the country receives regular rainfall for nine months out of the year and enjoys a predictable temperature range: in Male, the capital, the temperature never dips below 70 or rises above 100. Physically, the Maldives are comprised mostly of tiny atolls, with a few larger islands interspersed. A robust network of ferries and small planes handles the logistics of travel within the country.
A Late Start
Despite its obvious natural assets, the islands’ relative isolation and lack of infrastructure kept development away until the 1970s. The nation’s first proper resort opened in 1972 and was an immediate success. At first, tourists stuck to the city-island of Male and a few select atolls close in to the capital, but new resorts began cropping up in the outlying islands by the 1980s. In time, a tried-and-true blueprint for new resort developments emerged.
Sticking to the Plan
Each Maldives island may be unique, but most of the 80-plus resorts that dot the nation are similar in size, layout and function. Their buildings and grounds tend to occupy the bulk of an entire island, which are usually about half a mile long by several hundred feet wide. Most of these islands are completely surrounded by beaches, although the larger ones have a dedicated area for boat slips. Since the Maldives are exposed to the open ocean, rip currents in the waters immediately offshore are a major issue, and any saltwater swimming areas must be enclosed by breakwaters and “house reefs” that keep currents out and interesting wildlife in. Since few Maldives tourist islands contain proper towns, each resort has a full array of shopping and entertainment options, from fine-dining restaurants and snack bars to throbbing nightclubs and designer clothing shops.
With its very existence threatened by the specter of climate change, it’s no surprise that the government of the Maldives is taking concrete steps to green the tourist economy. Most resorts now recycle the heat produced by their diesel generators, and a bygone practice of pumping raw sewage directly into the ocean has largely disappeared. The government has prohibited the development of new resorts across much of the island chain, effectively restricting new construction to islands adjacent to already-existing resorts. It has also begun enforcing a ban on the capture of sea turtles, which are a cornerstone of the local ecosystem, on resort beaches.
For its sheer novelty and classical tropical-paradise beauty, the Maldives have no equal: it’s a place that must be experienced to be believed. Unfortunately, the islands may not be open for business much longer, as the nation’s leadership recently expressed interest in moving its population to neighboring countries in anticipation of a continued rise in sea levels–which is all the more reason to plan a visit in the near future.read more