Lay of the Land
“Ahead was the most beautiful sight: a magnificent display of every shade of blue, from the shimmering turquoise water to the azure sky.”~Eric Klemm
The Republic of the Maldives is made up of 1,192 islands scattered north to south across 35,000 square miles in the Indian Ocean. While its beauty has been extolled since the 13th century by sailors and explorers, it was not until the 1970s that the first tourist hotel was constructed. In more recent years, as international airlines have opened routes to the region, there has been an explosion of luxury resorts with nearly 150 four- and five-star properties at last count. Malé is the main island, where the capital and international airport are located. The Islamic country is divided into twenty-six atolls, or island clusters, and hotels are reached from Malé by boat or seaplane.
The Republic of the Maldives gained independence from Britain in 1965, and after thirty years of authoritarian rule, held its first democratic elections in 2008. A former political prisoner, Mohamed Nasheed, was elected president and came to prominence for urging the international community to address climate change issues. (The Island President is an award-winning documentary that unfolds like a thriller.) In February 2012, Nasheed was overthrown by Mohammed Waheed Hassan, formerly his vice president, in a coup. Elections have been postponed until the fall of 2013, though world leaders have declared that they will contest the results if Nasheed, who has been charged with abuse of power, is not allowed to run. While visitors may be oblivious to the political or social upheaval in the islands, the impact of the Muslim nation being transformed from a fishing and trading society into an international luxury playground has been profound, and enormous challenges remain.
As the lowest country in the world (the average ground level above sea is 1.5 meters above sea level) and surrounded by sea, the Maldives risks being completely submerged should global warming raise ocean levels as predicted. (At current projections, they will be underwater in ninety years.) President Nasheed made personal appeals to the global community, famously declaring “If we can’t stop the seas rising, global warming will destroy the Maldives,” and vowing to make his nation carbon neutral. Since his removal from office, there has been less attention paid to this crisis; however, the government does charge a bed tax of $8 a night, which is said to go into a fund for buying land for Maldivians in case of submersion. Tourism is clearly the biggest economic driver, and hotels are required to employ 50 percent Maldivian staff.
As a visitor, you may feel lucky to see this beautiful paradise while it exists, but you must also be aware that every added flight and new hotel, especially those who do not focus on sustainable energy, is exacerbating the situation that threatens the country’s extinction.
Booking wisdom: Some resorts are reachable by speed boat and others only by seaplane, which fly during daylight, so it is important to coordinate international flights with appropriate transfers. Some resorts, too, offer better surfing or diving or family activities so it is wise to consult with our bookings team to find the right match for your needs.