Best Beginner Diving in the World

Maldives beginner diving

One of my crusades for Maldives Complete is promoting the destination as the “best snorkelling in the world.” But, of course, snorkelling is a bit of a gateway drug to the bigger, bolder, more expensive and extensive pastime of SCUBA Diving itself. So it’s no surprise that none other than National Geographic dubbed the Maldives as the #1 “Scuba diving spot for beginners” …

  • “Known for its calm, warm waters (27-29C all year), the Maldives is a great place to learn, with visibility usually over 30 metres. Many resorts feature ‘house reefs’. Island resorts with PADI Dive schools are plentiful; one of the best is the luxury Anantara Kihavah Villas, located within a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that’s home to turtles and tropical fish. The Maldives is the only habitat where whale sharks appear year-round.”

One of the advantages of the Maldives is its pervasive shallowness. For newbies, this contained space of the shallow sites can be less intimidating in that they don’t have to depend entirely on their newly minted buoyancy skills to maintain depth control and that they are never that far from the surface so an emergency ascent is easier. You also use less air on shallower dives which can help nervous neophyte tank guzzlers.

Best of the Maldives: Watermelon Carving – Komandoo

Komandoo - Watermelon carving

Happy Year of the Monkey! Chinese will be celebrating all the new year all around the world with feasts and parties. And exquisite decorations and artistry like Komandoo’s carved watermelon. Particularly appropriate with its lucky red hue. Red is considered the most auspicious of colours as children are given New Year’s gift in red envelopes, the streets are decorated with red lanterns, and diamond-shaped paper cut-outs are done with red paper.

It turns out there are also a bunch things the Chinese won’t be doing, that are considered bad luck at this time, like taking medicine (first day), eating porridge, washing hair and using sharp objects.

The Chinese celebrate with all sorts of traditions from the well-known fireworks and dragon dances, to less familiar reunion dinners and new year paintings. To fit it all in, they have 16 days of celebrations. And some will slip away for a few days holiday. And the favourite destination in the world for the Chinese is the Maldives according to a recent survey – “Maldives tops list of Chinese tourists’ favorite island spots”. Another “Best in the World” for the Maldives…”Best in the World for Chinese Tourists”.

恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財

Most Clearest Waters

Maldives clearest waters

The Weather Channel has come up with a list of the “The 50 clearest waters in the world”. Maldives comes in at a sparkling #5. But of the selections that pipped it, the Maldives is the largest area…

  1. Cook Islands
  2. Cocos Island
  3. Curacao
  4. Five Flow Lake (China)

Cook Islands is 91 square miles while Maldives is 115 square miles. So, you could say that the Maldives has the most ‘most clear’ water in the world.

I always thought that it was down to (a) reefs sheltering the inner atoll reducing sediment being stirred up from big currents and waves, and (b) coral reefs serving as a natural marine water filtration system.  But I came across this post, “Why Crystal Clear Water in the Maldives“, which gave 3 different reasons – (a) geographic location in the ocean (dark water dragged out from deep), (b) plankton giving the water a different hue, and (c) warm water providing higher density.

So I conferred with one of my favourite Maldives marine biologists, Verena Wiesbauer for her thoughts on this claim.  While I thought that the corals contributed to the clarity (as water filters), it turns out it’s more like the other way around (the clarity contributes to the corals)…

Corals don’t like too many nutrients in the sea; they need only the sunlight to survive.  Whenever there’s a high occurrence of plankton, the water becomes milky. But that happens too when sediment gets stirred up by ocean currents.

I’ve added a new tag to the blog for “Best in the World” for posts (like this one) about the Maldives destination global superlatives.

Best of the Maldives: Bottle of Wine – Cheval Blanc Randheli

Cheval Blanc Randheli - Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947

If you want to wet your whistle instead of your toes, then just across the Noonu atoll, the latest entry in the super luxury properties offers possibly the most sought after liquid refreshment in the world.

In the arms race of the deluxe 5+ stars, the resort wine collection is one of the big guns in the bragging battles. If the under-water rooms are ‘aircraft carriers’ in this tropical superposher rivalry, the wine collections are the ‘nuclear submarines’. Cheval Blanc Randheli’s megaton payload of luxury was not just one, but 6 bottles of what many consider to be the finest bottle of wine in the world – the 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc.

In general, I try to the keep the “Best of the Maldives” categories quite narrowly defined (eg. best clothes hangers, longest left-handed surf break). Esoteric delineations are more easily unique or distinguished. The bigger the category, the more the competition and making it harder determine the stand out selection. Especially, when the bar is raised so high in the epicentre of luxury that is the Maldives. But I will go out on a limb on this one and say, Cheval Blanc Randheli has the best bottle of wine in the Maldives.

Okay, to quote Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. And the story to these bottles is truly extraordinary …

  1. Cost – Sheer price is one crude but effective determinant of exclusivity. And one bottle costs as much as a luxury car…for sale on Fine and Rare Wines for a $100,000 (yes, count the zeros). That’s nearly $7,000 a glass or $650 a sip.  By comparison, One & Only Reethi Rah’s esteemed ‘new world’ Screaming Eagle seems a relative bargain at a mere snip of $3,000.
  2. Critics – Though there is no easier way to start an interminable argument than to put a few wine critics in the same room, few dispute the 1947’s elite pedigree. A Slate piece on the wine minces no words in the title of its story on this classic vintage “The Greatest Wine on the Planet”. The author dubs it “the most celebrated wine of the 20th century.” And the subtitle of “How the ’47 Cheval Blanc, a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good” adds even more colourful backstory to this legendary wine (and a story I am particularly partial to with my other blog on “Embracing Failure”).
  3. Culture – The wine was immortalised in that Disney classic of culinary genius, “Ratatouille”. The pretentious restaurant critic Anton Ego requests this very bottle (see second 48 in the clip below – unfortunately, Italian was the only version I could find on the web of this scene).
  4. Cognomen – And well, what a bit of eponymous serendipity! Not only does the resort share the name of the famous Bordeaux chateau, but the resort’s “signature gastronomic” restaurant is named after the vintage itself – “Le 1947”. If not the best bottle of the wine in the Maldives, undoubtedly the best “house brand” bottle!

Mike Steinberger of Slate writes, “It is the wine every grape nut wants to experience before he dies, a wine that even the most jaded aficionados will travel thousands of miles to taste.” And those ‘thousands of miles’ arrive at “Le 1947” in the Maldives.

Cheval Blanc Randheli - Le 1947 restaurant

Cheval Blanc Randheli - Chateau Cheval Blac 1ere Grand Cru Classe

12 Things Maldives Leads the World In

Maldives world champion

An update to “Maldives, the Best Of” for Maldives National Day adds several new items. For a country so small, it sure commands a big number of superlatives. Not surprisingly, most concern its uncanny natural beauty and the throngs of visitors drawn to it from around the world (detail links in the title word of each bullet).

  1. Skinniest – Length to width that surpasses Chile.
    Maldives overview map
  2. Lowest Lying – Another topological distinction making the Maldives the poster child for the vulnerability of AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) to the rising seas of global warming.Maldives sand spit
  3. Snorkeling – Simply. The best. In the world. A side effect of being just the right elevation (islands in the South Pacific “tower” much higher at hundreds of feet, and a place like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is most submerged leaving fewer islands and shallow lagoons).
    Snorkeling
  4. Traffic Safety – As chaotic as Male traffic might seem, you are safer than you think (but I would still cross carefully).
    Maldives traffic
  5. Divorce – It takes more than enchanting paradise to secure lifelong romance. The country renowned as the top honeymoon destination just happens to also have the highest divorce rate in the world.
    Dead rose on Maldives beach
  6. Resort Density – Many popular destinations offer hundreds of resorts and tourism is the leading contributor to their GDP, but none more so than the Maldives.
    Anantara Maldives neighbourhood
  7. Airport Density – And along similar lines to #6, despite being the 8th smallest country in the world, the Maldives has 10 airports.  An airport every 30 kilometres.
    Maldives airports
  8. Plastic Water Bottle Refuse Density – And a more dubious density distinction of the most plastic water bottles discarded into the ocean.
    Maldives plastic water bottles
      
  9. Water Villas – Water Villas originated in the South Pacific resorts of Bali (where local maritime culture had had villas on stilts for centuries, but the Maldives has taken them to a whole new dimension.
    Gili Lankanfushi - residence water villa
  10. HotelsUSA Today reports this week, “The island chain in the north Indian Ocean is *the* place to be. That’s according to TripAdvisor. The site ranked the Top 25 Hotels in the World and 3 are in the Maldives. The only country with more than 2 countries on the list. Including #1, Gili Lankanfushi.” Also includes Cocoa Island #6 and Constance Moofushi #15 (thanks Mom).TripAdvisor Top 25 Hotels of the World
  11. Beaches The Destination Satisfaction Index (DSI) developed by Norstat and dp2research found “Maldives comes out, less surprisingly, on top worldwide with a segment score of 9.5 in the ‘beaches’ category.”
  12. Safety – The same Norstat/dp2reseach found Maldives ‘safely’ on top of the worldwide list in the category of…safety:  “Safety wise, no other destination of the world came close to Maldives which held an index value of 9.4 while the closest European destination was Austria with a score of 8.9 and similarly Maldives landed top spot in accommodation with an index score of 9.4 once again.”

Maldives, The Best Of…

What Each Country Leads the World In

All of these “Best OF the Maldives”, what about the country itself. What about “The Maldives, Best of”? Can such a tiny country stand out as #1 in the world in any category?

Republic Day in the Maldives today with many patriotic points of pride to celebrate. The second round of elections has proceeded peacefully according to reports. And the country can point to many areas which despite it’s small stature on the map, where it commands a big standing on a few statistics.

Recently, Dog House Diaries created a fun infographic highlighting two things that every country on the planet led the world in. Unfortunately, the Maldives were woefully omitted. So being the master of what “best” about the Maldives, I thought I best do some research a lay down some markers.

  • LOWEST LYING – Renowned as a climate change campaigner for years with the threat of rising ocean levels hitting the lowest lying parts of the world first. And according to Wikipedia, the Maldives is #1 on that list: “Maldives is the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in), with the average being only 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, although in areas where construction exists, this has been increased to several metres. However, more than 80 per cent of the country’s land is composed of coral islands that rise less than one metre above sea level.”
  • SKINNIEST – The islands form a narrow chain 820 kilometers (510 miles) in length and 130 kilometers (81 miles).  Length to width ratio of 6.3.  But Chile, the ostensible skinny champion, averages 110 miles wide across 2,653 miles of length for a ratio of 24.1.  But, if you include Easter Island (and why not since Maldives includes islands!), then the width of Chile extends to 2,292 miles which changes the ratio to a mere 1.2.
  • RESORT DENSITY – And of course, the ubiquitous resorts. There is a resort for every 2400 population in the Maldives (137 resorts active or inactive) not counting hotels and guest houses for 317,000 population). By contrast, the USA has 46,295 hotels/accommodation (NAICS code 721110) for 313.9m population. Only a fraction of these would be “resorts” and still this only comes out to 1 per 6823 of population. Another resort intensive country, Bali, has 830 resorts, but their population is 4.3m making 1 resort for about every 5000 population.

I thought that there might be a case for the “Least Landed” with only 300 square kilometres spread over 900,000 square kilometres of country boundary in the ocean. But it turns out that Tuvalu (in Polynesia) has only 26 square kilometres across an nearly identical expanse of ocean. Similarly, Tuvalu’s 11,000 inhabitants, compared to about 317,000 in the Maldives, make them also the least densely populated (when ocean area is considered).

So my nomination for Dog House Diaries Maldives entry would be “Sea-level Resorts

Best for Surfing…in the World

Billabong Surf video

“Who would have thought to find a place so perfectly placed between the ocean and the sky.” – Billabong model/surfer & singer/songwriter Catherine Clark

What a great way to describe the uniqueness of the Maldives. Describing its perfection for surfing, but really a key piece of so many things that he Maldives is world renowned for …

  • Honeymoons – The romance of a plot of pure white sand and a palm trees nestled in a tranquil turquoise lagoon.
  • Diving – One of the tops in the world for its endless coral reefs easily accessible by the 100+resorts.
  • Snorkelling – Arguably the very best in the world for reasons very close to Catherine’s quote above.
  • Children – Calm waters, shallow lagoons, contained small grounds, many activities.

One really has to add Surfing to that list things the Maldives tops the world as a top destination. Not big waves like Hawaii, but long, moderate breaks for extended rides. The pro surfing circuit regularly holds premier events in the Maldives now. I’ve had to break out a special ‘Surfing’ section from ‘Sport’ in the ‘Best of Maldives’ page because of all the special offerings resorts have brought out.

And of all of those resorts, Tropicsurf at Four Seasons Kuda Huraa is quickly becoming the epicentre of the surf Mecca. Their latest project was hosting the iconic Billabong Girls for an video ‘diary’ posted by Billabong, but now on video sites and surf online mags across the net. One of the best is the extended (17 minutes) piece featured in Surfing Magazine. The link on Catherine’s quote above features her diary entry with her poetic descriptions of the Maldives, and there’s ‘Maldives Vibe’ for a simple music video of the vibrant footage.

It’s really cool to have the pearly white beaches, then go into the icy-blue clear water that you don’t have anny where else in the world.” – Courtney Coulogne, US Women’s Surfing Champion

Best Snorkelling in the World

Snorkelling Four Seasons

Is the Maldives the best snorkelling in the world?

The debate rages in the diver community about the best diving in the world. A number of clear criteria are considered…

  • Clarity of water
  • Quantity and diversity of fish (including ‘Big 5’ and ‘Little 5’)
  • Quantity and diversity of coral

The top ten areas regularly includes the Maldives along with the likes of the Red Sea, the Great Barrier Reef, Cayman Islands, Indonesia.

But what would be the criteria for the best snorkelling and which areas would prevail?

First of all, the basic dive criteria would be a foundation and all would apply equally as well for snorkelling. But snorkelling requires more considerations…

  • Shallowness, low current
  • Easy access to shore (so you can just jump in…no boat trips needed)
  • Warm water (so you can just go in your swimsuit…no wetsuits)

I am surprised how little the topic is discussed in online forums and magazine articles. When it has been reviewed, the treatments seem shallower than a coral cropping at low tide. For example, Costal Living did the piece ’10 top spots to snorkel’ but only covered North America in its selections.  This Forbes piece ‘World’s Top Snorkeling Spots’ is one of the best lists I have seen, but there is little accompanying text and the entire Indian Ocean is conspicously absent.  The Island magazine piece on ‘World 23 Best Islands for Snorkeling’ is the most comprehensive and includes the Maldives, but its singling out Veligandu would be hotly debated by many (my own research seems to point more to Kandoludhoo).

While Maldives is renowned for romance (top honeymoon spot) and diving, I think it really makes a strong case for being one of the top snorkelling destinations in the world. The atoll topography is just right for ideal snorkelling and ‘house reef’ conditions. Most ‘house reefs’ offer a stunning snorkel experience just meters from your beach villa (unlike the Great Barrier Reef which usually requires a boat ride). The waters are warm (unlike the Red Seas which requires a wet suit to be comfortable). I am more of a Maldives expert than a worldwide snorkelling expert, but most of the divers and divemasters that I meet in the Maldives who have themselves snorkelled around the world, tend to concur with my bold conjecture. Certainly, it warrants a place on anyone’s top 10.