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).
- Skinniest – Length to width that surpasses Chile.
- 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.
- 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).
- Traffic Safety – As chaotic as Male traffic might seem, you are safer than you think (but I would still cross carefully).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Plastic Water Bottle Refuse Density – And a more dubious density distinction of the most plastic water bottles discarded into the ocean.
- 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.
- Hotels –USA 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 hotels on the list. Including #1, Gili Lankanfushi.” Also includes Cocoa Island #6 and Constance Moofushi #15 (thanks Mom).
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Warm Water Skate Park Surfing – The Maldives has become one of the top surf destinations in the world. Especially with the change in the style of surfing from conquering monster waves to performing tricks. The latter requires long gradual breaks, not sharp dramatic ones. Like Hudhuranfushis distinction as the longest left-handed surf break in the world. Surfline attests “Perhaps the best warm-water skatepark in the world is the Maldives — all fun, very little fear. And what the atolls lack in death-defying barrels they more than make up for in sheer, easy-to-rip walls. The kind of waves that make you feel like a better surfer.”
- Oldest Seawater – The Maldives doesn’t just have the most seawater proportionately of any country, it also has the oldest. That’s according to a study by University of Chicago’s Dr. Clara Blättler who studies limestone deposits that form in the Maldives as part of the Expedition 259 of the International Ocean Discovery Program. She remarked, “from all indications, it looks pretty clear we now have an actual piece of this 20,000 year-old ocean”
Image credit: Jean Lechat
- Tourism Dependency – Perhaps not surprising for a country that also includes “Beaches”, “Hotels”, “Resort Density” and “Airport Density” in its world leading boasts, the Maldives gets 41.5% of its GDP from the tourism industry (I know that the reference puts Macau just above it, but I am dismissing that as a bit of a geo-political anomaly which is barely a country, but just a sovereignty anointed city that is well and truly part of China).
We take a break for the Tour #4 Best of the Maldives to recognize Maldives National Day. With an infographic that captures so much of the Maldives nation at a glance.
A few highlight snippets of a graphical Harper’s Index of Maldives fun facts. As a champion for Maldives snorkelling, I was inspired to see how prominently it stood out in the activity survey (see above). And, the rise of Asian visitors is prominent in the graph of arrival stats below as half of the top visitor locations (and more than half of the total guests) hail from Asia (not Europe as was the case in previous years).
My first ever guest post and it’s written by Maldivian born and raised Ahmed Shareef who looks at the shifting sands of the Maldive beaches…
Maldives are the poster child of a sinking world. If the world is to be inundated by rise sea-levels, the low lying Maldives, will be the first to go under. The islands of Maldives are about a metre above sea level. Now the question is if it is really sinking or is it a myth? What can the Maldivians do if it is really sinking?
In the Maldives, and you can experience the changes taking place every few years. I'm not a scientist. But, I have been travelling around in Maldives for nearly 15 years and I could notice some obvious changes to the climate. Many islands of the Maldives suffer soil erosion making them considerably smaller in the past 20 years.The place that was once beach where we played beach volley is now a part of the lagoon. Its speed is not fast, but the islands being so small, the small change seems to make a big impact on the country, over a span of many years.
Another effect of the global warming is coral bleaching. Tip of the colourful coral becomes whitish and dies. Again this is not common and usually happens in the hottest periods of year and in some particular reefs that are shallow enough to be affected. Corals are an important of the island ecosystem. Some scientists believe coral could help the islands tackle sea level rise while some don’t event believe in sinking theory.
The islands that suffer soil erosion are erecting barriers to protect sand. The capital Male’ itself has a protection wall all around. The protection mechanism is largely based on the effects. Government has limited funds and it is giving priority to worst-hit islands. Most of the inhabited islands currently have some form of protection against soil erosion, sea swells etc. But, it is usually not enough to protect the entire island.
From my current observation and government’s stance, there is a remarkable chance of Maldives getting submerged in coming 200 years. In the last stage the Maldives would probably pump sand from island to another to form higher land for people to live. This way Maldives could last for more centuries and ultimately may end up in a water village with floating houses and speedboats for transport. It is highly unlikely that the residents would abandon the beautiful paradise, even after many centuries.
About the Author: I was born and raised in the Maldives. Joined a resort as front desk assistance in 2001 and been moving to different resorts and cruises. Prior to starting my first job, I was cruising and visiting different islands for fun. I got weekends to enjoy like that during my studies. After working for many years currently I am doing freelance works for resorts and travel companies.
Today’s Spring Solstice is a traditional turning point to the seasons marking the shift to warmer days in the Northern Hemisphere. In the equatorial Maldives, seasonal shifts are marked more by the change of prevailing winds (especially since the angle of inclination doesn’t change much by definition at that latitude). These shifts typically happen in May and October. But, like this persistent UK winter which is bring us snow well into April it seems, ‘your mileage may vary’.
One of my earliest and most frequented posts is ‘Air and Water Temperature’ which provides a month by month guide of key weather indicators (eg. inches of rainfall, hours of sunshine, air temperature, water temperature). But with the weather such a central part of the Maldives draw (“The Sunny Side of Life” tagline), prospective visitors get even more meticulous in their climatic research. While island by island stats are not available (some people do ask how the weather differs on one island compared to another one a few miles away), there are some web resources which can provide a bit more detail.
The Maldives official government weather website also goes down to the detail of 5 atolls (Weather.com has 4 but omits Hanimaadhoo) –
- Male (Male atolls in center)
- Kaadedhdhoo (Gaafu Dhaalun in far south)
- Kadhdhoo (Thaa atoll in south)
- Hanimaadhoo (Haa Dhaalu atoll in far north)
- Gan (Laamu atoll in south)
Thanks to some diligent work by TripAdvisor contributor Maria Eugene, you can get precipitation stats by month for the North, Central and South regions of the Maldives. The biggest difference is looking at the ‘rainy’ seasons (the periods when the prevailing winds shift) which peak around June and November. The designation of ‘rainy’ season is purely relative as I have often explained. We have visited the Maldives in the peak of the ‘rainy’ season and still experienced more sunshine than we would see in an entire English summer (yes, faint praise I know). The key regional variations seem to be around these ‘spikes’ and the father north you get, the more statistical rainfall one seems to get (about 580mm in November at north compared to 400mm in south). Again, these are just averages and statistics and your mileage is likely to vary. Remember the gods of weather are mercurial croupiers with perverse and volatile senses of humour.
Now the Maldives is front and (sort of) centre to the flip side of one of the “world’s” most iconic photos. The conventional image of the ‘blue marble’ portrait of planet Earth features North and South America, but now NASA has remedied the balance with an equally striking image of the Eastern Hemisphere.
For regularly hourly updates on the ‘blue marble’, check out “Satellite Views” which provides the NASA imagery satellites which publish regular updates to their website. I often enjoy taking a peek in the run up to a Maldives visit just to see the cloudless skies over the azure Indian Ocean.
“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
This weekend in the USA is sort of the unofficial starting pistol for the Christmas shopping season. While purists bemoan the creep of holiday decorations, promos and music into the days before Thanksgiving, discretion dictates that one holds off until one has woken from one’s turkey-induced slumber before melting the credit card.
Finding the right gifts is a challenge during Maldive ‘holidays’ as well. One of my pet peeves, as I’ve already written, are resorts that don’t take even more money off me by offering me more enticing mementos and gifts. But some resorts do really provide some notable shopping options. In fact, I’ve now broken out a separate ‘Shopping’ tag in the Blog and hence a devoted section in the ‘Best of Maldives’ page featuring the posts so far – Shoe Shopping at Reethi Rah, Dive Centre Shirts at Palm Beach, Wood Craft and Fashion Boutique at Kanuhura, and Largest Shop at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru.
I also have a gift / memento tip – the resort/fish mug. I found the one shown in the pictures above at Vadoo, but I have spotted them at other gift boutiques around the Maldives. The mug is really nicely done. A classic island aerial portrait on one side. I always put the aerial shot of the island I am next visiting as my PC wallpaper to get me geared up for the trip. The aerial views really capture so much of what the Maldives experience is about. Also, it has classic fish spotter chart on the opposite side that we spend so much time pouring over at the end of a day’s diving or snorkelling. Finally, it is finished off with a lovely aquatic blue on the handle and inside.
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.
One of the first questions a true Maldives aficionado asks of a resort is ‘How good is the House Reef?’
When I first heard the advice to seek out the best house reef, I didn’t even know what a house reef was. We arrived at Laguna Beach (the resort that preceded Velassaru) and spent our days snorkelling around the coral croppings in the sandy lagoon. Then on an excursion to Bolifushi (soon to be Jumeirah Vittaveli), we went ‘over the edge’ and our hearts nearly leapt out of our snorkels. It is a truly dramatic experience to go from a few feet of water to a vast open expanse with a wall peppered with colourful coral and schools of tropical fish.
When I visited Vadoo, I got into a discussion with Assistant GM Alex Kovacs about great house reefs. Alex was proudly and valiantly making the case that Vadoo’s was one of if not ‘the’ best house reef in the Maldives’. My wife and I had to have a go with that kind of endorsement and can attest that it is a thoroughly fine experience. I would call it a first class house reef, but I balked at his claim that it was ‘the best’. I’ve covered ‘house reefs’ before including ‘Best House Reef’ (based on TA research), ‘Best House Reef Drop-Off’, and ‘Closest House Reef’.
He then challenged me, what makes a ‘great house reef’? I had some immediate responses, but it subsequently made me reflect on what it the characteristics really were. I came up with the following proposed list of criteria…
- Drop-off (minimum 20 metre drop off)
- Access (maximum 30 metres from shore to drop off)
- Quantity and diversity of fish (especially ‘Little Five’)
- Quantity and diversity of coral
- Low current (typically on the ‘inner atoll’ side of the island)
- Warm water (this is a given in the Maldives and many tropical destinations, but not a guarantee at other snorkel spots around the world)
Many of the resorts hold special ‘beach dinners’ which sometimes are just part of the normal agenda and sometimes incur a supplement charge. Do not miss these. Not only is there usually a distinctive buffet of locally caught seafood and local dishes (or whatever the theme is), but also the pleasure of eating by candle-light with your bare feet in the warm sand and the ocean gently lapping the shore a few feet away is one of the most idyllic dining experiences.
But you don’t have to wait until ‘beach buffet’ night. Most of the restaurants are right beside the beach, but often their tables are under an enclosure. Often the enclosure is not much more than a thatched roof. We always ask if we can have our table moved from the electric light lit enclosed area onto the beach itself closer to the water and under the countless stars. Sometimes the wait staff get a little thrown off balance by the request, but in general the people there are so service oriented, so relaxed and friendly, they are willing to accommodate. It is a small adjustment that transforms each evening’s dinner from delightful to divine.
(The picture above is our family at the Coco Palm beach restaurant nestled in the palm trees during the day to protect against the sun, but where we moved our tables out to the water’s edge in the background at night).