|Area||total: 300 sq km |
water: 0 sq km
land: 300 sq km
|Population||320,165 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Maldivian Dhivehi (dialect of Sinhala, script derived from Arabic), English spoken by most government officials|
|Electricity||220V/50Hz (European or British plugs)|
The Maldives (Dhivehi: Dhivehi Raajje) are an archipelago of 1,190 coral islands grouped into 26 coral atolls (200 inhabited islands, plus 80 islands with tourist resorts) in the Indian Ocean. They lie south-southwest of India and are considered part of Southern Asia.
- Administrative divisions
- 19 atolls (atholhu, singular and plural) and 1 other first-order administrative division*; Alifu, Baa, Dhaalu, Faafu, Gaafu Alifu, Gaafu Dhaalu, Gnaviyani, Haa Alifu, Haa Dhaalu, Kaafu, Laamu, Lhaviyani, Maale*, Meemu, Noonu, Raa, Seenu, Shaviyani, Thaa, Vaavu
- Male - Capital
- Mirihi — Highly rated resort, great diving even on the house reef. They make their money on the drink (even water) however.
Formerly a Sultanate under Dutch and English protection, the Maldives are now a republic. Allegations of corruption continue to plague the regime of President Gayoom, as do reports of political dissidents being exiled. None of this appears to bother tourists, however, who are attracted to the warm Indian Ocean waters.
The Maldives were in the path of the tsunami of late 2004, however damage is reported to have been minor.
Tourism, Maldives largest industry, accounts for 20% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Almost 400,000 tourists visited the islands in 1998. Fishing is a second leading sector. The Maldivian Government began an economic reform program in 1989 initially by lifting import quotas and opening some exports to the private sector. Subsequently, it has liberalized regulations to allow more foreign investment. Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a minor role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labor. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about 18% of GDP. Maldivian authorities worry about the impact of erosion and possible global warming on their low-lying country; 80% of the area is one meter or less above sea level.
- noun: Maldivian(s)
- Ethnic groups
- South Indians, Sinhalese, Arabs
- Sunni Muslim
The major airport is in Male, receiving flights from Sri Lanka and India among other destinations. A pharmacy and an internet point are available there.
Be warned if you're travelling from London: although there are attractive flight times on Friday night / Sunday afternoon with Air Lanka, the quality of the airline is lacking - we experienced broken seats and entertainment units on both flights and so many units were broken we were unable to sit together despite the plane having 2 dozen spare seats.
Getting around in the Maldives takes two forms. Taxi boats (official or unofficial) and sea planes. The boats being the Maldivian equivalent of a car and the planes mainly reserved for tourists.
The planes are red and white(Maldivian Air Taxi) or yellow and blue (Trans Maldivian Airways) and take around 10 passengers. They are the main way for tourists to get to the further out islands and resorts (mainly outside male atoll) either for a day trip or to get to the resort where they will be staying. They are flown by mainly expat (Aussie, American or English) pilots,flying barefoot, who seem to have a very nice life taking tourists on days out and then hanging around on resort islands waiting to take them home.
The taxi boats generally take tourists to and from the islands in the North and South Male atolls. They come in all different shapes and sizes depending on the quality of the resort you stay in. ( i.e. the Four Seasons in north male has a large enclosed motor cruiser with drinks and food, and the lesser resorts have open sided dhonis)
Maldivian Dhivehi, a dialect of Sinhalese (spoken in Sri Lanka), is the official language. It is written in an Arabic-derived script. English is widely spoken, particularly by officials and those in the tourist industry.
The local currency is the Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR). The exchange rate to the US dollar is fixed at 12.75 (as at Oct 2005).
Some excursions from resorts will take you to local islands where there are handicraft type things to buy but they are nothing special (nice in their own way though).
Most hotels have a shop but this is limited to diving and holiday essentials ( sun cream, sarongs, disposable camera's etc.)
The capital Male does have some shops, but they are mainly aimed at Maldivians wishing to buy clothes, food and household goods. There are a few internet cafes but it is not worth more than a day visit.
There's no way around it: the Maldives are expensive. There is effectively no budget accommodation. Resorts have a monopoly on services for their guests and charge accordingly.
All the resorts are self contained so they have at least one restaurant. They generally serve the type of cuisine expected by their guests. ( i.e. modern European or Asian).
The only other place to find food is Male. This comes in two forms. Either small restaurants aimed at the tourists (of which there are a couple of nice Thai restaurants) or small cafes and carts selling local Maldivian food. Try things like the fish balls but they are very spicy so be careful if you have a weak stomach.
As the Maldives are fairly strongly Muslim alcohol is banned for the local population. Expats residents have an allowance that they can buy in Male.
Each resort can get a license to serve alcohol and almost all do (including the live aboards who used to have to stop in a resort to allow its guests to have a drink.)
This means that there are no bars in Male and the only bars are in the resorts. I guess the Maldives aren't designed to cope with tourists outside the resorts. This could be a good thing though as it means large swathes of the islands and their inhabitants are unaffected by the tourists.
Maldivians generally do not drink alcohol although this is less true of the younger generation. (though they are unhappy about being filmed or photographed drinking)
The Maldives has a very large choice of resorts. They are all "resort" hotels so you wont find and youth hostels of cheap hotels. Most resorts take up their own island ( any thing from 1500M by 1500m down to 500m by 500m) What this does mean that the ratio of beach to guest must be one of the best in the world and it is hard to imagine that you would every have to struggle to find your own private piece of beach to relax on.
The range and themes or the resorts is impressive, most people will find one they like. Starting from bed and breakfast 3* ( European stars) level which none the less benefit from the wonderful water beaches and scenery. All the way up to something like Soneva Gili (in North Male) with its completely water locked stilted bungalows with their personal rowing boat and oarsman to take you to and from dry land.
Lots of the resorts have a no shoes policy and with such soft sands it is easy to love this idea. The resorts also vary enormously in distance from the airport on the island next tomale. (Soneva Gili is 10 mins boat ride by and velavaru is 45mins plane ride). Don't let that put you off as the further from Male you get generally the more peacefully the islands and the better the diving.
The only serious schools are in Male and lots of children travel here each day. There are some village schools on the outlying islands.
There are no universities and this is starting to cause a problem as more and more of the younger generation want to get away and study.
Getting a Job in the Maldives can be tricky. It is not the kind of place where you can just turn up and start job hunting. Generally the resorts take on a mix of local and international staff so you need to approach the resort Human Resources departments. There is a good mix of jobs but a lot of the roles are diving based (divemasters, instructors, photographers etc)
Most resorts are predominately one or two nationalities so finding the resorts that match your language skills helps. After that experience always helps ( especially for diving instructors as the Maldives are well known for their strong currents and half of the time the currents will take you straight out into the Indian Ocean.)
Generally if you get a job with a resort then they will get you a work permit and pay for your flight, food and accommodation. They don't really have much choice its hardly as if you can pop out to the supermarket and pick up a Pizza for dinner.
All foreign workers have to have a series of medical tests before you can start work in the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital. This includes a blood sample (lots of tests including HIV as well as x-ray etc). It is quick and easy but they are very uncommunicative about what they are doing.
There is very little crime in the Maldives as the tourists generally stay in the resorts as there is not much to do outside. This means that you can feel safe on your own at all times. Generally Maldivians are honest, helpful and welcoming people although you are unlikely to come into much contact with them in resorts.
There is a growing drug problem among the local population and hence petty crime to support this has arisen.
Street rioting and battles by anti Government protesters in Male' in August 2005 (armoured cars were deployed on the streets and a curfew inforced) have ended but political tension is still high and violence can errupt at any time. Visitors staying in Male' need to e careful after dark.
But it doesn't mean that it is OK to do silly things like leaving money and valuables lying around. (remember that $50 that you were going to use in the bar that night represents 10 days wages for the cleaners etc)
There are no drugs anywhere in the resorts and most Maldivians rarely come into contact with anything more than an occasional beer that has been smuggled out of a resort. All this is a great help in creating the Paradise feel to the country.
Another thing that seems to be relevant here is customs. Generally you cannot bring bottles of alcohol into the country as it is banned and also DVDs that would be seen as perfectly normal may be confiscated as pornography. (think Sex In The City)
There are no serious problems with diseases in the Maldives. Each of the resorts is fairly self sufficient in terms of water and electricity so in some cases the water is drinkable though not wonderful tasting.
Most of the problems come from diving or sun related injuries. Heat stroke etc always cause problems in the tropics but team that with divers spending hours at a time on a boat wearing a wetsuit and overheating of one form or another is a real issue. As long as you know this, drink lots of water and get into the shade as much as possible it is easy to avoid.
Lots of the resorts have their own doctor or nurse and most are within easy reach of the Decompression Chambers. Male has an efficient and fairly modern hospital but bear in mind that it is a long way to get medi-vaced home from.