Maldives, the winner!
Last April we took a week off and planned to go somewhere not very far, to get some rest and change the desert landscape of the UAE. Our first thoughts went towards Sri Lanka, as the capital city, Colombo, is less than 5h flight away from Dubai. Therefore, I started to do my homework: read about the main attractions, means of travel inside the country, renting a car, best accommodations etc. Luckily, I did not book anything and, 10 days before starting our holiday, my husband, who was initially very excited to visit the tea plantations (he is an enthusiast tea lover and, by default, a considerable consumer) surprised me with a question: What if we went to Maldives rather than Sri Lanka?
As we did not have much time left, we searched for and booked the tickets the same day and we were lucky enough to even manage to get a good fare on Fly Dubai, for a direct flight to the capital city, Male. As for the the stay, I knew Maldives was not the cheapest place, especially if you wanted to go further than Male. But, once again, the luck was on our side. A couple of days of searches led to Nika Island Resort, in the North Ari Atoll. The resort had really good reviews and, if that was not good enough to convince me, as soon as I read that the property is Italian owned, but run in the spirit of the Maldivian hospitality, I knew I wanted to go there. With the flight tickets in hand and the hotel booked, there was only one step left: getting a transfer from Male airport to the resort and back. And for an extra fee, we arranged this service directly with the hotel.
A paradise that may soon disappear
I took a few days to study a bit about Maldives before we left, as I wanted to go beyond that idyllic image that tour operators have been promoting over and over. No doubts that it is one of the most paradisiac places to spend a honeymoon, but, sadly, this country made up of sea in a 99% proportion, seems to have its days numbered. Tourists come and go and, at first sight, it is hard to imagine that, within 100 years, the Maldives might be just a page of historical geography.
Scientists claim that the future of this paradise that lies just across the equator, in the Indian Ocean, is uncertain, as a consequence of the sea level rising up to 0.9cm a year. Sea levels in this area have already risen by about 20cm in the past century. The country embraces 1190 coral islands developed around 26 natural ring-like atolls that cover an area of more than 90.000 square kilometers. Each atoll is made of a coral reef encircling a lagoon, with deep channels dividing the reef ring. About 80% of these islands are just 1m above the sea level. Furthermore, nowhere on the Maldives does the natural ground level exceed 2.3m. Although not enough, a very important contributor against disaster is represented by the reefs. Alive and hosting a multitude of corals and a spectacular sea fauna, they help to protect the islands against the ocean’s actions.
Numerous studies and projects are being carried on, while environmental sciences occupy a leading position among the schools curricula. Forestation to fight beach erosion and cleaning the coral reefs are two of the measures most promoted by the Maldivian government.
Only 200 islands are inhabited and about 100 are developed as tourist resorts. The remaining are either uninhabited or used for different agricultural purposes. The new resorts have to comply with very strict rules, meant to protect the environment. Therefore, investors are forbidden to build on more than 20% of the islands. All together, there are 360 000 people populating the Maldives and, in case of a catastrophic fate, they would be forced to evacuate. In the North Atoll, in some heavily populated islands, 60% of the residents have volunteered to evacuate over the next 15 years.
Two years ago, the Maldivian president himself surprised the world with a declaration, saying that they are saving a significant amount of his country’s sizeable tourist revenue to set up a land-purchase fund. What president Mohamed Nasheed was talking about is to relocate the Maldivian population to the two nearby countries – India or Sri Lanka – or even to further Australia. In December 2004, the Asian tsunami raised a big question mark, when the wave that hit the Maldives had devastating consequences: 82 people killed and 12000 refugees, plus other damages that exceeded €300 million.
Landing in heaven
Those black days are somehow forgotten and the deep blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches and green shady palm trees rise from every advertisement whenever you search for the Maldives, as if nothing would ever dare to disturb this heaven on earth.
We had a night flight and, surprisingly, the plane was three quarters empty: few Ukrainian and Russian couples, most probably honeymooners, few Indians and even fewer Maldivians and the two of us. I managed to get a good nap after I laid down on 2 chairs and the flight felt even shorter than it actually was. We landed in Male around 5.30am, but the last 20 minutes before touching down I could not take my eyes off the little window. There is literally no exaggeration in the tourism brochures, the water is as blue as you can imagine it and the tiny little islands are spread all over this blue.
The airport was almost empty at the time we arrived and the custom formalities took a few minutes only. A visa valid 30 days is issued for free on arrival for all nationalities, given that you meet certain conditions required by the Maldivian state. A hotel representative welcomed us and walked us to a cozy lounge, where we waited for our transfer, scheduled for 7.30 am.
You could help yourself from a small breakfast buffet and there was also a multitude of teas and coffee you could choose from. We found that just perfect after not having slept properly during the whole night! I browsed a few magazines to kill time and, without any delays, at 7.30am sharp we boarded the little seaplane that flew us to the most isolated and the smallest piece of land I have ever been to.
Budget: Airline tickets Dubai – Male- Dubai: approx. 650 USD
Seaplane transfer Male – hotel – Male: approx. 800 USD
Accommodation in FB regime: approx. 900 USD
Other expenses (drinks, souvenirs, snorkeling equipment rental etc.): approx. 250 USD