Crafted from a tiny slice of the divine and eternal, these exotic equatorial atolls defy time and space. Consequently, while vacationing in the Maldives you may devote your entire holiday to nothing but systematic alternation between sunning and swimming, summoning eager-to-please five-star resort staffers to bring food and beverages as needed. Many European children have been known never to leave the islands’ warm tropical waters except for essential nutrients and occasional sleep. Although the islands offer all kinds of tours and excursions, no one ever has seen fit to develop anything even vaguely resembling an “official” itinerary.
If, however, you feel the urge to explore the islands’ geography, commerce, and culture, the locals recommend:
1. Become an aquatic animal
If you can do it in, on, over, under, or anywhere around water, you can do it best in the Maldives. Warm, clear tropical waters are ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving; the islands’ gentle swells are perfect for beginning and intermediate surfers. Jet skiers and more traditional water skiers on fat boards have plenty of space for perfecting their tricks. Kayakers, canoeists and paddle-boarders can paddle along with dolphins who gather to gawk and play. Real shipwrecks rest at the bottom of several bays while on the surface the trade winds power high-performance catamarans at “something like mach-2,” as sailors rave. “It’s Nature’s most wondrous water park,” blissful holiday-makers exult.
2. Dine sumptuously on local cuisine
The Maldives are home to literally dozens of five-star hotels and resorts, each complete with its own world-class chef, who is eager to dazzle diners with inventive and exotic dishes that feature freshly caught seafood and locally grown vegetables and fruit. The fish you saw on the dock at mid-afternoon may appear as this evening’s entrée flavored with herbs and spices unique to the islands.
3. Shop Male
The center of island trade and commerce, Male features huge fish and vegetable markets where seafood and produce are so fresh they still glisten with saltwater and dew. Watch supply-and-demand at work in their purest form: this morning’s high-priced scallops suddenly have become a bargain because the boats came in heavily laden with the tasty local bivalves, but tuna prices have soared because the big fish weren’t biting today. Not surprisingly, Male also stands out as the Maldives’ first and finest retail shopping destination where local designs and crafts delight cosmopolitan resort-wear aficionados and curio-seekers.
4. Sample “the night life
The Maldives observe strict Islamic laws for dress and conduct, so the heart of rock and roll beats here only if you bring it in your iPod, but local musicians perform nightly as visitors enjoy flavorful tropical fruit drinks. Meanwhile, the best island night life rocks the skies and waters. Visitors stare in wide-eyed wonder at Nature’s magnificent celestial light show, and stealthy night time swimmers barely ripple the preternaturally calm Indian Ocean waters. “We were thrilled not to drink and party every night,” remarks Aussie tourist Heather Moore. “Nature’s bounty was more intoxicating than anything a bartender might have concocted.”
5. Try the “local brew”
A few discreet inquiries of your concierge will guide you to places that serve “betel quid,” a heady mix of locally grown betel leaves, areca nuts, and white lime, the only legal intoxicant on the islands. Some serve it as a beverage; others serve it in chewable form. In southeast Asian and Indian Ocean cultures, betel quid is said to stimulate passion and lifelong love; it plays a prominent role in many island cultures’ wedding ceremonies and anniversary celebrations. Intrigued, American visitors most often compare their betel quid experienced with drinking shots of Red Bull and Vodka, “only much-much tangier and better-tasting,” they stress.
Romance thrives in the Maldives
The islands rank No. 1 on travel experts’ lists of wedding and honeymoon destinations. The most popular travel sites also make it clear that couples celebrating 10th or 25th anniversaries rediscover “the old spark” as they luxuriate in their bungalows above the sea. Producers of the USA television series “Covert Affairs” reportedly filmed several romantic beach scenes on the Maldives’ pure white sands, and Hollywood location scouts frequently recommend pristine coral islands as “perfect settings.” Although “fall in love” did not qualify for the definitive Maldives to-do list, it probably will happen anyway.
Aileen Meadows is a globe-trotting freelance blogger who writes travel advice for visitors to exotic locales, such as the Madives. If you are planning a vacation to these islands, you may be interested in looking into the world-class Maldives resorts and planning a dive to see the abundant marine life.