Friday, April 3, 2009
Maldive "Heaven on Earth"
For a long time, the Republic of Maldives was one of the best-kept secrets in the world; a beautiful string of low-lying coral islands in the Indian Ocean, a paradise for watersports enthusiasts and sunseekers alike. Now the islands are developing quickly to become an increasingly popular long-haul destination.The country's 26 natural atolls offer nautical delights from night-fishing trips, windsurfing and scuba-diving.
Many islands embrace enormous lagoons, where bright blue-green water laps gently.Yet, even in paradise, trouble can bubble beneath the surface. It is precisely because the Maldives are so low-lying (80% of the territory is less than 1m/3.3ft above sea level), so transparent and perfect for snorkelling, that their very existence is especially threatened by global warming. They are also particularly vulnerable to natural catastrophe, as shown in the devastating tsunami on 26 December 2004: of the Maldives' 199 inhabited islands, 20 were completely destroyed.These factors need to be seriously discussed by the international community in future years. Otherwise, paradise really might be lost.
Shop for local arts and crafts; Baa Atoll is one of the few places where traditional techniques are still practised. Malé, the capital, also has several markets of fresh and wholesome food produce for those wanting to sample local fare.
Dive or snorkel to appreciate the exceptional and easily accessible underwater life; some of the best sites in the world are found in the Maldives. All of the resorts have professional, fully-equipped dive schools offering a range of courses. Most of the resorts also offer reef sightseeing trips on glass-bottomed boats. Go on a fishing trip on modern speedboats equipped for big game fishing. Go at night to catch groupers, snappers, squirrelfish or barracuda. Round off the trip with a barbecue with the day's catch.
Visit the island of Makunudhoo, renowned for the quality of its food. It is protected on all sides by a beautiful lagoon with coconut groves leading down to the beach. The catch? It is one of the most expensive island resorts in the Maldives. Get away from it all and spend a day and a night alone on an uninhabited island. You can usually do so as part of an island-hopping tour. Another option is to visit a fishing village with a trip to an uninhabited island (where often a beach barbecue is served).
Hire a traditional boat (dhoni) or speedboat to island hop.
Windsurf at Banana Reef, where strong currents also make for an exceptionally abundant marine life, with reef sharks, bannerfish and oriental sweetlips all present.
Admire the superb collection of artefacts, including Sultanese thrones and palanquins, in Malé's National Museum, located in Sultan's Park. Opt for some aerial sightseeing and photo flights for an astonishing glimpse of the islands and a blue panorama.
Pop your head into the beautiful 17th-century Hukuru (Friday Mosque) in Malé. The Islamic Centre, topped with a magnificent golden dome, is worth a visit. There are over 20 mosques scattered around the capital.
See the Maldives Victory Wreck (which sank in 1981), lying on the western side of Hulule. This is a dive for experienced divers.
Spot fish (notably grey reef shark), giant snappers and tropical reef fish at Mushimasmingili Thila (Shark Thila), located in the northern section of the Ari Atoll.
Internal air services are operated by Island Aviation Services, linking Malé with Kaadedhdhoo, Kadhdhoo and Gan. There are also services to Hanimaadhoo in the north. A number of companies operate seaplane and helicopter services around the Maldives. The transfer from the airport to the resort islands may be an optional extra on the tour. These services are also available for trips around the islands.
Visitors generally remain on their resort island for the duration of their stay, although island-hopping trips by ferries are widely available. Local charter boats are also easily available for hire. High-speed boats meet arrivals at the airport, supplied by the resort they are booked with, and boats are available for hire at the ferry counter near the jetty area. The speedboats connect the airport with Ari Atoll and some outlying islands.
Travel on individual islands does not present any problem since few of them take longer than half an hour to cross on foot. In Malé, it is possible to take taxis.