Read Part One here
“But, they’re GREEN?,” I say, sotto voce, as we stare into the tank which will be the last known address for these gorgeous but unlucky Maldivian lobsters. Choosing to forego eating them, these jade and saffron striped beauties, Mr. Twos and I are led to our table, at the edge of the deck overlooking the impossible indigo of the Baa atoll. Everything here is like that, splendid to the Nth degree; from the romantic ambiance to the sinfully palatial accommodation, right down to the crustaceans. Seriously, just book your trip. Skip the lattes, buy cheaper wine, stay the hell out of Target and before you know it, you’ll have your Maldives fund.
We all know about the visual enchantment that is ubiquitous to these places, but there’re a few other things you should know about this particular bucket list destination.
The Maldives is a country that has embraced tourism for only about the last 40 years, as there were fears for damage to the pristine ecosystem, drainage on the natural resources and cultural ramifications to be considered. Islam is the nations’ state religion and is mandatory. Customs of modesty and alcohol prohibition following Sharia Law are to be observed anytime one is outside of a resort area. Alcohol cannot be taken into the country and will be confiscated; the consumption of adult beverages is legal solely on resort islands and on [some] liveaboard boats.
Upon my initial research, this gave me pause. What about my holiday mojito(s)? My chardie with dinner? (And lunch, whatever, don’t judge me.) Mr. Twos likes a good cold beer to help stave off mosquitos.…so he tells me. Would there be bacon? Shellfish? Did I have time to order a burkini? At least I wouldn’t need to worry about sunscreen, right? The answer to all of this is yes, yes, lots, plenty and totally not necessary. Tourist resorts have been granted special dispensation to cater to the continental class – those that expect first class amenities, booze practically on tap, exposed skin, and well, pork products. Each resort is situated on its very own island; one island equals one resort. There are no local settlements there, only guests and the workforce that keeps them happy. Currently, there are more than 132 of these sumptuous isles handily equipped to offer you varying amounts of luxury. Your job is simply choosing.
A newer option for the Maldives bound traveler is guesthouse accommodation; the Maldivians are friendly people and extraordinarily warm hosts. In 2009, responding to the increasing interest in the region (and a sure influx of tourism dollars) the government relaxed the requirement restricting tourists to resort islands exclusively. Guests are now able to enjoy a more provincial experience by staying in private guesthouses. When you choose this option, you choose to adhere to community customs including modesty, refraining from alcohol, medicines and the display of religious symbols and ‘over the top’ physical affection. It will also mean exposure to unique off-the-beaten-path adventures and the opportunity to appreciate the daily life of locals, which will appeal to travelers who enjoy a less glossy and more authentic experience. The array of accommodation in neighborhood guesthouses runs the gamut, from the very basic with no air conditioning to the quite well-appointed with private plunge pools. These alternatives to costly resorts also make the Maldives a more accessible destination and are especially popular options for serious divers (they just want to be in the water) and those on a budget. On residential beaches, you’ll not see the typical stilted overwater bungalows, and the sand will not be as pristine and manicured as those in the resorts. Some say that the worst resort is superior to the best guesthouse, but that likely has more to do with expectation than fact.
One thing you must know: the Maldives are disappearing. As they lie only 5m above sea level at maximum height, if the oceans do rise, this paradise will be but a memory on the map. In 2009, then-President Mohamed Nasheed and his cabinet ministers held an underwater press conference to garner the worlds’ attention to climate change. Although those with differing opinions on climate change disagree with the level of imminent danger, it is something to consider… in so many ways.
So, fellow traveler, tell us. Would you choose a resort or a guesthouse experience? Do you enjoy communing with locals on your holidays or do you prefer to be more insular? Would you have eaten those dazzling green lobsters?