Tourism

Luxury and local life: mixing it up in the Maldives

Yellowfin tuna at Malé fish market ©Emma Sparks

Some 1800 years ago, Arabic traders gave the Maldives a moniker that remains relevant to this day: the ‘Money Isles’. Back then, the archipelago’s abundant cowrie shells (boli) were a powerful international currency, and these paradisaical islands have evolved into a playground for the rich and even richer.

For many, world-class luxury resorts are still the major drawcard, but there are two sides to every coin, or cowrie shell. Combining resort indulgence with a cultural encounter on one of the Maldives’ dozens of inhabited islands can make a trip here all the more enriching.

Your archetypal island paradise: just another day in the Maldives © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images Your archetypal island paradise: just another day in the Maldives © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Appreciating the Maldives’ natural riches

Nicknames aside, the etymology of the word ‘Maldives’ refers to the remarkable geography of this scattered archipelago. The ‘garland islands’ are indeed draped like a necklace across the Indian Ocean, hanging below the teardrop-shaped earring of Sri Lanka. And this is a treasure crafted from only the finest materials: white-gold sands with a turquoise trim, diamond-clear waters and sparkling sunsets framed by a curtain of palms. Every second spent here is a pinch-me moment.

A spinner dolphin playing in the spray © Pete Atkinson / Getty Images A spinner dolphin playing in the spray © Pete Atkinson / Getty Images

The Maldives is the world’s lowest country in terms of elevation, and therefore first in the climate change firing line, which makes its natural wonders seem all the more precious, particularly when you meet the wildlife. Keen spotters, snorkelers and scuba divers should head to the southernmost atoll, Addu (also known as Seenu), to see spinner dolphins, sea turtles, whale sharks and white terns – a striking seabird found nowhere else in the Maldives.

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Addu is also home to some of the islands’ most novel landmarks – a nine-hole golf course with lagoon views, one of the longest roads in the Maldives (a whole 16km, best travelled by bike) and the nation’s tallest mountain, which looms above Villingili, a staggering five metres high.

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