May 2, 2015
Picture it: A private villa stands over crystal blue water; days finish with orange sunsets that make you hungry for local citrus; gourmet room service and a masseuse are on call to avoid any unnecessary trips from your porch; and the only thing to make you want to leave is the breathtaking coral reef and underwater creatures that demand a scuba session for a proper introduction. This is the Maldives.
If you don’t want that cliché Caribbean beach getaway (The Bahamas) or that trendy South Pacific retreat (Bora Bora), you should venture to the Maldives. However, getting to and staying in this tropical paradise requires patience (i.e. no direct flights from the states) and plentiful cash. Located between the Arabian and Laccadive seas, roughly 500 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, the Maldives is about as isolated as you can get (or would ever want, anyway). And while the country’s government and economy has recently been in flux, the sublime nature of this paradise has stayed constant in the dreams of travelers.
The Maldives has been an Islamic nation since the 12th century. With this rich heritage, you’ll find religious traditions entrenched in the culture. Mosques dot the capital of Male’, and you’ll see some men and women dressed in very conservative attire. Should you wish to visit a mosque, you too should dress accordingly; however, be aware that some mosques are closed to non-Muslims. You’ll also notice people praying in public at certain times throughout the day. Be respectful by lowering your voice and not walking in front of those who are praying. Most of these visible cultural and religious traditions have been extracted from the resorts. However, particularly during Ramadan, expect to witness some Islamic customs, such as local restaurants closing for the daytime when the population will be fasting.
With 99 resort islands, the Maldives relies on tourism as its dominant industry that draws on a large portion of the workforce. The other major industry is fishing, and this island nation exports its sea catches to countries across the world. The Maldivian currency is the rufiyaa (MVR). The exchange rate hovers around $1 USD for 15 MVR.
The lavish dinner entrées that you’ll sample at hotels are nothing like that of local meals. When you’re in Male’, try dining at a local eatery to sample the cuisine only if you have a hearty stomach. Some travelers report sickness after consuming local food because they haven’t allowed their digestive systems enough time to adjust to the cuisine. You’ll find that fish and rice are two staple dishes of the Maldivian diet.