Clichés have a hard time. For some, the Maldives would be a paradisiacal destination reserved for the rich and powerful of the planet. For others, it is an Islamic Republic where sharia and terror reign. As with all clichés, there is a need for clarification. So yes, this archipelago off the coast of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean sells a blue dream like no other. Yes, the craziest and most expensive ideas seem to spring from its ancient undersea volcanoes. Yes, Mohammedan law applies in this democracy with its still-fluctuating contours. But no, the Maldives is not a closed country with tourists on one side and inhabitants on the other. No, women don't get stoned in the public square. No, the population does not live in silence and fear. If it took a while to worry about them, democracy made a triumphant return in 2018. Opposition candidate Ibrahim Solih, a defender of human rights and the environment, was elected with 58% of the votes in the first round of voting. The raid was confirmed in the April 2019 legislative elections, where the presidential party won 65 of the 87 seats. The trade winds pushed back the threatening clouds of sectarian authoritarianism to bring the azure sky back over the heads of the 400,000 Maldivians. The gentle lapping of lazy waves returned to rock the dreams of a warm and welcoming population and tourists in search of a tropical paradise. Even in these troubled times of the Covid-19 pandemic, they can go flipper-flop in Maldivian waters on simple presentation of a negative PCR test.
The charm of the local islands
In Male, the contrast is striking. The smallest capital of the world of only 5 km², the island seems to crumble under the weight of its buildings glued together. Tourists draw their cameras to grab the Maldivian "skyline" in total opposition to the coconut trees in the brochures. But the main focus is on the faces of the people they meet in the terminal. Those of the Maldivians first, who display a permanent smile and a nonchalance that sets the tone. Those of the new arrivals, straw hats screwed on their heads and stars in their eyes. Those of the travellers about to leave, with tanned skin and a wave in their souls. You can immediately recognize the seasoned adventurer who disembarks with a backpack and jumps on a ferry to a local island. Little-known fact, the inhabited Maldivian islands have been open to tourism since 2010. More than 500 guest rooms and small hotels now welcome a clientele eager to treat themselves to a dream holiday at the lowest possible cost. Although the consumption of alcohol is forbidden on these islands, the water is no less transparent, the coconut trees no less high, the sand no less white and the sea bed no less full of fish than in the hotel islands. As a bonus, holidaymakers enjoy the charm of the villages with their small colourful houses and the pleasure of tasting masroshior fish balls in the cafés. If the island of Maafushi seems to win all the votes because of its proximity to Male, it is better to push a little further. Dhigurah, a superb 3 km long ribbon takes over the south of Ari Atoll and becomes the privileged place for whale shark watching. Dharavendhoo, in Baa Atoll, faces Hanifaru Bay, a marine area listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visited by manta rays. Addu, the southernmost atoll, located just below the equator, allows you to dive into the country's most beautiful seabed and the depths of the local culture, without encountering a tourist.
The splendour of the hotel islands
But it is of course the famous hotel islands that attract the 1.5 million tourists who visit the Maldives every year. The concept is simple: an island, a hotel club and many activities to occupy your holidays. Diving beats all the others, because it is the splendid seabed that has made the country's reputation. Varied corals, colourful fish, sharks, rays, turtles and dolphins create wonder every time. But what greater pleasure than owning your bungalow with your feet in the sand or resting on the crystal clear water of a lagoon? Even if it is only for a few days. How can you resist the exotic charm of a cottage with a palm roof, the luxury of its private swimming pool, the stunning beauty of the blue sea, the call of the coconut trees with their fringes crumpled by the breeze? How can you not enjoy walking barefoot in the sand, slipping into a 29°C sea, reading a novel lying on a deckchair, sipping a cocktail at sunset? Maldivians have the art of receiving and fulfilling our requirements. The most luxurious hotels compete with incredible ideas to surprise a clientele that is always very picky. Seaplane transfers, underwater restaurant, huge villas, butler, private island, champagne for breakfast, "snow room", here all the madness is allowed!
Other hotels have more modest ambitions, but no less pleasant. When peace and quiet is the order of the day and total disconnection, then no motorized water sports are offered in order to respect the quietness of the sea breeze; Wi-Fi is only accessible from the reception desk; there is no TV. The concept boils down to the effective formula "no news, no shoes". No news, good news certainly, and no shoes either. Few establishments continue the tradition of the early days, namely simplicity. In this case, no air-conditioning, shared meals at fixed times, lively evenings for customers to get on well with each other, but always the unequalled charm of a private villa, refined exotic wood, personalised service. The most recent resorts are surfing on a more jet-set trend to satisfy stressed city dwellers who travel in packs. Architecture and decoration opt for contemporary lines in multi-bedroom residences. State-of-the-art technology is everywhere. DJ's play electro notes late into the night. The formulas are all-inclusive so that the party is more fun.
Define your desires
With more than a hundred hotel islands and over 70 projects under development, the Maldives is making sure that no one is left behind on the pontoon. Small budgets take advantage of the local islands or come to spend two nights in addition to a stay in Sri Lanka or southern India. The clever ones book their stay through a local agency which avoids multiplying the intermediaries. Wealthy people vary the pleasures and atmospheres by offering themselves two or three different islands over two weeks of time. The sporty ones choose a cruise focused on diving or surfing. The possibilities are endless and budget alone cannot make the decision. The key to a successful stay in the Maldives lies in a precise definition of your needs and desires. A very small island can quickly create a feeling of confinement during a prolonged stay. On the contrary, large islands have many rooms and the feeling of intimacy can evaporate like snow in the sun. The islands close to Male have many boats passing by with their engines pushed to the maximum, creating a permanent humming noise. The most distant islands often allow you to treat yourself to a Robinson Crusoe dream, but you have to count on a transfer by seaplane which puts a strain on the budget... These hazards should not make you forget the essential. The Maldives are even more beautiful in real life and the tourist brochures do not lie. The salt-refined sand slips between your feet. The ocean comes in fifty shades of blue: navy when the water is deep, clear at the edge of the lagoon, turquoise when the sand is on the surface. The lush vegetation transforms the islands into an emerald case and casts a beneficial shadow. Paradise is here. And why not now?
When? With an air temperature of 30°C all year round and a water temperature of 29°C, the Maldivian climate is ideal. The monsoon period extends from July to September.
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