Keeping things local on the Maldives
WHY STAY ON A LOCAL ISLAND
Before water bungalows and Club Med, the 26 coral atolls of the Maldives were considered completely unsuitable for tourism with a 1960s UN report stating that there were just too many obstacles to overcome as well as little or no infrastructure to make a go of things.
Fast-forward 50 years, past the first paying Italian visitors from the early 70s who didn’t require passports, visas, or clothes, for that matter, and you’ll find a million tourists a year staying on over 100 islands that are privately owned and operated as vacation resorts. These resorts offer customers the kind of images that inhabit glossy mags and screensavers the world over, with all the trappings of luxury available at a click of your fingers alongside tropical sun, sea and spritzers by the spa. Islam is the official state religion, but rules don’t apply on resort islands with bikinis welcomed as readily as cocktails, all-inclusive packages and underwater nightclubs. Seriously.
Before long, guesthouses, coffee shops and restaurants were appearing on local islands and a small yet steady stream of likeminded travelers were heading to the Maldives in search of a more authentic piece of paradise where Muslim culture sits side by side with mocktails, watersports and engaging encounters with local people. Staying on a local island gives visitors unique access to the real Maldives at a fraction of the price of a resort and if you’re looking for a few more excuses to stay local then read on and don’t forget to bring back your flip-flops, golden or otherwise.
Several dive and watersports centers offer subsidised rates for islanders and actively encourage kids and adults to get involved, including the chance to progress on PADI courses to Dive Master Level. This is a worthwhile initiative; nearly a quarter of the Maldivian youth population is unemployed. The chance to work within your own community is also very important as it gives people the chance to still live with and help their families without having to look for work elsewhere. Increasing numbers of islanders have been able to return home after working away from their families on resort islands. This improved work/home balance is essential for creating happy, healthy and sustainable lifestyles where everybody benefits and local people are proud of their island and looking forward to working with tourists to help create a unique experience that everyone can enjoy.