The Maldives, officially Republic of Maldives, also referred to as the Maldive Islands, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean formed by a double chain of twenty-six atolls oriented north-south off India’s Lakshadweep islands, between Minicoy Island and Chagos Archipelago. It stands in the Laccadive Sea, about seven hundred kilometers (435 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka and (250 mi) south-west of India. During the colonial era, the Dutch referred to the country as “Maldivische Eilanden” in their documentation, while “Maldive Islands” is the anglicised version of the local name used by the British, which later came to be written “Maldives”.
This chain of islands is an archipelago located among the Lakshadweep-Maldives-Chagos Group, which are the tops of a vast undersea mountain range in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The atolls of the Maldives encompass a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres, making it one of the most dispersed countries in the world in geographic terms. It features 1,192 islands, of which two hundred are inhabited. The Republic of Maldives’s capital and largest city is Malé, with a population of 103,693 (2006). It is located at the southern edge of North Malé Atoll, in the Kaafu Atoll. It is also one of the Administrative divisions of the Maldives. Traditionally it was the King’s Island where the ancient Maldive Royal dynasties were enthroned.
The Maldives are the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. With an average ground level of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the lowest country on the planet. It is also the country with the lowest highest point in the world, at 2.3 metres (7 ft 7 in); the Maldives sinking is a great concern for the Maldivian people.
The Maldives was largely terra incognita for tourists until the early 1970s. Strewn across the equator in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives archipelago possesses a truly unique geography as a small island country. Nature has fragmented the archipelago into 1,190 tiny islands that occupy a mere one per cent of its 90,000 km2 territory. Only 185 islands are home to its 300,000 population, while the other islands are used entirely for economic purposes of which tourism and agriculture are the most dominant. Tourism accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives’ foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. The development of tourism has fostered the overall growth of the country’s economy. It has created direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities in other related industries. The first tourist resorts were opened in 1972 with Bandos island resort and Kurumba Village.
According to the Ministry of Tourism website, the emergence of tourism in 1972 transformed the economy of the Maldives, moving rapidly from the dependence on the fisheries sector to the tourism sector. In just three and a half decades, the industry has become the main source of income and livelihood of the people of the Maldives. Tourism is also the country’s biggest foreign currency earner and the single largest contributor to the GDP. Today, there are 89 resorts in the Maldives with a bed capacity of over 17,000, providing facilities for tourists whose annual arrival figure exceeds 600,000.
The number of resorts has increased from 2 to 92 between 1972 and 2007. As of 2007, over 8,380,000 tourists had visited Maldives.
Most visitors arrive at Malé International Airport, on Hulhulé Island, adjacent to the capital Malé. The airport is served by an array of flights to India, Sri Lanka, Doha, Dubai and major airports in South-East Asia, as well as an increasing number of charters from Europe. Many flights stop in Colombo (Sri Lanka) enroute.
Gan Airport, on the southern atoll of Addu, also serves an international flight to Milan several times a week.
Diving in the Maldives. The Maldives has become one of the world’s premier scuba diving destinations, because of the abundance of amazing white sand beaches, coral reefs, clear warm waters, many scuba diving sites and rich marine life.
Most holiday resorts in the Maldives have a scuba diving facility and there are a number of liveaboard operators offering scuba diving cruise holidays that take guests to many dive sites all over the Maldives. Many scuba divers are keen to dive in the Maldives because of the presence of whale sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, reef sharks, hammerhead sharks and moray eels, as well as many smaller fish and coral species.
In the 2004 tsunami, the Maldives were severely damaged and much of the coral was bleached. Thankfully, the coral reefs have made an excellent recovery and have almost returned to their pre-tsunami condition.