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Maldives - a cluster of beautiful islands but not for backpackers

Updated on December 31, 2011

Words like “the sunny side of life”, “cobalt blue water” and “coral reefs” were enough to lure me to Maldives. But it was nowhere warned that 'backpackers' do not dare ‘come in’. Brochures and websites were filled with all types of superlatives but stated only the half-truth. It was high-end but low-volume tourism for maximizing income and minimizing devastation of natural resources. I found prices sky-high even for the resorts at the bottom end. I had no alternative but to ebb out.

Arriving at Male airport was, however, a pure delight. I kept gazing out of the window as plane started to descend. I could see small islands (atolls) amidst azure blue sea. The islands were surrounded by palm-fringed beaches with snow white sand.

Male International Airport - looking like an aircraft carrier
Male International Airport - looking like an aircraft carrier | Source

Male International Airport

From the air, the Male Airport looked like an aircraft carrier. It had only one runway that began and ended in water. I felt as if my plane was about to splash into water. But its wheels suddenly bounced onto the asphalt. It was not North Africa otherwise the passengers would have given a big hand to the pilot for safe-landing.

The airport could be rated as second class. It was opened in 1960. Its first runway was made of slotted steel sheets. About 4 years later, the steel sheets were replaced by asphalt under a modernization project. But related facilities were not upgraded. When the passengers got down from the aircraft, no bus was readily available to take us to the immigration hall. After much delay, one arrived but broke down within a few minutes. An alternate bus took time to come and the initial charm faded away.

Bad experience in custom clearance

While immigration formalities were simple, I had heck of a time in customs. No one checked my luggage but all surrounded me and asked me irrelevant questions like “What is your occupation?” I told them that I was a university professor. “Show us some employment related documents”, one chipped in. “What documents!!! I have not come here for a job, I’m a tourist”, I objected. To this, someone approached me and said that they just wanted to enhance their knowledge. I showed them my visiting card containing a number of degrees and they discussed each and every degree often turning to me for clarification. It appeared that they could not have dared ask such silly questions to the Westerners and so all guns were aimed at me. Eventually, a senior official came to my rescue and led me out of the terminal with apologies.

Boat docking in the downtown of Male
Boat docking in the downtown of Male

No taxis but boats

The airport was on an island known as ‘Hulhule’. It was so small that it could barely accommodate the airport and related facilities. There were boats just outside the gates to ferry passengers 2 km away to the Capital City, Male.

I had booking for Kaani Lodge for US$40 per night for a simple room to sleep in. No frills, no breakfast, no restaurant and no lobby. ‘Just out of the room and into the street’ setting. It proved the old maxim, “what you pay for is what you get.” The only redeeming factor was that the lodge was managed by an Indian who advised me how to move around on public ferries and go for nearby islands.

Male sea-side - a long strech good for walkers
Male sea-side - a long strech good for walkers

Male, the capital city

Next day, I had early breakfast and moved in the city, the island of Male. Its total area is hardly 1.8 sq. km but population was relatively large, about 100,000 people. This made the city second most populated island after Hong Kong.

Necessary utilities were managed within the island. While power was provided by diesel generators, water was being pumped out from deep well and desalinated. Sewage was flushed out into sea while solid waste was transported to nearby islands to fill in lagoons. The airport was built in this way.

The bazaars had small streets, some so narrow that I could touch walls on the both sides by stretching my hands. Despite this, the shops were filled with handicrafts, garments, electronic gadgetry and cosmetic. It was quite safe to move around, there being no muggers, no scammers, no hustlers or even no beggars. The people were very friendly and provided full guidance whenever approached to.

There were plenty of cafes and restaurants offering different cuisines apart from sea-food. The streets of white-washed houses were heavily built up, living conditions often cramped and areas of communal open space sparse. The houses had interesting names like "The Night Flower”, “Lovers’ Paradise etc."

Large Mosque with Golden Dome  in the Islamic Centre
Large Mosque with Golden Dome in the Islamic Centre

Land-Marks in Male

I covered most of the landmarks like Friday Mosque which was intricately carved with Arabic writings and ornamental patterns. The Independent Square was the center point with a little park and a flagpole with a giant Maldivian flag. Islamic Centre was an architectural delight containing a large mosque topped with a golden dome.

National Museum was housed in a converted palace and had some old artifacts, royal regalia besides some historical photographs. The entry fee was US$ 3 which looked on the high side considering the contents displayed therein.

In the evening I went to Fish Market. Lots of fishing boats were docked around. It was not clean as tuna fish blood was spread all around. However, there was a good café upstairs serving the “just-caught’ fish at reasonable prices.

Island of Hulhumale Island, an hour of boatride away
Island of Hulhumale Island, an hour of boatride away
A peaceful setting
A peaceful setting

Hulhumale Island

On my last day, I went to a nearby island. For this, I walked to the southern edge of Male where there was a boat terminal. A 20 minutes of boat ride took me to an artificial island known as Hulhumale.

A stroll within the island was very refreshing. It was already the size of Male and will be more than double in area once second phase of land reclamation is completed. Signs were already there in the shape of apartment complexes, condominiums, terraced houses, schools, mosques and other social amenities. A large area was reserved for cultivation of indigenous and imported plants.

On the beach side, there were a lot of shops for scuba diving. I gossiped with a local resident, Amin Didi, who told me with pride,”Very pretty here, fresh air, new people."

At some distance seaplanes were taxing up to a floating pontoon. It was lovely to see their coming and going. Bit noisy but giving a lot of thrill in their take-off and landing.

Since it was my last day, I sat for hours in a make-shift structure of grass and bamboo-poles with wooden table and chair under the shade of coconut trees. Perhaps, it was developing like a budget cottage to compete with water-bungalows floating in the blue sea water. To me, a budget cottage for $15 per day would give more value than a $250-a-day bungalow “exquisitely furnished with contemporary décor, equipped with remote control air-conditioner, ceiling fan, private bathroom-hot/cold shower and toilet, spacious private balcony offer panoramic vistas of blue sea, colour TV with satellite channels, mini bar and in-room safety box.”

Dhoni or boat - only found in Maldives
Dhoni or boat - only found in Maldives
rain forests
rain forests


Maldives is a small island nation. It is located 300 km from the South West tail-end of India. It is a chain of nearly 1,200 islands of which 200 are inhabited. These islands are spread over 90,000 square kilometers.

Maldives enjoyed Per Capita Income of $4,600, highest among the South Asian Countries. But income disparity was equally high dividing the country into just two classes: noble and common like rich and poor.

It is the smallest country in Asia but most expensive and sadly most endangered. The maximum height of the land is 2.3 metres above sea level. Being lowest on the planet, it could vanish if sea-level continue to rise due to global warming.

In 2004, the country was devastated by the tsunami. As many as 60 islands were seriously affected. Of these, 14 had to be totally evacuated while six were completely destroyed. People from 16 islands are being relocated as rising sea had resulted in salinisation and depletion of fresh water.

While sipping coconut water in the grass hut, I shuddered with the thought that one day this beautiful country may be swallowed up by the mighty sea.


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    • prasadjain profile image


      3 years ago from Tumkur

      A very informative article. Sorry for your bad experiences at thecustoms

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      3 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you for sharing this information, it was very interesting. I sure hope the islands aren't swallowed up some day, that would be too sad. The image you shared of sitting underneath the coconut trees, and sipping coconut water sounded so nice. I really enjoy seeing different places, and would love to visit one day.

    • prasadjain profile image


      3 years ago from Tumkur

      A beautiful hub Sir. I feel sorry for you bad experience with custom officers at Male Airport. But it seems the the scenic beauty of Maldives is almost like that of South India, except for cleanliness.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

    • travelholidays profile image


      5 years ago from India

      Male International Airport form upper view is amazing. Very neat description about Maldives. Thanks for sharing many useful information about Maldives

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 

      5 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      You have described things well with convincing photos. Keep on writing. Voted Up. Thank your for sharing such nice experience.

    • hafeezrm profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Pakistan

      I am sorry, I have no idea.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am a student doing a Supply Chain Management and am really looking for a project on that line of study please advise what topic i should include in my area of email is

    • hafeezrm profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pakistan

      Thank @d.william for your nice comments. You never know when you would have opportunity to go around the world.

    • d.william profile image


      7 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      What a wonderful article, and the pictures were breath takingly beautiful. I will look forward to taking more vicarious journeys with you in the future. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with those of us who will never have the opportunity to visit such beautiful places in this world.

    • hafeezrm profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks Happyboomernurse for your comments.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      7 years ago from South Carolina

      What a fascinating, informative hub with wonderful pictures of the Maldives, which is a chain of islands that I've never heard of before. Your trip sounded like a great adventure except for the hassle at the airport.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful and interesting.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Ah, Hafeez, Again, a wonderful travel narrative. I can truly visualize the wonders through your words. Thank you for giving me a view of the world!

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      Travelling to Maldives is not expensive anymore.. you can stay in guest houses in local islands and spend your day in a desert island.

      All the guest houses offer activities ( snorkelling diving surfing etc....) and much cheaper that the island Resort and you get to discover the true maldives.

    • profile image


      7 years ago





    • profile image


      7 years ago


      amazing while going through

    • profile image

      M. Sharif Shafique 

      7 years ago

      M. Hafeez:

      Your explanation of the journey to Maldev Island is good. It has so nicely been presebted that one would like to have a visit and enjoy the serenity of the Islands. The accompanying photoghrahs has made the narative doubly beautiful. Keep this practice on. God bless you.

    • profile image

      Naveed M. Khan 

      7 years ago

      Maldives have always been my dream destination. While reading your travelogue I have been through spiritual experience of visiting Maldives. Your comments on high prices and low tourism value may change my views on “ Maldives”. You are “ Ibne – Batoota” of modern times. Mr. Khalid Khawer comments on Ibne Batoota were informative

    • profile image

      khalid khawar kazmi 

      7 years ago

      It was a wonderful piece of travelogue. Thank you Mr. Hafeez for shareing your travel experince of a place where once Ibne-Batoota had also stayed for a long time;was appointed as a Qazi (judge), and married a Maledeevian lady. But your stay was short.

    • sonia05 profile image


      7 years ago from india

      Great narration and interesting information about the beautiful country Maldives.thank you for sharing!

    • profile image

      Saad Ali 

      7 years ago

      Sir great trip and beautifully narrated.. Your every year trip makes me feel that I have travelled the whole world :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      ITS really very amazing place to visit. sir jee u have narrated in such a way that i was feeling while reading that i m there in maldive tour. thankx for sharing

    • hafeezrm profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pakistan

      Thank you Syed Ajaz Ahmed. I wish you to accompany me on such voyages.

    • profile image

      Syed Ajaz Ahmed 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your tour information. I enjoyed every bit of it. Thanks

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is one place I would love to visit,really beautiful,as narrated by Hafeez,accompanied by great photos! Nice hub,my friend. thanks for sharing and more power!

    • upal19 profile image

      Ashraf Mir 

      7 years ago from Dhaka

      Nice journey and nicely narrated. customs are always hazardous but they should be more generous as because their country is a beautiful tourism spot. They earn from this industry.

    • profile image

      Muhammad Shafiq 

      7 years ago

      A lovely place with a very nice narration. It is always good to share your experience with others and especially for those who cannot afford to visit such a beautiful place, for any reason.

    • hafeezrm profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pakistan

      The islands are spread over a large area. There are logistic problems for going from one island to another. There are no regular ferries but only chartered flight. This is why the government is building artificial islands near the capital city, Male, and connect it through road bridges or causeway or tunnels.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • profile image

      Ali Shafiq (Khatri) 

      7 years ago


      The journey was explained in a remarkable manner. The minute details enable me to estimate cost as well. Photography has adorable aesthetic sense. Can you plz tell me that if there are already 1200 islands then why there is a need to build an artificial island?

      Thanks a lot for sharing


    • profile image

      Michael Schmidt 

      7 years ago

      Well, not every adventure works out perfectly. It sounds like this one turned out rather expensive! Like Hafeez, I would much rather travel to inexpensive places frequently than to expensive ones occasionally. The expensive locations are no more beautiful, interesting, or fun than the cheap ones. They just have prettier curtains in the rooms!

    • asadayub profile image


      7 years ago

      Respected Sir, a great journey,seems like i'm travlling myself. Thanks so much for sharing. Needless to mention, the videos are really very awesome.

    • profile image

      Muhammad Shoaib Ikram 

      7 years ago

      Good Evening Sir,

      You just said the truth, actually the beauty lies in natural things. Maldives is really a beautiful place. You really utilize resources effeciently

    • profile image

      Abdul Basit 

      7 years ago

      Asalam o elikom

      Sir the place is really awesome and most importantly the way you have describe Maldives it encourages me to there, and watch that cobalt blue water.

    • profile image

      Khurram Amin 

      7 years ago

      Had honeymoon in Maldives, amazing Islands ... and the snorkeling experience was just awesome ...

    • Rufi Shahzada profile image

      Rufi Shahzada 

      7 years ago from Karachi

      Bravo! Felt like I am travelling alone....

    • profile image

      Kashan Pirzada 

      7 years ago

      Great place to travel. very informative hub.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • hafeezrm profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks BethanRose for your comments.

    • BethanRose profile image


      7 years ago from South Wales

      The Maldives are amazing, I dream to go there. A great hub about the island and some much needed info! Voted up and useful


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