North and South Male' Atolls
The Maldives are a series of coral atolls south of India. An
atoll is formed when a volcano surrounded by a ring of coral sinks back into
the ocean. As the volcano sinks back into the sea the coral carries on growing
upwards. So you get a lagoon separating the barrier reef from the sinking
island. By the time the island is completely submerged the coral has grown
enough to form an atoll, circling the place where the volcano used to be. Coral
debris and sand builds up over the submerged volcano and accumulates on bits of
the coral reef, and small islands form - all of which makes for some
spectacular marine landscapes and wildlife.
Diving is the reason many people come to the Maldives - it's
estimated that sixty percent of visitors do some diving while they’re here.
There are hundreds of recognized dive sites, some named for their particular
attraction. Expect to be able to do reef diving - around the edges of the reef
where the atoll meets open sea or on the inner slopes facing the lagoon; kandus
are the channels between reefs, islands or atolls and good for drift dives, the
plankton makes them a good site for manta rays, whales, sharks and other large
species. Thillas are different again: underwater coral mountains reaching
almost to the surface, with lots of nooks and crannies and caves to shelter the
smaller fish from the predator species. If that's not enough variety there are
even some diveable wrecks.
North and South Male' atolls have too many great dive sites to
list, don't miss the soft blue corals as well as the hosts of fish, rays and
sharks. If you're not a qualified diver, don't panic. Snorkeling in the
Maldives is a magical experience and you will still see much of the best of the
coral and marine life. Snorkeling safaris which visit several of the best sites
are very good value. North Male' atoll is best for surfers and there are some
fantastic breaks although you should take local advice for what's best in the
conditions on any given day. The famous righthander off the island of
Gaamaadhoo requires a permit and if you're keen you should try to get your
cruise operator to sort this out in advance.
If you're not one of the sixty percent there's still plenty to
enjoy in the Male' Atolls. As your ship comes into harbor in the capital city
of Male' on Male' island you'll see the impressive gold dome - actually
anodized aluminum - of the Grand Friday mosque gleaming in the sun. Size isn't
everything - although the Grand Friday mosque is huge, the ancient Hukuru
mosque is more interesting. If you're going to the mosque make sure you cover
up a little, and then you'll be welcome to look around inside and out. There
are some fabulously intricate carved panels inside and the blue and white tower
of the minaret is one of the best features of the Male' skyline. A quiet stroll
through the graveyard will let you see the elaborate tombstones: rounded tops
for women, pointy tops for the men, delicately carved mausoleums for families
and gold-plate for the sultans!
If you prefer to stay dry whilst enjoying the marine life
consider a fishing trip. On a traditional Maldivan tuna fishing trip you'll use
a pole, line and unbaited hook. If you've plenty of dollars you could opt
instead for a game-fishing excursion: tuna, sailfish, marlin, barracuda, wahoo,
jackfish, shark and dorado are the main species. Take a camera as for many
species there's a 'tag and release' policy in operation much of the time. If
you're staying overnight, a night-fishing trip in a dhoni - local boat with a
tall curved prow - with a hand-line and bucketful of bait gives you a good
chance of catching reef fish, maybe even a barracuda. The chef on your ship
will usually prepare your catch for you too!
Tourism in the Maldives is well organized, so you can be fairly
sure that your cruise operator will offer you the opportunity to experience the
intensity of a bodu beru - big drum - performance. The dancers begin with slow,
nonchalant swaying, but as the tempo and complexity of the African influenced
drum rhythms increases so does the energy of the dancing, culminating in a
virtuoso frenzy, or even an ecstatic trance.
The Maldives aren't for everyone. The emphasis is on
environmentally responsible tourism, so that your children and grandchildren
can come here and enjoy them as much as you. If you expect all the facilities
of a developed Caribbean destination you may be frustrated, but if you like
your beaches peaceful, if you're a watersports or wildlife enthusiast you'll be
in danger of atoll addiction.