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DIVING IN THE MALDIVES
by Ted Cookson
Published in December 2002
Maldivian national flag and downtown Male, 31-second video clip
Part of Male's small boat harbor, 32-second video clip
View of Male and the airport island from a cruise ship, 32-second video clip
The Republic of Maldives (pronounced "Mahl'-deevz"), which is situated in the Indian Ocean south of India, consists of some 1,200 small islands grouped into 19 atolls which stretch 750 km/465 miles from north to south. Most of the country lies north of the equator. In addition to the 90 islands occupied only by tourist resorts (one resort per island), over 200 other islands are inhabited by citizens of the Maldives. Male (pronounced "Mah'-lee"), the capital, occupies a separate island, and Hulhule International Airport is on yet another island only 2 km/1 mile from Male.
The low-lying islands of the Maldives consist of coral which has been built up over thousands of years on the peaks of submerged volcanos. Barrier reefs surround and protect these islands. The atolls of the Maldives boast gorgeous white sandy beaches and clear lagoons. Many islands, including most of those occupied by tourist resorts, are just tiny palm-covered coral sandbanks, around which you can walk in less than half an hour.
Fishing and tourism are the mainstays of the economy of the Maldives, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. Tourists usually have no awareness that much of the population lives at a subsistence level. This is due to the fact that the only Maldivians with whom tourists generally come into contact are those working on the tourist resort islands and at the airport. It is not easy for tourists to visit the non-resort islands as doing so requires a special government permit.
Why choose the Maldives for your diving holiday? Most of the Indian Ocean's 700 species of fish have been seen by divers in the Maldives. And even as a snorkeler with goggle and fins you can very easily swim up to and admire incredibly colored reef fish and coral gardens.
Also, access to the Maldives is generally hassle-free as many nationalities are given free one month visitors' permits upon arrival at Hulhule International Airport.
Furthermore, there is frequent air service to Male in the Maldives on Emirates via Dubai. Qatar Airways also offers service to Male via Doha. For those who would like to explore Qatar briefly without the hassle of obtaining a visa, this latter routing involves a forced 24-hour stay on the return to Cairo with accommodation in Doha at the airline's own expense. For both airlines the cheapest seats normally fill up very far in advance of Christmas, Easter/spring break periods and Islamic holidays. So do plan extremely far ahead in order to minimize airfare. Airline booking computers can accept reservations at least 11 months in advance.
Those dive enthusiasts who prefer to spend a week on a live-aboard dive boat will be glad to know that they can be accommodated in the Maldives. However, since 90% of visitors to the Maldives spend dive holidays on one of the well-equipped resort islands, it is more likely that you will be a resort-based diver or snorkeler. What are the factors to consider when choosing a dive resort in the Maldives?
First, since you must transfer round trip from the airport to your resort, the distance from the airport island to the island on which your resort is located is important. Unless you are willing to spring for expensive transfers by seaplane or by helicopter, then the farther away your resort, the longer you will need to ride in a speedboat (or, for closer resorts, a "dhoni" which is a motorized sailboat). Transfers to some of the more distant resorts can involve speedboat rides of several hours each way.
The second factor is the quality of the resort's accommodation and meals. This is often but not always reflected in the price per night. Since each resort island contains nothing else but a resort, it is unlikely that your meals will be taken anywhere other than at your resort. Half board (breakfast and dinner) is allowed at some resorts while full board (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is compulsory at other resorts. Some resorts are also sold on an "all-inclusive" basis, which includes most water sports.
Third, consider the size of the resort (the number of beds) and the various facilities offered. Some of the larger resorts even offer such facilities as tennis courts.
Finally, you might also consider the likely nationalities of the your fellow guests. Resorts in the Maldives cater primarily to European clientele - especially to the German, Italian, British and French markets. If you possess foreign language skills, then you might feel more comfortable with guests of one nationality than with another.
In addition to selecting your resort, you will also want to give some thought as to what season you wish to visit. The Maldives has two distinct climatic seasons. The high season, when the winds blow from the northeast and resort prices are generally at their highest, lasts from December through March. February is the driest and also the busiest month. The low season, when the winds blow from the southwest, lasts from late April through October. During this season there are stronger winds and some storms, especially in June. But note that there can be considerable variations.
Temperatures in the Maldives range between 24 C./75 F. and 33 C./91 F. year-round, and the humidity is rather high.
The Maldives is an Islamic nation. However, while it is forbidden to import alcoholic beverages into the country, beer, wine and mixed drinks are readily available for purchase at all resorts. If you do arrive at Hulhule International Airport with a bottle of alcohol in your possession, it will be confiscated and then returned to you upon your departure from the country!
ABOUT TED COOKSON: Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world! He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club). A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi. Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at: Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301. Fax 2359-1199. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.eptours.com.
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