Maldives: On an atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Joe was turning 55 just as the pandemic was starting to show signs of improving and a few countries were opening up to travel. We were ready to get back to exploring the world (and to celebrate his double nickel birthday) so we Googled places that would let Americans in. One of the few: Maldives. It had always been on our list of places we'd wanted to visit, but it was far away...like, really far away, and a considerable plane ride. But, after being locked down for close to a year, we were ready for really far away. We researched all the COVID testing requirements for travel to Maldives and booked our trip. This is a view of the atolls we flew over on our way from Malé, the capitol of the Republic of Maldives (it's official name), to the atoll we were staying on, Maamatuaa.
Maldives is an archipelagic country in the Indian subcontinent of Asia, situated in the Indian Ocean. Just southwest of Sri Lanka and India, the country is comprised of 1,100 atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean - what's an atoll, you ask? Well, aside from being absolutely beautiful, it's a ring-shaped coral reef, including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon. Simply: they look like small islands ringed in varying shades of blue.
We had a long but amazing flight on Qatar Airways, flying from Boston to the capital city of Doha, Qatar. Talk about airports!! This place was gorgeous, and the Qatar Airways lounge was like a mini hotel that we took full advantage of during our layover. This was a 26 hour flight all in from Boston to Maamatuaa, Maldives, so the lounge showers and multiple restaurants were a nice way to get ourselves on track for our final destination.
The second leg of our flights, from Doha to Malé, and then from Malé to Maamatuaa (with a short stop on a tiny airstrip on another atoll in between), ended with a boat ride to our hotel. As the overwater bungalows came into view the long journey seemed worth it. Finally, we'd made it. After two COVID tests and a reading of our temperatures we were finally told we could remove our masks - for the next ten days!!! We can't understate how great it felt for the first time in almost a year to go maskless, but since the hotel was the sole occupant on the atoll, this little bubble was a small respite in the middle of nowhere.
This was a completely different type of trip for us. We usually love to explore multiple locations rather than stay in a single place, but this time we would be in the middle of the Indian Ocean for ten days. If you're someone who gets antsy, it might not be the right place for you. If you're two people who have longed for an adventure to the other side of the world after a pandemic lockdown, it was absolutely perfect. Our resort was practically new, as it had opened just prior to the global COVID crisis and, unfortunately, had not been able to welcome guests until recently. Everyone there was just as excited to see us as we were to see them!
Our overwater bungalow was designed to take full advantage of the views (basically water in a million different shades of blue as far as you can see), a pool with an outdoor living room, stairs to snorkel off our deck, and even the fish swimming beneath us through the glass "window" in the floor. An outdoor shower meant we spent as little time indoors as possible, which, after being in lockdown for months, we were more than excited about.
We typically don't stay at all-inclusive resorts because we like to venture out to local restaurants and explore. But when you're on an atoll, there isn't much exploring beyond the palm trees, gardens and beaches. Luckily, we had a lot of food choices with plenty of local flavor and a variety of restaurants to enjoy - from Italian and Indian cuisine beside the pools to a vegetarian spot tucked into the jungle-like palm trees and waterfront tapas (as people who are not vegetarians, this was a new - but delicious - experience for us). On the night of Joe's birthday, one restaurant even prepared a special 55th celebration for him.
So what do you do on an atoll small enough to walk completely around in about 35 minutes? Not much (which I guess is the whole idea). We played tennis, went for walks and runs, kayaked and even jet skied with a few dolphins - you can see them in the video.
We also snorkeled (Joe even joined a few little sharks, which were completely ambivalent to him) and took a sunset cruise one evening.
And every day we watched the sun rise and set (the sunrise probably due to the time difference, but getting up early to watch the sky change was totally worth it).
The colors of the sunrise were different each day, from green to blue to pinks and orange - we'd never seen anything like it (probably because getting up that early typically negates the purpose of a vacation). Here's a video so you can watch the sun sink into the Indian Ocean for yourself.
Something that surprised us? We were two of the very, very few Americans. Russian guests seemed to outnumber all of the others, but it was the most diverse international set of people we'd ever encountered in a single destination.
This trip was well worth the hours of travel, from staying in one place for ten days to being confined to the small area of an island in the middle of nowhere. But it was a unique experience we wouldn't trade.
It was also sobering to visit a country that is in danger of, literally, going away. At the current rate of global warming, almost 80% of the Maldives could become uninhabitable by 2050. Sea level has risen 1/2 inch every year since 1950. A bleaching event affected about 60% of the coral reefs in the Maldives, and without this natural defense to rising waters the country is at risk (for example, wells can become contaminated by salt water and taint the drinking supply).
It's a really serious issue that the government is working to address in several ways, including using technology to create 3D-printed coral structures, or floating cities, in addition to building back and protecting the coral reefs.
It was impossible to wake up every day in this beautiful place and not wonder what it will look like in a few decades if a solution isn't found. It made us appreciate our time here even more knowing the challenges ahead for this country and its natural formations.
At the end of our ten days we'd eaten new foods, learned more about the country, gained an appreciation for new music (including Iraqi-Hungarian musician Omar Bashir), and were glad that we had the opportunity to discover this off-the-beaten-path destination.
You can check out our Maldives Sound of Amazing playlist on Spotify for some cool music from the trip.
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