Even before the pandemic, space and distancing was a way of life in the Maldives – and the authorities now have stringent measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus and reassure travellers, writes Stuart Forster
The naturally distanced islands of the Maldives ensure a safe haven for travellers. The country is made up of over 1,190 islands and boasts the unique one-island-one-resort concept, where each resort is located on a separate island. More than 150 island resorts currently operate, alongside hotels, guesthouses and liveaboards, giving holidaymakers choices of accommodation across price points, making the Maldives the ideal destination for any kind of traveller, whether they are seeking watersports and excitement, or relaxation and romance.
This seclusion now broadens the appeal of Asia’s smallest country to sun-seeking holidaymakers warier than ever of spending time in strangers’ company because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Grouped into 26 atolls, the Maldives’ 1,190-plus islands straddle the equator and the average temperature is somewhere between 26 and 31 degrees Celsius. From Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north, to Addu Atoll in the south, they are distributed across more than 90,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean, naturally limiting contact with passing strangers.
Only 298 square kilometres of the Maldives is dry land. Much of the shoreline is characterised by palm-fringed beaches of soft white sand offering open space for barefoot strolls. As the appeal of some of the Maldivian resorts broadens to families and multigenerational travellers, the soft sand represents a safe space for youngsters to play near other family members.
At a time when experts have deemed outdoor spaces safer than those indoors – because fresh air enables coronavirus particles to disperse rapidly – the islands’ beaches, swaying hammocks and roomy balconies offer visitors plenty of places to lounge in confidence away from other people.
The Maldives has put in place stringent measures to hinder transmission of the coronavirus and, simultaneously, reassure both locals and visitors. The Maldives’ Ministry of Health requires people to stay three feet apart, an outdoor practice that UK residents will already be familiar with from back home. Similarly, frequent hand-washing is also recommended.
Tourists do not need to quarantine upon arrival, but all travellers arriving in the Maldives are required to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that produces a negative result within 96 hours of departing the first port of embarkation of their journey. The name on the certificate must match the passenger’s passport and display the test lab’s name and address. Anyone in transit for longer than 24 hours must take an additional PCR test.
Face masks must be worn in transit between islands. Most visitors arrive into the Maldives at Velana International Airport, close to Malé, the nation’s capital, in the North Malé Atoll. Transfers from the airport tend to be by speedboat or seaplane.
Since the opening of the Karumba Maldives on Vihamanaafushi in 1972, the country has practiced the one-island-one-resort concept and, at a time when travellers are seeking reassurance, it’s worth noting that inter-island travel must be approved and is subject to health screenings.
In addition to the island resorts that many holidaymakers now associate with the Maldives, a smattering of hotels offer upscale accommodation. Even those in Malé, where a third of the country’s 540,000 population resides, offer access to beaches and activities on and in water.
Private islands are an option for people seeking opulent luxury without disturbances from other visitors and most of the resorts have private villas.
Around 200 of the Maldives’ many islands are inhabited. Staying at a guesthouse on what are termed ‘local islands’ represents a way of gaining insights into traditional ways of living. Typically far less expensive than overnight accommodation in resorts, guesthouses are likely to appeal to independent travellers who appreciate immersive experiences, local cuisine and freedom to arrange activities.
The tropical water of the Indian Ocean is characterised by colourful coral species and teems with marine life, the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve boasts 1,200 reef associated marine species, 250 species of stony and soft corals and populations of seabirds, marine turtles, manta rays and whale sharks – the largest fish in the world. Integral to the success of the country’s tourism industry, the health of the ocean has prompted increased commitment to the environment and sustainability.
Renowned for its clarity and warmth, the seawater of the Maldives is regarded among the world’s best destinations for scuba diving and snorkelling. Boats and yachts with accommodation aboard enable keen divers to explore dive sites and uninhabited islands while enjoying personalised service. Many of the vessels offer intimate experiences geared towards couples and small, self-contained groups of friends and family members travelling together.
At a time when travellers are seeking safe destinations for holidays in the sun, the Maldives, traditionally seen as an exclusive destination, increasingly presents a range of options across price classes.