The Maldives is the smallest country in Asia with a population of just over 500,000 inhabitants. Once very much dependent on fisheries, the Maldives now relies on tourism as the largest contributor to its GDP, with over 1.7 million tourists visiting in 2019. We spoke to Halimah, a student, to learn about life in the Maldives.
Hi Halimah, thanks for catching up with us! We really appreciate it and look forward to learning more about your country. So for someone travelling to the Maldives, what activities can they do to learn more about Maldivian culture?
Halimah: If you can, visit several different islands. There are some that are cut off and provide a private experience and there are others where you can experience the social relationships, norms and routines that have existed for hundreds of years. Our culture has been shaped by influences from all over the world so I believe that visiting different islands can give the best idea about Maldivian culture.
Also visit the National Museum and some ancient ruins in different islands. If you come at the right time, you can participate in the Eid festival. Maybe you can take part in a game of Vaadhemun (tug of war) 🙂
What are some of the best places to get Halal food? Can you give an example of unique Maldivian food and drink?
Halimah: Unsurprisingly Halal food is available almost everywhere. Garudhiya with rice is a unique food for Maldives. Garudhiya is basically cooked fish in water with some salt. When you go to a restaurant, ask for kurumba for a unique Maldivian drink.
I’ve heard that kurumba is a must-try. I’ll keep it in mind 🙂 As a tourist, what opportunities are there to meet local people?
Halimah: People here are very kind and friendly. Tourists are very welcome here as long as they respect our culture and rules. If one comes to the capital city or Greater Malé area it’s easy to meet locals anywhere, and anyone would be of help and give their best hospitality. Going to the beach can also introduce one to locals. Oh and hanging out at Sultan Park. You will meet a lot of local people there.
What’s the best way to get around in the Maldives?
Halimah: If you’re going from one island to another, then taking a speed boat or seaplane is preferable. The views really are stunning! But if you are travelling around one island, then walking or riding a bike is perfectly fine.
Can you tell us something about the Maldives that isn’t well known?
Halimah: I can tell you a few things 🙂 I don’t think many tourists know that despite the small size of our country, you’ll find different accents in different regions. And speaking of the size of the Maldives, as you know, our country doesn’t have a huge amount of space. So in some places there will be a lot of people staying in a fairly small house. The household members will decide when people sleep. For example, one half of the household will sleep during the day while the other half is out. Then when night falls, the people who were out during the day will come to sleep and those that slept during the day will give up their space for the others. Also in some islands the population will be quite small, so everyone will know each other. This can be a good or a not so good thing 🙂 And in some islands the entire population will be related to each other.
Wow! That’s interesting, and a completely different way of life to places in big cities like London, Paris or Tokyo, where you can pass by hundreds of people you don’t know in just a few minutes. Are there any major issues affecting the Maldives right now?
Halimah: Well, like everywhere else in the world we’ve had to deal with Covid-19. Another more long term issue is the environment. There is concern that we may not survive rising sea levels from global warming. Actually in 2009 a cabinet meeting was held underwater to highlight the dangers we face.
People are becoming more environmentally aware and I’ve seen that the Maldives are promoting sustainable eco-tourism as well. Let’s hope the world can turn back the clock. Is there anything in particular you appreciate about living in the Maldives?
Halimah: I love so much about the Maldives, and if I were to list all of the things I’m thankful for, the list would go on forever. Just to name a few, I love the kind and friendly community, the simplicity of life here and the beautiful weather. If you are thinking of visiting the Maldives, I would definitely recommend it. Many people think that staying here as a tourist is expensive, but there many islands and resorts that cater to different budgets. Lots of options here 🙂
Thanks very much for your insight, Halimah.