Maldives: out of time, out of the world

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In the seaplane leading from the capital Malé to the Noonu Atoll, this sentence taken from The African Farm by Karen Blixen stands out to me. “Later he gave me a gift, an incredible gift: a glimpse of the world through God’s eye and I thought, yes, I see, that’s how it was designed.”

Flying above this unique universe is a visual shock. The impressive beauty of the 26 atolls and 1199 islands of the Maldives leaves you speechless. In the vast marine blue of the Indian Ocean appear aquamarine island gems, sometimes surrounding dense vegetation, sometimes just a white sandbank. The eye is hypnotized by this myriad of islands and islets spread over 90,000 km2. Atolls whose name comes from the Maldives. Circular coral reefs shelter a lagoon in their center. In the Maldives, these small inland lakes and coral reefs form immense natural swimming pools that delight tourists.

First look at life in blue (ED photos)

I don’t know why I thought of Venice: the same incredible beauty destined sooner or later to be submerged. The highest point of these islands emerges at just over 2 meters and the sea level rises by around 3 mm each year… So I wanted to look at this wonder of nature as we look at Venice, wonder of the human genius, trying to forget the postcard aspect of the destination, the artifice of the countless hotel islands or even the artificial islands added by certain hotel complexes. They are all completely devoid of local social life, of inhabitants of the country other than those dedicated to the service. To forget the ambiguity of these islands occupied by a single resort where everything is permitted, in the range sea, sex, and sun, and the unquestionable severity of the religious political regime in place. Because in this country there is “resort life” and the other.

Tourism sets the tone

The Maldives are also a textbook case for tourism. This country lives 45% from the service sector and therefore from tourism with 1.7 million arrivals per year in 2021 for an indigenous population of only 500,000 inhabitants. Male Airport is constantly expanding and aims to increase its capacity to 3 million entries and an increase in accommodation capacity by 50% within two to three years. Tourism, it is true, represents 51% of GNP compared to 31% for agriculture or fishing and 18% for industry.

The country’s boon as much as its Achilles heel, it is clear that tourism is the guardian without which an entire economy would go to waste. It is one of the places where efforts to support ecology have been put in place, but will they ever compensate for the many hours of flight required, the air conditioning essential in this hot and humid world, the need to import almost everything to bring these hotel islands to life…. who support the whole country? Huge question.

Sara Siyam director of Sun Siyam World and daughter of the founder
Sara Siyam, director of Siyam World and daughter of the founder

The Sun Siyam hotels, whose owners, the Siyam family, are Maldivian, allowed us to understand more closely what makes this destination attractive. Europeans favor it for weddings and honeymoons, but not only. The Indians, Emiratis, Russians and Chinese, geographically closer, have made it a family vacation destination in a stress-proof world. Let us give thanks to this group for having banned non-reusable plastics and for carrying out ecological actions with staff and volunteer customers such as planting coconut trees or replanting corals.

The Siyam family owns five resorts of different sizes, which allows it to address audiences with diverse aspirations.

Lived experience: what should you expect?

This is common to all accommodations of this type (the Maldives currently has around 170 resorts), it is the indescribable transparency of the water, the infinite space, the multiple possibilities of accessing all nautical activities: from observing the magnificent fauna during diving or snorkelling activities to all the water sports you can dream of and even those you don’t know yet.

We don’t go to the beach, it’s the beach that comes to you everywhere and your villa will necessarily have your personal stretch of beach with uniformly white sand. If luxury is space, the formula is confirmed here as the sensation of being in a limitless and almost privatized universe prevails. You live in a water desert dotted with luxurious oases of sand and greenery outside of real life.

Resort life

accommodation in the various Sun Siyam resorts

At Sun Syiam Irufushi 5*

Suffice to say, my favorite and undoubtedly the most inclined to seduce the French both by its reasonable dimensions and by its location between sea, sand and greenery. It can be reached in 45 minutes by seaplane from Malé, the capital. While you wait for the seaplane, a lounge dedicated to Sun Siyam hotels awaits you with food and drinks and even a shower area and massage area. When the blades of the seaplane stop you are on a long wooden pontoon which spans the crystal clear water. The party begins.

This hotel complex includes spacious villas and residences, opening onto the infinity of the ocean and yet promising appreciable privacy. The dream image corresponds to reality: a house on stilts from which we regularly see fish of all kinds passing by. Very well appointed interior with sofa beds, king-size beds, armchairs, office space, large screen television, large bathroom and terrace overlooking an individual swimming pool and a small staircase allowing direct access to the sea. And wi -fi everywhere.

Here, as in other hotel complexes, you walk barefoot on soft white sand. Apart from flip flops you can store shoes. It takes about half an hour to walk around the island. Out of time, out of the world. Around fifteen restaurants and bars allow you to vary your gourmet pleasures. The food is good everywhere and we must salute all the resorts of the Siyam group for paying such careful attention to any form of food intolerance or allergy. It’s a flawless course. The (award-winning) Spa nestled in a green space is exceptional and employs authentic experts in various massages from around the world.

All water sports are possible for those looking for an active vacation. Contemplatives are not left out: incomparable sunsets over these translucent waters, peaceful aquatic cohabitation with fish large and small and sea turtles. You also have the possibility of privatizing a stretch of beach for a romantic dinner, or of taking excursions to deserted islands where the very friendly hotel staff sets up a temporary table for a dream picnic.

Everything is imaginable in the infinite space of these islands but for everything that is not provided for in the formula all inclusive, everything costs quite a lot. Let us add that the mild temperature and the calm and shallow depth of the water in the lagoons lend themselves easily to stays with children (a kids club is dedicated to them).

At Sun Siyam World 5*

Gigantic hotel complex of the same group. It’s the resort ideal for party people, groups of friends, consumers of water sports of all kinds, lovers of various experiences. It is also the only hotel complex to have an equestrian club. There is no shortage of space on the 54 hectares of island, 4 km of beaches, 6 km of coral reef, residences ranging from one to six bedrooms with 21 categories of accommodation: villas, lodges, and the Beach house collection, residences ranging from 89 to 3000 m2. 17 bars and restaurants with all types of gastronomy. We may not appreciate aesthetically the alignment of dozens of villas on stilts flanked, in a row, by sky blue slides to allow you to slide from your home into the sea water…

You will also find a football field and tennis courts and a floating water park. And of course countless possibilities to organize tailor-made ceremonies for weddings or other private festivities. As the island is larger, Sun Siyam World offers its guests the opportunity to rent a Moke for the duration of their stay. These are environmentally friendly electric cars that can come with your own audio system to drive around with your favorite type of music. This resort is certainly the most bling-bling but certainly the most festive too. This year it has just won the Best Luxury Resort Maldives award at the Arabian Travel Awards in Dubai.

At Sun Siyam Ohluveli 4*

The third of the Siyam resorts is located on the island of Olhuveli, 45 minutes by speedboat from Male. It consists of a natural island in the shape of a lying boot and two artificial islands, all connected by bridges. One of them, Olhuveli Romance, is exclusively reserved for adults. In terms of accommodation, in addition to the Maldivian-inspired suites, there are elegant villas with a more graphic and contemporary design. Eleven restaurants and bars offer a wide variety of cuisines and ambiances.

This resort offers ultra-romantic dinners on a floating platform. A tête-à-tête “alone in the world” for lovers of sweet emotions. It is also a privileged place for diving, including dives on wrecks stranded in the Vaavu atoll, on a shallow sandbank. A spot particularly rich in aquatic fauna which provides the spectacle naturally, just with a mask and snorkel. And then, from the pier, a free show delights walkers, even non-divers, that of the ballet, at nightfall of Manta rays which seem to fly under the surface of the water.

The price of the dream

Whatever your choice, the Maldives is a perfect place for those who want to believe in paradise. We are there in a cocoon which seems to have escaped the turpitudes of the world. It is also an expensive destination for the French and Europeans in general which requires going through a Tour Operator.

The average price this month of November, for example, is around €7 to €8,000 for two people, flights included for a week’s all-inclusive stay. To take advantage of countless possibilities for experiences, excursions and activities, you must, however, plan a budgetary reserve because the temptations in this fantasized and carefree universe are multiple. And paid.

Real Maldives Life: Visiting a Local Inhabited Island

Local life in a traditional village in Guraidhoo (photo ED)

From Olhuveli, among other places, it is possible to visit a local island inhabited by Maldivians. Real life is where we find it, a quarter of an hour away by sail. We are welcomed in Guraidhoo by guides who show us around this town of 2000 inhabitants. In fact, we are suddenly on another planet. Pretty little town with plenty of trees, teeming with clumps of bougainvillea and frangipani. Very colorful too. And… inhabited by Maldivians! There are small mini-markets or bazaar boutiques, friendly cafés and restaurants and some 25 guest houses which are multiplying over and over again.

The village lives 95% from tourism, the guide explains to me, pointing out that the price of a room here is around 45 dollars compared to at least 700 in the hotel islands; of course the comfort is not comparable. Everywhere the sea and even a “bikini beach” only for tourists. Islam is law and on Guraidhoo, as everywhere outside the hotel islands, alcohol is strictly prohibited. The mosque occupies a beautiful space, as does the municipal school. The brightly colored houses appear to have been painted recently and they are.

Every five years during the presidential elections, residents repaint their houses in the colors of either the Democratic Party in yellow or the colors of the Nationalist Party in pink depending on their beliefs. A beautiful battle of colors in the middle of which there are also white or pistachio green buildings. In any case, this foray into real life is a nice interlude allowing dreamers to come back to earth.

Evelyne Dreyfus

Catherine Mills Avatar