Living in the island country

zitahli_birds_eye_view_04The most overwhelming thought that came to my mind, when I first visited the Maldives was, that this country doesn’t consist of land just interrupted by the water regions like other states I was familiar with. It is actually just the opposite: the Maldives is in 97 percent an ocean.

Zitahli Resorts & Spa

This geographical fact may be a challenge to fully realize if you haven’t actually saw it with your own eyes. In the Maldives islands are very small, but distances between them happen to be enormous. Over thousand of islands are spread over 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi) on the ocean. When I took a trip from Male to Maamigili it lasted three hours by the speed boat, and it’s just the neighbouring atoll! By regular dhoni this trip would take twice as much. As a result, to visit more distant island the smartest thing to do is to take a plane.

All the islands are grouped in 26 atolls, which have their chiefs nominated by the president and subordinated to the Ministry of Atolls. When local people refer to the particular island they usually mention the atoll where it belongs as well, because many islands have exactly the same names. Adding the name of an atoll helps to avoid misunderstanding.

The majority of the land belonging to the country is uninhabited, Maldivians having their homes on less than 200 islands (Maps of Maldives 2008). One third of approximately 400 thousand people live on the capital island, Male. It’s a one-city island concentrating the majority of business, and state institutions. The island measures 1.6 km by 1.2 km (0.99 by 0,74 miles) and is totally urbanized, with just one artificial beach. The main street, Majeedhee Magu, runs horizontally and cuts the island in half. Male is located centrally in the archipelago, and makes the main communication artery in the Maldives. There is only one more city in the Maldives, Addu in the southernmost atoll, having the same name as an atoll.

Except the formal administrative division, Maldivians causally divide islands by their purpose or function. Next to the inhabited and the uninhabited islands there are so called resort islands. At the end of 2011 there were 101 resorts registered in the Maldives (Ministry of Tourism 2012), most of them formed in the one resort-one-island model. Isolating tourists from the local people derives from the 70-ties, when the Maldives opened for tourism. The Islamic government of that time was afraid of the bad influence, which “liberal Westerners” could have to the Maldivians. The solution was to isolate tourists on the self-sufficient resort islands, were restrictions of the Islamic law didn’t apply.

Apart from these islands, designated exclusively for tourists, Maldivians distinguish these, which themselves visit for recreation. They call them ‘picnic islands’. Some other islands are assigned entirely for particular function, for example tuna processing, garbage disposal or imprisonment.

Hamza Island (picnic Island)

Hamza – a picnic Island

Medhu birds eye view 3 (2)

Medhufushi Island Resort











Male – a capital city

garbage island

Thilafushi – garbage island

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