Discover the Allure of Maldives’ Local Islands: A Unique Travel Experience Awaits

The Maldives is known as a premium fly-and-flop getaway. It’s a tranquil string of 1,190 low-lying coral islands dispersed across the huge expanse of the Indian Ocean, 500 kilometres from India’s southern coast and Sri Lanka. You’ll find beautiful, sun-kissed beaches and warm, azure blue lagoons dotted with colorful corals that are home to unique aquatic life.

This tropical archipelago is also dotted with chic water bungalows and pricey resorts, giving it a reputation for elegance and exclusivity.

It hasn’t always been this way, however. Here’s how you get a taste of Maldivian life outside the five-star resorts.

The Maldives was not previously known for its luxury resorts. The archipelago was long thought to be unsuitable for tourism due to a lack of infrastructure and commercial airports.

This all changed when Kurumba, the Maldives’ first resort, opened in 1972. Kurumba launched the tourism business, which has since expanded rapidly. The islands are now home to a swath of opulent private holiday resorts.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Maldives saw a steady increase in tourist arrivals as additional resorts were built across the archipelago.

These hotels, sometimes built on palm-fringed deserted islands and owned by foreign investors, provided travelers with a private and opulent escape complete with overwater bungalows, stunning beaches, and world-class amenities.

By the 1990s, tourism had established itself as the Maldivian economy’s backbone, accounting for a sizable amount of the country’s GDP and employing thousands of people.

In the 2000s and beyond, the government continues to spend in tourism infrastructure, such as upgrading airports, building new resorts, and advertising the Maldives as a top luxury travel destination for high-end guests.

The quest for rapid tourism development in the Maldives has resulted in some unavoidable environmental and social concerns for the gorgeous archipelago.

The annual arrival of a million people has resulted in environmental deterioration, increased tourism leakage, and social change in surrounding communities.

In reaction to mass, resort-based tourism and environmental destruction, a plea for change was issued to protect the island’s natural beauty and residents.

The Maldivian government and tourism sector have begun to address some of tourism’s negative effects by enacting new legislation and guidelines for sustainable tourism practices and environmental safeguards.

These initiatives also include encouraging local participation in the tourism business, emphasizing sustainability in resorts, and offering more comprehensive cultural experiences that connect visitors to local projects and activities.

As a result, visitors seeking inexpensive and culturally rich experiences in the Maldives can stay on ‘local islands’ rather than pricey resorts.

In 2009, non-resort islands, known as ‘local islands’ in the Maldives, were permitted to operate guesthouses and tourist amenities, increasing job opportunities and allowing locals to profit financially from tourism.

As a result, guest homes, coffee shops, and restaurants popped up on local islands, attracting a slew of curious visitors looking for a more real slice of tropical paradise.

Islands such as Maafushi, Guraidhoo, and Hulhumale also provide a variety of guesthouses, restaurants, and neighborhood cafes where visitors may taste island cuisine at reasonable prices.

By living outside of multinational resorts and eating at locally owned eateries, the money you spend on your Maldives vacation will most likely stay in the community. This community-led tourism strategy is gaining popularity among environmentally conscious travelers.

“Every year, we see growth in local tourism, and we have seen growth in community tourism,” says Sameeu Imad, Vice President of the Maldives National Hotels and Guesthouses Association.

Imad goes on to say that engaging with communities and “understanding and listening to their cultures” should be a goal of local tourism. He also feels that visitors should ‘island hop’ to meet locals and “hear their stories”.

Staying in a local and economical guesthouse provides a unique insight into Maldivian culture and customs while also directly supporting the livelihoods of local families.

Several guesthouses on ‘local islands’ are owned and maintained by community members who are proud to share their culture and hospitality with guests.

For visitors looking to support sustainable tourist practices, community tourism in the Maldives offers a chance to reduce environmental impact while supporting local conservation initiatives.

Several community-based efforts, including marine conservation, sustainable agriculture, and waste management, aim to preserve the island’s natural beauty and biodiversity.

In addition to lodging in local guesthouses, guests can schedule community-based activities and experiences that provide insight into Maldivian culture and traditions while also providing people with extra cash.

There are numerous ways to connect with people and help retain tourism dollars in Maldivian communities, such as guided tours of fishing villages, visits to local markets, and hands-on courses in traditional crafts and cooking.

Another benefit of community tourism in the Maldives is the opportunity to interact with local craftsmen and entrepreneurs who create a variety of traditional handicrafts and handmade products.

Shopping at local markets and artisanal shops allows visitors to financially support small-scale producers while also bringing home one-of-a-kind souvenirs and gifts.

Embracing community tourism in the Maldives allows you to see the islands beyond luxury resorts and contributes to a better future for this endangered tropical paradise.

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