Amazing Facts to Prepare You for a Perfect Maldives Vacation
You probably know of the Maldives as a tropical holiday destination where the lagoons are a glorious turquoise, the sand is soft and white, and the hotels are uber-luxurious.
But many visitors to the Maldives don’t get to learn much about the country’s fascinating history, customs and culture. This is because the local population is segregated from resorts, making it harder to interact with locals.
As a result, most discussions around the Maldives are limited to “wow, so pretty.” But to understand the country only through this lens is to barely understand it at all.
These 30 facts will prepare you so that when you go on a luxury Maldives vacation, you'll be able to enjoy much more than meets the eye.
The Maldives Is Made Up of 1,200 Islands
Despite its fame as a dream destination, many people find themselves Googling, "Where is the Maldives?" If this is you, we've got you covered.
The island nation is located on the Indian Ocean, just a bit southwest from India and Sri Lanka. An impressive 1,200 islands make up the territory, though only about 187 are inhabited and another 154 have resorts.
Inhabited or not, most of these islands are coral islands, which is part of what makes the country such a perfect snorkeling destination.
The Maldives Has the Highest Divorce Rate in the World
Although a Maldives honeymoon is the dream of many, the country has a surprisingly high divorce rate. At 10.97 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants per year, the country’s divorce rate is more than twice as high as that of Belarus and the United States — second and third place in the rankings, at 4.63 and 4.34 percent, respectively. According to statistics from the UN, the average Maldivian woman has been divorced three times by the time she’s 30.
Anthony Marcus, chair of the anthropology department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said in his book “Reconsidering Talaq” that he thinks the main reason for the Maldives’ high divorce rate is its significant pre-marital sex stigma, which prompts a lot of pent-up 18-year-olds to hastily get married. Divorce is also not looked down upon, while singledom is; hence, many people marry even when their choice in suitor is less than ideal.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to avoid your exes when the average island is less than 1 square mile.
The Most Expensive Accommodation in the Maldives Is Underwater
“The Muraka” underwater suite at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is one of the nine underwater hotels on the planet. It cost $15 million to build and was the region’s first underwater bungalow.
With 360-degree views of the reef through glass walls, it is like sleeping in an aquarium. Prices start at $10,000 per night during low season and without any amenities. With amenities, it can cost up to $50,000 per night to have this unique experience.
So what does staying in one of the priciest hotel rooms in the world get you? To start, a private seaplane jetty, a piloted speedboat, jet-skis, 24-hour butler service, a personal trainer and daily 90-minute spa treatments.
A Popular National Sport Is Named After an Eggplant
In the women's sport of bashi, a team designates a woman to stand on one side of the court facing backwards while the opposing team stands behind her on the opposite side of the net. The woman then raises the tennis racket above her head and bashes 12 balls backwards over the net in quick succession. She attempts to hit the women in the opposing team, while they attempt to catch the balls she volleyed before they hit the ground. It's like tennis crossed with dodgeball.
Originally, this sport wasn’t played with a tennis racket, but with a racket fashioned from coconut palm leaves. A hand-woven ball was also used.
Broken fingers are common in the sport, so bashi(eggplant) could refer to the color of the players’ fingers after a match.
The Maldives Has a History of Black Magic, Known as 'Fanditha'
Politics is infused with paranoia around the world. In the Maldives, this has sometimes come in the form of “black magic” claims. In 2013, police were summoned to investigate a coconut and a doll presumed to be cursed. And in 2015, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom ordered a clump of coconut trees in a street in the capital to be pulled up because he held them responsible for his poor health — local papers reported he believed the opposition party had tried to curse him by planting them.
Fandithasorcery like this is actually legally permitted in the Maldives for licensed parties under a 1978 law, but there have been an increasing number of arrests lately for a darker branch named sihuru— enlisting demons to harm others. As recently as last year, ministers and lawmakers gathered to discuss tightening up the legal loopholes, since sihuru suspects are often released without charge.
The Maldives Is 100 Percent Muslim
According to folklore, Maldivians used to sacrifice virgins to appease the rannamaari sea monster until a visiting Muslim traveler killed it.
As the story goes, a girl used to be chosen from the local population and left in a temple on the seafront overnight; during the night, the sea monster would visit, and the next day the people would find the girl slain. The visiting scholar took the place of the virgin, and when the sea monster arrived, he recited verses from the Quran until it disappeared, never to return again.
To thank him, the entire country converted to Islam from Buddhism in 1153 and has remained Islamic ever since.
By law, only Muslims are considered citizens.
The Maldives Almost Became Part of Sri Lanka in 1988
In 1988, a Maldivian businessman and political dissident living in Sri Lanka, Abdullah Lufthi, instigated a coup to overthrow the Maldivian president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Lufthi recruited a Sri Lankan secessionist organization that sent several mercenaries over on a fleet of speedboats. The mercenaries infiltrated the city posing as visitors and quickly took control of government buildings, the airport, the port, and TV and radio stations.
Indian paratroopers quickly flew in to liberate the country as part of a special mission named “Operation Cactus.” They were assisted by a young Maldivian soldier who disguised himself as a cub scout to sneak into the Defense Minister’s house unchallenged and get the key to the armory. He was later made Maldives Chief of Defense.
The Capital Is Built on a Cracking Reef
Scuba divers have reported seeing massive cracks in the reef on which Malé, the capital, is built. The city has already reclaimed as much land from the sea as possible by filling in the lagoon and building out over the outer edge of the reef.
Officials have banned construction work in what is thought to be the riskiest area, but seismic activity or too much development could see the city become a real-life Atlantis — if rising sea levels don’t claim it first.
In the meantime, in the ongoing battle for more space in the overcrowded city, construction continues, with an ever-increasing number of concrete towers being built.
Rent in Malé Is Nearly as High as in Los Angeles
With limited land and abundant appeal, the Maldives is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Malé, located on a 2.2-square-mile island, has a staggering 133,000 residents crammed into it — accounting for about a third of the country’s population.
This overcrowding pushes up prices, with a basic room in the city costing an L.A.-worthy $800-1,000 per month. It also makes it so that many people have to squeeze into one bedroom with their family or co-workers.
An Artificial Island Was Built to Decongest Malé
Malé is simply unable to keep up with the demands of its absurdly high population, especially since the reef it's built on is literally cracking under the pressure of development.
As a solution, the government is building an artificial island named Hulhumale. Set near Malé, the island has already drawn more than 50,000 people away from the capital, with the hope of attraction over 100,000 as the city continues to develop.
Hulhumale has been built to be more weather resistant and designed to use greener technology like solar panels.
There Are No Car Dealerships in the Country
It's impossible to rent a vehicle in the Maldives, as car dealerships don't exist. And if you want to bring a vehicle into the country, the import tax is 100%, so you basically pay for your car or motorbike twice.
Even if you're willing to pay for your car again, it will only be admitted if its usage period is five years or less. Due to the compact size of Malé and the high cost of vehicles, one in six Malé residents own a motorcycle.
A handful of the country’s richest and most powerful residents like to flaunt their cash by driving around Malé in a Porsche or Audi TT – just think about paying for one of those twice.
iPhones Are Outrageously Expensive in the Maldives — and Wildly Popular
Because of import duties, the geographical isolation of the country, and the absence of an Apple store or big cell phone retailers, the price of a brand-new iPhone is exorbitant, often going for over $500 more than the same phone would cost in the U.S.
Still, a huge number of Maldivians are willing to pay for it — and to upgrade as soon as the next one comes out. One thing that helps make buying them achievable is that many Maldivians continue living with their parents even after marriage. Free from having to pay for living expenses like food and rent, many Maldivians are happy to spend months of their wages (the average monthly wage is $250) on luxury consumer goods.
Tuna Goop Is the Most Popular Condiment
Rihaakuru paste is the Maldive's most popular condiment. Resembling British Marmite or Australian Vegemite, the condiment is made via a laborious process that involves boiling whole tuna (head and all) with salt, while carefully removing the scum that keeps forming on top of the water. When the tuna is cooked, it’s removed to be used with other dishes, and the remaining gunk in the pan is kept boiling on a low heat until most of the water has evaporated. This ultimately creates a brown tar-like substance with a powerful fishy flavor.
Maldivians love to eat rihaakuru pure with rice, taro, breadfruit or roshi(bread), but they also mix it up with other ingredients.
Goats Often Make the News in the Maldives
People keep goats in the backyard, as there are no pastures and land is limited. Some goats are imported to be sacrificed at festivals such as Eid.
In 2010, one wayward baby goat was arrested by no fewer than seven police officers. The little goat was spotted roaming the streets of Malé one morning after escaping from a yard, and a video of it running amok in the capital, named “Black Goat Dawn,” went viral.
The goat was seen trying to break into shops, jumping up at windows and bleating. He accumulated a crowd of onlookers and scared quite a few unsuspecting shoppers before police were dispatched.
It then took a team of officers with motorcycles and a riot van to catch the goat, which escaped their clutches several times, much to the amusement of onlookers.
The Maldives Has Never Been Involved in a War
The only major conflict that the country has been involved in is the aforementioned 1988 attempted coup d'etat. However, that was more of a political crisis than it was a war, even if it involved some international agents.
While there were some fighting and rebellions involved in the country's effort for independence from the United Kingdom, it never escalated to a full-fledged war. The Maldives gained independence in 1965.
Cowrie Shells Were Once Used as Currency
Due to their porcelain-like exterior, cowrie shells were used as currency all over the world for about 4,000 years. One of the countries to use the beautiful shells was the Maldives.
The shells could be used to buy food, livestock, clothes and many other goods. Their legacy is immortalized in the country's coins, some of which are adorned by a depiction of a cowrie shell.
Its Currency Can't Be Traded Internationally
The rufiyaa is the official currency of the Maldives. But given the size of the country, the currency is not accepted to be traded in the Foreign Exchange Market.
During a Maldives vacation, you'll probably be able to use a credit card or U.S. dollars. If you want to shop at local stores — which we highly encourage — or just want a cool souvenir, you can exchange for some rufiyaa.
You Can Find Whale Sharks Here Year-Round
One of the biggest ocean animals, whale sharks are a majestic species that usually migrates following food.
Because of its consistency in weather and the diversity in its coral islands, the Maldives can boast having whale sharks roam its waters at any time of year. This means that no matter when you visit, you'll be able to book an excursion to see or swim near these beautiful creatures.
Of course, you shouldn't participate in any tour that feeds them or that lets you get too close to them.
The Maldives Is the Flattest Country on the Planet
The Maldives is so absolutely flat that the highest point of elevation is a mere 8 feet (2.4 meters). This has earned it the Guinness World Record for the flattest country in the world.
Not having mountains or hills is not an issue in and of itself, but the elevation of the country does pose a problem because of climate change. Sadly, the island nation is at high risk of disappearing entirely if sea levels continue to rise.
The Government Once Held a Cabinet Meeting Underwater
One of the most interesting fun facts about the Maldives is that it held an underwater cabinet meeting in 2009.
The meeting was organized by President Mohamed Nasheed as a way to call attention to the nation's dire climate situation. While many called it a stunt, it definitely gained international attention.
Malé Is Protected by Concrete Blocks
As an attempt to counteract the rising sea level and the damages they caused, the government built multimillion-dollar concrete sea defenses around Malé.
The concrete tetrapods surround the entire island and prevent flooding but are also one of the reasons the capital is not seen as appealing as other islands. Still, we'd happily trade looks for safety any day.
Some Maldivian Captains Shun Modern Navigation Tools
If you're anything like us, you rely on GPS more than you'd like to admit. But some Maldivian captains have such impressive navigation skills that they rely on nothing but the stars to sail safely.
The dhoni is a traditional Maldivian wooden boat, and many of the captains that helm them take pride in keeping traditions alive. They shun GPS, radios and even compasses, deeming them unnecessary because they know the islands well enough.
Considering that the entirety of the Maldives is made up of coral atolls, which can be difficult to navigate, their traditional skills are seriously awe-inspiring.
Alcohol Is Only for Tourists
As in many Muslim countries, alcohol is banned in the Maldives. However, as the nation relies heavily on tourism, alcohol is allowed within hotels and resorts.
In fact, these are the only places you'll legally find it, and you are not allowed to buy alcohol in your hotel and take it outside.
And Bikinis Are Banned in Most Places
If part of your Maldives-vacation dream involves sunbathing in a bikini, make sure you're on a private island that allows this.
In most places, bikinis are banned in accordance to the country's Muslim faith. However, most resorts are located on private islands, so tourists rarely have an issue with this.
Still, it's something to keep in mind if you're going to skip the resort and try to see the real Maldives.
It's the Smallest Country in Asia
Asia is the largest continent in the world, being made up of 48 countries. However, a simple look at the Maldives map will reveal that it is the smallest country in the entire continent.
Despite having thousands of islands, they are all so small that the total landmass of the country is a mere 115 square miles (300 square kilometers). This puts it on the list of the 15 smallest countries in the world.
And Most of Its Territory Is Made Up of Water
At 115 square miles, you already know the Maldives is tiny. But did you know that about 99 percent of those 115 square miles is made up of water? Land is pretty limited here indeed.
The good news is that you have plenty of sea to explore. Water sports are one of the main things to do in the country, with diving and snorkeling topping the list. And with hundreds of square miles of ocean, you'll never have to dive the same spot twice.
There Are No Rivers in the Maldives
Due to the extremely limited landmass, the Maldives has zero rivers. It also only has two lakes, both located in the Foammulaku atoll.
Because of this, access to clean water can be an issue for residents. Most of the water used in the country comes from the rain or the ground, both of which have to be purified before being consumed.
Bottled water is usually imported, which is why it's so expensive.
Several Species of Sea Turtles Live in the Maldives
Some people come to the Maldives to escape real life and sip cocktails at the beach. Others, come for the biodiversity. Sea turtle aficionados, in particular, flock to the islands, where you can see five of the seven extant sea turtle species.
Keep your eyes peeled for green turtles, hawksbill turtles, olive ridley turtles, loggerhead turtles and leatherback turtles. Other underwater species you can see include killer whales and bottlenose dolphins.
You're Not Imagining It; the Sand Really Is Unlike Anywhere Else
Beach sand is usually made of quartz. And while it's still pretty to look at, it can be rough and heats up in the sun.
On the other hand, Maldivian beaches are made of crushed coral, mistakenly eaten by parrotfish, as they feed on coralline algae and then pooped smaller and softer. Yes, that incredibly soft white sand you're enjoying is actually parrotfish poop and, honestly, it's so amazing, we don't even care.
Only about 5 percent of the world's beaches enjoy this rare sand, which also has the advantage of not absorbing heat as much as regular sand and therefore stays cooler.
Traditionally, People Get Egged on Their Birthday
Though this is more common amongst school children who joyfully tease their friends, you should still be careful if you celebrate a birthday in the Maldives. If you have local friends, they might egg you, all in good fun, of course.
Other variations of this tradition include spilling flour on people or throwing them in the ocean. Hey, we wouldn't mind the last one so much.