I know Portugal is a holiday heaven with sunshine, pristine beaches, and picturesque scenery, but some readers might like to know more about another holiday destination - the Maldives, a diminishing collection of islands in the Indian Ocean, some 750 km southwest of Sri Lanka and India. These idyllic islands are a series of coral atolls built up from the crowns of a submerged ancient volcanic mountain range – all are low-lying, none rising to more than 1.8 metres above sea level.

Historic background

The Maldives has a complex past that has shaped its tourism industry. It was a sultanate until the 20th century, with a society deeply rooted initially in Buddhist and then Islamic cultures, but in the 1970s, driven by their government’s vision to boost economic growth, they started a journey to transform a dwindling fishing-based economy to a tourist-dependent one.

However, this transformation has come at a cost. The push for rapid development has led to significant environmental decline, including land reclamation, dredging of lagoons, and destruction of coral reefs to create artificial islands, including a new capital city, which has resulted in loss of natural habitats, erosion of beaches, and damage to marine ecosystems.

Are they shrinking or drowning?

Climate change is a major issue for the Maldives, and they are slowly disappearing. As an archipelago of low-lying islands and atolls, the existence of the Maldives is severely threatened by rising sea levels. By 2050, 80% of the country could become uninhabitable due to global warming, and predictions suggest that in time they will be engulfed by the sea. The country is expected to be entirely submerged by 2100. But don’t get me wrong – it currently still has much to offer!

On a visit there some years ago, our table waiter had even then observed: ‘The beaches are getting smaller’. At the time, they had just experienced the tsunami triggered by the destructive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, and despite widespread flooding and building damage, the human toll for the Maldives was relatively small – a total of 82 people being killed and a further 24 reported missing. One side of our resort was severely damaged, and it was a strange experience to see mattresses drying out on the tennis courts, with the normally verdant gardens showing salt-damaged plants and bushes.

Credits: Unsplash; Author: ishan-seefromthesky;

Maldives size

As of 2022, the Maldives had a resident population of just over 500,000 and is the 9th-smallest country in the world by area. Legend has it that the first settlers of the Maldives were people known as Dheyvis. The first Kingdom of the Maldives was known as Dheeva Maari, and their language today is Dhivehi or Maldivian, an Indo-Aryan language closely related to the language of Sri Lanka.

Holiday Destination

The Maldives has much to offer to tourists, but stress relief, luxury, and unbelievable scenery come as standard, with white sands, crystal-clear waters, and over 2,000 species of fish to observe, the word 'paradise' is truly justified. Each resort of the Maldives is on its own small island, some near the airport, others hundreds of miles away. For such a small place, Malé, the capital, is home to an amazing total of over 130,000 people, and the airport itself has its own island just off Male’s coast. The first runway built was made of slotted steel sheets and measured only 23 m × 914 m.

Credits: Unsplash; Author: yang-wewe-;

The final leg of your journey from the airport is an experience, made by speedboat or seaplane depending on how far away your resort is, making you feel like you are living the high life as you either whiz across the beautiful sea or are able to look down on the vista of tiny islands below.

Do you feel trapped on a small Island?

Travellers who aren’t impressed by a beach holiday will find there is still plenty to do. Each resort has its own first-class restaurants, dive and water sports centres, spas, and swimming pools, with some resorts, even offering the luxury of villas with their own jacuzzi or pool, or their own personal butlers!

Enjoy it while you can, it won’t be there forever by the sound of it.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan