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How 50 years of tourism has transformed the Maldives

Simon Calder’s Travel

Among the nearly 200 picture-perfect resorts in the Maldives, Baros is the stuff of legend. Having recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, it welcomed its first guests in December 1973 and was just the third hotel to open (after Kurumba and Bandos) as the island nation took the very first tentative steps on a journey that would see it become one of the world’s most desirable destinations.

Before then, this chain of 1,192 low-lying tropical islands sprinkled across the Indian Ocean barely registered a flicker on the international stage. Most were uninhabited, with the rest home to small villages of up to a few hundred people. So cut off, in fact, the only means to contact the rest of the world was to send a Morse code message to the embassy in Sri Lanka.

Word slowly started to spread of a paradise of epic proportions but the Maldives, back then at least, was not the luxury haven it is today. The first people to appreciate the beauty of Baros were an intrepid bunch of divers who had to jump into the water from Maldivian dhonis (traditional boats) and wade ashore.

They stayed in barrack-style huts of palm leaf walls, sand floors and coconut thatched roofs, and slept on repurposed bunkbeds made from metal frames and mattresses stuffed with coconut fibre. Fresh water – the biggest luxury of all – arrived in buckets. Air conditioning? Forget it.

Days were spent diving and spearfishing (now banned); the nights barbecuing under the stars and dancing in the shallows.

Serenity Spa at Baros resort (Baros/PA)

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But these people weren’t the first to spend time on the island; in the late 18th century it was presented by Sultan Hassan Nooraddeen as a gift to the indigenous Giraavaru people who swiftly used it as a place to harvest coconuts.

The Robinson Crusoe experience remains at Baros, to a degree at least. Located in the North Male Atoll, an easy 25-minute speedboat journey from the airport and capital Male, the island’s story is one of evolution rather than radical change.

Things progressed in the 1980s in the form of upgraded rooms made from coral stone walls, cemented floors and curtained showers. Overwater villas – now emblematic of the Maldives – arrived in 1992 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The heart of the island is Sails, the breezy bar designed to replicate a traditional Maldivian house with a…

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