What The Maldives Looked Like Before Mass Tourism

What The Maldives Looked Like Before Mass Tourism

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(CNN) — The Maldives: turquoise waters, luminous white sands, gorgeous technicolor sunsets and, of course, luxury.

But believe it or not there was a time when the Maldives wasn’t one of the most glamorous getaways in the world.

When Mohamed Umar “MU” Maniku and three friends opened Kurumba, the country’s first tourist resort, in 1972, there wasn’t even a dock. Visitors had to wade in waist-high water to get from the boat to the beach.

The first visitors were mostly journalists and photographers from Italy.

Even though there weren’t glass-bottom overwater villas and seaplanes yet, it was clear that the Maldives was already working its magic. Today, there are more than 100 resorts spread across more than 1,200 islands.

Meet the island pioneer behind the country’s first tourist paradise in the Indian Ocean.

Kurumba, which means “coconut” in the Maldives’ local Dhihevi language, was originally an uninhabited coconut farm. Now it has all the expected bells and whistles of a luxury Maldives resort.

Still, though, it’s nice to think about how things were in the early days of the tourism industry here. Some people call MU “the man who built paradise,” and it’s a moniker he well deserves.

The first guest accommodations were made out of coral and limestone. Anything that didn’t grow locally had to be brought in by ship and could take as long as three months to arrive.

Newspapers arrived months late and telephone services were inconsistent. Forget to pack toothpaste and you were on your own, as there were no shops on the island.

Before tourism, there were only about two residents on the island where Kurumba now sits.

And you can forget about joining a stand-up paddleboarding class or being whisked off by speedboat to a remote island for a romantic dinner under the stars.

There wasn’t much for travelers to do besides fishing and sunbathing, which they enjoyed — perhaps a little too much.

“They were very happy,” MU recalls. “Some of them, you know, sunbathing so much they were like lobsters.”

A traditional fishing excursion gets to the heart of the country, even if you don’t catch any fish.

Though Kurumba these days is more about upscale villas and fine dining restaurants, MU’s description of the early days sounds more like a hippie escape.

“We used to have this open pit barbecue. And then we used to have … somebody, you know, playing guitar.”

In the guest rooms, the taps poured out brackish water. The toilets back then could politely be described as “weird.”

It could have been a risky propositio

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