By: Bryan Herb
Traveling to the Maldives as an LGBTQ person can be a bit controversial for some. Like many countries around the world, the official laws and the actuality of visiting the country as an LGBTQ person don’t necessarily mesh. Deciding whether or not to visit the Maldives as an LGBTQ person comes down to two issues:
1: Is it safe as an LGBTQ person?
2: How can I rationalize spending money in a country with anti-LGBT laws. So let’s break it down.
There are almost 2000 islands in the Maldives, and 200 of them are inhabited. Most of the inhabited islands are home to one hotel, and accommodate only that hotel’s guests and staff. Almost all of the big hotel players have a game in the Maldives. While each island has its own name, the islands are better known for the hotels that have developed the island. For instance, there are two Four Seasons islands, a W, St. Regis, Fairmont, Conrad and other familiar names, plus many you probably have not heard of such as Gili Lankanfushi, Niyama, Ozen Bolifushi, and dozens more.
So what is so special about this place, and why would anyone want to go to the Maldives in the first place? Having just come back from a three week trip to the Maldives, I can tell you that there are a multitude of reasons. The Maldives can best be described as adult Disneyland, and there is truly something for everyone. The main draw, of course, is just the sheer beauty: turquoise water, palm trees, gorgeous beaches, overwater villas, underwater restaurants, and architecturally stunning hotels, each an island unto itself, as I mentioned above.
While some people go to the Maldives and search for nothing more than relaxation in paradise, for those desiring a more active vacation, depending on the island, there is much to do. The most popular thing is snorkeling, and the abundance of marine life at each island is just astounding. Before going to the Maldives, I didn’t realize that I enjoyed snorkeling so much, but truly, I have not enjoyed it as much in other destinations. But here, every time I went out I saw something unique or exciting, whether it be a golden eagle ray, or a blacktipped reef shark, a sea turtle, needlefish, or the schools and schools of colorful tropical fish. Other than snorkeling, I was busy with so much else, such as: surfing classes, cooking classes, antigravity yoga, water yoga, sunrise yoga, dolphin cruises, bicycling, massages, Ayurvedic treatments, the gym, socializing, coral reef building, and incredible cuisine. I even found time to make some shell jewelry.
For many, the biggest drawback to the destination is that it is not the fastest place to get to. Generally speaking, it is about 15 hours to Doha, Abu Dhabi, or Dubai, connection time, and then about 5 hours to the Maldives.
Travelers fly into the country’s capital Male, and if they are staying on a resort island that is close to the capital, they take a speed boat to get there. For islands that are further away, you take a seaplane, which is often part of the fun. Seaplanes fly low enough so that while en route to your island, you can see so many other island resorts on the way. It really adds to the excitement.
Once you have arrived at your island resort, the strict Maldives laws are not enforced. For instance, alcohol is illegal in the Maldives, but I can tell you that at every resort I visited, I was greeted with a bottle of champagne, and every resort has fun and creative cocktails as well as extensive wine lists. Many of the resorts even do wine tastings.
Homosexuality, while technically illegal in the Maldives is a completely non-issue at virtually all of the hotel islands. Most of the resorts I visited had LGBTQ staff, and I saw fellow LGBTQ travelers in many of them as well. People knew I was gay, and I felt 100% comfortable and that I could be myself.
The reality is that most tourists fly in to Male, and are there for about two hours while they collect their luggage and go through customs and immigration before either a speedboat or seaplane whisks them away to an island paradise where the strict Maldives laws are overlooked.
Regarding the laws in the Maldives, like many places in the world, laws affecting LGBTQ people are changing, and many laws that are on the books are seldom, if ever enforced. The maximum penalties for homosexual acts prohibited under the Maldives Penal Code include; imprisonment of up to one year for unlawful marriage, imprisonment of up to eight years for criminal conduct, with allowance for a supplementary 100 lashes punishment under Islamic Sharia Law, and imprisonment for up to four years for unlawful sexual conduct. Homosexual acts can no longer be punished with death under Maldivian law.
While writing this article, I searched for instances where LGBTQ travelers have had issues in the Maldives, and could not find any. Interestingly, when I Googled “gay couple harassed in the Maldives, what comes up instead is “London bus attack: Arrests after gay couple who refused to kiss beaten” and then various pages highlighting the Sharia Law information above. I would think that if LGBTQ people were getting randomly harassed in Maldives, there would be countless articles about it. There aren’t, and truly, government officials have better things to do in Male rather than try to create issues for LGBTQ people. I honestly feel like my partner and I would have a better chance of having an anti-gay issue in cities in the States, than we would at the Male airport or any resort.
So what about people who tell me that I shouldn’t go to the Maldives, because I shouldn’t support anti-LGBTQ governments?
While I understand this argument, I have a different way of looking at it. Yes, I don’t like the thought my money going to an anti-LGBTQ country, but if people in countries like this are not exposed to LGBTQ people, then how are things ever going to change? Also, I find that so often the same person who may have issues with traveling to a country that leans anti-LGBTQ is the same person spending money at anti-LGBTQ stores or food chains. It is almost impossible for any of us to interact in the modern world, and not in someway fund an entity that is anti-LGBTQ.
Also, something that really struck me while in the Maldives, was that at every resort, half of the people working there were from all of the world. These Maldives resorts are giving jobs to so many people from around the world, including those who are LGBTQ.
What if things never changed in my lifetime in the Maldives? Would that mean that I would just never get to experience it? No thank you, the world provides enough limitations due to being LGBTQ. I am not about to assign myself more. It is in the same way that I would never want to go my whole life never having seen the pyramids in Egypt, but Egypt has anti-LGBTQ laws as well. I am definitely not alone in feeling this way. Egypt is the best selling trip for my gay group vacation company, Zoom Vacations. It sells out every year.
Traveling to the Maldives is safe for LGBTQ people, as long as you are being culturally sensitive while in Male, and then visiting island resorts. I’ve traveled quite a bit with LGBTQ people, and I have never seen any of them in airports do anything that wouldn’t be culturally sensitive in Male. This is just common sense stuff.
Whether you’re gay or straight, I definitely recommend talking to Maldives travel expert before booking a trip. There are so many different properties and options, that if an expert gets to know you a little, they can really help steer you to the right gay-friendly island resorts for you. Having spent two months researching properties in the Maldives, Zoom Vacations is definitely and expert in the region. Reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will create the perfect Maldives vacation for you, along with perks and upgrades where possible.
Bryan Herb is co-owner of Zoom Vacations®, a US company that creates stylish international private events and gay group vacations to the world’s hottest destinations. Learn more about them at www.zoomvacations.com or call 773.772.9666.