Visiting Other Islands
As all of the resorts bar one sit alone on their own islands, guests have to take a boat trip to a neighbouring island if they wish to see Maldivians going about their normal life (Equator Village, in Addu Atoll, is connected by causeways to other islands).
Some resorts do it wonderfully
The quality of this experience varies, inevitably, from one resort to another. At worst, the trip entails a stroll up and down the main street, the purchase of foreign-made tourist trinkets and home. Complain if this is what you get.
At best, the guide knows and is known by various people on the island. There is a chance to interact with local men, women and families. You get a potted history about the island and how people live there, where the old mosque is and what other places of note there are. You can then stroll around at your leisure and get a feeling for what life used to be like and how it is now on tiny, isolated island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
New resorts on previously unvisited atolls hold exciting prospects for local island visits. You could play a part in at least the retention, if not the new growth, of local arts and crafts, as well as a more general economic uplift.
Almost all the wares for sale to tourists come from Bali or Thailand or other points East. Do at least ask if there is anything made in the Maldives. We could have a discussion in my blog on how best to encourage local work so to spread the wealth wider and faster.
Visitors should dress conservatively when visiting inhabited islands, on which the population will all be Sunni Muslim. That means covering at least your shoulders and not wearing anything too short.
Incidentally, more and more Maldivian women have started to wear the Islamic veil. Wearing any head cover was uncommon just a decade or so ago, except on a certain few islands with particular traditions or island chiefs. However, the shift to fundamental traditions in all religions has not passed by the Maldives.
Deeper than the layers of religion, politics and society is the reality for Maldivians of being island people. The country is 99% water, lying within an ocean. There are around 200 inhabited islands out of 1,200 islands in total, on which 800 is a good-sized population.
Before tourism there was just tuna fishing, excepting the few islands that did agriculture or crafts (boat-building, carpentry, mat-weaving, clothes-making, lacquer, gold and silver ware). The centuries upon centuries of traditional life runs like a deep ocean current unaffected by the winds and tides that drive the surface water. Male is the place to see what the happy winds of tourism have brought.