Maldives Stories

That was then: The Very First Resort Cabana

By Maldives Traveller
May 29, 2021
Photo of That was then: The Very First Resort Cabana

One look at the historical photograph in this article, taken in 1972, shows a completely different Maldives to the one we usually picture today. The world class resorts, gorgeous infinity pools and glamorous speedboats of the rich and famous are nowhere to be seen. Instead we see only the rustic charm of an Italian tourist standing outside the very first ‘rooms’, or cabanas, at Kurumba Village, now Kurumba Maldives on North Male’ Atoll.

Nothing could be further away from the technological wizardry that now cushions and surrounds virtually every modern resort in the country. Yet back in 1972 the roofing and sidings of every room were hand-made from coconut timber and palm leaves, the flooring from coral and basic cement, and the electricity for light bulbs transmitted through a measly 20w generator. These 32 humble rooms were part of the very first resort to be constructed in the Maldives, and they were the beginnings for what is now a multi-billion dollar industry that leads the world in the arts of luxury, elegance and tropical exclusivity.

Masterminded by ambitious and visionary entrepreneurs, the idea for the resort at Kurumba Village came after a chance meeting with George Corbin, an Italian adventurer and tourist operator who visited the Maldives in the early 1970s and was left “breathless.”

Privacy and seclusion are what make the resorts of the Maldives world famous today, but back then there was literally nothing to disturb the serenity and luscious isolation of these tropical islands. After his initial visit, Corbin returned with a small group of wealthy Italian guests from Milan, as well as a handful of photographers and travel writers, in order to fully experience the boundless oceanic beauty of these untouched atolls, and also to look into the possibilities of establishing a tourism agency for this virtually unknown destination.

The construction of the Kurumba resort, which was situated on the island of Vihamanaasfushi some 3km from the capital Male’, foreshadowed the now official policy of ‘one island, one resort’ - a policy which has served the Maldives so well in terms of adhering to the country’s delicate infrastructure, as well as offering the last word in high-end seclusion.

The local entrepreneurs invested all their money, effort, time and labour into constructing the country’s first fledgling resort, even though they constantly doubted whether the venture would be an expensive folly or a tremendous success. Yet although their labour was often frustrating and back-breaking, the guests absolutely loved their achievements as a “back to nature” approach.

The coral and coconut structure of the rooms, together with beach views and simple en suite facilities, not to mention the beautiful house reefs and turquoise lagoons, made for an unforgettable vacation. Soon afterwards, more tourists began arriving, this time from Sweden and Germany, and were now being transferred in the so-called ‘Cola Boat’ from Male’s small airport to Kurumba Village itself. Soon afterwards, tourism began to take larger steps around the country, and the rest is history.

Since this iconic photograph was taken, Kurumba Maldives has been remodelled and refurbished several times, and is now a luxurious resort with bungalows, villas, a world-class spa, different restaurants, and boasting all the technological amenities one has come to expect from the Maldives experience.