Climbing the Highest Point in the Maldives

No discussion about global warming is complete without a nod to the Maldives, the paradisaical Indian Ocean archipelago that spans the equator, comprised of around 1,200 islands.

Indeed, the geographical term atoll comes from the Dhivehi word describing these low-lying coral isles that almost seem to float on the flat blue surface of a tropical sea. Twenty-six different atolls make up the entire island chain of the Maldives, and while most of the country lies north of the equator, we landed in the southern hemisphere, on the southernmost atoll in the country.

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Addu Atoll is the southernmost coral atoll in the Maldives (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic)

I first visited the Maldives some seven years ago, and no matter how much I raved about the beautiful neon coral, the schools of blue and yellow fusiliers, the flawless sand beaches and the rustling palm trees, all anybody wanted to ask me about was the question of rising sea levels and how in a decade or so, the entire nation will be underwater.

According to National Geographic, we can expect the oceans to rise between 2.5 and 6.5 feet (0.8 and 2 meters) by 2100. If that is true, than the islanders in the Maldives have real reason to worry. The average height of this country of coral beaches is around 4 feet above sea level, and the highest point in the entire nation is just under 8 feet (about 2.4 meters).

Now, out of the hundreds of islands in the Maldives, it just so happens that our expedition was staying on Villingilli in Addu Atoll. Though it’s just a tiny sliver of sand in the big wide ocean, it’s also the location of the highest point in the Maldives. Books and websites refuse to divulge the exact location, and so I set out with a GPS and an altimeter (and a few clues from the locals) and found the very highest point on the island, and therefore, the highest point in the entire nation.

Well I found it–the highest point in the Maldives, and thereby, the lowest high point in the world. Though it took me all of an hour on a bicycle in a 5-star resort, I still felt a great sense of accomplishment.

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Villingilli Island in Addu Atoll, home to the highest point in the Maldives (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic)

This trip is one of the many ways to travel with National Geographic Expeditions. To learn more about all of our travel programs, click here.