Maldives is an enchanting island nation floating in the Indian Ocean, formed by a double chain of 26 atolls stretching in a north-south direction off India's Lakshadweep islands. Approximately 200 of the 1,190 coral islands formed around the ring-like atolls are inhabited. (Each atoll is made of a coral reef encircling a lagoon, with deep channels dividing the reef ring.) About 90 islands are developed as tourist resorts and the rest are uninhabited or used for agriculture and other livelihood purposes.
This smallest of Asian countries offers huge rewards to travelers. With a year-round tropical climate, it attracts visitors who want to explore all its coral reefs, far from any major landmass. Their crystal-clear waters and abundant sea life are ideal for scuba diving, for which the Malidives is justifiably famous, by snorkeling or simply through boat excursions. More than 1,000 species of fish and even shipwrecks are on view on the more than 3,000 coral reefs that dot the area.
While there are restaurants with international cuisine, visitors might also want to try one of the small cafes called hotaa, which sell local Maldivian food at bargain prices. A typical Maldivian meal might consist of masroshi pastries, mas riha fish curry, papadhu, grilled fish rice, and sweet black tea. Dishes are often hot, spicy and flavored with coconut.
The islands of Maldives appear in-between the trading route of the Indian Ocean, so visitors from neighboring regions and around the world have come in contact with the islands throughout its history. This to-and-fro exchange of people and their cultures has left its mark on the Maldivian people, language, beliefs, arts and attitudes.
The Maldivian music, for example, played with the local bodu-beru (big-drum) is similar to African drumming. The dhoni (a unique Maldivian sailboat) is built using skilled craftsmanship, with significant similarities to the Arabian dows. The fine artistry of Maldivians, seen in the intricate details on wooden beams in antique mosques, has been influenced by Southeast Asian architecture.
Aside from the capital Male, there are no hotels in the Maldives, only resorts (including villas). Most of the resorts are found on their own island, so that the ratio of beach to guests is one of the best in the world. Many have a "no shoes" policy, and with such soft sands it is easy to embrace this idea.