An archipelago of 1,192 coral islands, naturally grouped into a chain of 26 coral atolls, make up the stunningly picturesque Republic of Maldives located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of India and Sri Lanka. Covering an area of about 298 square kilometers, the Maldives is the smallest country in Asia by area as well as population.
The capital city of Malé, also known as the “King’s Island” due to its central location on the archipelago, has the highest concentration of the nation’s, roughly, 394,000 inhabitants occupying less than 200 islands. The other islands are predominantly used for economic purposes.
The highest point on this beautiful island nation is no more than three meters above sea level making it the lowest lying country on the planet. The white sandy beaches, the surrounding crystal clear aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean, and the submerged coral reefs teeming with marine life all along the archipelago attract beach bums, divers and snorkelers and from all parts of the world.
Tourism and agriculture are the main contributors to the Republic’s economy with tourism accounting for 28% of the country’s GDP and 90% of the state’s income coming from tourism-related taxes and import duties.
The Maldives is an Islamic nation of almost entirely Sunni Muslims with a motley mix of South Indian, Sinhalese, and Arab cultural influences. The law of the land does not allow non-Muslims to vote or hold public offices and the use of alcohol, drugs, and public observance of non-Muslim religions are strictly prohibited.
While the above is true for the locally inhabited islands, the ones dedicated to resorts and tourism do not have any such restrictions where almost anything and everything goes.
In accordance with Islamic traditions, the weekend is observed Friday-Saturday with Sunday being a full working day. While Banks, government offices, and most shops remain closed over the weekend, it is business as usual for the resorts. The only exception could be a shift in the lunch hours to accommodate the Friday prayers.
As is expected in the region, the Maldives is blessed with a tropical climate with its generous share of the sunshine and a maximum temperature that hovers around 30° Celsius all through the year.
Only ten of the 26 atolls or “atholhu” in Dhivehi, the Maldivian language, officially allow tourism.
Going north to south, they are:
- Lhaviyani (Faadhihpolhu)
- Raa (Maalhosmadulu Uthuruburi)
- Baa (Maalhosmadulu Dhekunuburi)
- Kaafu – site of capital Male and the airport and home to most Maldivian resorts
- Alifu (Ari)
- Vaavu (Felidhu)
- Meemu (Mulak)
- Faafu (Nilandhe Atholhu Uthuruburi)
- Dhaalu (Nilandhe Atholhu Dhekunuburi)
- Seenu (Addu) – site of Gan International Airport
Some worthy attractions in the Maldives
Malé Friday Mosque
The oldest mosque in the Maldives dating back to 1656 AD, the ornate Malé Friday Mosque is located on the Kaafu Atoll. Made from coral boulders abundantly available throughout the archipelago, the grand old mosque is part of UNESCO World Heritage cultural list for its unique architecture utilizing sea elements.
Reclaimed from the ocean to meet the housing and commercial demands of the region, Hulhumalé is an artificial island on the North Malé Atoll inaugurated in 2004 by the then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The development and management of the island fall under the auspices of the Housing Development Corporation, a government-owned entity.
It is considered a great honeymoon location and is home to some awesome beaches.
Located in Malé, Theemuge served as the presidential palace up until 2008, but has, since, been home to the Supreme Court of the Maldives.
Located in the capital Malé, Varunulaa Raalhugandu, is up there among the best surf points in the Maldives making it one of the most crowded as well. The breaks, located in the southwest corner of the island offer some of the most powerful and regular waves that surfers are always on the lookout for.
The National Museum in the Maldives is the first national museum of this island paradise inaugurated in 1952 by the then Prime Minister Mohamed Amin Didi.
Both the new and old buildings of the museum are located in the Sultan Park in Malé, which forms part of the 17th century Maldivian Royal Palace compound.
The museum is home to a wide-ranging collection of relics such as the 11th-century coral stone head of Buddha, pre-Islamic artifacts, thrones, period furniture, costumes and shoes, arms and armor, rare coins, and much more.
Things to do
- Scuba diving and snorkeling
- Maldivian cuisine
Some of the top luxury resorts
Cheval Blanc Randheli
Experience true “Art de Recevoir” – the French art of welcoming and entertainment – at the Cheval Blanc Randheli, an amazing resort designed by French architect Jean-Michel Gathy. Cheval Blanc is a well-maintained island about 40 minutes from Malé on Noonu Atoll. A series of lush green islands, a large coral reef protecting the atoll from the ocean, white sand banks, long palm trees, and beautiful tropical flowers are some of the highlights of this picturesque atoll.
A short 30-minute seaplane ride from the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, the 150-villa Cocoon Maldives is located on the pristine, unspoiled island of Ookolhufinolhu on the Lhaviyani Atoll. At the Cocoon, you will experience a magnificent blend of luxury, design aesthetics, and unbridled pampering to make your stay an unforgettable holiday experience.
Velaa Velaa Island is an exclusive boutique getaway developed to exemplify only the very best of the wonderful and unique location. Located on the breathtakingly beautiful Noonu Atoll, The 45-villa resort island is an out-of-this-world holiday retreat where you are treated no less than a royalty.
Water Villas and Island Sanctuaries bordered by pristine white sandy beaches and the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean beyond, with lush green tropical foliage all around, make this 24-villa resort worthy of its name which in Sanskrit means ‘wisdom.’
The resort can be reached by a scenic 40-minute seaplane flight direct from Malé International Airport, a 60-minute speedboat ride from Soneva Fushi, or by a leisurely half day cruise from Soneva Fushi on board the Soneva in Aqua.
Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru
A 25-minute speedboat ride from the Malé international airport, the 14-villa Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru resort is located on the North Malé Atoll on a round island surrounded by a round coral reef.
Again the unspoiled white beaches, the clear azure skies and the shimmering turquoise waters combined with the pampering hospitality of the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru make it a surreal experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Four Seasons Kuda Huraa
The Four Seasons Kuda Huraa is an exotic retreat located on the island of Kuda Huraa on the North Malé Atoll, a mere half-hour away from Malé by speedboat. This mesmerizing garden island is an excellent surfing destination with Tropicsurf coaches for learners and world-class breaks for the pros. The island is host to the annual Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy.
Relax at the Island spa, enjoy the thrilling shark snorkel safaris, embark on a dolphin cruise or explore the Maldives extensively aboard the luxury three-tiered catamaran – the Four Seasons Explorer – that sails between Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa and Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.