Lying some 370 miles to the southwest of India and 470 miles from Sri Lanka, the Maldives Archipelago consists of a double chain of 26 major atolls, each made up of over 1,100 small low-lying islands and sand bars. The atolls are coral based and were formed over millennia around the peaks of an ancient sub-marine mountain range, the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge.
The last word in picture-perfect white sand beaches, fringed with palm trees and lapped by sparkling turquoise waters, the islands of the Maldives are sheer paradise for sun worshippers and divers. With some of the world’s healthiest coral reefs and crystal clear azure seas, the underwater experience is brilliant both for beginners and advanced divers.
The capital Malé is located on the east side of Kaafu Atoll, almost in the centre of the nation, and is the only place where you’ll see high-rise buildings. It’s one of the smallest capitals in the world, with its international airport located on a nearby island. From here the resorts are usually reached by speedboat or seaplane, some located on their own island, adding to the feeling of exclusivity.
Popular with honeymooners, the signature overwater bungalows raised on stilts and joined by wooden walkways are one of the Maldives’ most romantic and enduring images. While the Maldives is very much an adult orientated destination, there are some hotels that offer children’s activities.
The diving and snorkelling in the Maldives is nothing short of world class. The waters are clear and really do teem with fish. The abundant marine life includes everything from shoals of thousands of tiny brightly coloured fish to large groupers, manta rays, dolphins, reef sharks, whale sharks and turtles. Nearly all the hotels have dive schools and offer snorkelling trips, although some islands are surrounded by reefs that are easy to access straight from the beach. For experienced divers, trips can be arranged to the deeper reefs and channels.
Not only is the marine life superlative, the stylish hotels in the Maldives are very impressive too. Many have infinity pools, world-class spas – some are even underwater – and rooms complete with every type of high tech leisure gadget imaginable. Some hotels are all-inclusive and the top end villas have private plunge pools, jacuzzis and personal butlers. Typically resort activities include sunset cruises, catamaran sailing, game fishing, kite boarding and windsurfing. Many hotels offer romantic private meals on the beach or on your own terrace.
Located on Indian Ocean trading routes, Maldivian cuisine has been influenced over centuries by the flavours and spices brought by Indian and Arab traders. The freshly caught fish and seafood dishes are mouth-watering and coconut milk features in many of the delicious curries. The Maldives is Muslim and you cannot bring alcohol into the country, but there are no restrictions once at your resort.