Hugged by the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is made up of nearly 1,200 tropical islands. Of these, only 200 are inhabited full-time; hotels and resorts hold down the others. Each island is sprinkled with palms, lined with beaches, and blessed with catch-your-breath sunsets. Visitors most often land in Malé, the tiny capital, before being whisked to their resort hideaway. Once settled, travelers find world-class amenities, opulent dining, and a sense of deep tranquility that can only be found in such a secluded locale.
In the Maldives, it's impossible to remain estranged from the ocean's majesty. Travelers who can pry themselves away from the infinity pool gravitate toward the Indian Ocean, and its sea life plays a starring role in any Maldives vacation. Brilliant fish, gliding stingrays, placid turtles, and sleek sharks swim just offshore. Active travelers can snag a snorkel to peer beneath the surface, but the truly adventurous should book a diving excursion. Most resorts also offer sailing on a traditional Maldivian boat—for a dash of extra magic, book a sunset cruise or a dolphin-watching tour.
Seafood is naturally what shines in Maldivian cuisine. Fresh tuna, snapper, and lobster may be hauled in on an average day's catch. Once cooked, these fruits of the sea are served on platters heaped with traditional rice and coconut. Savvy resorts cater to every palate, however, offering everything from pizza and ice cream to caviar and duck confit. And while island governments ban liquor consumption by residents, guests needn't worry about their wine pairings: Resorts have special license to serve alcohol, so you can enjoy fine wines, sparkling champagnes, and freshly shaken martinis.
With so many eager travelers arriving in their beautiful country, it's no surprise that Maldivians are warm, friendly, and welcoming. The Muslim faith of the devout is expressed through their attendance at Malé's many mosques, and through abstention from pork and alcohol. Because tourism and fishing drive the economy, many local men leave their families for weeks at a time to work. To take part in island culture, guests may share in arts and daily life. Take time to watch a bodu beru dance, browse the exquisite crafts at souvenir stalls, or join a group of locals in a good-natured game of beach volleyball.
The Maldives has hosted an impressive roster of celebrities (the Beckhams, Tom Cruise, and John Legend, for starters), but the islands are a popular pick for anyone seeking space from crowds. Resorts take full advantage of the remoteness that a deserted island affords. Privacy is paramount: Bungalows are cleverly designed to feel secluded, and some are only accessible by boat. Overwater villas make for quiet accommodations, and many boast individual infinity pools and personal butler service. Glass floors allow guests to gaze at the sea life below, and sun-bathed decks make it difficult to leave the villa, thanks to their sunken tubs and cushy seats.
Tropical weather draws many to the Maldives, and the dry season (December to March) is especially popular. Rain is more likely from May to November, but even in shoulder season, the temperature sits around 86°F and perfect for sunbathing. Maldivian currency is the rufiyaa, but U.S. dollars are also accepted. Tipping is not required, but greatly appreciated. Visitors typically obtain a free 30-day visa at the airport in Malé before heading to their resorts via Trans Maldivian Airways or speedboats. Electricity is 240 AC, meaning U.S. electronics should work at all hotels. The local language is Dhivehi, but nearly everyone speaks English.