Photo Courtesy of Chris Smallwood
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, ringed by glorious beaches, and blessed with catch-your-breath sunsets. Visitors most often …land in Malé, the tiny capital, before being whisked to their resort hideaways. Once settled there, guests usually find world-class amenities, opulent dining, and a sense of deep tranquility that can only be found in such a secluded paradise.
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In the Maldives, it's impossible to remain indifferent to the ocean's majesty. Travelers who can pry themselves away from the infinity pool gravitate toward the Indian Ocean, and 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. The local fish curry, savory with fresh chilies and coconut, is a favorite and worth seeking out, Savvy resorts cater to every palate, 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 visitors arriving in their beautiful country, it's no surprise that Maldivians are warm, friendly, and welcoming. The predominent Muslim faith is evident through the many beautiful mosques in Malé, and by the lack of pork and alcohol (except at resorts). After the tourism industry, fishing drives the economy, so many local men leave their families for weeks at a time to work. To take part in island culture, visitors 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.
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 hovers around 86°F—perfect for sunbathing. Maldivian currency is the rufiyaa, but U.S. dollars are also accepted. Tipping is not required, but greatly appreciated—ten percent can be added to the bills at restaurants, for guide services, and a daily gratuity for the resort cleaning staff can be a modest two or three dollars but will made a difference. 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.