The Maldives is a by-word for luxury, romance and tropical bliss. A beautiful string of low-lying coral islands in the Indian Ocean, they’re also a paradise for diving enthusiasts and sun seekers alike.
The country’s 26 natural atolls and over 1000 islands boast uniformly perfect coasts lapped by turquoise lagoons the temperature of bath water. White powdery sand fringes most of the islands, which partly explains why more than a million people come here a year.
Tourism only began in the 1970s. Now the Maldives’ most important industry, it concentrates on the luxury market, meaning that the country is home to some of the world’s best hotels. Pretty much every resort here has its own private island. With the finest hotels offering personal butlers and in-room massages, the Maldives are a firm favourite with honeymooners. There are also islands offering slightly less opulent options, and some are aimed at families and divers.
Sadly, even in paradise, trouble can bubble beneath the surface. It is precisely because the Maldives is so low-lying (80% of the territory is less than 1m/3.3ft above sea level) that their very existence is threatened by global warming. As such, since the 2008 election of young reformer Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives have worked hard to become one of the most environmentally friendly countries on earth, and continue to do so under new president Mohammed Waheed Hassan.
Beyond all the luxury and tourism, these coral islands are not the most hospitable, with inhabitants having long struggled in previous times to eke out a living here. There is little in the way of local resources, and while the immaculate ocean may make visitors wonder, it also serves as a constant threat.
Recently, it has become more feasible on the Maldives for independent travellers and backpackers to avoid the luxury hotels and stay among the local people. The growing number of private guesthouses may well give the Maldives a new lease of life away from big-money tourism. What luxury means, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
298 sq km (115 sq miles).
369,812 (UN estimate 2016)
Head of state:
President Abdulla Yameen since 2013.
Head of government:
President Abdulla Yameen since 2013.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plug types vary; it's best to check with your hotel before you travel, but European-style plugs with two round pins and British-style plugs with three square pins are both commonly used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime levels in Maldives are relatively low, but petty crime, including the theft of goods left unattended on the beach or in hotel rooms, does occur. You should take care of your valuables and other personal possessions, especially when travelling in Malé. Use safe deposit boxes on island resorts.
Gang related violence including knife crime in locally populated areas, including the capital Malé, has increased recently. There is no evidence that British nationals are being targeted. You should be vigilant when travelling to areas outside of resorts.
The majority of visitors to Maldives spend their time on resort islands and would only visit the capital island, Malé, if they choose to go on a specific excursion there. The international airport is on a separate island within the larger Malé atoll. There are also many resort islands within Malé atoll. Advance approval is normally required to visit most non-resort islands, other than the capital island. Travel between islands is by boat or seaplane, and many of these services stop before sunset.
While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.