An Indian Ocean paradise, the Maldives is a tropical destination home to stunning coral atolls, private water bungalows, and exclusive resorts - a top bucket list destination for a glamorous island getaway. Its stunning stretches of sugary white sand beaches, swaying palms and secret lagoons invite afternoons of sunbathing and hammock laying, and its luminous waters and bounty of exotic marine life are a magnet for divers across the globe. Besides chasing blissful moments of solitude on its isolated beaches, exploring the Maldives’ landscape and intriguing Islamic culture will reveal observations unique to this nation.

Fragmented Geography

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Though Malé island is the jumping off point for international visitors to the Maldives, what is officially known as the Republic of the Maldives is comprised of 1,200 coral islands scattered in the Indian Ocean, and travelers will likely need to travel by boat or domestic flight to reach their final destination. Grouped into 26 ring-shaped atolls of soft white sands and colorful coral reefs, only 200 islands are inhabited, and some 80 islands are home to a varying combination of tourist facilities, ranging from laidback guest houses priced at $50 per night to the most luxurious private villas of $3,000 per night. With 99 percent of its geographical makeup as water, visitors get around on the traditional fishing boat known as dhona for short journeys, speedboat, or the public ferry, which services all 200 inhabited islands. Though some routes only operate a few times a week, curious travelers have the opportunity to reach the most remote corners of the Maldives that comprise a total land area of 115 square miles.

The World’s Only Underwater Cabinet Meeting

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The world’s sole underwater cabinet meeting to date was held in the Maldives in October 2009, when the then President Mohamed Nasheed initiated a symbolic plea for the world to unite against climate change. The consequential rising ocean levels threaten to extinguish the low lying islands that stand at an average height of four feet above sea level in the next century. Nasheed, along with a team of 11 ministers, the cabinet secretary and vice president, trained over a course of two months and were escorted by professional divers to their tables 20 feet below the surface of a turquoise lagoon off of Girifushi for the meeting. Donning black wetsuits and scuba masks, Nasheed and officials discussed the imminent dangers of global warming for the next 30 minutes, using white boards and hand signals to communicate. And against a backdrop of white coral and exotic aquatic life, Nasheed highlighted the importance of harvesting energy resources and sustainable tourism programs to promote sustainability in one of the world’s most endangered island nations.

Alcohol is Prohibited Outside of Resorts

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As a strictly Islamic nation, the Maldives are dry outside of the islands’ swanky resorts. As a foreigner above 18 years of age, you can legally purchase and consume alcohol, but the substance is prohibited for the local population. Onsite at the resort bars, imported beers, handcrafted cocktails and fine wines are served with exorbitant markups throughout the day, and travelers are expected to respect Muslim practices by keeping the beverages on resort property. Despite being unable to openly consume alcohol, club hopping between resorts remains a popular nighttime activity among tourists, and the islands offer a range of alternatives to keep yourself entertained after the sun goes down. Guide your way through the mysterious waters of nocturnal marine animals on a night diving excursion, embark on a night fishing trip, or cheer your crab to victory in a unique crab race.