The Maldives is a chain of some 1,190 low-lying coral islands spread across 26 atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Each island is the crest of an ancient volcanic mountain range, yet the highest point in the archipelago is just eight feet above sea level.
Conforming to most people's idea of paradise, the Maldives deliver. Comprising pristine tropical islands covered with swaying palm trees, white-sand beaches, brilliant, turquoise lagoons, colourful corals and masses of marine life, they are true island getaways, ideal for sun worshipers, water sports enthusiasts and honeymooners.
Most visitors fly into the capital Male, the modern face of the islands, and then hop to one of the resort islands aboard a boat taxi or dhoni. Pause long enough though and you'll see some impressive artefacts, including Sultanese thrones and palanquins. For a different perspective and to put all the islands into context, take a short flight over the archipelago and watch the patterns of sea, sand, reef and island unfurl below you.
Snorkelers and divers are well catered for. The coral is at its most colourful at Maa Kandu and Kuda Kandu, whilst Banana Reef is one of the best dive spots, with dramatic sea cliffs, caves and overhangs hiding reef fish, turtles, manta rays and moray eels. Whale sharks and nurse sharks can also be seen, whilst hammerheads gather at Hammerhead Point off Rasdhoo Madivaru.
Alternatively, explore the wreck of the Maldive Victory, a sunken cargo ship that provides a home for coral, sponges and large schools of fish. Stay above water and take a surf safari and go in search of the different waves and breaks that crash against the atolls.