By LISA KLEIN
The Maldives, a nation made up of clusters of mostly uninhabited, tiny islands scattered in the Indian Ocean, is a quintessential tropical paradise.
Known for picture-perfect white sand, stands of green palms and turquoise waters, the islands are home to luxurious, private retreats and over-water bungalows amidst a stunning natural backdrop.
“The Maldives is a country like no other,” said Sanjee Solanga, assistant director of sales for Raffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort. “Reefs that offer bands of color, tiny jewel-like islands rimmed with the whitest of soft sand and surrounded by the clearest shallow waters that one can imagine.”
The Maldives consists of about 1,200 coral islands and sandbanks – fewer than 200 of which are inhabited – grouped into atolls that stretch along the equator southwest of India and Sri Lanka.
More than 100 more are home to exclusive resorts, each of which get their very own little island on which to welcome guests.
“While the country covers an area of approximately 90,000 square kilometers, only 298 square kilometers of that is dry land,” Ms. Solanga said.
There are just more than a half-million Maldivians who live among the islands, many in the urban capital of Malé. They speak Dhivehi, a language similar to that of many of the surrounding countries.
Tourism and fishing are the major drivers of the Maldives’ economy, and its cuisine is seafood-based with heavy dashes of coconut, yam, mango and pineapple, thanks to the vast ocean and climate.
Along with being masters at boat building, “there is a rich tradition of Maldivian crafts – lacquered wooden ornaments, finely woven reed mats and coral carvings have been passed down through generations,” Ms. Solanga said.
“While heavily influenced by various cultures around the rim of the Indian Ocean, the Maldivian culture, craft and traditions have been shaped by the island environment and the seas that surround us,” she said.
That island environment also fosters a rich ecosystem filled with wildlife – fruit bats, lizards, snakes and abundant bird life, not to mention the thousands of species that live in the waters beyond.
While lounging on the sandy beaches are a major pastime for guests in the Maldives, exploring the ocean surrounds is a major attraction.
“Soft, white, sandy beaches and an ocean with many different shades of blue are not the only things to enjoy in the Maldives,” Ms. Solanga said. “The life under the ocean is extremely precious and colorful as well.”
The numerous coral reefs surrounding the islands are home to sea turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks, manta rays and a plethora of tropical fish.
Scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, hand line and big game fishing, wind surfing, parasailing and jet skiing keep travelers busy in addition to living out their deserted island fantasies with picnics on the isolated sand banks or visiting one of the many uninhabited islands by boat.
Even the islands where resorts are built can seem deserted.
“The resorts are built with a ‘one island, one resort’ concept, which offers maximum relaxation and privacy to all guests,” Ms. Solanga said. “Beaches are never crowded and guests can enjoy exactly the same scenery they see in images.”
The Raffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort has just 38 villas on its island, allowing for personalized service for every guest.
“Our legendary butlers welcome guests at the local airport and they will be always nearby to make the guests’ stay comfortable and smooth,” Ms. Solanga said.
“Suggesting activities, making reservations, arranging surprises and accompanying the guest for snorkeling trips on the house reef are some of the few services provided,” she said.
Like many resorts in the Maldives, the “Raffles Maldives Meradhoo is a rare haven whose remote location far from civilization in Malé makes it about as removed from the rhythm of everyday life as is possible,” Ms. Solanga said.
“An exquisitely beautiful escape, it is a paradise from which to forget the world outside,” she said.
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