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Maldives Travel Guide

The Maldives is a group of low-lying coral islands, forming an archipelago of 26 major atolls, situated south west of Sri Lanka. A small percentage of the islands are inhabited and 87 are exclusively resorts, boasting tropical landscapes hugged by picture-perfect beaches festooned with palm trees. The myriad islands are surrounded by coral reefs enclosing shallow lagoons.

The Dhivehin people of the Maldives are descended from an ethnic mix of Aryan, Negroid, Sinhalese, Dravidian and Arab cultures. The history of the area was dominated by a succession of bids for control that began with Muslim rule in the 12th-century. The Arabs were later supplanted by the Portuguese and then the British, until 1965 when the Maldives finally achieved full independence as a sultanate. The majority of Maldivians are Sunni Muslims and their lifestyle follows the traditions of Islam. Traces of ancient beliefs have endured in the form of superstitions centred on evil spirits.

The Maldives rely on tourism and fishing for their income, and with the large number of foreign visitors, eco-friendly tourism is gaining popularity in order to maintain the Maldives' natural beauty for future generations. Very little tourism in the Maldives is independent, with most visitors opting for all-inclusive resorts and package tours.

All foreign passengers to the Maldives must hold onward/return tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Furthermore, visitors entering the Maldives without a hotel reservation or a Maldivian sponsor must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. A disembarkation card must be filled in by every passenger, and submitted to the Immigration Officer upon entry into the Maldives. Nationals of most countries can obtain a tourist visa on arrival, for a maximum stay of 30 days. Extensions of stay, to a maximum of 90 days from the date of the visitor's arrival in the Maldives, are possible, by paying a fee of MVR 750 to the Department of Immigration in Male, at least one day prior to the expiry date of the initial 30-day entry period. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter the Maldives, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Watersports

Watersports of many different kinds are popular at the various resorts in the Maldives, including parasailing, surfing, windsurfing, sailing, water skiing, kite surfing and tubing. Visitors also love to go cruising in glass-bottomed boats, often in search of dolphins to swim with.

Parasailing in the Maldives is a great way to explore the scenic splendour of the islands and the vistas of coral and water beyond them from a bird's eye view. Only the larger resorts offer it as an activity and those that do usually have courses for beginners. If your resort doesn't offer parasailing it is usually possible to arrange a visit to a nearby resort that does. Two resorts well-known for their parasailing are Fihalhohi and Adaaran Hudhuran Fushi.

The lagoons found around most of the islands make the conditions perfect for windsurfing in the Maldives. Most of the resorts have windsurf schools or watersports centres offering lessons and equipment hiring facilities. Boards and sails for hire cater to varying skill levels so it is important to ask advice when selecting what you need. Most resorts in the Maldives offer windsurfing as an activity, but some of the most well-known islands for enjoying the sport are Rihiveli, Velassaru, Baros, Meedhupparu, Anantara Dhiggu, Medhufushi and Kuramathi.

Scuba diving and snorkelling

The tropical waters of the Indian Ocean vibrate with exotic marine life and abundant coral reefs. Some of the popular diving sites in the Maldives can be explored from the resorts or through diving safari trips. Most of the resorts run diving schools offering PADI courses and hiring facilities for diving and snorkelling equipment and underwater cameras. Some of the best dive sites in the Maldives include the Victory Wreck, Mushimasmingili Thila (Shark Thila), Guraidhoo Corner, Kuda Rah Thila (Broken Rock) and Banana Reef.

Vaavu Atoll attracts divers with its wealth of marine life; Lhaviyani Atoll's Kuredu Express is a strong current that provides excitement for divers looking for thrills; the North Male Atoll is great for calmer dives, and small, interesting sea creatures; Lankanfinolhu Faru is one of the best places to see manta rays; and Ari Atoll is great for dives with sharks and other large fish. The Maldives has a great variety of dive sites and offers dives of varying depths to suit different skill levels; there is a wide variety available for beginners and experts alike. The diving is wonderful year-round in the Maldives, but many visitors prefer to avoid the worst of the rainy season, between June and August.

Fishing

Night fishing is a popular Maldivian pastime and a favourite activity with tourists. Conditions in the Maldives create the perfect opportunity for relaxing under the night skies while waiting for a catch. Big-game and deep-sea fishing are other options that involve trawling along the outer atoll reefs for giant trophies. The big fish to catch in the Maldives include sailfish, marlin, barracuda, yellowfish, tuna, wahoo, swordfish and many others. Night fishing is rewarded with a catch of snappers, emperors, barracuda, squirrel fish and jacks. Often, resorts will specify a minimum number of participants required for fishing trips - often four - and those travelling solo should watch the notice boards and enquire from staff if anybody else is looking for fellow fishermen. Usually groups can be easily assembled. Most resorts and hotels offer all the basic fishing gear you may need, but experienced fishermen do sometimes complain about the quality and limited selection of the rods; if you are an expert it is best to bring your own equipment to avoid disappointment, but if you are a beginner you should be perfectly satisfied with what they offer.

Visitors should note that fishing within the reefs is not allowed at any resort and there are some protected marine regions which must be avoided - it is against the law to fish in some places and offenders will be fined steeply. Talk to your chosen resort before your trip to find out what kind of fishing they offer, as facilities vary from resort to resort.

Visitors to the Maldives should take precautions against mosquito bites as cases of dengue fever and Chikungunya virus have been reported. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid vaccinations are recommended for all travellers to the Maldives, and a yellow fever vaccination is required for all those arriving from a yellow-fever-infected area in Africa or the Americas. Visitors who will be spending a lot of time outdoors and are at risk of animal bites may be advised to get a rabies vaccination as well. Precautions should be taken while on holiday in the Maldives to avoid sunburn and dehydration.

There is a good private hospital on Malé and first aid facilities are available on all the resort islands. In the event of diving emergencies, a decompression chamber is available. Food and water in the resort hotels is generally risk-free. Medical insurance is advised for travel to the Maldives. If you require certain medications on holiday it is best to take them with you, in their original packaging, with a dated and signed letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is and why you need it.

Maldivians are predominantly Muslim, and therefore Islamic customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. No pornography is allowed (or any material considered offensive under Islamic law), and homosexuality is illegal. Same-sex relationships are not tolerated and carry jail sentences and fines. Alcohol consumption is confined to the resorts. Dress is informal but nudism and topless bathing is prohibited. On visits to inhabited islands it is important to respect local customs that adhere to conservative dress codes, and public observance of any religion other than Islam is prohibited. The Maldives has strong anti-drug laws that carry severe penalties.

Officially, tipping is not encouraged in the Maldives, but if the service is good it is customary to tip waiters and room staff in the resorts, even if a service charge has already been added.

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