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But while the beauty of the beaches is guaranteed and the luxuriousness of your surroundings a given, it can be difficult to decide which Maldives resort to choose from. We recently sent our beach holiday specialists to the Indian Ocean’s garland of islands, and gave them the arduous task of road-testing the resorts. They’ve dined in the restaurants, relaxed in the spas, snorkelled with the marine life and dozed in the hammocks. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

For foodies

One&Only Reethi Rah

Reethi Rah resort, al fresco dining on the beach

Incredible food experiences are easy to come by in the Maldives, but there’s a luxury resort that serves up world-class cuisine like no other. We present to you the One&Only Reethi Rah.

Let’s start with the breakfast. With views out to North Malé Atoll’s most perfect beach, the buffet choice is astonishing. Freshness is assured by a walk-in cold store, while a variety of cooking stations prepare hot dishes on demand. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a healthy superfoods section – on trend and totally delicious.

Within its Chinese temple-inspired design, Reethi also offers evening fare in the form of an innovative fusion of French, Asian and Italian cuisine, split across three dining areas – Earth, Fire and Aqua. Best described as ‘exquisite’.

The beautiful outdoor Botanica is laid out under a lantern-lit Banyan tree, offering an organic ‘food to fork’ experience. And at Tapasake, guests can sample trendy, modern Japanese cuisine while reef sharks swish through the water beneath your feet. And don’t forget the hotel’s list of bars and private dining options.

If you’re lucky enough to holiday at Reethi Rah, make sure you turn up hungry.

For honeymooners

COMO Cocoa Island

indian ocean

Understated, intimate and a picture of paradise, COMO Cocoa occupies its own tiny island surrounded by pristine reef and impossibly turquoise water. For newlyweds, it’s the ideal spot for a relaxing, romantic honeymoon.

Its 33 over-water villas, inspired by the traditional dhoni (Maldivian fishing boat), feature their own private decks facing the Indian Ocean. Eschewing the multitude of usual resort activities, COMO Cocoa’s deft design helps the island feel unoccupied, further enhancing the sense of personal privacy and quiet.

Begin the day with yoga practice in the open-air pavilion on the sunrise side of the island. Then, after a hard day’s snorkeling or scuba diving (which is world class), pamper yourself at the excellent spa.

Choose to dine in your private villa while you watch the sun set over the ocean, or put on your glad rags to experience excellent cuisine at the Ufaa restaurant. It’s simply a wonderful place for the ultimate romantic honeymoon.

For activities & sports

OZEN by Atmosphere at Maadhoo

OZEN resort - scuba diving

The tiny island of Maadhoo lies within a pristine, turquoise lagoon in the South Malé Atoll. Built in 2016, Ozen by Atmosphere is the new luxury Maldives resort that calls the island home – and what a home. Swaying palm trees and pure white sand, surrounded by clear, warm ocean, are interspersed with elegant villas that combine modern luxury with traditional design.

If you’re happiest beneath the waves, or perhaps canoeing, skiing or sailing over them, you’ll be in good hands at OZEN. As a guest here, you’ll have access to an impressive range of water sports and activities. Choose from wind surfing, kite surfing, jet skiing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and even fly boarding. Hire a catamaran with a qualified captain and learn the ropes as you sail around the island. Or head out in the afternoon on a traditional dhoni (Maldivian fishing boat) and catch your supper as the sun sets over the horizon.

If scuba diving is your thing, drop in to the resort’s very own PADI-certified dive school, where beginners can learn the basics from the multilingual dive team. If you’re already experienced, dust off your log book and submerge into the crystal-clear waters with your buddy to explore the species-rich reefs and shipwrecks that surround the Malé Atoll.

Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa

Shangri La Villingili Resort

Villingili Island, a 12-hectare paradise of coconut palms, Banyan trees and almost 3km of white-sand beach, is home to the Shangri-La Villingili. Its elegant rooms and villas are dotted throughout the lush foliage or along the water’s edge, offering a remarkable sense of space for a Maldivian resort.

Guests here have access to the Maldives’ largest 9-hole golf course. Tee off from the manicured green with the waves lapping at the beach just metres away. After a round or two, head back to the Club House for a cold drink while the sun sets over the Indian Ocean.

A little further afield, but still a favourite of ours, the Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa in Mauritius has a similarly impressive sports and activity menu. Along with a plethora of water sports, fishing excursions and scuba diving trips, guests here enjoy exclusive access to two idyllic private islands, just a short boat ride from the resort. On one of these you’ll find a spectacular 18-hole championship golf course, designed by pro-golfer Bernhard Langer. The perfect excuse to unpack the pitching wedge and work on your handicap.

For families

Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi, the Maldives

The 16-hectare Soneva Fushi is one of the original Maldivian fantasy hideaways. Its multi-bedroom luxury villas and private residences are hidden beneath a dense canopy of tropical foliage on the stunning Baa Atoll archipelago, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Not content with pioneering eco-chic, the owners wanted to create an island of dreams for all ages. Managing to provide activities and experiences that foster an inclusive approach to families enjoying their time together, there’s even a slot in the schedule dedicated to ‘time with Mum & Dad’. Take your pick from a family picnic and guided snorkelling trip, an alfresco movie at the Cinema Paradiso, or a galaxy-gazing session at the observatory.

The star of the show at Soneva Fushi has to be ‘the Den’ – the largest all-age children’s zone in the Indian Ocean, accessed via a secret tunnel. It’s a kids’ wonderland featuring a pirate ship, LEGO room, jungle zip-line, water slide, trampolines and plenty more. Older children will love the mocktail bar, the music room complete with instruments, a hands-on kitchen for cooking classes and a treetop, Swiss Family Robinson-style restaurant reached by a wobbly rope bridge.

For spa & wellness

Huvafen Fushi

Huvafen Fushi - pier at sunset

For many, Huvafen Fushi is the Maldives at its very best. From its crystal-clear water and pristine snorkelling reef to its stunning dining options, a holiday here is a ticket to paradise. But if all that paradise isn’t enough to make you feel utterly relaxed, you can book yourself in to LIME, the world’s first underwater spa. Even those very well-travelled will be forced to admit that it’s just a little bit special.

The ultimate pampering experience, you’ll be able to pick from a range of world-class treatments from renowned beauticians and consultants in a cocooned world of azure blue. Sink into your surroundings on a floating spa bed lined with water, while you listen to the ambient wave music surrounding you. If you manage to avoid falling into a blissful sleep, you can marvel at the marine activity taking place in the 360 degree, underwater ocean view from the secrecy of your relaxation pod. Pure serenity.

COMO Maalifushi

If you want the complete health and wellness package, the Shambhala Retreat at COMO Maalifushi offers it all. Their philosophy for healthy living has helped them win awards, and once you’ve stepped into the tranquil space they’ve created on the unspoilt Thaa Atoll, it doesn’t take long to realise why.

Much more than a resort spa, the Shambhala Retreat is run by holistic health experts who will design a treatment package around you and your body. Asian-inspired therapies, soothing massages, nutrition, outdoor exercises and yoga overlooking the Indian Ocean will help you find that elusive balance of mind, body and soul. Say hello to your inner Zen.




Maldives, in full Republic of Maldives, also called Maldive Islands, independent island country in the north-central Indian Ocean. It consists of a chain of about 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks (some 200 of which are inhabited), grouped in clusters, or atolls.

Island, New Caledonia.

The islands extend more than 510 miles (820 km) from north to south and 80 miles (130 km) from east to west. The northernmost atoll is about 370 miles (600 km) south-southwest of the Indian mainland, and the central area, including the capital island of Male (Male’), is about 400 miles (645 km) southwest of Sri Lanka.


The Maldive Islands are a series of coral atolls built up from the crowns of a submerged ancient volcanic mountain range. All the islands are low-lying, none rising to more than 6 feet (1.8 metres) above sea level. Barrier reefs protect the islands from the destructive effects of monsoons. The rainy season, from May to August, is brought by the southwest monsoon; from December to March the northeast monsoon brings dry and mild winds. The average annual temperature varies from 76 to 86 °F (24 to 30 °C). Rainfall averages about 84 inches (2,130 mm) per year. The atolls have sandy beaches, lagoons, and a luxuriant growth of coconut palms, together with breadfruit trees and tropical bushes. Fish abound in the reefs, lagoons, and seas adjoining the islands; sea turtles are caught for food and for their oil, a traditional medicine.


The population of Maldives belongs almost entirely to the Maldivian ethnic group, which is the result of various peoples settling in the islands successively through the country’s history. The first settlers, it is generally believed, were Tamil and Sinhalese peoples from southern India and Sri Lanka. Traders from Arab countries, Malaya, MadagascarIndonesia, and China visited the islands through the centuries. The official language is an Indo-European language called Dhivehi (or Maldivian); Arabic, Hindi, and English are also spoken. Islam is the state religion.

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Slightly more than half of the population is considered rural. With the exception of those living in Male, the only relatively large settlement in the country, the inhabitants of the Maldives live in villages on small islands in scattered atolls. Only about 20 of the islands have more than 1,000 inhabitants, and the southern islands are more densely populated than the northern ones. The birth rate for the Maldives is somewhat higher than the world average, but the death rate is lower. More than one-fifth of the total population is under 15 years of age.


One of the poorest countries in the world, Maldives has a developing economy based on fishing, tourism, boatbuilding, and boat repairing. The gross national product (GNP) per capita is among the lowest in the world. Most of the population subsists outside a money economy on fishing, coconut collecting, and the growing of vegetables and melons, roots and tubers (cassava, sweet potatoes, and yams), and tropical fruits. Cropland, scattered over many small islands, is minimal, and nearly all of the staple foods must be imported. Fishing, the traditional base of the economy, continues to be the most important sector, providing employment for approximately one-fourth of the labour force as well as accounting for a major portion of the export earnings. Tuna is the predominant fish caught, mostly by the pole-and-line method, although a good deal of the fishing fleet has been mechanized. Most of the fish catch is sold to foreign companies for processing and export.

The Maldives national shipping line forms the basis of one of the country’s commercial industries. Tourism is a fast-growing sector of the economy. Resort islands and modern hotels in Male have attracted increasing numbers of tourists during the winter months. Industries are largely of the handicraft or cottage type, including the making of coir (coconut-husk fibre) and coir products, boatbuilding, and construction. Imports include consumer goods such as food (principally rice), textiles, medicines, and petroleum products. Fish—mostly dried, frozen, or canned skipjack tuna—accounts for the bulk of exports. The United Arab EmiratesThailand, India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore are among the main trading partners. Since the 2010s, China has been one of the primary sources of imports and foreign direct investment. Boats provide the principal means of transport between the atolls, and scheduled shipping services link the country with Sri Lanka, Singapore, and India. There is a national airline, and the airport at Male handles international traffic.

Government And Society

The constitution of the Maldives was adopted in 2008. The head of state and government is the president, assisted by a vice president and a cabinet. The president and vice president are directly elected by universal suffrage to a maximum of two five-year terms. The cabinet consists of the vice president, government ministers, and the attorney general. With the exception of the vice president, members of the cabinet are appointed by the president.

The unicameral legislature, called the People’s Majlis, meets at least three times per year. Its members are elected to five-year terms from Male island and from each of the 20 atoll groups into which the country is divided for administrative purposes. The number of representatives from each administrative division is determined on the basis of population, with a minimum of two per division. The 2008 constitution established Islam as the official state religion. Non-Muslims cannot become citizens, and the People’s Majlis is prohibited from making any law that contravenes the tenets of Islam. Other governmental bodies include civil service and human rights commissions.

The highest legal authority is the Supreme Court. Its judges are appointed by the president in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission, a body of 10 members appointed or elected from various branches of the government and the general public. The Judicial Service Commission independently appoints all other judges. There are no judicial term limits; the mandatory retirement age is 70. All judges must be Sunni Muslims. The Supreme Court bases decisions upon the constitution and Maldives law; in cases in which applicable law does not exist, Sharīʿah (Islamic law) is considered. Other courts are the High Court and trial courts.

Most Maldivians rely on traditional medical practices when ill; Male has a small hospital. Major illnesses include gastroenteritistyphoidcholera, and malaria. Life expectancy is about 68 years for men and 67 for women.

Three types of formal education are available in the Maldives, including traditional schools (makthabs) designed to teach the reading and reciting of the Qurʾān, Dhivehi-language schools, and English-language primary and secondary schools. The English-language schools are the only ones that teach a standard curriculum and offer secondary-level education. Students must go abroad for higher education. Only about two-thirds of the school-age population is enrolled in schools.


The archipelago was inhabited as early as the 5th century BCE by Buddhist peoples, probably from Sri Lanka and southern India. According to tradition, Islam was adopted in 1153 CEIbn Baṭṭūṭah, a notable North African traveler, resided there during the mid-1340s and described conditions at that time, remarking disapprovingly on the freedom of the women—a feature that has been noticeable throughout Maldivian history.

The Portuguese forcibly established themselves in Male from 1558 until their expulsion in 1573. In the 17th century the islands were a sultanate under the protection of the Dutch rulers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and, after the British took possession of Ceylon in 1796, the islands became a British protectorate, a status formalized in 1887. In 1932, before which time most of the administrative powers rested with sultans or sultanas, the first democratic constitution was proclaimed, the country remaining a sultanate. A republic was proclaimed in 1953, but later that year the country reverted to a sultanate.

In 1965 the Maldive Islands attained full political independence from the British, and in 1968 a new republic was inaugurated and the sultanate abolished. The last British troops left on March 29, 1976, the date thereafter celebrated in the Maldives as Independence Day. Ibrahim Nasr, the country’s first president, was succeeded in 1978 by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was reelected to his sixth consecutive term in 2003. The Maldives became a member of the Commonwealth in 1982.

In December 2004 the Maldives was damaged by a large tsunami caused by a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean off Indonesia. Scores of people were killed, and much property was damaged.

In the first years of the 21st century, Gayoom’s government embarked on a long-term plan to modernize and democratize the Maldives, particularly its economy and political system. The plan also identified the country’s legal system as inadequate. Beginning in 2003, wide-ranging reforms were instituted to improve human rights and the system of governance. A multiparty political system was created. In 2008 a new constitution was adopted that established greater governmental checks and balances, strengthened the powers of the legislature and judiciary, and allowed women to run for president. The country’s first multicandidate presidential election was held in October of that year, and former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed was elected president, thus ending Gayoom’s 30 years in office.

One of Nasheed’s priorities was addressing climate change, as the low-lying islands were perceived to be under serious threat from rising sea levels. His administration was hampered, however, by continuing loyalty to Gayoom among members of the legislature and judiciary. Controversy erupted in January 2012 over Nasheed’s arrest of a senior criminal court judge. After weeks of protests by citizens opposed to the arrest, Nasheed resigned in early February and was replaced by his vice president, Mohamed Waheed Hassan. Nasheed claimed his resignation had been forced by the police and military. In July charges were filed against him for what was deemed to have been his illegal arrest of the criminal court judge in January. In August an official commission of inquiry backed by the Commonwealth found that Nasheed’s resignation had been voluntary and that there had been no coup.

Nasheed’s legal situation remained unsettled amid continued political unrest over the circumstances of his resignation. A general election was held in September 2013, in which Nasheed received a plurality of votes, outpolling the second highest candidate by a wide margin, but did not win an outright majority. A second election, in November, was won by Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s half brother, who beat Nasheed by a narrow margin. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015. He was granted permission to seek medical treatment in the U.K. in 2016, and from there he fled to Sri Lanka. He returned to the country in late 2018, however, days after the Supreme Court overturned his sentence.

The presidency of Yameen oversaw significant infrastructure projects in the country but lacked the charisma of Gayoom’s presidency. The projects were funded in large part by China, much to the chagrin of the country’s long-term ally India. Meanwhile, Yameen stifled criticism and jailed political opponents. In February 2018, after the Supreme Court overturned the sentences of many of Yameen’s political opponents, he jailed two of the court’s justices and declared a state of emergency for 45 days. When elections were held later that year in September, many observers expected it would be used to consolidate Yameen’s autocracy. However, the unified opposition put forward a single candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who received a landslide victory with nearly 90 percent turnout. Yameen congratulated Solih and initially conceded the election. Weeks later Yameen reneged and asked the Supreme Court to investigate election rigging and voter fraud, but the court did not find evidence of wrongdoing and upheld the election results. The transfer of power was successfully completed on November 17, when Solih was sworn into office.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.


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