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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 Portuguese 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.
The Maldives does a lot of trade as everything is imported. Business tends to be conducted in a more informal way, with more casual attire in lightweight materials. Meetings are usually scheduled for mornings and are typically conducted in English. Women, in particular should dress conservatively. Business hours are usually 7.30am to 2.30pm Sunday to Thursday.
The temperature of Maldives is hot throughout the year and although the humidity is relatively high, the constant sea breezes help to keep the air moving. The best time to visit the Maldives is between December and April, during the dry season. However this is also the tourist high season, and resorts are not only more expensive, but often fully booked. The wet season runs between April and October, when strong winds can also be expected. November and April are reported to be the best months for diving.
The international access code for the Maldives is +960. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States). No city/area codes are required. IDD facilities are available at all resorts and card phones are available on all inhabited islands. The major islands are covered by the mobile network; the local operators use a GSM 900 network, which is compatible with many international cell phone operators, but it is best to check whether your network has roaming agreements with the Maldives. Dhiraagu, the Maldives Telecommunications Company provides mobile telephones for daily rental. Internet access is available in hotels and main tourist resorts.
Maldivians are all 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.
Travellers to the Maldives, irrespective of age, do not have to pay duty on cigarettes, cigars, tobacco and gifts within reasonable quantities. Prohibited items include alcohol, firearms, pork, opium, marijuana, cocaine, pornography and religious idols.
Electrical current in Maldives is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use, including the two-pin flat blade plug and the round three-pin plug.
Getting around in the Maldives involves three options: boats, seaplanes, and private yachts. Planes operate regular schedules to many of the islands, none of which are more than a 45-minute flight away. Most resorts have their own boats to shuttle guests from the airport; these range in quality depending on the hotel and generally only operate during daylight hours. Visitors who want to travel independently and are not part of an organised tour must apply for an Inter Atoll Travel Permit from the Ministry of Atolls, and will need a copy of their passport and an invitation from a resident of the island you wish to visit.
Visitors to the Maldives should take precautions against mosquito bites as cases of dengue fever and Chikungunya virus have been reported. Precautions should be taken 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.
Dhivehi is the national language in Maldives. English is widely spoken in addition to German, French, Italian and Japanese, spoken by the resort staff.
The Maldivian Rufiya (MVR) is divided into 100 laari. The resorts in Maldives are generally expensive and travellers should ensure they bring sufficient funds. There are no cash machines and travellers' cheques are rarely used, but there are currency exchange facilities available at resorts and banks. Major credit cards are accepted at most resorts and hotels. US Dollars can be exchanged at the airport, banks or hotels. Guests staying at resorts can settle their accounts in hard foreign currency (US Dollars are best), credit cards or travellers cheques. Banks are usually closed on Fridays and Saturdays.
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 at least USD 30 per person per day, 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.
Crime levels are low in Maldives but petty theft does occur. It is best not to leave goods unattended on the beaches or in hotel rooms. There is a measure of political instability and visitors are advised to avoid gatherings and demonstrations, particularly on Malé Island; however resorts in the Maldives are considered very safe and there are rarely any disturbances.
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.