A tropical paradise of private island resorts, Maldives offers an authentic experience of South Asia. The culture of this unique region reflects the myriad influences that have been inculcated by long- and short-term interactions with many different peoples and cultures over the centuries. The music and dance display strong influences from East Africa, Arabia, and India, and Maldivians are proud of their rich tradition of crafts such as lacquered wooden ornaments, finely woven reed mats, and coral carvings. The national language is Dhivehi, and English is widely spoken in tourist resorts.
Seafood plays a key role in the cuisine, which also exhibits Indian influence. Rice and coconut milk are staple foods, and spices are used liberally. Locals chew betel leaf with areca nut, cloves, and lime known as foh or smoke guduguda (an elongated pipe that goes through a trough of water). Alcohol is forbidden in the islands, but older people often drink a local brew made from fermented coconut sap.
Tourism commenced in the 1970s and now forms the main part of the economy. The country welcomes all visitors, with no visa required for citizens of most countries if they have proof of onward travel. The government has a policy of developing the poorer islands more rapidly, with the goal of creating a more equitable distribution of wealth.
Commodity price volatility is driving inflation, and putting pressure on fiscal balances through costlier imports and higher subsidies. High public debt is a concern, and efforts are underway to reduce deficits while mitigating impacts on the vulnerable.