Despite being surrounded by coral atolls, the Maldives is a land of rich culture. The islanders are rooted in Islam and a strong sense of family and community is evident across the islands.
Seafood is a huge part of the cuisine, with tuna being the main fish species caught. Rice and coconuts are also staple foods. Indian influence can be seen in curries and flatbreads. Home gardens are popular and produce vegetables, cassava, sweet potatoes and breadfruit. Locals chew betel leaves with areca nut, cloves and lime known as foh or smoke guduguda (an elongated pipe that goes through a trough of water) or enjoy ra, the local brew.
For a more cultural experience, take in a traditional Maldivian dance performance. A typical performance includes the “Kurandi” where groups of two, three, four or six dancers stand together and sing. The singers then step towards the Sultan to present gifts, a tradition that ended with the change of government style from monarchy to republic in 1968. The Sultan Park and National Museum are great places to learn more about the country’s history.
Although the Maldives was a crown protectorate, its first president, Mohamed Amin Didi, nationalised the fish export industry and introduced English-based modern education to government-run schools. He is also credited with opening the islands up to the world by building the first international airport and bringing the Maldives into the United Nations. He was also an advocate for women’s rights and fought corruption.