The crystalline waters and white sandy beaches are a major draw for visitors, but the country has much more to offer. Early island settlers are believed to have been from the Indian subcontinent (particularly Sri Lanka) and, according to tradition, the islands were converted to Islam in 1153 CE. Ibn Battuta, a North African traveler, visited in the mid-1340s and commented on the freedom of women that he saw on the islands.
The culture of the Maldives has been heavily influenced by its proximity to India and Sri Lanka. Islam is the state religion and dictates many cultural aspects of the population. However, elements of the indigenous peoples of the region can still be seen in music and dance. The Indian influence can also be seen in the cuisine with curry being a common ingredient along with coconut milk and fish. Betel leaf with areca nut, cloves and lime is chewed after meals and older men smoke guduguda (an elongated pipe that goes through a trough of water). Bollywood films are very popular in the Maldives.
Family life is important with the emphasis on respecting elders and close ties with immediate and extended family members. Women have an equal status in society and inherit property. The legal age of marriage is 18 and premarital sex is not permitted. Polygamy is allowed for males but rare and most families are nuclear in nature. A number of airports are located around the country with Velana International Airport serving as the main gateway to the Maldives. Guests can travel between the domestic airports by seaplane or speedboat, or by scheduled ferries using traditional wooden boats known as dhonis.