The Maldives is a tropical oasis of 1,192 coral islands, set like gems in a sea of turquoise and covering an area twice the size of Washington DC. The islands are grouped into 26 atolls that are rimmed by living coral reefs, and are separated from each other by vast stretches of open water.

The country was first settled by peoples from southern India and Sri Lanka, with Buddhism becoming the main religion until Islam arrived in 1153 CE. A republic was proclaimed in 1968 after a popular referendum, and the sultan resigned his throne. A year later, the country was ravaged by a tsunami that destroyed several islands and killed thousands of people.

In 2008, long-time dictator Maumoon Gayoom finally made concessions to allow free elections. Opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed won the election and quickly began liberalising the economy, implementing important social security reforms, and addressing environmental issues. However, in 2012 political unrest erupted following the arrest of a Supreme Court judge, who ordered the release of a government critic.

The Maldives’ unique culture is shaped by a strong sense of community and identity. This is reflected in local music, dance and cuisine which has heavy South Asian influences. Try ‘Mashuni’, a breakfast dish of grated smoked tuna served with roshi, the traditional flatbread, or indulge in a plate of succulent fish curries and rice. The capital, Male, is a buzzing metropolis with many restaurants and bars offering a diverse choice of international fare.

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