Close your eyes and imagine a tropical paradise. You’re sitting on a sparkling white beach with your toes in the finest soft sand. Palm trees shade you from the scorching sun, while nearby is the crystal clear, warm, azure water. There isn’t another person around and all you can hear are birds softly chirping. But this doesn’t have to stay an idyllic dream, as you can make it a reality in the Maldives.

You’ll find the Maldives scattered across the Equator like jewels in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a country of 1,192 islands stretching 800km from north to south. That’s the official count, though it’s hard to keep track so there’s a chance you could stumble across more. Only 202 are inhabited and most of them are tiny. On many you can see both coasts if you stand in the middle, and the surrounding waters are teaming with marine life which you’ll want to explore.

The islands are grouped into 26 atolls, which are ring-shaped coral reefs each encircling a lagoon. They developed on top of an ancient volcanic mountain range, now underwater, with the lagoon forming over the crater. The Maldives is the world’s lowest country, with a high point of just 2.4m. There is one international airport at the capital of Malé and you will travel on to their resorts by seaplane or boat.

The Maldives is one of the world’s smallest independent nations, with a population of only 400,000, a third of whom live in Malé. There’s accommodation to suit all budgets, from the basic to the most luxurious resorts in the world. Only in the Maldives will you find undersea restaurants, spas and nightclubs.

 

Beaches

You will discover that all resorts have beaches and they are all beautiful. The water really is that clear and blue, the sand really is that soft, and no two islands are quite the same. There are resorts on 120 islands meaning about 800 are still in their natural state, so you can easily take a day trip to find your own desert island, with absolutely no-one else around. You may find it tricky to spell the island names like Kulhudhuffushi and Nolhivaranfaru, but that won’t stop you wanting to visit them. You will find it impossible to pick the best beach but your favourites might include Filitheyo Island, Veligandu and Kanuhura.

 

Sports

You’ll want to discover the sealife in the ocean between the islands, by snorkelling and diving. You can enjoy the sea at any time of year as temperatures rarely drop below a warm 25°C which, along with the swells and breaks, make the Maldives a surfers’ paradise. And don’t forget all the watersports you can try your hand at, from kayaking to kitesurfing and parasailing to jetskiing.

 

History and culture

 If you fancy a change of scene, take a trip to the capital of Malé (pronounced Marlay) to discover why it was once called King’s Island. Ancient royal dynasties ruled here until the palace was destroyed following independence from the UK and the abolition of the monarchy in 1968. You can visit the ornate Hukuru Miskiiy or Old Friday Mosque, made from coral in the 17th century, or there’s the National Museum and a bustling fish market. Look out for evidence of the country’s Buddhist and Islamic heritage.