Baking like pancakes under the tropical sun, over a thousand islands lie in the Indian Ocean. This is the Maldives. The flat topography of these idyllic atolls makes the Maldives particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in ocean levels. The tsunami of 2004 demolished 20 of the Maldives islands, and who knows what fate our globally warmed future holds for the land that the Guinness Book calls the ‘flattest nation on earth’.
And yet the tourists keep arriving. They come for the scuba diving or the astonishing beauty of the Maldives’ turquoise lagoons. They don’t come to mingle with the locals. The native Dhivelins are an insular group, and Islam is the only religion permitted here. Political dissent is utterly quashed by the government, which receives frequent censure for imprisoning those who oppose its policies. But it’s all happy, happy sun and sand in the cloistered realm of Maldivian resort life. Travelers are permitted on just 87 of the islands, specifically developed as tourist spots. Water sports abound, and the Maldives are known as one of the best diving spots on earth. Night fishing trips offer the chance to reel in barracuda and squirrelfish. The capital, Male, is a neat little cluster of markets and mosques.