The Maldives is a by-word for luxury, romance and tropical bliss. A beautiful string of low-lying coral islands in the Indian Ocean, they're also a paradise for diving enthusiasts and sun-seekers alike.
The country's 26 natural atolls and over 1,000 islands boast uniformly perfect coasts dropped like pearls in the warm waters of turquoise blue lagoons. With bright white powdery sand fringing most of the islands, it’s not surprising that over a million visitors come here each year.
The tourism industry began to blossom in the 1970s and now is the Maldives’ most lucrative industry. The luxury market is its unique selling point and it is home to some of the world’s best hotels. Pretty much every resort has its own private island, complete with personal butlers and in-room massages. Such opulence has made it a firm favourite with honeymooners, who revel in the possibility of escaping to a romantic haven. The islands also offer slightly less pricey options, and some resorts are aimed at families and divers.
The Maldives are extremely low lying (80% of the territory is less than 1m/3.3ft above sea level). As such the islands have worked hard to become one of the most environmentally friendly countries on earth and continue to do so. Luxury and tourism have often been essential in providing economic benefits to local inhabitants who struggle to utilise local resources.
Recently, it has become more feasible in the Maldives for independent travellers and backpackers to avoid the luxury hotels and stay among the local people. The growing number of private guest houses may well give the Maldives a new lease of life away from big-money tourism. What luxury means, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.