Given that 99.9 per cent of the Maldives is underwater, it's easy to see why this is a diver's Valhalla. And given that many of the islets making up the remaining 0.1 per cent of the country are dotted with deliciously enticing resorts, it's easy to see why thousands flock here every year, perhaps for the vacation of a lifetime, perhaps to a much loved, tried-and-tested bolthole beneath the tropical sun.
Southwest of Sri Lanka, and strung across the Indian Ocean like a string of pearls, the Maldives' 26 atolls are home to the world's smallest Muslim nation, and is also the flattest country on the planet, with no natural land higher than 2.3 metres above sea level.
Successively colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, the Maldives won independence in 1965. Around a quarter of the 360,000 population lives in the capital, Malé, with the rest scattered aroundthe archipelago. Tourism is the Maldives principal industry, with everything geared to visitors' convenience, from issuing free visas on arrival to ensuring beer is always available in resorts (the rest of the country is "dry").
Very few visitors describe their time in the Maldives as anything less than blissful, a verdict that's as much a result of the beauties of the natural environment as the general ambience that lays no little emphasis on sybaritism. While the Maldives is rather more expensive than some other island destinations, a Rolls-Royce costs more than any another car. As the old saying goes, you pays your money and you takes your choice.