The Maldives’ earliest known colonizers are believed to be Sri Lankan seafarers sometime during 2000BC. According to Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, the archipelago was a well-known pit stop for ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and the Mesopotamians – who were en route to India and the rest of the surrounding regions in Asia for the trading of goods.
During the 3rd century, the Maldives practiced Buddhism, and it became the dominant religion for 1,000 years. In 1153 AD, the Buddhist King of the islands converted to the Islam faith. The conversion brought about violence in the islands with the burning of Buddhist monasteries, monuments, scriptures, and the beheading of monks. The King converted his leadership into a Sultanate, forming the very first of the 6 dynasties that ruled the islands.
Marco Polo discovered the islands during one of his many voyages and named it “Flower of the Indies,” for its natural beauty. This attracted many Europeans to the region.
In 1558, the Portuguese were the first Westerners to establishment a settlement on the islands but they were later driven out by a local leader in 1573. During the 16th the 17th centuries, the Dutch and the British fought for control but it was the latter who reigned in the late 18th century.
The Maldives then became a British protectorate from 1886 to 1965, when the islands gained full independence. The Sultanate was abolished and in 1968, the Maldives’ elected its first president.
The Maldives is located in South Asia, on the Indian Ocean and situated to the south to southwest of India. It is an archipelago of 1,192 coral islands with 26 atolls over an area of 90,000 sq.km., which makes it one of the most dispersed countries in the world.
The atolls consist of live coral reefs and sand bars, and land with an average elevation of 1.5m above sea level – making the archipelago the lowest country on earth. The highest point in the Maldives is only at 2.4 meters.
Out of the islands in the atolls, only about 5 to 10 are inhabited, with about 20-60 uninhabited smaller islands.
The Maldives is a unitary presidential constitutional republic with the President acting as head of state and head of government. The President holds the highest position in government, is elected into office by the public, and serves a 5-year term with a limit of 2 consecutive terms. A Vice-President is also elected into office for a 5-year term.
Executive power is exercised by the government, which is headed by the President.
The Maldives also has its own Local Government, comprised of the Atoll Council that administers each of the 26 atolls. Each inhabited island is governed by an Island Council, whose members are elected into office by the residents of the island that they handle. The Atoll Council members, however, are elected by the Island Council members.
Tourism is the largest industry in the Maldives. People from all over the world are attracted to the archipelago’s crystal clear lagoons and powder white sandy beaches – which makes for the perfect holiday getaway for romantic couples and families. The Maldives is also considered to be the world’s top destination for honeymooners.
Among the most popular islands in the Maldives are the Alimatha Island and the South Ari Atoll. Alimatha Island is on the Vaavu Atoll located in the eastern side of the archipelago, and boasts of world-class diving, snorkeling, and great facilities. It has a center beach that’s world renowned, and projects the image of the ultimate Maldives getaway with its bungalows perched on stilts over the waters and its 5-star atmosphere.
The South Ari Atoll is home to the most luxurious resort in the Maldives – which is the Sun Island Resort and Spa. The villas and bungalows are located on the beach or the lagoons, and boasts of the best accommodation in the archipelago.
Naifaru is also another popular island but mostly for romantic couples – it has crystal blue waters, white silver beaches, and sand mountains. And one of the island’s perks is its large selection of shopping offerings.
Among the most popular diving sites in the Maldives are the HP Reef or Rainbow Reef known for its abundant marine life packed with vivid and brightly-colored reefs, and the Banana Reef – which is considered to be the most sought after diving site in the archipelago.
There are 2 primary education systems in the Maldives – the older system is the tradition Islamic system with Dhivehi as the medium of instruction, and the other system with English as the medium of education. The implementation of the latter system has led to the archipelago’s literacy rate increase over the years. Today, the Maldives’ adult literacy rate is 98.82%.
Formal education starts at primary school but the islands depend largely on expatriate teachers due to its large number of local teachers who have few qualifications. There is a small number of higher education institutions in the Maldives but most of those who proceed to college or university often get their education in foreign countries.