You don't have to travel very far in the Maldives to come across that beach you saw in the brochure, a calendar, or on a postcard: then you realise it wasn't PhotoShopped!
And then all the clichés - crystal clear azure waters, powder white sand, one step short of heaven - suddenly hit home with extra resonance. There's rarely a scrap of litter to disturb the idyll, and fish swim right up to the water's edge.
Visitors could well be forgiven for spending their entire holiday on the strand, though the tropical sun's effects on human skin are well documented. Use sunscreen and common sense.
There are whales around the Maldives, but the most accessible marine spectator sport is watching dolphins, usually the utterly acrobatic Spinner variety.
The Spinners usually obligingly feed around sunset, allowing resorts to load up a dhoni with paying guests and some sort of onboard bar. Kodak moments apart, this is a lovely excursion, romantic even, as the sun descends into the ocean and the scores of dolphins cavort above and below the waves. Visitors especially keen on dolphin watching should check with their resort how far they have to travel to take in the spectacle, and may wish to book accordingly.
Fishing in the Maldives
Dorado, tuna, jackfish, shark, marlin, barracuda - the Maldives is 99 per cent sea and much of it swarms with veritable academies of fish. This is a pricey sport, though you can offset the expense by asking the resort chef to cook up your catch at the end of the day.
Crews are usually highly experienced and enthusiastic, and can bring radar technology to bear in a slightly one-sided contest. This might be said to be the quintessential Maldives expedition - marine-oriented, rather expensive and conducted against a suitably stunning backdrop.
Devoted game-fishers should check with their prospective resorts about equipment available.
Counting the precise number of islands in the Maldives, which is spread over 90,000 square kilometres, is complicated by the fact that many of them disappear at high tide. Official estimates hover at around 1,190.
Island hopping is less popular than might be supposed; those outside the tourist zone are off-limits to foreigners, and those within it are very much interchangeable. Seaplanes and speedboats bridge the gaps for anyone sparked by wanderlust.
Note that some resorts reserve an offshore island for honeymooners and those of a similar mindset, ferrying them out there in the morning and arranging a pick-up in the afternoon. Comparisons with the Garden of Eden before the Fall are inescapable. There's no need for fig leaves either.
Maldives Scuba Diving
Dive is actually the local word for "island", so Maldives means "the islands of Malé"; and the archipelago could scarcely be more fortuitously named.
Thousands of divers flock here every year, drawn by superb underwater visibility, glorious coral, and a range of marine life that's not bested even by the world's top aquariums.
The dive spots are as attractive to beginners as they are to hardened veterans, and even common-or-coral-garden snorkelers can catch superb vistas only a few metres from the beach.
Truly dedicated divers sign up for diving safaris, cruising the atolls for the crème-de-la-crème, hardly bothering to set foot on dry land.
Retail options are rather limited in the Maldives, being divided between the capital, the airport, and the resorts. Unless you're shopping for food, Malé provides little in the way of original souvenirs. The exception is thudu kuna - locally woven mats,
Tourist-oriented shops clustering together offer much the same (slightly tacky) wares, many of which may have been imported. There's a slightly broader selection at the airport, while resort boutiques often carry some unique designer jewellery and similar items (with prices to match).
Note that the export of anything made of pearl oyster shell, or black or red coral is prohibited.
Many visitors see nothing more of the Maldives than the airport and their resort; but exploring the capital is like taking a step through the looking glass, into a community of 80,000 souls stacked up on a tiny islet that almost seems to be floating, some 800 kilometres from the next nearest metropolis.
Don't expect an Eiffel Tower or Guggenheim Museum - but there is a real charm to the bustling markets and byways, the mosques and the (alcohol-free) bars.
The authorities are slightly touchy about taking photos of "important buildings", so it's best to ask someone in uniform first. The same applies for photographing people, whose permission should be sought before pushing the shutter button.
Few Maldivian resorts are without a spa in some form or another; and there are few better places in the world to indulge in a prolonged pampering session - after all, the archipelago is naturally suggestive of luxuriating, and what could be more appropriate than a lingering scrub and massage in blissfully designed surrounds?
But be aware that just about every visitor is thinking along the same lines, and few think to seek out their favourite treatments and book ahead.
Prices are on the high side - booking a half- or full-day's treatment may work out to be more economical than three or four separate slots.
Surfing inthe Maldives
This is by no means a mainstream sport, but it's showing strong signs of developing. Catching a wave in the Maldives takes some effort, but is more than worth it.
The season runs roughly from March to November, and only a few good surf spots are actually in the tourism zone. Surfers need to pick a resort near a reputable break, or hire a live-aboard to cruise around.
It's heartening to report that occasional international surf contests are now being staged in the Maldives, and that young locals have taken to the sport with alacrity, bridging the cultural gap between tourist and resident.
Almost all Maldivian resorts provide water sports facilities, though it is worth checking ahead if you are devoted to something in particular.
Kayaks, dinghies and windsurfers are pretty much a given; water skiing, kite boarding and banana boats are catching on fast; and the more exotic (if less eco-friendly) aquatic pastimes such as jet skis lurk at more up-market places.
Basic equipment is usually free of hire charges - but expect to pay handsomely for anything that consumes fuel. The above warning about ultra violet rays is repeated here, as they bounce off the water onto unprotected skin, possibly unnoticed until it's too late due to the cooling sea breezes.