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The Maldives are scattered across 806km (500 miles) of Indian Ocean. Their pure white sands are fringed with green palms and surrounded by some of the clearest water in the world. Coral reefs and tropical fish -- from neon clownfish to slow-moving manta rays -- thrive in the warm ocean water. Sunset catamaran cruises are de rigueur, as are picnics on uninhabited islands, and decadent spa treatments. Secluded resorts on far-flung private islands are within an hour's boat or floatplane ride from the bustling capital -- and a world away from everyday life.

Beaches

No Maldivian resort is complete without its own stretch of private beach and resort size determines how crowded beaches can be in the December-to-April high season. Cocoa Island, in the South Malé Atoll, is delightfully uncrowded as there are just 36 rooms at the resort here. The shallow lagoon is well-suited to snorkeling and kayaking. Ideal for children are the pristine, manmade beaches at One&Only Reethi Rah, carved into small, safe bays with bath-like shallows.

Things to Do

The main island and high-rise capital Malé is home to the National Musuem, where you can gaze at the opulent thrones and ceremonial robes once owned by local sultans. Day or overnight cruises around the atolls include diving or snorkeling the thriving coral reefs. Spas overlooking the ocean have glass-bottom treatment rooms so guests can watch schools of fish during a rejuvenating massage. Most travelers choose one resort and rarely leave the lap of luxury.

Eating and Drinking

As an island nation, the Maldives are best known for bountiful fresh seafood. Red snapper and char-grilled king prawns taste all the better when enjoyed on a candle-lit private beach or in an intimate dining room built over the glimmering ocean. Local specialties are creamy and spicy curries, such as miruhulee boava -- octopus, chili, and curry leaves served with rice.

Nature

The islands themselves are sparsely forested, but a delicate underwater eco-system of coral supports hundreds of species of fish. Giant squirrelfish and colorful bannerfish glide among the caves, overhangs, and soft coral at Banana Reef in the North Malé Atoll. Schools of grey reef sharks congregate at Lion's Head, while whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean, swim in the outer reef of the South Ari Atoll.