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The Maldives: a perfect paradise of turquoise seas filled with tropical fish and islands fringed with white sandy beaches - no wonder it's one of the world's No 1 honeymoon destinations.
Before I'd travelled to the islands, I'd imagined there to around 10 of them, all several miles long with small villages or towns on each. In fact, collectively the Maldives are around the same size as the UK. There are 1,200 islands in total, and over half (750) remain untouched with their own natural lagoons, rocky landscapes and reefs. Around 120 have been developed for tourism, each with their own unique identities and atmosphere, while the remainder are preserved for the local population and protected from the tourism industry.
MSN Travel explored three different islands on a recent trip, one which caters specifically for families and has great deals for parents travelling with youngsters (Sheraton Full Moon Resort & Spa), another designed for the uber-chic fashion-conscious traveller (W Retreat & Spa - and yes we do mean the likes of Kate Moss) and a third that the luxury-seeking traveller with a love of nature would very much enjoy (Shangri-La's Villingili Resort & Spa).
When embarking on a trip to the Maldives, we highly recommend booking your holiday through a tour operator, as this is where you'll get the best deals (Trailfinders was frequently named as a popular agent among island staff).
Also, do remember that literally everything needs to be imported to the Maldives. From the basics such as water, salt and vegetables, to the luxuries such as wine, soft drinks, meat and (perhaps surprisingly) fish, since the islands' own fish trade is exported to Japan. The islands simply cannot grow the food fast enough to cope with the influx of visitors that flock there every year for their slice of paradise, which means food and drinks are pricey. You're much better off booking an all-inclusive deal before you leave, rather than ordering à la carte on arrival, if you want to make your money go further.
Incredibly safe in terms of crime and activities (the islands are visited by small sharks, but no one has ever been injured by one, according to our sources) the Maldives are indeed idyllic. In the evenings, the islands are briefly 'fogged' to deter any mosquitos from harassing visitors. Not even insects, it seems, can interfere with paradise.
Useful to know:
The Maldivians are a Muslim nation, and while it is of course fine to wear a bikini on the beach, topless sunbathing would be frowned upon.
All resorts have a doctor available on site and while the local language is Dhivehi, which has Arabic origins, everyone is fluent in English.