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Discover the world epicentre of tropical luxury with this extract from Lonely Planet’s Maldives guidebook, 7th edition by Tom Masters.

GETTING STARTED

A country jealously guarding its cultural heritage and fragile ecology from the onslaughts of Western consumerism, the Maldives is almost exclusively a place for the package tourist. Despite most independent travellers’ worst fears, coming on a package offers the best value for money, the easiest organisation and generally promotes preferential treatment – this is the way the Maldives is set up and everyone from the government to the resorts prefers you to travel this way. Fully independent travellers (FITs) are a rare species but, with good planning and some decent financial lubrication, this is an equally possible way to travel. However you arrive, you’ll find the same astonishing white beaches, surreally blue water and good service.

WHEN TO GO

The Maldives specialises in winter sun for Europeans, making high season December to April, when the islands enjoy the dry monsoon with little rain and lower humidity while Europe shivers. February to April is the hottest period. Mid-December to early January comes at even more of a premium due to Christmas and New Year and prices are even higher. Easter and the August holidays also attract peak prices at most resorts.

From May to November is the period when storms and rain are more likely. It’s still warm, but skies can be cloudy and the humidity is higher. This is the low season, with fewer people and lower prices, with the exception of August.

Diving is good year-round, although a basic rule is that life on the reef is more varied and visibility better on the western side of any atoll from May to November and from the eastern side of any atoll December to April. This means you’d be wise to choose your resort accordingly.

COSTS & MONEY

The Maldives is no cheap destination – you’ll hardly see a backpack the entire time you’re here (and if you do it will most likely be being carried for someone by a member of resort staff). This is partly by design: the Gayoom government preferred it this way, maximising revenue while keeping out the stoned hippies who so outraged local conservative values when they began to trickle through in the 1970s.

However, since the change of government in 2008 there has been talk of opening the country up to budget travellers and even building hotels on inhabited islands. For now, though, this is all very academic as even the folk here on budget packages are fairly well-heeled, and don’t fool yourself – even if you do get a cheap flight and accommodation deal, unless it’s full board you’ll spend almost as much again on food and drink during your stay.

This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet’s Maldives guidebook 7th edition by Tom Masters © Lonely Planet Publications, 2009

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