The Atolls

The Atolls: Why go

It is difficult to separate out the different atolls in the Maldives, as at the end of the day their key natural draws - idyllic islands, crystal-clear turquoise shallows and fabulous diving - remain constant throughout.

With the country's capital, Malé, in its south-eastern corner, North Malé was somewhat unsurprisingly the first atoll to be developed for tourists. Malé's international airport, a huge reclamation project, joined two deserted islands to form a runway able to cater to large jets, whilst sitting only 1m above sea level at its highest point (making for an interesting sensation when landing).

The south-western side of the Malé Atoll is home to most of its locally inhabited islands. As is the case throughout the Maldives, fishing is the mainstay here, and the islanders' deeply rooted way of life is still strongly upheld - although western influences, such as technological and linguistic skills, are also evident around the capital, especially in the younger generation.

Many of the Malé Atoll's resorts - approximately 30 - are also situated here, within easy (but also suitably distant!) reach of the airport, via boat. As the most developed atoll, Kaafu undoubtedly offers the greatest number and range of resorts -although, due to the nature of the surroundings, this is not something that would ever influence your own holiday experience.

Despite also being a designated part of the tourist zone, for many years the Baa Atoll (or South Maalhosmadulu) remained undeveloped. Today it has a total population of 10,000+ spread across its islands, including its capital, Eydafushi, complete with man-made harbour. The majority of the Baa Atoll's islands are found on the eastern side, including Soneva Fushi, the first island resort to be built here. A delightfully unspoiled atoll, it still has relatively few resorts, and many uninhabited islands.

Fishing is once again central to the islanders' way of life, with fish traded on a weekly basis in Malé for building materials. There is also a small agricultural trade, including coconuts, bananas, water melon and papaya - while slightly more unexpected specialities of the region include lacquer boxes and a troupe of dancing girls who travel throughout the country.

Also worth noting, for divers, is the large number of mantas that visit the Baa Atoll during the rainy months of May-July.

15:22 | GMT + 5 Hours