The Republic of the Maldives comprises some 1900 small, low-lying islands and atolls, 202 of which are inhabited. They are scattered along a broad north-south line, starting about 650km (450mi) WSW of the southern tip of India.

Sri Lanka settled the islands in about 500BC. For a time under Portuguese and later Dutch rule, they became a British protectorate in 1887. They achieved independence in 1965. The country became a Republic when the sultan was deposed in 1968. The chief crops are bananas, coconuts, mangos, sweet potatoes and spices, but much food is imported. Fishing is important, but tourism has displaced it as the mainstay of the economy.