The Maldives is a long and narrow country formed by 26 natural atolls. Some atolls are in the form of a number of islands by time and in the form of isolated reefs, which could be classified as smaller atoll formations. All land above the surface in the Maldives is of coralline origin. The atolls of the Maldives form a quite regular chain and, especially in the northern and central atolls, an arrayed structure is apparent. There are broad and deep channels in between some atolls. The origin of the word atoll itself is in the language of the Maldives. ‘Atoll’ (from Dhivehi ‘atholhu’) is now used in many languages worldwide.

Traditionally, Maldivians call the atolls ending in ‘-madulu’ or ‘-mathi’ by their name without adding the word ‘Atoll’ at the end. For example, it is correct to write simply Kolhumadulhu, without adding the word ‘Atholhu’ at the end. This is also the case in the atoll known as Faadhippolhu.

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Northern Atolls

The Northern Atolls, located far north of the capital city Malé and away from the usual tourist zone, is magnificent and remote with many of the islands inhabited by the local population. With several Protected Marine Areas, ship wrecks and underwater caves, this region is excellent for diving and snorkelling. This region figures prominently in Maldivian history since one of its revered rulers who fought against Portuguese colonization in the 16th century, lived on one of the islands. The Northern Atolls are home to some of the most fabulous super luxurious boutique resorts in the country such as Soneva Fushi by Six Senses, the Four Seasons Landa Giraavaru, and the Waldorf Astoria’s Beach House.

The northern atolls remain scarcely known to foreigners, and that makes them a great place to experience traditional Maldivian life. Maldivian history owes much to this part of the country – national hero Mohammed Thakurufaanu, the man who drove the Portuguese out of the Maldives in the 16th century, was born on the island of Utheemu in Haa Alifu Atoll. The island is today a place of pilgrimage for Maldivians, who come to see his small wooden palace.

There’s also huge diving potential throughout the region; there are wrecks along the western fringe of the atolls, many only now being properly explored and documented, while Baa Atoll has been declared a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve, such are its pristine waters and the value of its diverse marine life. With just a handful of resorts and guesthouses, you’ll feel like you have the Northern Atolls to yourself.

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Northern Atolls of the Maldives have less rain

You want to go for the islands in south or north? One factor that might help you choose is the weather. Even though Maldives is said to be sunny year around the tropical climate in the northern atolls of Maldives have lesser annual rainfall than the south. North gets an average of 2,540 millimeters (100 in) of rainfall annually. As for the southern atolls it is 3,810 millimeters (150 in). That’s a remarkable difference in weather.

Even through northern islands have lesser rainfall it is quite difficult to pin-point sunny days and locations. The tropical climate is very much unpredictable. Weather forecast gives you a clue. The period of monsoon changes means rain and little sunshine. Other than that, the it is very much luck that gives you a complete sunny holiday and most of the tourists get exactly that.

The year around temperature is between 32 degrees and 28 degrees. During rain it gets lower to 25 degrees. It is a warm climate through out the year, even during the rain. You will still need air-conditioning to stay in perfect comfort.

Southern Atolls

Like a string of pearls, the small tropical islands of the 14 Southern Atolls are scattered over the equator and are located far south of the capital city, Malé. This region of the Maldives is remote and follows a more traditional Maldivian way of life with the island resorts having only been developed in the more recent past. The surrounding Indian Ocean waters here are waiting to be explored with over 30 good dive sites where exotic marine life swims in and out of ship wrecks and colourful coral gardens adorn the walls of underwater caves. There are several good island resorts here with the super luxurious boutique resort Shangri-La Villingili located south of the equator. Click here to see the full map.

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photo credits: Mac Qin (flickr 1, flickr 2, flickr 3) CC BY-ND 2.0