POPULATION: The capital island is home to almost 200,000 of the Maldives' 330,000 people, all Sunni Muslims.
ETHNIC GROUPS: The archipelago's population stems from migrations of Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Sinhalese and Arab people.
RELIGION: Opponents of President Mohamed Nasheed have adopted a hardline style of political Islam which has unnerved practitioners of traditionally moderate Maldivian Islam and Western governments alike.
LANGUAGE: Dhivehi (related to Sinhalese) is the official language, but English and Arabic are also spoken.
ECONOMY: The country is under a $92.5 million IMF loan programme, part of a plan to turn around perennial government deficits in the tourism- and fishing-dependent economy.
TOURISM: Most tourists are taken straight to their island hideaway by seaplane or speedboat, where they are free to drink alcohol and get luxurious spa treatments, insulated from the everyday Maldives, where alcohol is outlawed and skimpy beachwear frowned upon.