Located off the tip of India, the Maldives are a submerged mountain range whose tips create more than 1,000 little islands and coral reefs. Just getting to one of their island resorts is a breathtaking experience, looking down at all of the ocean beauty from the window of a seaplane.

The island of Soneva Fushi is a pure delight with its private beaches and floating villas. One day we had lunch on a sandbar out in the middle of the water, with waves lapping all around us and no other islands in sight. Another day we visited a fishing village on a nearby island, meeting some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. What will never leave me, though, is the experience of snorkeling in the water around the island. Unlike in popular tourist waters in places like Hawaii or the Cayman Islands, in the Maldives the sea creatures don’t seam to fear people, and just treated us like any other thing in the water. One giant sea turtle approached me until our faces were inches from each other, then turned and slowly drifted away.

These islands and their people are a treasure and well worth the visit. Time is running out though, unfortunately — as sea levels rise, the world’s lowest-lying country (with an average elevation of 5 feet above sea level) may become a memory.