The Republic of the Maldives, better known as the Maldive Islands, is a chain of twenty-six atolls situated in the Indian Ocean about 700 km (430 mi) southwest of Sri Lanka and 400 km (250 mi) southwest of India’s Kerala State. With a population of about 400,000 people, about 25% live on the small island capital of Malé.
An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef which normally includes some coral rims and edges. The reef encircles a lagoon partially or completely and there may be coral islands, sandbanks, or cays on the rim of the coral reef.
While most people who have seen photos of the Maldives will think of luxurious resorts consisting of rows of wooden huts and lodges perched on stilts surrounded by turquoise smooth waters, fit for a king, this is not the only way to enjoy the Maldives. There are some amazing non-luxurious alternative ways to enjoy time in the company of the locals on a far-away island void of any, or many, tourists, as well as islands free of any kind of human settlements. This is the best way to explore the Maldives!
Arrive by your favourite airline on Hulhule Island where the international airport is located. A bit tired and outdated facility but in minutes you will be on your way via a private pickup (car or minivan) arranged for free by your modest hotel located on the nearby island of Hulhumale, which is connected to the airport’s Hulhule Island by a causeway. Alternatively, and highly recommended, is to take the 10-minute ($1) frequent ferry from immediately outside the airport arrivals hall to the island where the capital city, Malé, is located. From the ferry pier on Malé island you can walk to your hotel anywhere on the island, or if sadly you are lugging around a barrel with beautiful clothes, then catch one of the many small taxis (or a little pick-up truck taxi) which will have you at your hotel for a standard fee of $2.
Quaint Malé City
Enjoy the many tree-covered lanes, old historical buildings, and of course the friendly locals with their tasty cuisine. While most restaurants of international standards have a “special English menu” for tourists with highly inflated prices, you should insist on the local menu which will save you at least 50%. Some great lunch buffets ($8 including all taxes) with local curries are served up along the waterfront (Pier 4 to the fish market). You should not fear and try one of the very local restaurants. Pick one with many locals so you know it is a winner among them. Here a spicy and tasty meal with three curry dishes, dal, and rice will cost about $2.50 per person.
It certainly is worth staying a few days in this populated, yet friendly and quaint city. There are several mosques to visit, the Presidential office building, modest Presidential residence, a couple of nice restaurants, and the very interesting green market and a lively fish market.
On your way leaving the Maldives buy some dried tuna and as much freshly caught Yellow Fin Tuna as you can pack into your bags (or can legally bring into your home country). At a price of $4 per kg, it sure is a very tasty bargain. You will be happy to fry or bake a nice thick piece of tuna when back at home, served with your favourite white wine which you were deprived of in the strict Islamic country of the Maldives.
Now you didn’t come for a city-holiday so head out soon to your selected atoll and the island of your dreams. There are many islands to choose from. As you may not be interested in luxurious all-inclusive resort accommodation, the choice is clear: an island with a small guesthouse surrounded by a ring of uninhabited islands and sandbanks.
One of the best choices is Goidhoo Atoll (within the larger Baa Atoll) and the island of Fulhadhoo as a base. Fulhadhoo is a long skinny island with sandbanks at the far edges while the rest of this island is covered with lush trees such as Palms, Coconut, Banana, Breadfruit, Indian Mulberry, Country Almond, Banyan trees and other lush vegetation.
The small village with 300 residents is located at the far eastern side of the island. Only two small convenience stores provide this community with their household necessities. Food seems to be quite scarce with limited frozen foods and not much in terms of fruit and vegetables. The community grows some fruits (star fruit, bananas, water apples, etc.) and limited vegetables in their gardens. Irrigation is a challenge as rain is limited to only a few months of the year when every drop possible is collected into large drums to serve as drinking water for the dry months. No water can be “wasted” on irrigation. There is limited and shallow hand dug wells around the village but the water is brackish and not fit for human consumption or for gardens. This source is mainly used for washing and cleaning. It is a lot of fun spending time with the local islanders. However, these people are quite introverted and keep to themselves.
Reminiscent of other nearby nations such as Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh, the Maldivian people are known for their hospitality and big smiles. The locals are friendly, highly respectful of foreign visitors, and some speak English quite well. Note that there are many Bangladeshi people employed across the islands.
As expected in this Muslim society, alcohol is officially banned and clothing is very conservative. The odd tourist on the island is also expected to dress respectfully and not show any sexual behaviour (i.e. hugging and kissing, etc.) of any kind while walking around the village. Half the western side of the island has been dedicated to “free behaviour by the odd tourist”. Skinny dipping is fine as you most likely won’t see anybody while you enjoy the white beaches and sandbanks, not to mention the amazing snorkelling!
Now you also did not come to the Maldives to only visit one island, and especially not just an inhabited island. No problem. Ask the lonely guesthouse to arrange the one and only local speedboat to take you to one of the nearby uninhabited islands such as Innafushi Island. Here you can relax under the sun for a few days without seeing another soul. From 8am to 5pm the sun is scorching hot, so bring lots of SPF80 and spend time under the palm trees. The snorkelling is good though far from perfect. Regardless, there are some lovely reef fish, small black-tip reef sharks, stingrays, octopus, and many colourful smaller creatures. Around Baa Atoll are many white sandbanks which stay above water all the time. Now this is really paradise as the waters around these sandbanks are truly heaven sent. Just relax, roll in the crystal clear turquoise waters, roll on the sandbank, roll from the sandbank into the crystal clear waters, keep rolling.
A few kilometres from Fulhadhoo Island is Fehendhoo Island of similar size but with a smaller village of 75 residents. This is another quaint and peaceful island quite similar in nature as Fulhadhoo Island.
After a few days in paradise you may want to go home. If you stayed in a guesthouse, you may want to leave as even guesthouses are not cheap by international standards. However, if you brought your own tent and camped out, you may want to head back to civilisation to get a non-salty shower and charge your camera batteries. Head back to capital city, Malé.
Done with Malé but still a day or two left before you fly out? Head over by short ferry trip to the very tranquil island of Villingili. Not to be confused with a further away island of the same name with a big resort. The small island of Villingili is just 10 minutes by ferry from Malé and similarly to Malé it is 90% covered with residential buildings. There are a few nice beaches where the locals cool off. You may spend a day here and see very few tourists. Time to head out of the Maldives. Get up early in the morning and head for the fish market to buy a few kilos of freshly caught tuna and other fish, squid and cuttlefish. Have a safe flight and don’t tell anybody about your secret piece of paradise.
Fulhadhoo Island, Baa Atoll, Maldives
Fulhadhoo Island, Baa Atoll, Maldives