Guest post by Cheryl Williams:
The Maldives…the country most people know as the place with the ridiculously beautiful blue-green water and the iconic over-water bungalows in the fancy resort islands. Until about 8 years ago, tourists could only visit the resort islands where things are perfectly manicured, meals are all inclusive and local Maldivian culture isn’t really at the forefront. Resort travelling is not what any of us are really interested in. Luckily for us, the Maldivian government started allowing tourism on the local islands allowing for a growing flashpacker scene on some of the islands. That sounded quite a bit more appealing to us than resorts.
After our one night in Male, we headed off to catch our ferry to Maafushi, our home for the next 4 nights. A nation of islands, everything revolves around boats, and a lot of our itinerary planning came down to the overly complicated ferry schedule. Steph wrote a post on interpreting ferry schedules here.
Maafushi is, from what we could figure, the most touristy of all the local islands. There is lots of construction going on and no doubt it will continue to develop over the next few years. It is a small island, probably about 1 km end to end (though there is a jail at the end of the island, so we didn’t make it all the way around), and about 500m across. All the roads are made of sand, and there were probably only about 5 cars on the island (lots of motorbikes of course). We picked Maafushi as a base for doing our adventures, and it was just perfect.
The first day we headed out on a snorkeling tour. It was probably the best snorkeling I’ve ever done. The visibility was amazing, and we saw all sorts of fish (and my personal favourite, a couple turtles) in the 3 spots we went. We had a lunch on “picnic island”, an uninhabited island near the snorkelling spots and enjoyed the beautiful white sand and turquoise water.
The next day we were planning on taking a day trip to one of the nearby resorts, but woke up to some intense rain showers, so thought the better of it. The day cleared up and we spent most of the day on “bikini beach” – the beach behind a wall where it is ok to wear western swimming attire (we found it quite ironic that there was a new building being constructed right behind bikini beach filled with workers all day looking over the beach).
The next day I got my wish and we jumped on a speed boat to the nearby resort of Fihalhohi. For a fairly steep daily price of $75USD you can get a day pass to the resort including a buffet lunch. (I know, my family are all wondering what kind of negotiations were required to convince Steph to splurge on such a luxury of a resort day, but lucky for me, it really wasn’t all that difficult). The resort was really nice – we got lots of photos of the picturesque over-water bungalows, enjoyed some more great snorkelling, and ate our fill of buffet lunch. It was a very pleasant and relaxing day – though at the end I think we were all pretty happy to return to Maafushi to experience a bit more of local life.
The last morning in Maafushi was our morning to go diving. We had two great dives – it was mostly drift diving with fairly strong currents, which was a first for me. Basically once you are at your desired depth you just kind of relax, let the current take you, and watch the underwater world pass you by (until someone sees something super interesting and then you try to fight the current to stay in the right place).
For our last few nights we wanted to get to a more remote, less touristy island. The one we chose was called Fulhidoo. The only problem with Fulhidoo was that the ferry schedule really didn’t work for us, so we needed to get a speedboat to take us there after diving.
Unfortunately there was a storm rolling in which meant there was some rigmarole that included two different boats, walking up and down the island about three times, three changes in departure time, before we finally got on our boat. To say it was a rough ride to Fulhidoo would be an understatement. The swells were huge and I was a bit terrified. But every once and awhile I’d see another boat that looked smaller or less seaworthy than our very nice speed boat, and I’d relax a little thinking if they were out in this storm, it must not be so bad.
The stormy trip was worth it though, as we were treated to a lovely few days in Fulhidoo. It is a quiet island a bit smaller than Maafushi, with much less tourism. Again, there is a lot of development happening on the island though, and it won’t be long until it is more popular among travellers. We stayed at a great guest house (read more about it here). The first night we went out with our guest house owner to feed the stingrays. We walked down to the beach with a bag full of fish, and he threw them into the shallow water until the sting rays came up to eat them. Steph fed one out of her hand (Marieke was too busy taking photos, and I was too scared). Other than that, our time in Fulhidoo was spent swimming in the gorgeous water, reading at the beach and playing yahtzee wishing we were drinking an ice cold beer (did I mention that the only place to get alcohol in the Maldives is at the resorts?)
The last day in Fulhidoo we took a 3 hour ferry back to Male, which was quite a bit calmer than the speed boat ride until the very end where we hit some very rough water. We killed a few hours in Male before heading to the airport to catch plane to Sri Lanka.
Overall, we really enjoyed the Maldives. It was a great place to start our trip. People were very friendly and helpful. They were entrepreneurial and happy to have your business, but they weren’t pushy or in your face like other in some other places. It was sad to say goodbye, but we were excited to what Sri Lanka had in store.