Now that the local ferries are open to foreigners, and guesthouses provide reasonable accommodation that are not in the tune of $1000 a night like the resorts, exploring local islands becomes a real possibility. As per usual, I started looking at the most remote islands possible, eager to experience the “real” Maldives, without much consideration of logistics. Namely, the ferry schedules. My advice: before getting too excited about a particular destination, figure out which days the ferry from Male goes there, how long it takes, and what days it goes back to Male. Of course, if you’re like me, you’re not going to be happy with only visiting one island, particularly when honestly, there’s not a whole lot to do beyond walking the 2km circumference and laying on the beach.
Adding another island (beyond Male of course) is where logistics get really complicated, at least if you’re short on time. I imagine you could spend a month island hopping at it might work pretty well, but it would be expensive. While the Maldives are no longer exclusive, they still aren’t cheap.
With 7 nights allocated for the country, I was determined we would visit two islands plus Male. Other backpackers seemed to go to Maafushi, and this made sense, particularly when a ferry actually went twice a day, other than Friday of course, prayer day in the Muslim archipelago. Note that there are two companies which run the ferries, and operate from different docks from Male. I was then very intrigued by Rasdhoo island, located west of Male (Maafushi is east), for which a ferry goes twice a week, but after mapping it out, it would have meant taking a three hour ferry there, spending two nights, then a ferry back to Male in the morning, which would frustratingly miss the afternoon ferry to Maafushi, requiring another night in the nothing really to offer Male, then a ferry to Maafushi for a few nights. It just didn’t seem worth it.
I then started looking at the islands south of Maafushi, for which the ferry ran two or three times a week, after hitting Maafushi first. I looked up Guraidhoo, which seemed to be a surfer hangout, but lacked a bikini beach, so didn’t seem that enjoyable to hang out sweating in full clothes for days. I then hit upon Fulidhoo, which seemed to be gearing up to tourism (and thus had accommodation), but wasn’t yet into the high end resort scene. It also had a newly developed bikini beach at the end of the island (which was curiously enough right next to the mosque and soccer field with teenage boys playing). The only problem, of course, was the ferry schedule. Here’s what we had to do:
Our flight landed Monday night (Tiger from Singapore) in Male. We spent the night in Male and grabbed the 10am ferry to Maafushi on Tuesday morning. We took a cab for 350 rufiyaa to the port, otherwise it would have been about a 35 minute walk from our hotel two blocks from the port to the airport. The ferry to Maafushi took about 2 hours and cost about $3 USD. We spent four nights on Maafushi, taking us to Saturday when no ferry ran. Ferries also don’t run on Friday, so our only option would have been to take a ferry on Thursday or Sunday, giving us either only two nights on Maafushi (where there is more to do), or only one night on Fulidhoo. I also looked into doing it in reverse, starting in Fulidhoo, and trust me, it just doesn’t work. You have the same problem.
Our solution was to take a speedboat from Maafushi to Fulidhoo. Our guesthouse owner offered to pick us up in the morning for $130 USD for the boat (there were three of us). We decided to shop around before accepting, but only found one place willing to take us, for $195 USD. We accepted the guesthouse owner’s offer, but due to the horrendous weather his (uncovered) boat couldn’t be taken out, so we had to take another boat, which seemed to be the same company (ICom tours) that offered us the boat for $195, but we got it for $150 at least. It took about an hour in some seriously stormy weather. This gave us two nights in Fulidhoo, and a leisurely morning on Monday to take the 11am ferry back to Male (which stopped at Maafushi en route) and took about three hours and cost about $3USD. Our flight was at 10:30pm so we killed some time by walking to the ferry port, then having a long lunch, then back to the airport. A flight around 7pm would have been perfect. Apparently, the ferries are rarely cancelled, and at least for us, our Fulidhoo guesthouse owner offered to take us to Male by speedboat for the price of fuel (although how this would work in his open boat if the ferry was cancelled due to weather, I’m not sure).
This is how it worked for us. It’s pretty much imperative working out the ferry schedules before booking accommodation, and probably also makes sense when looking at flights. If a flight is only $50 more expensive, but gets in three hours earlier, that might make the difference between making a ferry and having to take an expensive speedboat. Note that the ferry schedules are confusing. You first need to locate the atoll the island you want to visit is located in (find a good map) and the ferry route the island is on, then look at the corresponding schedule to figure out times. This is a good link for the Male, Maafushi, Fulihoo route. Whoever made this map did a great job, making the ferry routes as easy to comprehend as a subway map! Another tip is that many of the hotels list the ferry times to their respective islands.
Of course, if you are not on a budget, there are always very expensive seaplanes which would take you pretty quickly to some very cool sounding islands in the Southern atoll, but I doubt you would be looking at ferries if this is the case!
I spent hours researching the Maldives, as the best information seems to be in blogs, and you have to kind of piece it together. But I’m glad I did it, and everything seemed to work out pretty smoothly.