As a means of escaping the November cold in Virginia, and just because the Maldives looked amazing, we booked a tour of some local islands of the Maldives on a whim. The Maldives consist of approximately 1200 islands on 26 atolls situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean south of India. For those that don’t know anything about the country, it’s 100% Muslim, and as such, the faith is adhered to – no alcohol, women must be covered (this one was looser than I expected), no pork, no dogs (three dogs are present in the entire country… all police K9s), five calls for prayer, and no bikinis. Resort islands, on the other hand, are owned by companies/hotels and can delight in all of the above. The local islands are permitted guest houses, size determined by the island council. Local islands are more colorful, very different, and just as accommodating (minus the clothing restrictions, of course). The primary profession is fishing, with tourism as a close second. I have found the typical assumption about the Maldives to be that it is insanely expensive to visit. However, that is only true of the resort islands – they seem to cost around $1000 a night. Too rich for our blood, until one discovers the local islands – affordable and easily accessible. Anyhoo, our stay began in Maafushi, a local island south of Male, the capital.
We all sat in the open air airport on Hulamale, which was so hot I could have fried an egg on the concrete floor. The tiny fans did nothing to alleviate the suffocating heat. My Maldives research yielded information that I had to wear pants or capris passed the knee, and cover my shoulders. I was hating the restrictions, but a quick glance around the airport showed that I was one of the most conservatively dressed of the tourists. After some mental anguish, I finally shed my cardigan shortly thereafter. Our group sat awkwardly together, attempting to get to know one another, before taking off in a speedboat to Maafushi.
The boat ride commenced right at sunset, and a beautiful sunset it was. We watched the sun slowly dip beyond the horizon while we sailed towards our home on Maafushi for the next three days – Arena Hotel.
All of the hotels on this trip were better than I was expecting. Outside of having REALLY hard beds and finicky hot water, of course. The hotel offered meals in a covered area on the beach just shy of the bikini beach. We got very accustomed to buffet-style dining. The food was good, with an obvious Indian influence. I ate more rice in the next 10 days than I had probably consumed in the previous 10 years combined.
Anyway, after unpacking and settling in a bit, we departed Maafushi in a less-than-safe boat bound for a short distance off shore. Periodically, boats would anchor offshore where they were able to serve alcohol. However, it was certainly not worth the hassle in my opinion – $6 for a the beer equivalent of a Miller Lite. After a single adult beverage, Husband and I headed back to shore. I slept like a baby until I was rudely awoken at 0800 – I swore it was still the middle of the night since our room had only one “window.” The “window” opened up at a drainage shaft that ran the height of the hotel – no light penetrated the airless shaft. The darkness certainly made for some good sleep, though!
About Maafushi… it was the most populated island of those we stayed on, and had more than 25 guesthouses constructed throughout the island, with more being built. The island was far more commercialized than I was expecting with a multitude of ads posted around the island, and the dress regulations were not nearly as strict as I thought they would be.
Because I have to end on the highest of notes, and the water in the Maldives is so incredibly beautiful… here’s another shot of the island from the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
Maafushi Prison lies on the southern tip, but I can’t say I was impressed with the security – several large gaps were present in the razor wire.
I almost forgot to explain the differences in beaches in the Maldives. There are beaches and there are bikini beaches. It’s quite self explanatory – one can only wear bikinis on bikini beaches. To make it easy, they are even labeled with either a description or a picture of a swim suit inside a red circle with a line through it. The bikini beaches are secluded, but allow for tourists to done their usual beach attire. Anyway, the Arena Hotel was right in front of the bikini beach – quite accessible!
Day one in Maafushi included a speedboat ride to a turtle reef for snorkeling. After struggling with the ill-fitting masks and getting accustomed to the also ill-fitting fins, I slipped my face below the surface of the water to peruse the reef below. I could have stayed out there all day.
After some time there, we reboarded the speedboat bound for an area known for dolphins. We slowly cruised through the area, seeing multiple spinner dolphins fly into the air. Shortly after, we leapt from the boat in an attempt to swim with the quick little creatures. I may have leapt from the top since the adventurous guides encouraged me! We may not have gotten close enough to touch them, but they certainly directly under us and right next to the boat.
A few more shots from snorkeling… I want to go back so badly.
Hunger usually wins (at least with me), and we departed the area for an uninhabited island. These islands have no structures on them, are extremely small, and provide PHENOMENAL views and photos around the bit of sand. And a good pack lunch courtesy of the Arena Hotel.
And of course… handstands.
Husband and I retired to the bikini beach upon our return to Maafushi. We caught a few more rays before cleaning up for dinner. Which may have resulted in our never ending sunburned, peeling skin, but it was totally worth it!
Day two involved options… visit a resort island for $95, or wander Maafushi. We opted for the less expensive option of exploring Maafushi. We did NOT regret it. We wandered in and out of souvenir shops, we circled the school, the perused the prison (at least the exterior), we circled the island and took in the other coast, and we ate a wonderful lunch at the Arena Hotel.
Our counterparts returned around 5PM and started playing Jenga just outside the lobby. Apparently, they’d been gossiping about us, and Kevin asked me if I used to be a gymnast. Their loud bantering continued, and hubs and I strolled over to the dinner area.
That final night in Maafushi, we were serenaded by a singer/guitarist from India. She was absolutely fantastic.
During our stay, we witnessed several calls to prayer. One was right at dusk, and fun to watch. The call comes, but men take time to get to the mosques (two on the island). It was interesting to watch first hand.
Our stay on Maafushi was low key, and amazing. We loved visiting this local island – booze and clothing restrictions included. Plus, we slept like babies in our insanely dark hotel room.
I almost forgot the sunsets! How silly of me…
So long, Maafushi. Second stop: FULIDHOO