Doing the Maldives on a shoestring (sort of)

79 days travelling and we got to swim with dozens of dolphins.

6th – 12th December 2018

Having flown into the capital city of Male the night before, we woke up in our tiny hotel room ready to catch the local ferry over to the island where we would be staying for the next 6 nights. Although there are over 90 resorts dotted all over the Maldives many islands, it only became legal in 2009 for guest houses to be set up on islands where locals live.

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One of the benefits of these local islands is they tend to be a much cheaper option in terms of accommodation and you still get to experience the beauty of the Maldives. We realised resorts tend to go to similar areas for day trips, so you don’t really miss out. You can even pay to visit a nearby resort for the day if you fancied – although wasn’t quite budget friendly enough for us to justify. We had chosen to stay on the island of Maafushi, which comes complete with a high security prison that takes up a third of the island.

Maafushi Island in the Maldives
Maafushi Island in the Maldives

We had decided to take the local ferry rather than a speedboat as it was a fraction of the cost. The ferry would only take a couple of hours and we figured it would be a good opportunity to watch the beautiful surroundings. Once we had found ourselves a seat, we soon noticed about 15 men manically carrying a variety of goods onto the ferry. There was everything from dishwasher cleaner to fresh vegetables being stacked up in the centre of the boat and the men were working at breakneck speed, desperate to get as much on the boat as possible before it pulled away. We even saw one man throw a huge sack of garlic onto the deck as the boat was leaving, clearly an essential that they couldn’t leave without.

Just a few boxes of everyday essentials
Just a few boxes of everyday essentials

As the ferry set off towards Maafushi, we passed many different resorts along the way. Most had those picturesque huts out over the sea that appear in all the photos you see of the Maldives, which we gazed at longingly. Would our local island match up to these amazing resorts? My wife had been adamant the Maldives wasn’t somewhere that you could do justice on a budget and I was starting to worry slightly. After a couple of hours our island came into view, complete with clear turquoise waters and white sand – we both breathed a sigh of relief. We were greeted at the ferry port by our hotel manager (also the porter, chef and cleaner), who kindly carried our bags the whole 300m (yes, you read that correctly) to the other side of the island to where our guest house was situated. The accommodation was basic, but had air conditioning and a comfy bed which was all we needed.

The majority of our time in the Maldives was simply spent relaxing on the beach, working on our tans (my wife tried her best to go a darker shade of white) and eating. We had decided to come to the Maldives really to relax and we made sure we did just that. The island has only one beach that tourists can wear swimwear on, which is situated at the northern end of the island and was about a 10 minute walk from our guest house (the prison takes up the southern third of the island). The Maldives is a Muslim country and it was important to respect the local culture while we were there – although we weren’t quite prepared for the shops shutting during prayer time. The beach itself wasn’t huge, but had plenty of palm trees to provide shade throughout the day, white soft sand and crystal clear water perfect for paddling or a bit of snorkelling. There was even a couple of swings hanging from the palm trees, which I have no shame in saying we spent a fair few attempts getting the perfect Instagram worthy shot (although I won’t be going as far as uploading it).

Considering how small the island is, it always made me laugh when I saw a local riding their scooter to get around. I’m also pretty sure I saw a tourist who had hired a car, which just blew my mind. Whilst we really enjoyed our time in Maafushi, it was a little concerning seeing just how much of it was still under construction. There seemed to be a new guest house or multi storey hotel being built on every corner. I honestly don’t know how they will accommodate the amount of people it will soon be able to hold – especially the small tourist beach (the other side really isn’t that nice). I think we went just at the right time, as it will only become crowded and lose its charm – a real shame.

The tourist beach on Maafushi
The tourist beach on Maafushi

The food we had while staying in the Maldives was what I would class as typical ‘beach food’ – not amazing, and mostly poor imitations of western food which didn’t quite hit the mark. Breakfast was included in our accommodation costs, but left a lot to be desired. It consisted of two pieces of sweetened white bread (which I can’t eat) plus one fried egg that was always slightly underdone and a hotdog sausage. My wife and I ended up swapping over the toast and the eggs and sausage between us, which was a bit uninspiring for both of us. The one day where the guesthouse was full, they put on a breakfast buffet with more Maldivian food which was delicious – unfortunately they only did it once in the whole time we were there.

My wife also found an amazing bakery just a 2 minute walk from our guest house. This allowed us to save a bit of money on food costs, as she could pick up a samosa and a piece of cake for a couple of pounds. This meant she had an incentive to eat there every single day, under the pretence of ‘saving money for the trip’. 90% of the fish caught around our island was tuna, so that also featured heavily in our diet while we were there and we ate it basically every day. We were pretty much forced out of being vegetarian as the options were so poor, especially when you combine it with being coeliac. Amongst all the mediocre food, we did find a couple of traditional Maldivian dishes which we really enjoyed. Tuna sambol was one of them, which consists of tuna mixed with grated coconut and onions and served with roti bread. It’s usually eaten at breakfast, but my wife managed to track it down at dinner time as well. We also tried some Maldivian vegetable curries, which were pretty similar to the ones we had in Sri Lanka and used a lot of coconut milk. Everything in the Maldives seemed to be priced in USD (although we used local currency) and although prices generally weren’t outrageously expensive, it was a lot more than we had been used to paying up until that point.

The busy roads of Maafushi
The busy roads of Maafushi

One of the high points of the trip was going out to some of the reefs to do some snorkelling. The boat took us to three locations, starting off at a small reef with lots of brightly coloured fish, including clown fish hiding in anemones. We were then taken to the aptly named dolphin lagoon to see if we could spot any dolphins- we were told it would be a 50/50 chance. We were delighted to see literally hundreds of dolphins in the water around us and had an amazing time watching them whizz through the water so close to us and leap through the air doing flips and spins. It was truly amazing to see them up close in the wild and hear them so clearly under the water. Our final snorkelling stop was a shallower reef where we got to see more sea turtles gliding through the water. Some other people were swimming nearby and frustratingly kept touching the turtles and reef – which absolutely infuriated us and our guide, who thankfully pushed the people off. We were also lucky enough to be able to visit a deserted sandbank for lunch, where we spotted a baby black tip shark and took millions of photos along the quiet and pristine beaches.

Another beautiful turtle
Another beautiful turtle

We had been really keen to do the whale shark watching tour, but sadly when we arrived at Maafushi we were told they’d been unable to run the trip for over two weeks due to poor weather. We crossed our fingers and toes that the weather would improve enough for them to run the tour before we left, but sadly it wasn’t meant to be. The company actually got in touch with us the day we left the island to say they’d be running it that day – typical. At least it gives us an excuse to go back.

We decided to take a speedboat transfer back to the airport, which took only 25 minutes compared to the two hours on the local ferry. We had a very long 6 hour wait at the airport (as my wife refused to get a later speedboat) before our flight to Singapore later that evening. Yet again Male airport had hardly anything in the way of food or shops, especially safe options for me (queue the violins). Burger King seems to becoming a bit of a theme for my wife.

Until next time.

P.S. Turns out I still have my phobia of open water. As cool as swimming with dolphins was, we couldn’t see the sea bed and there were no islands around is. I just about kept it together.

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  1. Pingback: Enjoying Island Life on Nusa Lembongan - Crumbs

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