While staring out into the crystal clear water at the bikini beach, one of my recurring thoughts was “If here is this beautiful, how much more incredible will heaven be someday?” I still can’t imagine that it gets better than this small island in the Maldives.
I almost hate to write about this week because I want to keep it for myself. Here’s something I never say: I would absolutely return and do another week exactly like this one. I almost never feel that way because there is so much yet I haven’t seen, but in Vaavu Atoll (a reef that surrounds a islands in a ring) I found somewhere worth coming back to again and again.
Fulidhoo Island (not to be confused with Felidhoo) really felt like my own slice of heaven. Located a 3 hour ferry or hour speed boat from the capital, this 24 acre, resort free island is home to 324 people. Many have told me that on leaving a favorite place throughout their travels, they were brought to tears. I didn’t feel some connection to the island like other visitors have, but I did feel the sting of tears as I got on the ferry to leave. I haven’t experienced that any other time, save for leaving Hungary.
4,000. The number of photos and videos from this dream week that now take up storage space in my phone. I could’t stop myself from taking essentially the same photo again and again on different days or from standing in a slightly different spot. I didn’t get nearly as much reading done as I thought I would simply because I spent so much time staring at the ocean which looked vastly different throughout the day but always equally beautiful.
Logistically, every visitor flies in and out of the capital, Male. Some speed boat, some ferry, some fly to their island of choice depending on how far it is and what the budget is of the traveler as well. While the stereotype of the Maldives is a high price tag, This isn’t the case. The local ferry costs about USD$4 each way, with tourist tax as local price is $1, and the speedboat costs $40. Flights can get pricey of course, depending on all of the typical flight factors. Male isn’t anyone’s final destination but many spend a night before or after their visit to the islands for airport access. I spent several days of the trip with a rugby friend but she left a couple days before I do so I got the chance to relax by myself as well. Uncharacteristically, I also made a couple friends which was very nice when taking the ferry back to the airport.
Flying in and around Male
Something that has been bothering me lately is my own expectations, I know I have talked about expectations before and how they’re so dangerous to have but I just never learn. From carefully crafted Instagram shots and paid bloggers, I tend to have high expectations for where I’m visiting, re Santorini, a slight disappointment to me that there wasn’t a blue dome at every corner. Not only were my expectations met, the Maldives were infinitely better in real life. Not exaggerating.
Here’s the same beach at different times of day. Breath taking from 7 in the morning to 7 at night.
I feel like this was the first vacation rather than traveling I’ve done since maybe Belize in 2014. Instead of getting up each morning to rush around and see everything possible, I had a very relaxed, almost no schedule week. The only thing on the agenda was tan and (finally) get scuba certified. Both were exceptional. What a place to dive for the first time, I doubt many places will love up to practicing basic skills with sharks or rays darting around my toes. When I did my swim test, I enjoyed watching the stingrays take a sun nap.
Something I had high expectations for, even though I tried to tell myself not to, was to see the stingrays come up on the beach. I kept telling myself this only happens in certain times of the year or this or that so I wouldn’t be too disappointed when I didn’t get to see them. Turns out, this is a daily occurrence the rays hang out in shallow water by the boats as the associate the motor sound with food. I am still so pleased that this happened in real life and not only in lucky blogger’s photos.
One of the things that made this week so incredible was Fulidhoo Dive and it’s owners, Adele and Ali. A thoughtful couple, Adele handled the logistics while Ali took care of my diving experience. I’ve been thinking for a while, but there’s just not enough adjectives in the world to describe Ali and Adele, I cannot say enough nice things about them. Thank you both greatly for this enjoyable introduction to likely my new favorite hobby. Patient, kind, welcoming, thoughtful, from the very first email to watching Adele wave on the jetty growing smaller while the ferry bobbed away, I was beyond happy with my choice to get Open Water certified at Fulidhoo. Adele included so much information about the ferry and speedboat schedules and quickly put together a dive and accommodation package. Even though I have tons of practice at this myself, it was so helpful that she does this, especially as boat schedules can change at the drop of a hat and she was able to make sure I had a spot on a speedboat to Fulidhoo when the schedule did inevitably change.
While I knew the diving would be remarkable here, I was still blown away. It was exceptional from the first dive to the last. I thought Ali might have to drag me out of the water kicking and screaming (I didn’t make him do this). I was a bit nervous to dive as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to clear my ears, but from Ali’s encouragement, this wasn’t a problem. Spotted eagle rays, barracudas, trigger fish, parrot fish, honey comb moray eels, nurse sharks, baby reef sharks, star fish, baby clown fish, the list goes on and on about what I saw in a few short dives. Not to mention, on the ferry to the airport, I spotted some dolphins. I was not expecting to see so many different species in this week.
On such a small island, location is really not an issue. There are two beaches on which bikinis are allowed, on local islands even tourist need to respect the local social customs. One of them was the bikini beach all tourists congregated at each day and the other happened to be right in front of my guest house, Thundi. Thundi’s beach was best for snorkeling as well as felt a bit more private than most of the hotels did. Even the shallow sea in front of it was home to so many incredible animals that snorkeling was, well not as exciting as diving, but still quite nice. Thundi’s Owner, Arif, is quite used to tourists and told me his only rule is that I must wear sunscreen or a shirt while at the beach at all times. Fair enough, Arif, fair enough. I’m not sure exactly how much I paid to stay here as it was part of my diving package, but a random search for a week stay in October returns $80 a night.
Besides laze in the necessary shade on the beach and dive until our heart’s content, we took an excursion to a sandbar and a few snorkeling spots. At $40 for four hours, we found this a great day on the boat and the only day we got severely burned, but it was well worth it for the we-have-the-ocean-to-ourselves feeling that we got on the sandbar.
At Adele’s suggestion, I walked around Villinigili before headed to the airport my final afternoon and it was so full of color. I was very happy I went before leaving. Apartment were bright purple, there was a wall of orange and white stripes, nearly every corner was picture worthy. It was a very nice man-made beauty to end a naturally beautiful week.
Accidentally, I happened to be there during Ramadan. While I’m not going to pretend to be a Ramadan expert, the basics are that during this time, Muslims fast during daylight. In case you’re like me and thought this meant nothing except water, their fast means everything, including water and medicine. Business hours change during this month, especially for restaurants, as many stay up late to socialize and enjoy some food. Except for Fulidhoo Dive and the speedboat having the first day of Ramadan off, the observance really did not affect my trip significantly. It just meant that I boated to the island a day early (win) and sat at the beach instead of diving one day. Really, not the worst day in the world. While cafes are closed during the day, my guest house still provided 3 meals a day. However, I don’t care too much about food while it’s hot out so I typically ate (included) breakfast and waited until the sun went down to have dinner in a local cafe (USD$5-10 depending on choice) just to feel like I did something a bit more than having dinner at my guest house each nice would have ($12 for a buffet). All that to say, the Maldives are still travel-able during Ramadan as long as there some snacks available to tide you over, but be aware that you can’t eat them in public. I found this out a few minutes too late in Male and could only feel guilty and apologize with my snack wrappers still in hand.
I hope having finished this, the stereotype of the Maldives being expensive and a honeymoon only destination is no longer one you have of it. I know I don’t typically talk about the cost of my trip, but I wanted to this time to help clarify that unless it’s over water bungalow or bust, the Maldives really is an affordable destination once good airfare to the island capital is found. I also didn’t meet a single person on their honeymoon, at least no one that mentioned it. Everyone was traveling solo or with a friend, it’s not only for romance. I realize I was lucky to find a $350 ticket and not deal with the sky high (hahaha I like puns) prices that are more realistic from the US and most starting points, but with so many flight deals lately, be prepared to snatch a mistake or reasonably priced fare now that you know you don’t need to pay an arm and a leg for a week of paradise.
Bonus pictures around Fulidhoo or on the boat.