Affordable Maldives? Discovering Fulidhoo Island

1 (119)

Fulidhoo Island, Maldives

“Wow, the Maldives!” exclaim our friends when we tell them we’ve booked a trip to the Indian Ocean paradise. It’s a polite disguise for, “Jeez how can you afford that?” People’s image of this tropical nation of coral islands is remarkably consistent: turquoise lagoons, dazzling beaches, luxurious water villas, amazing marine life, and dollar signs…lots of them. They’re correct. But, there’s a largely unknown and non-promoted option that provides an affordable (relatively speaking) and arguably richer alternative to the high-priced resort islands. It’s called local island tourism. Mike and I just returned from a week on Fulidoo Island. We’re tanned and relaxed and have money left in our pockets for our next trip.

Tourism in the Maldives developed in the early 70s when single resorts were built on uninhabited islands—one island, one resort. Today there are more than 130 of these private, resort islands, which run from a minimum of $200US/night to well over $1000/night, and receive the vast bulk of the nation’s tourists.  It was not until 2009, with a change in government and a relaxation in local laws, that residents of inhabited islands were allowed to develop their own local islands tourism industry. Guesthouses, restaurants and even diving centers have sprung up on local islands. Prices vary, but it’s not difficult to find a nice guesthouse for $50-$100/night including breakfast.

Same crystal clear water, white sand and incredible sea life at a fraction of the price. What’s the catch?

If you’ve always dreamed of staying in a brochure-worthy, over-water bungalow with  gourmet cuisine and pampering spa services you won’t find this on the local islands. Guesthouses on local islands are generally simple, food is uncomplicated and spa service means swinging on an over-water rope chair. And, if you’ve got your heart set on slurping piña coladas and strutting your thong-clad body around the island, you need to know that both these activities are verboten. Local islands are subject to Islamic Law where no alcohol is allowed and dress must be modest beyond the designated “bikini beaches” (local laws and customs don’t apply on the resorts as tourists remain ensconced on separate islands).

A local island holiday isn’t for everyone, however, as we discovered on Fulidhoo Island, it’s an affordable way for open-minded travellers to experience not only the famous Maldives water and beaches but also a slice of local life that is absent on resort islands. Local island tourism brings in money for the local economy and allows more islanders to work at home rather than travel long distances for employment at resort islands. It’s a win-win for visitors and locals.

Tiny Fulidhoo island is 700 m long and 200 m wide. It has 400 inhabitants and 8 small guesthouses. We selected it primarily because of its respected scuba diving operation but ended up getting a whole lot more than we expected during our 6 day stay.

Let me take you on a tour of Fulidhoo Island.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arriving at Fulidhoo Island by public ferry

Fulidhoo Island is part of the Vaavu Atoll, 57 km from the capitol and airport in Malé. It’s surprisingly easy to access via a roughly one hour speed boat ride at $50, or a 3.5 hour ferry trip at $3.50. We tried both. If speed is not an issue, the ferry is very pleasant.

1 (126)

The Fulidhoo dock is a welcoming place

Visitors are made to feel welcome on arrival at the public dock. We were warmly greeted by Adele from Fulidhoo Dive and Mohamed, one of three bothers who operate Island Break guesthouse. It’s a short walk to any of the island’s guesthouses and luggage is transported by wheelbarrows.

1 (137)

Sardines and rays consistently hang out around the dock

1 (131)

Seeing rays and large schools of sardines in the shallow water is a daily delight. A walk along the reef side of the island at low tide reveals moray eels and juvenile black tip sharks. You don’t even need to get your feet wet to see amazing marine life.

1 (121)

Fulidhoo’s pretty mosque and crystal clear water make a gorgeous scene

Almost 99% of the Maldivian population is Muslim. With the exception of the cell towers, the mosque is the tallest man-made structure on Fulidhoo Island. I must have slept soundly because I never heard the early morning call to prayer.

1 (129)

Bikini beach and “bar”

1 (139)

Bikini beach with the sought-after rope chair

Bikini beach is a pretty swath of sand on one side of the island where swimwear is permitted. The thatched-roof beach “bar” serves soda, coconuts and non-alcoholic beer.

1 (130)

Acceptable attire beyond bikini beach

Visitors are welcome on the beautiful, long stretch of public beach but are requested to wear clothing that covers the shoulders and reaches the knees, both in and out of the water. It’s not such a bad thing—saved more of our pasty white skin from burns.

1 (146)

A few simple rules on Fulidhoo Island

Unlike the resort islands, many local islands don’t have the budgets to transport out garbage and recyclables on a continuous basis. Despite the challenges, locals work hard to keep Fulidhoo Island clean. Residents are out sweeping beaches, school children collect recyclables, and Mohamed is hopeful that Fulidhoo will get a water filtration system that will minimize reliance on plastic bottles.

1 (134)

Fulidhoo’s peaceful main street with cool netted chairs

1 (136)

Mosque on one side and school on the other side of Fulidhoo’s main street

1 (127)

The Hammerhead Store is a great place for a snack between dives

Fulidhoo’s peaceful sand streets are lined with colourful houses, little shops and the local school. For such a tiny island it has surprisingly good infrastructure. The service I received at the local clinic and pharmacy for my blocked ears was far more efficient than anything I’ve experienced at home (they opened up after hours just for me).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gorgeous Fulidhoo sunset

1 (122)

Local kids at play

1 (135)

I couldn’t resist this charmer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Taking a break from sweeping the beach

One of my favourite memories of Fulidhoo is hanging out on the public beach during late afternoons. After work, school, and the heat of the day, locals come to the beach to play and socialize. Later in the evening, the open-air community hall often features local drumming and dancing where everyone is welcome.

1 (140)

Our room at Island Break guesthouse

Mohamed, Adam and Fifshan, the three friendly brothers who operate the 7-room Island Break have all worked at resort islands and now bring their skills to this lovely local island guesthouse. Family members all contribute—dad is a fisherman, so deliciously- prepared fresh catch is always on the menu, and various uncles have helped make the furniture and decor that grace the rooms and sand-floor dining area. They work hard but always have time to chat with guests.

1 (143)

An excursion to a nearby sand spit

1 (144)

Snorkelling with nurse sharks. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

Scuba diving is a big draw on Fulidhoo Island but there are plenty of other activities like excursions to glorious sandspits, snorkelling with nurse sharks, fishing, playing football with the locals and even day packages to a resort island.

1 (145)

Alimatha night dive with Fulidhoo Dive. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

Our main reason for selecting Fulidhoo Island (the scuba diving) did not disappoint. The water around Fulidhoo is famous for being home to large pelagic creatures. Yup, that includes sharks…lots of them. It was a thrill and privilege to share the water with these amazing animals and to dive with the highly professional staff at Fulidhoo Dive. There’s too much to talk about, so I’ll be doing a separate diving post.

Fulidhoo is just one of about 25 local islands with tourism infrastructure. I wish I could provide a resource that describes and compares them all (or even the main ones), but this doesn’t seem to exist. I did a lot of googling and found some good blog posts about a few islands, which eventually led us to Fulidhoo. We were thrilled with our choice.

Upcoming Posts: Fulidhoo Island Diving and Sri Lanka Highlights.

Categories: Maldives | Tags: , , | 29 Comments

Post navigation

29 thoughts on “Affordable Maldives? Discovering Fulidhoo Island

  1. We had just started hearing about these local islands that have small guest houses as opposed to the high end resort option. We met a couple in Sri Lanka who told us about their positive experience on this exact island as well. This is how we would do it, if and when we hopefully get there one day.

    Those waters near the edge are SO clear, it is absolutely amazing and that sting ray so easy to see.

    Sounds like the guest house you stayed in was a really good local experience and that the whole family have worked hard to make it welcoming and successful.

    Peta

    Like

  2. Love this ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Seeing the Rays and other marine life in the shallow waters must have been incredible in and of itself, regardless of how common it is! Also, I love that you chose a more authentic experience for your visit; I’m sure the exposure to the people and the culture was incredibly rewarding.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d never get tired of seeing the rays and other creatures that hang out in the shallows. It was so cool. I’m glad we discovered this other face of the Maldives.

      Like

  4. Pingback: What’s it like diving with sharks? Fulidhoo Island, Maldives | Writes of Passage

  5. To be honest even though in the past I did think of going to the Maldives, but I ended up discarding that idea altogether because of the exorbitant prices. I mean there are tons of pristine small islands in Indonesia which offer the same kind of crystal clear water and white sand beaches. My initial plan to travel to this small country lacked a strong and valid reason. However, since they opened up local islands like Fulidhoo, I started to mull the idea of going to the Maldives again. Your post certainly helps to put the Maldives back in my radar.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I lived in Indonesia I really don’t think the Maldives would be on my radar. While I have only seen a small fraction of your beautiful country, I have been so impressed with it. In fact, my best scuba diving experience so far has been in Bunaken, in northern Sulawesi. Experts put Indonesia’s Raja Ampat and Komodo NP on the top of the lists of best diving in the world. And your beaches and water are stunning. I recall drooling over some of James’s posts. Although the Maldives local islands offer some cultural component they really are primarily a beach/water experience, whereas Indonesia has so much more to offer. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed our stay in Fulidhoo and it was a perfect diving and “beachy” add-on after 3 weeks in Sri Lanka. Thanks for your perspective on this Bama. It’s so interesting to have these travel discussions with people from all over the world.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You remind me how much of Indonesia’s underwater beauty I have yet to explore. 🙂 Exactly because of the reasons you mentioned I always think of the cultural sights in the Maldives should I get the chance to go there one day, because I want to see more than just beautiful beaches. I read that in the capital there are a few historical places that seem to be quite interesting to visit.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You have definitely tapped into the best of the Maldives here. Access to the local population and affordability are definitely big draws for me. Your lodging looks comfortable and food delicious. I especially love the images of the stingray swimming the shore, the Mosque overlooking the sea, and the sandy main streets. And Natascha’s photos have whet my appetite for more on your diving experience here.

    Sadly our mad dash to sail from Uligamu to Gan in 1 month had us bypass this place (The Captain’s choice, not mine). We sailed from Male to Dhigurah at Ari Atoll instead and experienced an uglier side of the Maldives where throngs of tourists converged on a single whale shark. It wasn’t pretty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting you mention Dhigurah Lisa. I had done a little research on this island and was excited about the possibility of whale sharks but then read alarming reports like yours…sad and certainly not my cup of tea. Unfortunately this sort of thing still goes on too often. We were fortunate with Fulidhoo Dive to be with a professional and responsible operator. We don’t own an underwater camera but thankfully Natascha, a fellow dive guest, shared hers…more of her great photos to come. The island of Male, which we only spent an afternoon on before our flight home, was also an eye-opener. Nearly 150,000 people squeezed onto something like 9 sq km. We met several Male families in Fulidhoo who spend weekends away on local islands to escape the crowds and bustle. Spending our time on beautiful Fulidhoo and experiencing a bit of Male certainly gave me a very different perspective of the Maldives.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Affordable Maldives – Discovering Fulidhoo Island – FitandFunNow.com

  8. That water is amazing. I definitely would not be happy at a fancy resort there, but how will I survive being on a beach with no beer?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm, now that is the question! I have heard that there are some local islands with off-shore floating bars that somehow manage to get around the restrictions.

      Like

  9. Fantastic pictures! I didn’t realize the public islands were so inexpensive. We did love the Maldives so maybe we can plan a second trip. Looking forward to your diving pictures too!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Such a gorgeous place! The sea is incredibly beautiful and clean. Hope it can stay that way forever 🙂 One question: how did you feel when swimming with the sharks? I know that they are harmless, but they still have teeth hehe

    Liked by 1 person

    • The sea is incredibly beautiful but unfortunately with climate change and the rise in ocean temperature, a lot of the shallower coral around the Maldives has been badly bleached. It was sad to see. I’ll talk more about that in another post. As for the sharks, I was certainly a tad nervous before getting in the water, but once I was down there and followed the instructions of our diving guide it was an incredible feeling. This may sound strange, but it felt peaceful watching these giants swim by (teeth and all). Just to be on the safe side, I always positioned myself in the middle of our group haha😉. I’ll write more about this too.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Really interested to read this Caroline. The Maldives haven’t been on my radar for maybe 35 years. The first time I heard about the islands from a close friend who stayed there after a trip to Sri Lanka. I think she took the ferry and although some islands were developed there were very cheap and totally undeveloped options. Hut on the beach and freshly caught fish barbequed in the sand type of basic. I think the food and accommodation for a few dollars. Student travel at its best when we had no money. I dream back to those type of days of travelling…
    The beaches are superb. Sounds like the community is very organised. You can keep the sharks though. I don’t do sharks. I will look forward to reading the post though. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • Likewise, interesting to read your comments Louise. I wasn’t aware that there were cheap and undeveloped options back then. I thought the government kept a tight rein on local island tourism, but I guess those huts on the beach wouldn’t even have been classified as tourism infrastructure. I agree with you…those were the days! I often think back nostalgically on my early backpacking trips, living on less than $10/day and having no contact with anyone back home except for an occasional letter. I have a couple of Australian friends here who also don’t do sharks. I get it!

      Like

  12. Absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing Caroline. TT

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Uncool Cycling Club

    Awesome post! I had no idea it was possible to experience the Maldives in a relatively “real” and budget friendly way.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This sounds amazing, and your photos are beautiful. I especially like the one with the kids in it. I had no idea about the Maldives except the usual (sooo expensive) so you’ve really opened my eyes.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Alison. Seeing the local kids at play on the beach were really special moments. Mike thought I was crazy when I first suggested a Maldives add-on after Sri Lanka…it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t discovered this “budget” option.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve always felt overwhelmed even thinking about planning a trip to the Maldives, so this is great info! Your little island looks great (well, I might miss having a beer or wine on occasion), and I’m sure it felt much richer culturally than the more typical Maldivian vacation we see in many ads and posts. I’d love to see the rays, and the walk to the sandbar looks very fun, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I admit, a cold beer at the end of the day would have been nice! But it was a small sacrifice. When we priced out a stay at a resort (even a modest one) plus diving, it would have blown our travel budget for next year…and we can’t have that. We met a couple who divided their time between a fancy resort island and a stay on Fulidhoo (interesting idea). They said it was initially a shock going from luxury to modest surroundings but they ended up preferring their time on Fulidhoo. It’s nice to have options.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: