Although the Maldives tourism industry promotes a fairly stereotypical image of these best islands to visit, all in the name of deserted beaches, sea and tranquility, on the contrary the profile of the tourist who decides to take a holiday and travel to Maldives is not unique. There are lovers of luxury (the Maldives, from this point of view, boast an offer with few equals in the world), there are couples on honeymoon, families with children in tow and independent travelers, mostly diving enthusiasts. The clarification is important, since it suggests shrewdness in the choice of stay, precisely to avoid, then, being in a different situation from the one imagined.
A choice that in recent years – it must be said – has been greatly expanded thanks to the guesthouses, private homes adapted for guests where, however, unlike the classic accommodations, there is greater interaction with the local population. A detail that allows to deepen the customs of Maldivians, Muslims (even the obtaining of citizenship is subordinate to the profession of Islamic faith) and anchored to a rather conservative system of values.
There is another way to realize the difference that passes between these that travel to Maldives, instead, of those who live there all year round. This other way is to visit Malè (even just a couple of hours), the capital where almost a third of the population of the Republic of Maldives lives. Our story starts right here. Have a good read and don’t forget to take a look at all other articles on Traveler Magazine.
10 most visited islands in Maldives
P.S: In recent years the Maldives has experienced several phases of political instability with the rise of parades and demonstrations especially in the capital Malé. If you are a first-timer in the country it would be good to plan your trip to Maldives carefully. It must be said, however, that so far the tourist economy has not suffered a setback.
As reiterated at the opening if, in addition to the exotic aspect of the Maldives, you want to deepen the culture, customs and customs of its inhabitants it is advisable to visit, even for a few hours, Malé, the capital. The first, macroscopic, difference from the classic landscape of the archipelago is the hyper-urbanization of this island of just 5 square kilometers. An unstoppable phenomenon that began in the 1930s with the opening of banks, schools and public offices and continued in the 1970s with the explosion of tourism. Even so, however, the image does not quite match that of a “classic” capital.
In the midst of many palaces and skyscrapers, in fact, authentically “maldivian” social spaces such as the fruit and vegetable market and the fish market survive. Visiting them does not only mean witnessing the exciting moments of the sale, but also gives the measure of how much traditional activities retain a far from marginal role in the local economy, especially for the inhabitants of the best islands to visit. When you travel to Maldives, you should know that religion also plays a very important part, for example, by requiring tourists to respect certain precise conduct, especially with regard to alcohol consumption (prohibited) and clothing.
Both for the visit of the mosques (on all, the Old Friday Mosque and the Grand Friday Mosque), and for that of the National Museum, it is essential to have adequate clothing without necklines and other body parts on display. Another typical element are the teashops, the restaurants of Malè where the characteristic short eats, appetizers and tastings of the local cuisine are served. Finally, watch out for mopeds whizzing through the streets of the city. The risk of being invested is high, which is why it is unseemly to stay in the city if you move with young children in tow.
2. North Malé
The proximity to the capital and international airport on the island of Hulhule, has made the North Malé Atoll one of the most developed in the Maldives. It consists of hundreds of islands, of which only 29 are inhabited. Physically, Mali is also part of it, but, given its capital status, the capital is Thulusdohoo, an island of just over 1000 inhabitants on the eastern side of the atollo.
Thulusdohoo is popular with surfers, while Himmafushi has become a shopping island thanks to the tourist boom. From the artisanal production of drums, to the rosewood sculptures of sharks, manta rays and dolphins, many tourists from the resorts all around daily flock to this island to buy the classic souvenir to take home. It’s not over because Huraa and Dhiffushi are also worth a visit.
The first, while witnessing in recent years the opening of several guesthouses, has preserved almost intact the face of a traditional island; Dhiffushi, on the other hand, is still deeply linked to agriculture and fisheries, of which we have already spoken about it before. For the rest, North Malé offers in abundance everything that the other atolls of the Maldives give: breathtaking landscapes, crystal clear sea, lush vegetation and, above all, several diving spots to observe up close sharks, manta rays, dolphins, corals and all the other wonders of this portion of the Indian Ocean.
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3. South Malé
So close, so far away. The expression makes good the difference between the atolls of North Malé and South Malé. The latter, in fact, is much less inhabited than the first. There are only three islands inhabited against the twenty-nine of North Malè and, another fundamental difference, are located at a distance from each other. The exotic effect is therefore guaranteed with the advantage, however, of being just an hour’s ferry ride from the capital Mala and Hulhulè airport named after President Ibrahim Nasir, who died in 2008.
The other aspect that makes the travel to Maldives and Malé South different is the opening of numerous guest houses in Maafushi. Inevitably, this island of just over a thousand inhabitants has become the most dynamic and cosmopolitan in the Maldives although, it must be said, the cultural exchange between locals and tourists is not always easy.
Try it, the choice to reserve a beach only foreign guests (see photo) avoiding in this way to embarrass the residents, opposed to the display of necklines and nudity. For the rest, the highlight of a holiday in South Mae is diving. The Vadhoo Kandu canal that divides the two atolls offers numerous dive points of different difficulty. We remember some without claim to exhaustion: Vaadhoo Caves, Valassaru Caves, Vangali Caves, Guraidhoo Kandu and Kuda Girl. to do!
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When you travel to Maldives Mark these names: Rashdoo Maldivarum and Dhidhdhoo Beyru. They are two of the most famous dive spots in the world, frequented all year round by thousands of divers. They are both located in Ari Atoll, 81 of the best islands to visit (of which only 18 are inhabited), about 60 kilometers from Malé, the capital of the Maldives.
The first dive point is better known as “Hammerhead Point”, a hammerheadshark sighting site and is located near Rashdoo, the main centre of Alif, northern part of Ari (North Ari). Dhidhdhoo Beyru, on the other hand, is located at the southwestern end of the atollo (Ali Dhal or South Ali) and owes its fame to the passage of one of the most mysterious and fascinating animals on earth: the whale shark.
Despite its size (it can exceed 12 meters in length), the whale shark is harmless and feeds on plankton. Habits and lifestyles are not fully known, which is why it is the subject of several scientific studies, some conducted in this part of the travel to Maldives. Of course, these are not Ari’s only dive spots. It is worth pointing out two more: Madivaru, a site where it is easy to meet manta rays and Halaveli Wreck, a dive site created in 1991 with the deliberate sinking of a merchant ship of more than 30 meters.
For the rest, the above applies to Ari for other destinations: beautiful beaches, crystal clear sea, luxury resorts and (relatively) more affordable solutions for independent travelers. The atheist also has a small airport on the island of Maamgili. Dozens of seaplanes depart and land every day at Malé International Airport. Impressive!
5. Haa Alifu
If you choose to travel to Maldives and to visit Haal Alifu, Haa Dhaalu (see next point) or any of the atolls located north of the Maldives archipelago, you need to be sure of the decision. Distances from the capital Malé and Hulhule International Airport are very high: no less than 2 hours of travel (4 including return) to which you must add the time taken to arrive in the Maldives and the time to wait between one coincidence. Given this premise, Haal Alifu Atollo is definitely the place for those who want to combine absolute relaxation and knowledge of local customs and customs.
On the first aspect (relaxation), the guarantee is precisely the distance from the most crowded southern atolls mentioned earlier. As for the deepening of local history, however, it is a must to visit Utheemu, the birthplace of Mohammed Thakurufaanu, who was the architect, in the 16th century, of the war of liberation from Portugal.
On one of the best islands to visit there is a monument (with attached library and museum) that celebrates the deeds of the man revered as a national hero by all the inhabitants of the Maldives. But be of the way, Utheemu is not the capital (pictured, the island beach). In contrast, the main island of the atollo is Dhidhdhoo, while Hoarafushi, Kelaa and Uligamu are the other islands of Haa Alifu worth visiting.
6. Haa Dhaalu
For Haa Dhaalu Atola it is worth up and down what Haa Alifu said earlier. Those who decide to come here know very well that they are out of the rounds of mass tourism in the Maldives. After all, until 1958 Haa Alifu and Haa Dhaalu were a single atollo: Thiladhunmathi. Then came the administrative division, although the topos used in many cases continues to be what it used to be: Haa Dhaalu, for example, is also known as Thiladhunmathi South.
The capital is the island of Kuludhuduffushi, on which lives more than half of the population (about 10,000 inhabitants) of the entire atoll. Although there is no airport (which is located on the island of Hanimaadhoo), Kulhudhuffushi is by far the most important centre: the presence of the hospital and secondary school has partially liberated the territory from activities but it continues to mark the daily life of this part of the Maldives. In short, coming here means giving up the most exclusive resorts in exchange for, however, the island landscapes unique in the world (pictured the beach of Hanimaadhoo) and a lot, a lot, tranquility.
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An atollo so untouched that the capital, Milandhoo, until 1997 was uninhabited! This clue is enough to realize once more about the extraordinary beauty of the Maldives. The decision to anthropize the island was necessary as a result of pollution of the water network of nearby Makunudhoo, whose inhabitants were mainly devoted to agriculture. Activity then resumed in Milandhoo, just the time necessary to recover arable area to a territory up to there virgin.
Shaviyani Atoll is also famous for the presence of turtles that in the 51 islands that make up it (16 inhabited ones) find the ideal conditions for their reproduction. Funadhoo, Narudhoo and Kanditheemu the other population centers worthy of mention. In Kanditheemu in particular, there is a mosque where the oldest example of Thaana writing, characteristic of the travel to Maldives and dating back to the end of the 16th century, is preserved. Shaviyani Atollo is just over an hour from Malé.
So far we have insisted several times on the importance of deepening local customs and customs, so as to have a more authentic image of the Maldives. Lhaviyani Atollo, from this point of view, represents an extraordinary opportunity: in fact, although there is no shortage of resorts and guesthouses, only a small part of the local population is employed in the tourism industry. Most, on the other hand, live on fishing, crafts and small trade. We are talking in all of 54 islands of which, however, only 4 inhabited: Naifaru, which is also the capital, Hinnavaru, Kurendhooo and Olhuvelifushi.
In Naifaru, for example, a large part of the population lives producing necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry in coral and mother of pearl and, more interestingly, producing traditional medicines, alternative to the official medical circuit and yet still spread among Maldivians. Fishing as well, as we have mentioned, plays a key role. Naifaru and Hinnavaru boast large fleets of fishing vessels, not to mention the canning fish industry in Felivaru. Here the tuna exported is canned then on the Asian, Middle Eastern and European markets.
We have previously said that choosing to travel to Maldives means giving the opportunities of exploring the Maldives ocean life. It can mean, however, even holidays in super luxurious contexts and unaffordable to most from an economic point of view. Noonu Atollo has exactly these features: few but exclusive resorts where a stay can exceed 3000 euros per night. Thirteen in all the inhabited islands: Manadhoo, the capital, does not exceed 2000 inhabitants, which instead do the most populous Holhundhoo and Velidhoo.
In particular, on the latter island, a night ferry from the Malé fish market arrives every week. Setting sail aboard this seatless vehicle, where people often sleep on the ground, can be a source of great charm, certainly different from the seaplane transfer made available by the resorts present. It is not over, because the Atollo of Noonu is also important from a historical and environmental point of view. On the island of Landhoo, in fact, there are the remains of a “hawitta”, coarse megalith that would be built by the “redin” population that, according to some studies, first populated the Maldives around 2000.a.C.
From an environmental point of view, however, it is worth remembering the instision of the Marine National Park of Edu Faru. We are talking about 9 of the best islands to visit on the eastern side of the atollo (Edu Faru archipelago) which, at the decision of the government, will have to remain untouched to protect the extraordinary marine and terrestrial biodiversity that characterizes these places.
Along with Dhidhdhoo Beyru on the southern side of Ari Atoll (see point 4), the other Maldives resort where the whale shark is most likely to meet is Hanifaru Huraa in Baa Atoll. In fact, it is mainly thanks to the fame of Hanifaru Bay that, in 2011, Unesco placed the Baa Atol – seventy-five islands, thirteen inhabited ones – on the special list of World Biosphere Reserve sites.
An award that, from a naturalistic point of view, puts South Maalhosmadulu (the other topos with which the atoll is known) on the same level as the Galapagos, in the Pacific Ocean. Of course, thanks to the fame of Hanifaru and the other diving sites of Baa, tourism has undermined traditional activities that nevertheless continue to mark the daily life of the inhabitants of the atollo. In particular, the production of the feyli, the characteristic sardic of the Maldives, in the capital Eydhafushi still engages a significant number of workers. To see!
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A pristine corner of the travel to Maldives, Raa Atoll has experienced much less tourism development than the rest of the archipelago. Only a couple of resorts present, which is why the majority of the population still lives on the proceeds of fishing. The largest fishing fleet is located in the capital Ugofaaru, while in Alifushi, an island outside the atoll, residents specialize in the construction of the dhoni, the typical Maldives vessel built from coconut palm wood.
And it’s the coconut palms, along with the white beaches and crystal clear sea that draw the scenery of Raa Ato, divided by Baa by moresby Chanel (Hani Kantu), a water channel named after British Royal Navy officer Robert Moresby, author of the first topographical survey of the Maldives in the 1830s. The Moresby Chanel offers several spectacular diving spots: those who come to this atollo, in fact, do so mainly for the wonderful maritime landscape. In short, Raa Atoll fully represents the Maldives cliché we referred to in the introduction. To see!
3 things not to do when you travel to Maldives
1. Things not to forget to pack when you travel to Maldives
In addition to your passport, travel documents, credit card(s) and appropriate clothing, the list of things not to forget for a trip to the Maldives is very long: sunglasses, sunscreen, camera, camera, charger, adapter drugs, etc. In other words, you have to make a local mind about everything that can be used to avoid having to buy it on site for much more.
The advice is aimed mainly at honeymooners and independent travelers, the latter increasing in recent years. Diving enthusiasts also need to pay close attention to everything they need to best satisfy their passion. Although resorts have everything they need for diving and snorkeling, experienced divers generally have their own preferences for models and materials to use. Therefore, even here, we need a minimum of attention in the sorting of things to bring, of course without exaggeration.
2. Don’t dress in succinct clothes
Maldivians are all Muslims. The dialectic between secularism and religion on these islands is different from what we are used to in Western countries. Necklines also barely mentioned, and more generally too casual clothes, can generate misunderstanding with the locals. Even wearing symbols of other religious faiths, such as a common crucifix around the neck, can lead to requests for clarification.
In resorts, it must be said, there is much more tolerance, even compared to alcohol consumption but, those who want to deepen local customs and customs by snooping around, will do well to take into account the things just said. For the rest, don’t worry. Maldivians are cheerful and absolutely well disposed to tourists.
3. These are the best islands to visit but don’t feed the fish
A naturalistic paradise like that of the Maldives must be absolutely protected. Some prescriptions are easily understood, such as leaving no waste on the beaches or, even worse, at sea. Others, however, deserve to be explained because, on the face of it, it may seem that they are not doing anything wrong. Such as feeding fish. The reason is simple: throwing food into the water, or even diving with a piece of bread (or other food) almost always triggers among the fish a food frenzy impossible then to manage.
Not to mention the fact that this could happen to come across potentially dangerous species. For example, small shark swims within coral reefs which, although absolutely harmless, should not be stressed in any way. In general, however, it is better not to touch anything, even sponges, corals, sea stars except after a consultation with someone local (guides and instructors if you are practicing diving or snorkeling). Advised!