Welcome to the Maldives local islands

It all started when in 2010 an important decision is taken in the Maldives. Local inhabited islands were then allowed to welcome tourists. This way local people could actually benefit from the tourists who spend their dream vacations on the Maldives.

We’ve been postponing traveling to the Maldives for more than 5 years just because we didn’t want to spend a fortune on a resort. With local islands gathering popularity slowly, but steadily, the time has come for us to visit the Maldives, experience the local life as much as possible, and prove that those paradise atolls can be a budget destination.

The first blessing for us came when on our way to the Maldives we received a phone call from the airline that our flight back is canceled. During our layover in Dubai, we were presented with two options: stay one day less (we planned 10 days originally) or stay 5 days more. Guess which one we chose?

With two full weeks in the Maldives, we decided that’s also a sign to travel even more slowly, indulging in any experiences that would come our way. We had booked stays in two different local islands, and we would choose the last stay for the additional 5 days on the go.

Maldives local islands - Gaafaru

Maldives local islands

So why stay on a Maldivian local island at all?

We’ve been singing the mantra “Follow the Locals” for so many years that we find no reason not to meet the local people, make meaningful encounters along the way – everywhere that’s possible. We know in some countries there are still “mass-tourism” or “pre-organized and pre-defined” or “resort-fancy” shields that actually prevent you from meeting real local people and learning about the culture of the place. Since Maldives’ local islands are being open for tourism since 2010, there’s really no reason not to interact with locals, visit their islands (responsibly!), and help them make a living out of all that. Just as we did in Seychelles.

Maldives local islands - Gaafaru

Some people would say resort islands are much more beautiful, clean, picturesque, and in general fancy – and this might be true. But wait to check out the local islands we visited and decide for yourself if they are beautiful enough for you. And don’t worry about moderate clothing and no alcohol on local islands – you still can go with a swimsuit on the beach (and cover your shoulders and knees in the other public areas). If you really believe alcohol will bring such great value to your experience, you can always visit a resort for a day or sign up for a boat-bar tour. We want to encourage you to consider a non-resort approach towards the Maldives, or at least a hybrid approach (local island + resort).

Maldives local islands - Gaafaru
The popular e-vehicles

Since we managed to talk to a lot of local businesses here in the Maldives, we know people are working hard to attract travelers to local islands, show them the immense beauty of both nature and culture, develop their communities, and improve the lives of those smiling and friendly people. Being able to travel to the Maldives on a budget comes as a consequence or side effect of all that, but to us, it is an important bonus – we love to be able to explore places without having to break the bank or sell organs.

How does life go in the Maldives?

The Maldives is an Islamic country and part of the magic of the local islands is the call for prayers 5 times a day, many times accompanied by more songs and prayers over speakers so that everyone can hear them. We liked how the streets and common areas are cleaned every day responsibly from the community – everyone is responsible to sweep around their house. Fishers are occupied with different activities across the day, minimarkets welcome you with essential items. You can easily get fresh fruit juices and drink up to your heart’s content. If you need a break – just find a swing under the shadow of the trees and just chill out.

Maldives local islands - Gulhi

You need just an hour on a local island to notice that life goes slow, no need to rush, get frustrated, or angry. The scorching sun helps you slow down and enjoy those little moments of peace when you sit under a palm and stare at the endless blue horizon, when you feel the first drops of tropical rain, and when the sunset marks the end of a day full of emotions, impressions, heat, and sun. As the evening falls, people from different families get together to chat, dinners are being served, and soon the island goes to sleep. It’s all so quiet that only the monotonous sound of electricity aggregate will buzz until you agree it’s time to travel to the wonderland of dreams.

Maldives local islands - Gulhi

Gulhi island

We chose Gulhi island of South Malé Atoll (part of Kaafu Atoll) as our first local island to visit in the lowest-lying country on Earth (with an average height of 1.5 meters above sea level). Its proximity to the airport (of only 30 minutes by a speedboat – the public ferry is suspended due to covid) makes it a popular choice for travelers and we could see that by the plentiful construction works going on on the island.

Gulhi Bikini Beach (Bikini beach is a tourist beach where we can wear our swimsuit freely) is one of the most beautiful natural beaches in the Maldives and people claim that most of the resorts don’t have such an amazing beach. That’s why we went to verify that and it was true. Many people come for day trips to the island just for this beach.

Gulhi means “pot” in Dhivehi (Maldivian language).

Gaafaru island

A private speedboat (no other people from Gulhi going to Male on that day) and a shared speedboat ride later, we arrived at our second local island and the only natural island of Gaafaru Atoll – called Gaafaru as well. In a country of 1192 coral islands in 29 atolls, you can easily get confused. But we’re still to be confused or feel lost in the most geographically dispersed country in the world. That’s because local people and guesthouses do their best to arrange every detail for you so you can simply enjoy your time in the Maldives.

In Gaafaru we’ve met some of the most friendly locals which made sure everything from the second we booked our stay to food to tours to experiences to the transfer to our next island will be easy and flowing and not a concern for us. As they said, Maldivians are very open and friendly people and will gladly welcome you!

Gaafaru (means Northern reef and also stone) has a big reef around it that had proven to be a disaster for many boats. Ironically, the island is known for fishing is the main economic activity on the island.

Fodhdhoo island

Fodhdhoo island in the Noonu Atoll of the smallest country in Asia was the farthest we’ve been away from Male. We were supposed to get there by a flight from Male to Maafushi and a speedboat ride, but we boarded a speedboat just outside Gaafaru’s dangerous reef (like on the movies, moving our bags and ourselves in the middle of the ocean). Fodhdhoo is one of the greenest islands and a close-to-resort-experience we had in the Maldives. Its population is only 170 people, and those many palms, trees, and the house reef of the island are definitely a catch!

We found Fodhdhoo to be the most peaceful island, with wide streets (and just a few of them), plenty of greenery, and beautiful emerald waters kissed by fine-sand beaches.

Fodhdhoo (read Foddu) is named after the Fonga Gas tree which is now extinct.

Thoddoo island

Thoddoo is located in the Alif Alif Atoll but everyone knows it as “the agricultural island”. It is the number one producer of watermelon in the Maldives and the mix of fruits, veggies, and spices thew grow attracted us to browse its huge green fields.

As it’s one of the bigger islands, it’s a great idea to rent a bike (or why not a scooter) and go around the island. The living area is one-third of the island, agricultural lands take another third, leaving the last third with natural vegetation and sometimes old huts and shacks. The island features two tourist beaches – Sunrise beach and Sunset beach. Apart from what names imply, you can enjoy a more secluded and local vibe on the first one, and vast shallow emerald seas with amazing snorkeling opportunities on the second.

People on Thoddoo remained Buddhists after those on Male became Muslim so the island has Buddhist remains with their hidden idols. Unfortunately, nowadays you can’t see them.

We’ve only stayed on four inhabited local islands so far but we believe each and every one of them has something unique, special, and charming. It’s up to you to choose which local islands to visit and (re)discover the Maldives as a destination for cultural and nature immersion, affordable luxury, and even transformative experiences!

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