Oscillating on a swing, I gazed in oblivion at the myriad
shades of blue that seemed more like a canvas of an artist. It drizzled
intermittently, the breeze blew cold, the sun was about to retire, a lonely
stork caught its second fish and I sat conjuring images of a surreal land. It
was only when my coffee came that I realized that it wasn’t surreal but
reality. I was at one end of the endless stretch of beaches on Maafushi island
Located in Kaafu atoll, Maafushi is 27 kms away from Male
and can be reached by a ferry or a speed ferry (speed boat). While the ferry
takes an hour and a half, the speed ferry reaches in 45 minutes from Male to
Maafushi. After the government regulation in 2010 allowing guest houses and
hotels to be opened in Maafushi, the island has seen a drastic change as it has
been a major boost to the economy which otherwise survived only on fishing.
With a population of approximately 2700, the island is almost self-contained
with a school, medical care, mosque and all basic necessities for its residents.
Maafushi is one of the popular budget
options in Maldives and offers a host of guest houses, cafes, restaurants apart
from various water activities for travellers. If you would like to visit
Maldives on a budget, then Maafushi is the place to go to.
The view outside Velana international airport was a stunner
as the dramatic skies matched up to the azure waters. While numerous speed
boats from various luxury resorts picked up their guests, I waited for my speed
ferry to Maafushi which was booked through iCom tours. At sharp 6, the speed
ferry left and had a brief stopover at Male. Left Male by 7 and we were
cruising over the buoyant waters towards Maafushi. It had got dark by then and
hardly had a clue of the surroundings. The dim lights of island resorts in
the distance were all that I see. In less than an hour we reached Maafushi,
where a person from the guesthouse was there to pick me up. A ten minute walk
and we were at Dream Lagoon, where I was to stay for the next 3 days. Rashid,
the manager was a friendly guy who briefed about the property, the activities
available and other details. At 9PM I stepped out for dinner, anticipating if the
restaurants would be open. Surprisingly the streets were lit, people were
strolling around and restaurants were open. Despite being a tiny island which
had recently opened up to tourism, they have coped well to the changes. After some
Kothu Rushi, Narsi Goreng and a non alcoholic beer, I was back in my room.
The complimentary breakfast at Dream Lagoon was pretty
simple but good. The day began with a stroll through the sandy roads of
Maafushi. There are two main roads running parallel to the beaches and numerous
lanes cutting across and connecting these two main roads. While most of the
houses are on inner lanes, the main road running along the jetty is lined with
restaurants, souvenir shops and shops offering activities such as snorkeling,
scuba diving and much more. The island has public beaches, water sport beach
and bikini beach. Both water sports beach and bikini beach are located on the
northern end of the island and is the preferred choice for tourists. While
beach wears are not permitted across the island, the only place where one can
wear them are at bikini beach.
As I languorously strolled through the alleys of Maafushi, I
noticed that the island has a unique public seating in the form of an iron
frame with plastic/ coir threads, which definitely is creative, cheap and long
lasting. They were spotted everywhere-
by the beaches, under the trees, along the narrow lanes. The locals are
friendly and they are always glad to help and guide you. Surprisingly, I
noticed that almost all the offices and shops had female staff. They spoke pretty well (some with even a
western accent) and many of them rode motorbikes. Despite being a small island
where the entire population followed Islam, Maafushi is a prime example of
women empowerment. Men mostly work on tourism related activities, in
restaurants or go fishing.
It either drizzled or was sunny throughout the day and I
window shopped through the northern stretch of Maafushi. All the action and visitors
are confined to this part of the island making it a popular place among travellers. Western travellers were even
seen snorkeling off the bikini beach which is lined with coconut trees. Across
the tall trees, multiple shades of blue formed an enchanting frame, one that
would make you gaze for long with sea breeze brushing incessantly.
While in Maafushi, the major activities to do includes half
day trips (snorkelling at a couple of points with turtle/ nurse sharks, lunch at
a sand bank, dolphin watching, nemo pint etc.), sunset fishing, visit to a
local island, visit to an island resort, scuba diving and water sports (jet
skiing, banana ride etc.). I headed to iCom tours to book the activities.
Though they did have half day and full day tours, it seemed a bit ambiguous
because they needed a minimum number of people for any activity or else it
would be cancelled. I walked around and most hotels had these excursions on
offer and when I checked at White Shell hotel, they informed that they had the
required number of people for sunset fishing that day. Without any hesitation I
went ahead with the booking ($25 per person). It is recommended to check these
activities at any of the hotels as they would most likely have the required
booking from the guests staying there.
Sunrise beach resort served delicious tuna curry, prawns and rice for
lunch and I also booked a half day excursion ($25 per person) for the next day.
Again, they already had guests who had earlier booked the activity hence had
the minimum number of people required. While at most places I noticed that they
had only 4 points mentioned in the half day tour, Sunrise beach resort had five
points in their tour which included snorkeling at Maavilath, Turtle reef,
Biyadhoo reef, lunch at sand bank and dolphin watching.
Another advantage for travellers is that most shops and
restaurants accept both U.S. dollars and Maldivian Rufiya.
The sun was at its scorching best in the noon and I headed
back to the room shortly after lunch. The sunset fishing was scheduled to leave at 5 PM and
along with a large contingent of tourists from Japan and Thailand, I boarded
the motor boat. The cloudy skies didn’t reveal much of the sunset as we motored
our way through the azure waters. Initially it was cloudy, windy, sighted a
distant rain and the waters were rough. We headed deep into the blue sea and anchored
after a 45 minute ride. It was time to fish and out came the cords and hooks.
While some like me waited patiently for ever, a few were lucky to catch some
colourful fishes. One tourist even caught an octopus, which was later released
back into the waters. The first time experience of fishing definitely taught
the importance of patience as I did hook two fishes after a long wait. An hour and a half passed as many fishes
got caught, the sun set, it briefly rained and we returned to Maafushi. The
package also included dinner and supposedly the same fishes that are caught are
served. I found that a bit hard to believe.
The third day began early as I set out after breakfast to Sunrise
beach resort for the half day excursion. Ali, the instructor was a jovial
fellow who led us first to Maafushi Dives to pick up the equipments and then to
the speed boat. Myriad shades of blue
spread out before us, and the boat sped towards Maavilath, the nearest
snorkeling point from Maafushi. The cloudy weather was apt for snorkelling. The
water was shallow and Ali helped us with the basics of snorkelling. With the
snorkelling equipments and fins, we left for the deeper sections of the reef.
It was blue all around for a while until corals in various shapes and colourful
fishes showed up. The salty water made sure that I popped up every time it went
inside my pipe. However, that wasn’t a deterrent as I went farther into the
water world, only to be surrounded by more fishes and corals. After more than
half an hour of mesmerising experience, we headed back to the boat only to be
sped away again through more blue waters to Turtle reef.
Turtle reef as the name suggests is known for turtles. As we
jumped into the waters Ali mentioned not to go near the turtles and touch them
as they would recede and get away. The water was prussian blue, had more
colourful fishes, more corals, more depth and amidst all that we spotted a lone
beautiful turtle. While it stayed a bit away from us initially and went down to
the sea bed, Ali went near it and not sure what magic he did, the colourful
turtle came up to the surface with him, took in some air, bobbed around for a
while and then went down again. That was undoubtedly the most gratifying moment
of my visit to Maafushi. We snorkelled for a while more and then got back on the
boat to sight some dolphins.
Even before Ali could
say that we had reached the location, the boat was surrounded by more than
50-60 dolphins cruising their way through the waters, flipping in the air and
coming up to the surface for a breathe. Though I had spotted dolphins earlier,
sighting dolphins here was a breathtaking experience. Both the boat and the
dolphins chased each other for a while before we headed to a sand bank for lunch.
Sand banks are narrow stretches of land surrounded by blue waters and dead
corals. It’s an ideal place for a photography session. A thin white strip of
land surrounded by turquoise blue waters definitely makes a picturesque travel
postcard frame. A quick lunch and photo session later, we were on the way to
our last spot.
Biyadhoo reef with its abundant marine life is one of the popular reefs to snorkel near
Maafushi and when we reached, there were numerous other snorkellers already
enjoying the gorgeous views beneath the blue waters. Ali cautioned that though
this is probably one of the best reefs to spot a variety of fishes, their
scales are sharp and could injure us. He added that we could feed the fishes
here, but make sure not to go close to them and feed as they could bite the
fingers along with the food. As we were about to jump, spotted another turtle
taking in some fresh air on the surface. A school of fishes zoomed past me as I
jumped into the water, most of them unicorn fishes. There were large school of fishes that went in
different directions and each time Ali had crumbs of bread in his hand, he got
swarmed by more fishes. The corals are gorgeous, large and in various shapes
here. We were also lucky to spot both Nemo and Dory together at this reef. Biyadhoo
reef was the best of the three places that I snorkelled with its huge
collection of colourful fishes and corals. Half an hour later, the boat sped
away taking us back to Maafushi.
It was late in the afternoon when we reached back and a
quick shower later I had some delicious sandwiches and buns from Suzy’s bakes. A
stroll through the road running parallel to the main road revealed that it was
pretty much deserted and the beach had seaweed washed ashore. However, a
rainbow showed up and that more than brightened up the otherwise dull side of
Maafushi. The bikini beach was where my walk ended and I enjoyed the sunset
with a cup of coffee as it drizzled sporadically. The lemon fish thai style for
dinner at Stingray beach inn was mediocre. However, the day had been an
eventful one and I still visualised fishes swimming next to me every time I
closed my eyes.
Day four was set aside for a visit to the local island
(Fulidhoo) and to Floating bar. Floating bar is a boat that is moored 500 metres
away from the main land and serves liquor. Liquor is banned across the country and
floating bar is the only place where you can have a swig in Maafushi. Both the visits
were squashed as it drizzled incessantly through the day. Instead, I strolled
through the alleys of Maafushi and ended at Kalaama restaurant (Velana hotel)
for an early lunch. I delved into Roshi Mashuni combo, a delicious local dish.
Roshi is similar to a chappathi and Mashuni is chutney made of coconut, onions
and fish scrapes.
The drizzle continued as I left the restaurant and walked
to the other end of the island where the local prison is located. Back at the
bikini beach, I sat on a large swing facing the sea, listened to the clattering
of raindrops on the overhead cover, gazed at the gorgeous blue waters and sipped
some coffee. I sat there for long, oblivious to the surroundings gazing at nature at its best. There was a
melancholic charm to the whole setting and it was my last evening in the
surreal island of Maafushi.
Maafushi may not have a lot of things to do apart from
snorkelling and half day tours. However, the charm of enjoying nature and
strolling through this idyllic island is sure to leave you gasping for more. If
you are looking to visit Maldives on a budget, Maafushi is the place.
- There are ferry services from Male to Maafushi. The ferry
takes about 1.5 hours and costs $3 per person. Alternately, you can take a speed
ferry by iCom tours which reaches in 45 minutes. The charges are $25 per person
and the frequency of the ferry is higher. There are also speed ferries directly from the
airport to Maafushi.
- Being a Muslim country, alcohol is prohibited across the
- Maafushi is a conservative island which has recently opened
itself to tourism. Please request before taking pictures of local residents.
- Beach wear is allowed only on Bikini beach and not anywhere
else across the island.
- Most of the offices and shops remain closed on Fridays. The
ferry services are also limited on Fridays.
- Most shops and restaurants accept both Maldivian Rufiya and U.S. Dollars.
There are regular flights from Bengaluru, Kochi,
Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai etc. to
Velana international airport, Hulhule island, Maldives. There are ferry and
speed ferry services to Maafushi. There is no public transportation within the island.
Food and Accommodation:
There are numerous cafés and restaurants across the island
which serves Maldivian, Asian, Indian and Continental cuisines. The island has
55-60 guest houses and hotels which offer budget and mid range options. I
stayed at Dream Lagoon guesthouse.