Visiting one of the Maldives’ local islands

Stuart Forster takes a boat to Huraa Island in North Male Atoll and experiences visiting one of the Maldives’ local islands.

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Bleached coral crunches under the soles of my sliders as I step along the beach on Huraa Island. Tiny pieces tinkle like glass breaking as I move towards the shoreline. The finger-long chunks of coral look like a cross between pitted, sun-dried bones and white-painted tree branches. A handful of twisted palm fronds lies scattered on the whitened coral.

Coral plays a significant role in attracting travellers to the Maldives. The country’s 26 atolls host nearly 200 species of hard corals. The coral reefs are part of a biodiverse ecosystem that supports more than 1,100 fish species plus many types of crustaceans and molluscs.

Bleached coral on a beach on Huraa Island in the Maldives
Bleached coral on a beach on Huraa Island in the Maldives.

Diving in the Maldives

Underwater visibility in the Maldives is exceptional for much of the year. Tropical sunshine means the seawater is a pleasant temperature to dive and snorkel in. Yet in 2016 a spike in seawater temperatures, a manifestation of the El Niño weather phenomenon, caused widespread coral bleaching.

Blacktip reef shark swimming among a shoal of fish in the Maldives
A blacktip reef shark swimming among a shoal of fish in the Maldives.

The Indian Ocean’s tidal flows bring a feast of plankton, explaining the presence of whale sharks and manta rays. Those creatures, plus the wealth of colourful reef fish, explain why the Maldives has long been regarded among the world’s best destinations for diving holidays.



Holidays in the Maldives

Over time, dead coral is transformed into white sand that feels pleasantly soft under bare feet. Beneath leaning coconut palms and clear blue skies, Maldivian beaches look idyllic. Images snapped during sunset strolls are ideal for envy-inducing posts on Instagram. No wonder so many couples head to the Maldives for honeymoons and romantic breaks. Rocking in hammocks, soaking up the sun, taking dips in the tropical water and dining together over good food count among the ways of passing time.

The first of the Maldives’ island resorts opened back in 1972. The ‘one island, one resort’ policy proved a winning formula. More than 130 have opened since.

Man and two women walking along a beach on an island resort in the Maldives
Man and two women walking along a beach on an island resort in the Maldives

Maldives island resorts

Those Maldivian resorts and private islands have become synonymous with luxury travel. Overwater villas, beachfront bungalows and architectural masterpieces with underwater rooms count among the array of upscale accommodation options. All-inclusive packages encompassing drinks and dining are commonplace.

A plate with the traditional Maldivian dish of mas huni, mild chicken curry and roshi flat bread plus an omelette
Breakfast served in the Maldives. The plate features chicken curry, omlette, roshi flat bread and mas huni (a dish made with tuna fish).

For travellers wishing to spend time together and enjoy long hours of sunshine, the Maldives’ island resorts are ideal. Serious scuba divers and snorkellers may prefer accommodation aboard boats and yachts that tour the best dive sites in the Maldives.



Yet the island resorts mean visiting tourists have limited contact with Maldivian people in their home environment. Being islands, visitors tend only have opportunities to meet those locals employed at the resorts they’re staying at and people working on inter-island transport.

As a traveller accustomed to independently making my way around the world, I enjoy interacting with local people and being exposed to the traditional culture and cuisine of destinations. Spending time on a so-called ‘local island’ makes that possible in the Maldives.

People walking on a street on Huraa Island in the Maldives
People walking on a street on Huraa Island in the Maldives.

Maldives on a budget

In 2009 it became possible to stay on islands permanently inhabited by Maldivian citizens. Around 200 of the Maldives 1,192 islands are inhabited.

They are known as local islands, to differentiate them from resort islands, visitors can expect a more grounded experience. Some of the local islands have hotels but guesthouses dominate accommodation listings.

That’s true here on Huraa Island where there’s just one four-star hotel, the 32-room Pearl of Sands Maldives on the island’s norther tip, plus a smattering of guesthouses. The hotel has a private beach for use by guests.



Islands in the Maldives

The Four Seasons Resort Maldives is across a strait off the island’s southern tip. I could probably swim the distance in a minute or two.

Beyond mangroves to the north is Kanifinolhu Island, the location of a Club Med resort.

Away from resort islands, Islamic values dominate everyday life. That means consumption of alcohol is forbidden on local islands. Visitors are expected to dress demurely away from demarcated ‘bikini beaches’. Reserved for foreigners, swimwear is permitted on bikini beaches.

My choice of a long-sleeved T-shirt and knee-length shorts meets expectations for modesty as I walk about the tiny island. A broad-brimmed hat helps shield me from the sun along with a lathering of factor 50 sun cream.

Tour guide discussing traditional construction methods on Huraa Island, one of the Maldlives' local islands.
Athuhar discussing traditional construction methods on Huraa Island, one of the Maldlives’ local islands.



Sun loungers on a sandy beach in the Maldives
Sun loungers on a sandy beach in the Maldives.

Geography of the Maldives

The country’s entire landmass measures just 298 square kilometres. That means the Maldives could fit into London five times over and still leave space.

Yet the atolls and islands are dispersed across an area of ocean measuring more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) from north to south.

I’m here on Huraa Island in the company of a guide named Athuhar. He’s not so much as flinching while walking barefoot on the coral.

A group of local youngsters kick a football about, laughing and chatting in the language of the Maldives, Dhivehi. One of the lads wears a yellow Borussia Dortmund shirt.

Athuhar picks a spot to chat under the shade of a banyan tree. Vines hang from the tree like twisted strings. Eventually they will implant themselves into the sandy earth by the waterfront and support the growing tree.

Tour guide on Huraa Island talking about a well and drinking water in the Maldives
Athuhar, my tour guide on Huraa Island, discussing drinking water in the Maldives by a well.

He explains that the tsunami of 2004 detrimentally affected Huraa Island’s groundwater supply. Consequently, locals collect rainwater to drink.

Pretty much all the food consumed here must be imported. Fish is not. After the tourism industry, fishing is the second largest industry in the Maldives. Coconuts dangle in bunches from palm trees.

Colourful wall on one of the Maldives local islands
A colourful wall on one of the Maldives local islands.

Building in the Maldives

Palm leaves used to be used to thatch roofs. Athuhar tells me that modern Maldivian homes tend to have metal roofing which results in them being warmer than older, traditionally built houses.

He points out a wall made from chunks of coral. Naturally abundant, traditionally people used it to construct their homes. The pieces are bound by a mortar made using coral burnt to a powder then stored in the ground.

Traditionally built coral wall of a home on Huraa Island in the Maldives
Wall made from coral on a house on Huraa Island in the Maldives.

As we walk through town we pause by a tiny burial ground surrounded by a wall that rises to the height of my knee. Interlaced geometric patterns are sculpted into the majority of the headstones. Four of the stones rise to a point, which denotes the grave of a male. Two are arched, signifying female graves.

Gravestones on Huraa Island in the Maldives
Gravestones on Huraa Island in the Maldives.

An unlocked bicycle leans by a yellow wall at the back of a house. I wish it was possible to leave a bicycle unlocked back at home and feel confident it would still be there when I returned. We stroll along the concrete-surfaced lane towards shops.

Locals mill about chatting with one another. They greet us and we head towards the island’s freshwater lake and football field.

Shops on Huraa Island, one of the Maldives local islands.
Shops on Huraa Island, one of the Maldives local islands.

By the harbour I spot nets on metal frames and wonder if they are for drying fish. Judging by the moored boats, many of the locals still make their living fishing.

It’s been pleasant to stroll around Huraa Island and gain impressions of everyday life in the Maldives.

treet on Huraa Island one of 200 local islands in the Maldives
Street on Huraa Island one of 200 local islands in the Maldives.

Map of Huraa Island

The map below shows the location of Huraa Island in North Male Atoll:

Google Map showing Huraa Island, one of the local islands in the Maldives.

Getting to Huraa Island

Ferries run to between Huraa Island and Male. The journey takes around an hour.

Travelling by speed boat cuts the journey time between Male and Huraa Island to around 25 minutes.

Local island tours are offered from luxury resorts.

Motor boat on the Indian Ocean in the Maldives
A motor boat on the Indian Ocean in the Maldives.

Cheap Maldives accommodation

Overnight accommodation in guesthouses on Huraa Island costs a fraction of staying at one of the Maldives island resorts. This type of accommodation opens the Maldives to budget travellers.

Search for rooms on Huraa Island via Booking.com:


Booking.com

Travel to the Maldives

I travelled to the Maldives on a Qatar Airways flight from London Heathrow Airport. British Airways is one of the airlines offering flights to and from Velana International Airport in the Maldives.

Tourists flying to the Maldives are required to take a PCR test to prove that they do not have COVID-19. The negative PCR certificate muset be issues less than 96 hours before the scheduled departure.

See the UK Government website for official Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice about travel to the Maldives.



Sightseeing boat tour in the North Male Atoll in the Maldives
Sightseeing boat tour in the North Male Atoll in the Maldives.

When to visit the Maldives

The most popular time of year to visit the Maldives is from December to March. That coincides with the northeast monsoon (November until April). It’s actually the Maldives’ driest season and an optimal time for scuba diving and snorkelling.

The southwest monsoon brings rains. The wettest months of year are typically July and August though weather patterns are proving increasingly difficult to predict. That may mean nothing more than short, heavy showers. Accommodation prices dip during the southwest monsoon season, meaning it can be a best time of year to visit the Maldives to get a value for money holiday at a luxury resort.

Coconut palms lean over a sandy beach on a sunny day in the Maldives
Coconut palms lean over a sandy beach on a sunny day in the Maldives.

Activities in the Maldives

A night fishing expedition presents opportunities to learn the traditional Maldivian technique of fishing with a reel. After spending a couple of hours at sea the catch is then grilled and served for dinner.

A fisherman holds up a fish caught using a line and reel on a night fishing expedition in the Maldives
A fisherman holds up a fish caught using a line and reel on a night fishing expedition in the Maldives.

Boat cruises are a way of viewing islands and seeing dolphins swimming alongside the prow of the boat.

Dolphin swimming at speed in the Indian Ocean in the Maldives
Dolphin swimming at speed in the Indian Ocean in the Maldives.

Night diving and drift dives are popular among experienced scuba divers. Many PADI-affiliated dive centres operate in the Maldives, meaning opportunities for beginners to learn and acquire Open Water certification.


Golf in the Maldives

Don’t bother heading to the Maldives if you’re a keen mountain climber and looking for high-altitude action. The country’s highest point stands just five metres above sea level.

The Maldivian landscape summits at the eighth tee of the nine-hole golf course on Villingi Island in Addu Atoll.

Did the golf course designers miss a trick? If a hole had been placed there instead of a tee it would have given golfers opportunities to recreate scenes from the top of Mount Everest after holing their putt. Planting the flag back into the hole could have become one of the Maldives’ iconic images.



Footstep in the sand on a Maldives island resort.
Footstep in the sand on a Maldives island resort…rather footsteps in a beach than in a bunker!

Books about the Maldives

Planning a holiday? You may find the following books useful:

A.S. Ryanskiy’s Coral Reefs Maldives:

The Lonely Planet Maldives guidebook:

 

Shaai Sattar’s Cook Maldives featuring traditional Maldivian recipes:

Further information

Looking for more information about the Maldives? Take a look at the Visit Maldives website.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is a travel writer based in North East England. An award-winning travel writer, his work has been published by national newspapers, travel magazines and leading travel websites.

Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading about visiting one of the Maldives local islands. Interested in visiting the Maldives? You may enjoy this post about Bandos Maldives resort in the Maldives.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

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10 Comments

  • Really interesting to learn more about the local islands. I’d love to go diving one day in the Maldives!

    • Go Eat Do

      May 10, 2021 at 15:45 Reply

      After several months of going nowhere I’d jump at an opportunity to pull on my scuba gear again in the Maldives.

  • Steve @ weigh the suitcase

    May 10, 2021 at 08:21 Reply

    Like most, the Maldives is on my bucket list. Informative post!

    • Go Eat Do

      May 10, 2021 at 15:43 Reply

      I’d love to return to spend more time diving. The visibility of the sea water and range of marine life was outstanding.

  • Ferne Arfin

    May 15, 2021 at 22:13 Reply

    It looks idyllic. I would love to go. Just wondering, I don’t dive – is it worthwhile snorkeling? Can you see much that way?

    • Go Eat Do

      May 20, 2021 at 13:13 Reply

      The snorkelling is excellent and can be a tremendous way of viewing whale sharks and manta rays in the Maldives.

  • Kacie Morgan

    May 25, 2021 at 13:06 Reply

    On a rainy day like today, this made for very dreamy reading! I’m fascinated by the wall that was built from old coral. I’d love to see the Maldives one day.

    • Go Eat Do

      June 3, 2021 at 12:58 Reply

      Sounds like it wouldn’t take much to corral you into heading to the Maldives. Wasn’t that terrible punning!

  • The Maldives are right at the top of my bucket list! This sounds like such an incredible place, have pinned to make sure I remember to come back to your post 🙂

    • Go Eat Do

      June 3, 2021 at 12:56 Reply

      Thanks for pinning on Pinterest. As a destination for a beach holiday with access to excellent snorkelling and scuba diving the Maldives is up the with the best in the world.

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