Yes. You read it right. Maldives can be more than a honeymoon spot and expensive resorts. It can also be a family vacation spot. A water adventurer’s fantasy land. A solace from the concrete jungle and rat race.
It can be expensive. But it can also be affordable. It can be quiet. You can choose to make it adventurous with their range of water activities. You can stay in the resort islands. Or the equally beautiful local islands. Catch a ride on the sea-plane. Or the local ferries. Maldives has got a lot to offer if you are looking at the right places.
The plan to visit Maldives was initiated by my father, who was visiting us in Bangalore. He saw an ad and wanted to visit the island. I suspect he was even more inspired after seeing the senior Bachchan celebrating his birthday in Maldives. Sensing his enthusiasm, we decided to give it a go and tried to make the most out of a limited budget. Though we knew it was not going to be an easy task.
We booked our flight tickets on the decided weekend. There is no need of VISA for Indians (but each visitor must have a passport valid for more than six months). So that’s a relief. We planned for 4 days and 3 nights. Since we decided on a budget, we looked for hotels (not resorts) which will provide us the view of the beach or be located on a beautiful island without burning a hole in our pockets. We got an awesome deal for a hotel in Dhiffushi, a local island on Kaafu Atoll where we booked rooms for 2 nights. Since we had planned to arrive at Male on a Friday, an off-day for Maldives and local ferries don’t operate to Dhiffushi, we decided to spend the first night in Hulhumale and booked accordingly.
I also began my research on what activities can be done to keep us entertained in Maldives. Suggestions from fellow travelers helped a lot. We came up with a variety of options but since we were travelling with my father, we decided to skip the water sports. But I got enough to fit our itinerary.
TRAVEL DATES: 20TH OCTOBER – 23RD OCTOBER 2017
With the most stunning aerial views, we landed at the Velana International Airport, Maldives in the morning via Colombo from Bangalore (3 hours journey with 2.5 hours layover). It was 8:15 AM and after enquiring about sea-planes (a surprise for my dad which did not materialize sadly in the end), we proceeded to the bus stop to catch the bus to Hulhumale, which ply after every half an hour. Having missed one by a few minutes, we waited patiently for the next one while being amazed by the turquoise colour of the sea, that surrounded the little airport.
Photo Copyrights – Priyam Kakoti Bora (@nookandcorners)
The ride to Hulhumale was smooth and beautiful. The bus fare was 4 USD for the three of us. We decided not to take local SIMs and were a bit worried when the bus driver and conductor were not sure where we should get down. However, we got down at the right stop with our hotel being within walking distance and we could hear the sea waves crashing against the Hulhumale beach. Sleep-deprived, we just wanted to get in to our rooms at our Hotel G10 Beach Inn and sleep for a few hours before our sunset cruise. Though it is named so, we could not see the beach from the hotel as it was in another lane (there are many other hotels overlooking the beach if you are willing to pay a higher price) but all we needed was a comfortable bed to lie down and a clean bathroom (which it had and I am satisfied).
We planned a Sandbank & Sunset Cruise with Secret Paradise (from 2 PM – 6:30 PM; 110 USD per head) and dragged ourselves for lunch in the bright and sunny afternoon. We saw some shops and restaurants near the bus stop and thought it will be a good place to check out. They are run by Bangladeshi immigrants and we had a sumptuous lunch of rice, dal and chicken. Our guide from Secret Paradise, UB Waseem was waiting for us at the hotel reception and we rushed to begin our first tour of Maldives. I kept my fingers crossed hoping that we be able to spot dolphins as Waseem warned us they are sometimes very difficult to find. After an hour of the speedboat ride from Hulhumale jetty, we arrived at a sandbank. Sandbanks are small, temporary islands in the middle of the sea. Walking on it barefoot felt like being on soft sand and the beautiful 360 degree view made me forget everything.
Photo Copyrights – Priyam Kakoti Bora (@nookandcorners)
Our guide also arranged for huge umbrellas so that we can sit for a while and enjoy our time. I walked around, trying to soak in the beauty of the sea through my camera while my dad sat under the umbrella. Waseem and his team, along with my husband, Chandrabhan went snorkelling. I have a fear of drowning and hence was not dressed for it but Chandrabhan still swears by the beauty of the corals and fish in such low depth. Just have a look at the various shades of blue.
We spent a lovely half an hour at the sandbank and now proceeded to see the dolphins, where they are usually spotted. While we were on the way, Waseem and his team got excited as they could spot Manta Rays swimming beneath and told us how they are a very rare sight. As Waseem dipped his waterproof iPhone in the water to record the Manta Rays, I wished I could do the same with my humble Android phone too. But we could see them with our naked eyes (the water being so clear) and I could take videos of them swimming around our boat. I felt so lucky to have spotted those majestic creatures, and unexpectedly too.
After a while, we could see a pod of Dolphins swimming behind our boat and showing us their jumping skills. The last time I have seen Dolphins were in Phuket but that was a Dolphin show. Seeing them in the open now with their somersaults, I was squeaking like an excited child. The first day in Maldives has been a lucky one. I can’t thank Ruth and Waseem from Secret Paradise enough for organizing this wonderful tour on a holiday (being a Friday).
We retired for the night after a hearty dinner at a local Maldivian restaurant.
As the setting sun colored the sky in the horizon, I felt blessed and realized again how traveling opens a world of possibilities and how it changes a bit of me, every time.
Another surprise for Dad since we could not scuba-dive, we booked a Submarine Tour with Whale Submarine. There is no road from Hulhumale to Male and the only means of transportation is through the sea. Local ferries are available and we booked a cab through the hotel to go to the Hulhumale Jetty around 9 AM. It takes only half an hour by ferry and cost us 2 USD for the three tickets. Just when we were in the middle of the journey, Chandrabhan realized that he left his mobile in the hotel. On the other hand, we needed to reach the Jetty No. 2 (near President Jetty) at Male, by 10:15 AM, from where we would be picked up on a boat to the submarine. It is not possible to return and be back for the submarine within that short time frame. Also, our ride to Dhiffushi was scheduled at 2:30 PM (only once during the day), which we could not afford to miss. As soon as we got off the ferry, we asked a person (who worked in the terminal) where we can call the hotel and confirm. The guy readily got us his phone and connected us to the hotel. We told the hotel to keep it until we come back for it and we set off to find Jetty No. 2. Around 10 AM, an employee from Whale Submarine came to the spot and informed us that the tour is postponed by an hour. Even though it was a very tight time frame, Chandrabhan rushed off to the Hulhumale Jetty to catch the ferry and get his mobile back. As it was very sunny, I and my dad decided to pass the time in a nearby café. We kept hoping that Chandrabhan will be back in time.
Around 11 AM, a bit of a crowd gathered in the Jetty for the submarine tour. I was looking towards the Hulhumale Jetty, expecting Chandrabhan to turn up any moment. Even though I was a bit relieved that the pickup for the submarine had not started, I was also worried about missing out the ferry to Dhiffushi. Finally, the boarding began and I could see Chandrabhan running towards us. The poor guy nearly bust his lungs out as he did not have a minute to spare. Meanwhile, I could breathe now that we could safely continue with the submarine tour.
The boat took us around 20 minutes to reach the diving point and after paying the fee (booking should be done earlier; 75 USD per person), we were guided to board the submarine. It can carry a maximum of 50 passengers and reach depths up to 150 metres though it normally goes and stays between 10 m – 40 m where the coral growth and fish life are abundant. The operator threw bits and pieces of food to lure the fishes towards the submarine and a diver also appeared with a disgruntled turtle which he showed off in every window. The same turtle was swimming freely moments ago and I wished it had not been forcefully carried around by the diver. Other than that, the corals were amazing and we could spot variety of fish life. Due to the submarine windows (same plight in flight windows), I could not take clearer pictures but my dad enjoyed the show. Mission accomplished.
After 45 minutes, we came out of the submarine and headed back to the Jetty. Losing no time, we took a cab and rushed off to Villingili terminal to catch our ride to Dhiffushi island. We bought our tickets (22 MVR per head), freshened up in the washrooms and boarded the ferry. It was on time and we started the journey towards our hotel island, where we will spend the next two nights. The ferry stopped on 3 more local islands on the way before it reached our destination after 4 hours. We saw some beautiful resorts on the way and a few adventurists kite-surfing in the sea. It made us a bit bored but my enthusiasm sprouted back as soon as I saw a couple of dolphins swimming by. I was also anxious about the type of hotel we had booked (but my fears were put to rest as soon as I saw the view of the sea from our room).
The hotel manager came to receive us at the ferry terminal and helped in getting our luggage to the hotel. The beach looked pristine with its white sand and the aquamarine waters. We were eager to check in to our rooms and rest for the night. Our room was downstairs and it had a huge door leading to the sea-side (the beach was a bit away) and they had tables/chairs outside where one can just sit and enjoy the view. I was very happy that we found Crown Beach Hotel at a price, suitable to our budget and with a view that Maldives is all about.
After an amazing Maldivian dinner at the hotel, we tucked in with the promise to wake up early for the views.
Excited to soak in the view and get some photos in the golden hour, I woke up at 6 AM but the sun was almost up. I woke up Dad and Chandrabhan and quickly freshened up to go and see the beach before it is sunny and crowded. While Dad grabbed a beach chair outside the hotel with a cup of tea, I and Chandrabhan hurried to the beach area. The sand, made up of shells kept sinking in under our weight and it was getting riskier to get in deeper waters. The sun was blinding us and we came back to our hotel, to enjoy our breakfast. Other people in the hotels had not woken up and we three grabbed a beach chair each and the best spot (shaded, of course and windy) overlooking the sea. Since we have been travelling like crazy the past two days, we decided to relax today. The view was just perfect and my boys slept while I tried to take the photo of a bird waiting patiently to capture his food.
For our lunch, Dad suggested whether we try out another place to eat in the hotel. We turned to Google and after much debate (there are only a few though), we decided to check out Faruma restaurant, which had good reviews. I was impressed with the ambience and what they have done with the small space. The food was amazing, the service was excellent and all of it, at a fair price. We decided to come back for Dinner again at night and even placed our order beforehand. On the way back, we took the sea side route. It looked so amazing with the slanted coconut trees towards the sea. Reminded me of those landscapes I used to draw in my childhood.
As decided in my Sri Lanka trip, I had packed a saree and planned with Chandrabhan to come back again to this side to take some photos in the evening. When it was time, I was a bit unsure about wearing it and flaunting in the local island but Dad and Chandrabhan encouraged me to try it out since I brought it all the way. I wore my mom’s saree, which I loved so much on her. It was one of her classy, elegant sarees that used to amaze me every time she used to drape it around her. I got ready and we set out for the photo-shoot. We tried outside our hotel and in the beach. I am not a model nor is Chandrabhan a photographer (the passion for photography is mine actually). We tried various spots but I was not happy with the shots taken by Chandrabhan and ended up returning to hotel after a silly argument (I did get a good photo amidst the pile though). When everything cooled down after a few minutes, we sat outside and allowed us to be carried away by the beautiful sunset.
When it was time, we found our way again to Faruma Restaurant and had a scrumptious meal with a huge fish and other Maldivian delicacies.
Last day in Dhiffushi and we’d booked a speedboat (25 USD per head) for our return as no local ferries were available that day and we did not want to travel 4 hours again. It was at 7 AM and we bid adieu to the hotel after the delicious breakfast. Our flight was in the evening and we decided to spend the day sightseeing in Male. Though the boat would have taken us to Male, we decided to get down at airport terminal as we wanted to store our luggage for the day. It turned out to be quite expensive (6 USD per bag) but we had no choice either. We left our bags in storage and took the local ferry to Male (10 MVR per head) with a guidebook that we collected at the airport. I marked out the spots that we can visit on the way. Male being 1.7 km in length and 1 km in terms of width, most of the tourist places were covered within an hour. It was a hot, sunny day and we all got tired with a whole day ahead of us.
Photo Copyrights – Priyam Kakoti Bora (@nookandcorners)
We decided to visit Villimale/ Villingili since it is known to be the quieter 5th ward of Male and provided us the respite from the heat. We took a cab to Villingili terminal and took a local ferry (9 MVR per head) to the island, which was just 15 minutes ride away. The island, once a resort and a prison, was developed to assist the ever-growing population of Male. Right from the moment I got down from the ferry, I totally fell in love with its serenity and quietude. The island has uniquely adopted an administrative policy of the restriction of personal use of motorised vehicle, which has made the ward quieter and the air cleaner. We saw only a handful of people with vehicle and that too with eco-friendly ones.
We stopped on the first shop outside the ferry terminal and had fresh coconut water to quench our thirsts. The people were friendly and the streets were well-maintained with trees all around. We explored the island on foot, rested near the beach (the only one I saw with waves) and finally found a place with a decent meal at a decent price. Dad and Chandrabhan know Bengali and they conversed with the waiters of the restaurant, who were mostly Bangladeshi immigrants. We spent the entire afternoon lazily walking around the island, checking out the cute little houses and shops on the way before we took a ferry back to Male and then another one to the Airport.
TOTAL EXPENDITURE ON OUR TRIP: 1,24,000 INR (for 3 adults including flights and accommodation)
Maldives has a non-convertible currency and USD is accepted as legal tender (exchange rate varied from 14-16 Maldivian Rufiya). Carry USD as much as you would require with you for the trip as the local islands won’t have ATMs.
Respect the local’s way of life and religion. Maldives is a 100% Islamic nation.
Comfortable but not too revealing style of clothing is recommended.
Avoid causing any offence and unconsciously provoking unwanted attention from male islanders.
Friday is an official holiday of the week. Hence, most shops and institutions remain closed.
If you are an expert surfer, you can try out Villingili as it also has an excellent right-hand surf break.
Dhiffushi had a diving school offering courses starting from 70 USD and shops dealing with water-sports activities from 50 USD onwards.
Since all the islands in Maldives are small, the cab charges 2 USD or 30 MVR wherever you go.
Note: All my photographs are copyrighted with all rights reserved. Please do not download/use my work and never for any commercial use without contacting me in advance for purchase or licensing rights.