Maldives Island Hopping – Don’t Do It!
Hey Everyone! We are island hopping in the Maldives and I want to tell you – Don’t do it! Why not? Read on and see why I suggest picking an island and sticking with it.
Okay, this is a long story. In 2020, the hospitality industry experienced a big downturn and there were many deals to be had. We learned about a nice deal in the Maldives – one week at a resort for around $1,000. This voucher was usable until the end of 2022. Wow, I thought the Maldives was only for rich people. Anyway, Mrs. RB40 was planning to take a sabbatical in 2022 so the timing should work out. At least, that’s what I thought. Unfortunately, the resort was booked solid by the time we finished making plans for our summer vacation. Oh well, we got a full refund. Meanwhile, I found out that the Maldives is now friendly to backpackers. There are guest houses and small hotels on many local islands. You don’t need to stay in a resort if you don’t want to. There are also ferries that will take you to/from various islands.
Don’t Island Hop
So our plan was to visit a couple of local islands and then go stay at a resort for a few days. That sounds reasonable, right? Unfortunately, this is more difficult than I thought. The transportation cost can be quite expensive in the Maldives. The only cheap option is to use the public ferry system which has a hub in Male. If you want to go to a different atoll, you probably need to go to Male to catch a seaplane or a ferry. Another option is to book a private speedboat, but that can get expensive quickly or not available at all.
I wanted to visit Dhigurah, a local island with a really nice beach. However, that wasn’t possible without an additional trip to Male. So I settled for Maafushi instead. Anyway, this was the final plan.
- 4 nights in Fulidhoo, a small local island with a relaxed vibe.
- 3 nights in Maafushi, a local island with a lot of tourists. This island is the tourism hub for non-resort travel.
- 4 nights in Kandooma. This resort island is actually right next to Maafushi.
The transfer was a lot simpler this way.
Actually, let me modify my statement a bit. Don’t island hop in the low season. The ocean is unpredictable and a boat ride can be canceled if the weather is bad. We landed in Male and found out that our boat ride to Fulidhoo was canceled. So we had to find a hotel near the airport to stay for one night and hope for better weather the next day. It turned out okay. We explored the Hulhumale area a bit and enjoyed the food there.
The next morning, we got a speed boat ride to Fulidhoo. It was okay for a while, but the sea was pretty rough when we crossed the deep sea between the atolls. Now, I see why there are no boats between Fulidhoo and Dhigurah. The distance in the open sea is 5-6 times longer than crossing the channel. Luckily, we crossed Dhigurah off our list so we didn’t have to brave that route.
Another reason why you shouldn’t island hop is that the boat rides can get expensive quickly. Our shared speed boat ride from Male to Fulidhoo was $40 each, $120 for three people. A private speed boat ride can cost anywhere from $300 to $500, from what I read. Or you could take a seaplane to your resort for $300 to $500 per person. The cost of multiple transfers can rack up pretty quickly. Also, I wouldn’t want to spend any more time than necessary in a speed boat. No more boat rides for us after this trip. Fortunately, we picked up some motion sickness pills in Thailand so we held it together.
The ocean is probably calmer in the high season so maybe island hopping would be better then.
Ok, on to our islands hopping trip.
We stayed one night in Hulhumale because our ride was canceled due to bad weather. I booked us a cheap place ($65) near the airport and explore Hulhumale a bit. There were many hotels in Hulhumale. I guess travelers frequently stay there for one night when they arrive or depart. We walked around on the beach and tried a couple of restaurants. For a snack, we had some very nice dumplings at Faloodas & Momos. And for dinner, we went to Naga, an Indian restaurant right next door to F&M. Both served great food. I was impressed that they made such good Momos and butter chicken in the Maldives. Unfortunately, the food on the next island didn’t measure up.
The cheap hotel was okay. The beds were not very comfortable, but it was just one night. The next day, we got on a speed boat at 9 am and went to Fulidhoo.
Fulidhoo was great. It’s a small local island with about 500 residents. It is a beautiful and peaceful island. I highly recommend Fulidhoo if you enjoy a relaxing pace. Here are the highlights of the island.
- A sandbank trip. It’s just a little sandbar in the ocean in the Vaavu atoll, the same as Fulidhoo. It took us about 20 minutes to get there with calm waters. We got the sandbank to ourselves for about half an hour. It was great. Then a big tour group showed up with their big boom box. After a little while, a rain storm blew through offshore so we had to wait a while until the sea calmed down a bit. The ride back took 30 minutes because we had to go slow due to the rough sea. This was our big excursion and it cost $50 each.
- Sting rays and nurse sharks at the pier. The rays and sharks show up around 7 pm to eat the local fishermen’s cast-offs. They gut their fish at the beach and throw the bones to them. This experience was really neat. I went to pet the nurse sharks and rays, but be careful. They can and do bite. I saw some tour groups stop by in the morning. They saw a few rays, but it was way better in the evening. We really enjoyed the experience.
- Beaches. The beaches are pretty nice on Fulidhoo. The sand was super fluffy and soft. However, the beaches are artificial. The government is building seawalls to create and extend the beaches. That’s cheating, right? Anyway, we enjoyed the beach there because it wasn’t very crowded.
- Relaxed fishing village vibe. Fulidhoo was very relaxing. There were only a few tourists around and the locals were friendly. It is a place where everyone knows everyone else. It’s relaxing.
- Culture. Moosa, the guest house owner, told us a lot about the island. He used to be the mayor and limited the height of the buildings to 4 stories. They get their water from a well. And he told us about his family and the local lifestyle. It was nice to learn a bit more about the Maldives.
- Mosquitos. The mosquitos were ferocious on Fulidhoo. We doused ourselves in repellant before leaving the guest house and still got bit many times. I couldn’t even see or feel these mosquitoes. They were super sneaky. RB40Jr refused to come out of the room on our last day because he got bitten so many times.
- Food. Only a few restaurants were open when we visited. We ate at the Dream Hut every day. The dishes were basic, but good enough. Oh, some dishes were not as expected. I ordered “fried chicken” and got a spicy stir-fried dish. Mrs. RB40 ordered fish & chips and the fish was fried tuna, not really the right fish for that dish. But anyway, some pictures and comments below.
Bami Goreng – 2 packs of instant noodles? It was actually pretty darn good. This cost $6. I guess that’s reasonable for the Maldives. It’s just something that a college student would make.
Chicken sub sandwich. This became RB40Jr’s go-to Maldivian meal.
Maldivian breakfast. The dish, mas huni, contained a mixture of fresh coconut, tuna, lime, and salt. You roll it up in a roshi. We also had simple omelets and fresh fruit. This was the best food we had on Fulidhoo. Breakfast was included at our guest house.
So 3 days were plenty on Fulidhoo. We were ready to move on because of the mosquitos. Oh, the accommodation at our guest house was pretty basic, 2 stars would be generous. However, the owner was very hospitable. Moosa helped us book the boat rides and took us on the excursion to the sandbank. He was very helpful with everything. I highly recommend the Ihaa Lodge if you don’t mind basic accommodation. Bring your own toiletries (shampoo, soap)!
After 3 nights at Fulidhoo, we took the inter-atoll ferry to Maafushi. The slow boat took 90 minutes, but we liked it a lot more than the speed boat (45 minutes to Maafushi). The ferry was a big boat and the ride was very smooth. The ocean was pretty calm that morning too. Anyway, we enjoyed the easy ride from Fulidhoo to Maafushi.
- Comfortable hotel. I splurged for an ocean view room in Maafushi, $130/night. It was well worth it! By this point, we were very tired of travel and excursions. We spent a lot of time in this air-conditioned room. The ocean view made for a nice stay.
- Activities and excursions. You can sign up for many activities and excursions on Maafushi. Parasailing, snorkeling, fishing, resort day trip, and much more. From what I understand, it is a lot cheaper to arrange these on Maafushi than on the resort islands. We were too lazy to do anything more than swimming at the beach, though.
- Restaurants and convenient stores. There were many restaurants on Maafushi, but we didn’t enjoy the food much. See why below.
- Crowded. There were a lot more tourists on Maafushi than on Fulidhoo. We enjoyed the slow, relaxed vibe on Fulidhoo much more than the hustle and bustle of Maafushi.
- Party time. Many businesses cranked up bass-heavy music days and nights. It was pretty annoying, dare I say – torturous… I’m too old for these party islands.
- Flies. There were so many flies on Maafushi! When we went to a restaurant, we had to eat with one hand and use the other to wave the flies off. They were relentless. You just have to eat as fast as you can and leave. It was extremely annoying. On the last day, we resorted to getting takeout to eat in our hotel room. The other workaround is to eat late, after 8 pm. Most of the flies disappeared at night. (You can see the flies at the beginning of the video below. It was just 7 am and they already started coming out.)
Anyway, we didn’t do much on Maafushi. We had been traveling for almost 8 weeks by then and we really needed to take a break.
Alright! Our last destination was Kandooma. This was a Holiday Inn resort. I used all my points to book 4 nights for us. The resort was just a 10-minute boat ride from Maafushi so it was an easy ride. I booked us transport so we didn’t have to pay the exuberant fees the resort charges. They charge $229 per person for a round-trip speedboat ride to/from the airport. I paid $200 total so I’m happy about that. There are some ways to get 50% off the transfer so contact the resort if you want to find out more.
Kandooma was really nice and family-friendly. We saw many families with small children here. You can drop the kids off at the kid club and go off on your adventures. The pool was very kid friendly and there are plenty of guards to keep an eye on everyone. Snorkeling trips and kayaks were also complimentary. There are all sorts of activities you can book – a surfing lesson, a photo session, massages, parasailing, fishing excursion, etc… The price is about double what you would pay on a local island.
- Family-friendly. Kandooma had a nice relaxed family-friendly atmosphere. Even RB40Jr relaxed a bit and enjoyed himself. He was pretty grumpy on the previous islands.
- Surfing. Nice surf if you’re into that. A lot of surfers were here.
- Nice pool. RB40 enjoyed the pool immensely. It was a large pool and there were different sections for various groups. There were many areas to relax around the pool too.
- Nice beaches. There are a few beaches on Kandooma. They were all pretty nice.
- House reef. The snorkeling was pretty good at the house reef. There were many fishes and we saw a big stingray. The guard told us that reef sharks show up occasionally, but we didn’t see them.
- Food. The food was better than on the previous islands, but much more expensive. An “a la cart” meal cost around $40 each after tax and service charge. Fortunately, kids 12 and under can eat for free from the kid’s menu. Alternatively, you could go for the buffet for $69 each or buy meal plans for a bit less than that. We went with the ala cart option. It was already plenty of food for us. We don’t like buffets anymore. That’s just too much food.
The Australian ribeye was too thin. ($43 after tax and service charge) I ordered it medium, but it was pretty much well done. It’s hard to cook when a steak is that thin. Still pretty good. The lamb chops were better.
Fisherman’s platter for 2. ($80 after tax and service charge) This was quite delicious. There were grilled squids, mussels, tuna, crabs, and prawns. This was plenty of food for two people.
Tandori pizza. ($35 after tax and service charge) The pizza was okay, not great. The tandoori chicken didn’t work well on a pizza for some reason. The burger and fries were free. RB40Jr ordered them from the kid’s menu.
- Flies and mosquitoes. There were some flies and mosquitoes, but much fewer than on the local islands. We still got bit, though.
- Construction on Garidhoo. There are a couple of ongoing construction projects on Garidhoo, a local island located a mere 50 yards away. Unfortunately, that ruined our beach view.
All in all, we enjoyed staying in Kandooma the most. It was very pleasant. I liked the Fulidhoo and Maafushi too, but there were quite a few rough edges to them.
How much it cost to visit the Maldives for 11 days
All right, we spent less than $3,000 total on our 11 days trip to the Maldives. That isn’t too bad. We saved quite a bit by visiting the local islands before going to the resort. We also saved by using points and flying from Thailand. A roundtrip ticket from Portland to Male cost around $1,300 each. That’s already more than our total spending.
Bye bye Maldives
We enjoyed visiting the Maldives tremendously, but 11 days was probably too long. I liked visiting the local islands and seeing how the Maldivians really live. However, the resort was the highlight of our Maldives trip. It was just a lot more comfortable. I guess I’m getting too old to do the backpacking thing anymore. RB40Jr enjoyed the resort as well. He had too many problems with the insects on the local islands. All in all, I recommend visiting just one or two islands in the rainy season. The weather is unpredictable and the transfers can be canceled at any time. Speed boat and seaplane rides can get very expensive as well. Island hopping might be better in the high season, but then it’ll be more difficult to book a place and you’ll pay high-season pricing. Anyway, we are ready to go home. Summer is over and RB40Jr has to get back to school. Yay!
Did you have a good summer? I think we’ll stay home for the next few summers. 9 weeks of traveling took a lot out of us.
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