What can you expect when visiting local islands in the Maldives? So far I have loved visiting local islands. They are cheap, authentic and some of the best places to visit in the Maldives. Resorts have many advantages but they are not the real Maldives. Local islands are full of life, families, cats, beautiful beaches, greenery and great Maldivian food.
Local People in the Maldives
In my experience, the locals are friendly, honest and very welcoming to tourists. I believe many Maldivians are happy to meet tourists who are interested in their culture and visiting the authentic Maldives, rather than just staying at an expensive resort. The local language is Dhivehi, which has a beautiful and unusual script, but most Maldivians speak excellent English, particularly the younger generation so it’s very easy to travel around and to find people who will help you.
Religion in the Maldives
The local population is Muslim (by law) and therefore tourists, male and female, are expected to respect Islamic customs like covering shoulders and knees, even when swimming. Following Islamic law, all local islands are dry and you will not be able to purchase or drink alcohol.
Alcohol in the Maldives
Tourists are only able to drink and purchase alcohol at resort islands. Alcohol is forbidden in all local islands in the Maldives. It is also not permitted to bring any alcohol into the country.
Dress Code in the Maldives – Local Islands
My first question when moving to the Maldives was what to wear when visiting local islands. In order to respect local customs, it is best for men and women to cover shoulders and knees when visiting or staying on local islands. In my experience, lots of local islands seem very relaxed about this rule and I have felt comfortable showing my shoulders in islands like Fuvahmulah where locals also have the freedom to bare some skin.
Can I wear a bikini on local islands?
Many local islands have recently opened up “bikini beach” areas which means that you can wear bikinis or swimsuits on the beach. It is only for this specific area on the island though so pack cover ups for walking to and from the beach. Some more touristy islands like Maafushi local island don’t mind people wearing shorts to the beach.
What are the differences between staying in a resort and staying on a local island?
The number one difference, in my opinion, is that in a resort you can drink alcohol and wear bikinis whereas local islands are dry and bikinis are only acceptable in designated areas such as “bikini beaches”. Local islands will have a slower pace of island life and a relaxed attitude to customer service.
Drinking alcohol on local islands
Alcohol is forbidden by law on local islands and therefore you will only be able to find non-alcoholic beer sold on these islands. If you are looking for a party island in the Maldives, then I recommend staying in a resort island where alcohol is allowed and there are bars. Alternatively, you could stay on a local island and consider spending an evening at a resort to enjoy a sunset cocktail. Many resorts will offer day passes or you can hire a boat to take you there for an evening dinner and drinks. You are not allowed to bring alcohol into the Maldives or bring from resort islands to local islands.
Snorkelling trips on local islands
Snorkelling trips on local islands are much more reasonably priced than on resort islands. We paid around $20 per person for a half day of snorkelling which included three different snorkelling sites and a sandbank stop. The cost of excursions like dolphin spotting will also be much cheaper on a local island than at a resort. Recently, I saw the cost of a dolphin cruise as advertised at $10 per person. Read here for more information about snorkelling with mantas in the Maldives.
Local Island Prices
Guesthouses on local islands are the best place to stay in the Maldives when on a budget. This can help keep the cost of your Maldives trip cheap. Guesthouses can start from $50 a night per room upwards and when eating in local restaurants, dinner can cost as little as $5 per meal. Consider staying in a guesthouse and book via booking.com to compare guesthouse prices and facilities.
Island Hopping in the Maldives
Local islands are well connected with public ferries, speedboats and private speedboats all which mean it is very easy to travel between local islands and to travel cheaply. Staying in a resort means you rely upon resort speedboats to take you there which is often a significant additional cost.
Where to stay in the Maldives?
Local islands that welcome tourism have a range of budget guesthouses and it completely depends on how developed the island is for tourism. Some islands may only offer rooms for rent, while others have hotels and guesthouses. I usually compare prices on booking.com and/or consider contacting the guesthouse. Calling hotels is usually more effective than emailing in my experience.
What currency can I use on local islands?
Both US dollars and Maldivian Rufiya are accepted on local islands. Bear in mind if you use US dollars in local shops then you are likely to receive Maldivian Rufiya as change.
Cash or Credit Cards
For local islands it is definitely better to have cash to pay for things. Card machines are not always reliable and most guesthouses will have to charge an extra credit/debit card fee because of the bank (even when paying with a Maldivian card). Smaller shops in Male or on local islands may also only accept Maldivian Rufiya so I recommend having some small change
Local Island Day Trips
Even when staying in a resort, you can visit a local island as a day trip. Some resorts offer guided tours to nearby local islands. Tourists could also consider splitting the trip between a resort and a local island to experience both sides of the Maldives.
Most places in the Maldives use the English three pin plug. Resorts often provide adapters whereas local island guesthouses may not.
Visas for the Maldives
Most nationalities will be granted a 30 day on arrival tourist visa. Check on your government website to confirm this.
What to not bring into the Maldives
Bringing alcohol into the Maldives is forbidden as is bringing in pork products and pornography.
Marine Life in the Maldives
The underwater world in the Maldives is incredible making it one of the best countries for snorkelling and scuba diving. (Read this post for my favourite island for diving and the best diving in the Maldives!). You can see manta rays, whale sharks, tiger sharks, turtles and much more marine life when visiting the Maldives. For specific information about snorkelling with manta rays, see here.
Diving Local Islands
Diving on local islands is the best budget scuba diving in the Maldives. Resort dive centres can cost from $100+ for one dive whereas local island prices are approximately $40 a dive. From an appearance perspective, local dive centres may not look as swish as the resort dive centres and the equipment may not be as brand new. However, I have always felt safe when diving with local centres and I have found the locals to be extremely knowledgeable and professional dive guides.
Local Island Wildlife
While staying in local island be aware that there will be more mosquitoes than at resort islands as resorts fog regularly and local islands do not. Take insect repellent. Harmless snakes, geckos, mice, rats and lizards may also be seen on local islands but can also be found in resorts. Resorts will have a team of pest controllers to deal with any unwanted insects or wildlife whereas on local islands do not expect people to run around after you because of a gecko on the wall!
Mosquitoes in the Maldives
Mosquitoes are abundant on local islands and I therefore recommend purchasing insect repellent (I use DEET 50% which you can buy from Amazon here) as the insect spray available from local shops in the Maldives is not particularly strong (only about 5% DEET). The Maldives is not malarial, however there are cases of dengue fever and therefore I recommend covering your shoulders and legs in the evening and use insect spray, particularly on local islands.
Unmarried Couples in the Maldives
So far on local islands I have not experienced any problems with staying as an unmarried couple. This is never a problem if both guests are foreigners. However one Maldivian and one foreigner of the opposite sex can cause problems as technically this is frowned upon and one hotel that I am aware of forced a mixed nationality (Maldivian and foreigner) couple to pay for two rooms even though they shared one room. This seems to be very rare and most places I have stayed and heard of respect the freedom of their guests.
Local Food in the Maldives
Most Maldivian food consists of tuna and other fish like reef fish. These are often mixed with rice and/or chappatis. My personal favourite is a Maldivian take on a Sri Lankan dish called Kottu Roshi. Local restaurants can have a very relaxed attitude to customer service and I have waited up to two hours for dinner before! (restaurants in Fuvahmulah!) Therefore when visiting local restaurants, bring along patience and a sense of humour and also consider going to a restaurant before you get too hungry! Vegetarian food is not very common, however most restaurants will still cook vegetarian dishes on request. Make it clear that vegetarian means no fish and no meat when ordering (and this may need to be repeated several times to make sure!). Many local restaurants still use plastic straws (resorts tend to be more eco-friendly) so to travel responsibly make sure you say “no straw” when ordering drinks. Many drinks like Coca-cola are sold on local islands in plastic bottles instead of cans so I always make sure to ask before ordering to reduce my plastic consumption. I always take a refillable water bottle to fill up from like these metal ones from Amazon.
Best Local Islands in the Maldives
(that I have visited so far) include:
Fuvahmulah – read here for the best diving in the Maldives
Gulhi – most beautiful beach on a local island
Maafushi – best party island in the Maldives
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Where to see manta rays in Asia – Indonesia and the Maldives
Manta rays are on every divers and snorkellers’ bucket list to see. They are incredible, curious, gentle giants of the ocean and I have experienced scuba diving and snorkelling with manta rays in Indonesia – Komodo National Park and Nusa Lembongan off of Bali. Scuba diving with mantas here was an amazing experience and nothing beats the first time you see the sheer size of a manta underwater! Since relocating to the Maldives in 2018, I have been swimming with manta rays in Baa Atoll and scuba diving with mantas in Fuvahmulah island.
There are two types of mantas that you can see in the Maldives, reef mantas and oceanic mantas. Reef mantas are found near coral reefs and are often around 3-5 metres in length. Oceanic mantas we do not know as much about but they can reach a length of 7 metres!
Reef Mantas in Baa Atoll
In Baa Atoll, you can swim and snorkel with manta rays in Hanifaru Bay during manta ray season. You can experience swimming with reef mantas and you have a high chance of seeing mantas as this is a very popular area for mantas feeding. The Maldives boasts the highest population of reef mantas that we know about which makes it one of the top manta viewing countries in the world.
Oceanic Mantas in Fuvahmulah Island
I have also scuba dived with oceanic mantas in the South of the Maldives. For more information about diving with oceanic mantas in Fuvahmulah read my post here.
Where is the best place to see manta rays in the Maldives?
Hanifaru Bay is the best site in the Maldives, possibly one of the best places in the world to see mantas. The mantas come to this area in manta ray season to feed on the plankton that becomes trapped in the bay. Researchers have recorded up to 200 mantas in the bay at any one time making this one of the best places to visit in the Maldives for manta ray snorkelling.
Where can I snorkel with mantas in the Maldives?
Hanifaru Bay is a marine protected area and there are strict rules about how many boats can enter the bay at any one time. To snorkel with the mantas, tourists are permitted 45 minutes of snorkelling time inside the bay.
When is the best time to see mantas in the Maldives?
In Baa Atoll, manta season is between May-November. July, August and September are the best months to visit the Maldives in order to view mantas and whale sharks in Hanifaru Bay.
Are mantas dangerous?
No. They do not have sharp teeth and nor are they sting rays so they have no sting or barb in their tail. They are completely harmless and therefore it is safe to snorkel and swim with them.
Manta Trust – NGO protecting the mantas
Manta Trust are a UK non-profit organisation founded by Guy Stevens, which works to protect the mantas, research their behaviour and educate others about these animals. Their motto is research, education and collaboration. In Baa Atoll, they have a base in Four Seasons resort Landaa Giraavaru and they also have staff in various other resorts across the Maldives. They collect manta IDs for their database by taking photos of the underside of the manta, they can ID each manta individually. So far there are over 4700 mantas in the Manta Trust database. If you take a photo of a manta’s spot pattern you can send it in to Manta Trust for IDing. If it is a new manta to the database then you are given the privilege of naming the manta! For more information about the amazing work that Manta Trust do in the Maldives, check out their website.
Where to stay to see mantas in the Maldives – Baa Atoll
For luxury accommodation near Hanifaru Bay
You should consider Four Seasons. Manta Trust in Baa Atoll has a base within Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru and therefore you will have a manta marine biologist with you during your manta trip.
For affordable resorts in Baa Atoll to view the mantas
You could consider Kihaa or Reethi beach resort. Both are resorts I have visited and/or stayed at. They are near Hanifaru Bay and are a much more reasonable price. Work permit discounts are available for those who work in the Maldives for both these resorts. Look at prices and availability for Reethi beach resort here.
For guesthouses on local islands to see the mantas
You could consider Dharavandhoo island. This island has a domestic airport which means when you fly here from Male you will save on the cost of a speedboat. Compare prices here for budget accommodation in Dharavandhoo for manta viewing.
How to get to Hanifaru Bay from Male
The cheapest way to get to Hanifaru Bay from Male is to fly from Male to Dharavandhoo airport. There are a few airlines that do this such as Manta Air, Maldivian airlines and FlyMe.
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Having relocated to a tropical Maldivian island in 2018, I couldn’t wait to experience diving in the Maldives. I had heard many amazing stories about the best dive sites in the Maldives and I was so excited to explore local islands, instead of diving on a resort island where I live.
My first diving trip was in April of this year to the Southern island of Fuvahmulah (pronounced a bit like Formula with stress on the ‘la’!). I was diving with marine biologists, dive instructors and divemasters, some of whom have over 800+ dives to their name and we all agreed it was the best diving we had ever done! Fuvahmulah is nicknamed the ‘Galapagos of the Maldives” and it is not without reason. In three days of diving, we dived with oceanic manta rays, whale sharks, tiger sharks and thresher sharks, staying in budget accommodation and paying a cheap price for diving the Maldives. It is no surprise that Fuvahmulah and neighbouring island Addu are being considered by the government as future biosphere reserves. Read more about that here.
Fuvahmulah – best island in the Maldives for cheap diving?
Fuvahmulah is an island and its own atoll, located in the South of the Maldives. The population is approximately 15,000 people and it is known as the only atoll to have one island. It is a local island, not a resort island and therefore Maldivian laws and customs are more applicable here than in resort islands. As on all local islands, alcohol is prohibited and you cannot wear bikinis on the local beaches. However, I did feel Fuvahmulah was one of the more relaxed places I have visited and I felt comfortable wearing whatever I wanted and wearing bikinis on the dive boat was not an issue. Fuvahmulah is not a well known tourist destination in the Maldives, although it is becoming increasingly popular for its dive sites and marine life.
Marine Life in the Maldives, particularly in Fuvahmulah
Fuvahmulah is host to a huge range of marine life. In season, you can scuba dive with oceanic manta rays, thresher sharks, tiger sharks and whale sharks. It is also possible to see hammerhead sharks as well as other sharks like oceanic white tips and silver tips at different times of the year and depending how lucky you are! I feel we saw more megafauna in 3 days of diving than most people see in a lifetime!
How to travel to Fuvahmulah from Male, Maldives
Fuvahmulah island is located in the deep South of the Maldives, so you can fly to Fuvahmulah from Male, the capital. The journey takes approximately 45 minutes. At the time of writing, two airlines with a few flights a day fly from Male to Fuvahmulah. While the diving can be cheap, the flights aren’t always so compare different airlines to find a better rate, try Maldivian airline and Fly Me. Manta Air are a new airline with more connections likely to come soon.
Where to stay in Fuvahmulah
Because it is not a well developed tourist destination, Fuvahmulah budget accommodation is limited to a few options. We stayed in a fairly cheap guesthouse Calyx Grand (click here to view) that I would definitely recommend. It was lovely – clean and spacious and the staff were helpful. Much better than I had been expecting considering it was one of the cheaper hotel options! We had a work permit discount for hotels in the Maldives but for a tourist rate please check with the individual hotels. We asked our Maldives dive centre for a morning pick up as it was a short truck ride to the harbour. I would also suggest staying near the harbour as a good option so that you can be close to the dive centres and dive boats.
What dive school to choose in Fuvahmulah
There is a well known dive centre called Fuvahmulah Dive School (FDS) who we considering going with as we had many good recommendations. However, we chose Fuvahmulah Tiger Dive as we booked through a friend and got very cheap dives because of this. One thing I recommend is asking if the dive school gets big group bookings. Some of the diving can be with big groups of Chinese or Indian divers and you may be expected to join dives with one of these large groups. We travelled as a group of 6 divers and therefore requested our own dive guide which was perfect for us.
Cost of Diving in Fuvahmulah
Fuvahmulah is one of the cheapest places for budget diving in the Maldives – which makes no sense because the diving is so incredible! Expect to pay upwards from $40 per dive depending on how many dives you are planning to do and if you have your own equipment. As usual with diving packages, the more dives you book, the cheaper the cost of diving. It is also possible to book Maldives diving package deals, with flights, accommodation and diving all organised for you. However, it is cheaper to book flights, accommodation and diving separately. It is also cheap to dive and travel to Fuvahmulah if you have a Maldives work permit as there are big discounts available.
Best Dive Site in the Maldives
We spent most of our 8 dives on the same plateau, a dive site called Farikede, about 15 minutes from the harbour by dive boat. In terms of the marine life, I think it must be one of the top dive sites in the Maldives! We had approximately 30 oceanic manta ray sightings, 26 of which the amazing Manta Trust team managed to ID for us and we added 22 new mantas to their database. Read here for more about Manta Trust and the work they do. We also saw 3 whale sharks, one of whom was new to the Maldives Whaleshark Research Programme and we got to give her a name. On our last day we scuba dived with the biggest whale shark I have ever seen (approx 8-10m) and 2 thresher sharks. The dive site depth ranges down to about 40m and we saw oceanic manta rays near the surface from the moment we jumped from the boat, all the way down to 40m. The marine life here seemed extremely curious and many of these sightings I would deem encounters, as the mantas and whale sharks seemed just as interested in us as we were in them. Many of the mantas and 1 curious whale shark circled us several times, looking and trying to work out who we were. We wonder if we may be the first humans they had ever seen?
Maldives Diving Boat
We scuba dived from a slow traditional boat, Maldivians call a ‘Dhoni’. We were very happy with this as I don’t enjoy diving from speedboats. The boat returned to the harbour after every dive so you can have breaks on land in between dives. Personally we preferred staying on the boat as long as possible and requested to do so after we had ordered snacks from the local cafe near the harbour. Not paying for a liveaboard or an expensive speedboat also kept the diving cheap. Click here for my recommendations of what to take on a dive boat.
The best time to dive the Maldives – when to dive in Fuvahmulah
Diving is possible year round in Fuvahmulah. However, most people agree that diving between November and April is the best season for diving because of the chances of oceanic manta rays, whale sharks, thresher sharks and hammerheads. In rainy season, from June onwards the sea gets rough but the chance of hammerheads increases. The tiger shark dive is available year round because they are fed. More on that to come.
Restaurants and Places to eat in Fuvahmulah
We loved Real Breez restaurant because of the large balcony and good food. Everyone enjoyed the local food and also the Indian cuisine. The cafe by the harbour we also ate at and it serves good local food. We all got obsessed with Kottu Roshi – I definitely recommend trying this Maldivian twist on the traditional Sri Lankan dish. If you’re vegetarian make sure you say so and make it very clear that being vegetarian includes no meat and no fish as vegetarians are still a relatively new concept to the fish-heavy Maldivian diet.
Maldives Local Island Travel Tip: Be prepared to wait a LONG time for food. This is not a resort island and we often had to wait over an hour (occasionally 2 hours!) for our food to appear. I recommend adapting to the slower pace of island life and also don’t wait until you are hungry to find a restaurant!
Things to Do in Fuvahmulah
Visit Thondee – a large pebble beach on the island which includes a nearby restaurant
Visit the lakes – Fuvahmulah is unusual because it has freshwater lakes. You can visit and kayak or pedalo one of the lakes as part of Fuvahmulah Nature Park.
Go to Addu – take the boat to Addu – somewhere I would like to go in the future as we didn’t have time.
Hot Spring with Mud Baths – near one of the lakes
Maldives Liveaboard Diving
It is possible to dive on a liveaboard around Fuvahmulah. As I haven’t dived on a liveaboard I cannot comment on the experience. I will say that we loved being on the island and as the dive sites are all located near the shoreline, it was not necessary to pay for a luxury liveaboard when we could stay in a cheap guesthouse and do budget dives.
Night Diving in the Maldives
Most dive centres do not offer night diving for safety reasons. The currents can be strong and I’d rather not meet a tiger shark at night time!
Have you visited Fuvahmulah yet? How was your experience? Have you found any other islands for cheap diving in the Maldives? I welcome any recommendations for future affordable dives here in the Maldives!