The sun dipped down below the horizon and the beautiful white sand turned a golden yellow. This was the picture postcard start to my trip to the Maldives with Encounters Travel. The group was small, just four of us, but that actually made it better as it really felt like a private tour. It started with a tour of the capital, Malé, which was interesting enough but I really couldn’t wait to get out to the local islands and see the real Maldives. The tour visited a couple of ‘local’ island’s, something few other operators offer, as most stick to the dhoni cruise boats or the extortionately expensive resort islands.
From Malé we caught the local ferry to Guraidhoo Island, about an hour and half away. The ferry was full of local Maldivians and a spattering of tourist. Luckily our guide was with us to make sure we understood the safety drills and where to find the life jackets, as the boat crew certainly didn’t seem concerned.
Guraidhoo Island was a small, ‘typical’ local island, as far removed from the sterile resort islands, that have made the Maldives such a popular destination, as can be imagined – and just what I was looking for. The small guesthouse was basic, but very clean and the staff were really friendly. We took a tour of the island but unfortunately it was right in the middle of Ramadan, so everywhere was a bit deserted. Over the next few days we explored the surrounding islands, coral reefs and sand bars on various excursions. These included a day on a deserted picnic island, dinner with a local family, dinner on a sand bar, and various snorkelling trips. Everything was pretty well organised and great fun, especially the snorkelling, which was the best I’ve ever had.
We then move to nearby Maafushi Island, a bit bigger and more set up for tourists. Our guesthouse was much better and really very nice and clean and again wonderfully friendly staff. We continued to enjoy more snorkelling, local song and dance and an evening out fishing on boat, which was great fun and we even caught dinner. There was a small beach area on Maafushi Island set aside for tourist to sunbath away from the gaze of the locals, as being a Islamic country bikinis are a non starter away from the resort islands. Of course the girls can still go swimming and snorkelling, but they just need to keep covered up whilst in view. Though to be honest more than a few tourist were not paying much attention to this rule. The only other down side to being on the local islands was the lack of alcohol, but I personally didn’t miss it that much.
All to soon we headed back to Malé and I spent a day on a resort island to finish off, which was certainly nice to enjoy the luxury and the booze, but i enjoyed the local islands much, much more.
All in all our guide was excellent and kept everything ticking along nicely, though you do really need to embrace the idea of ‘local time’ as, and this is not unusual in very hot countries, timings can be pretty loose! I loved this tour, it was great value for money and I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking to discover the other side of the Maldives you don’t find in the glossy brochures.