Carmen Nolasco, who is part of our team here at Encounters Travel, recently had the opportunity to try our 8-day Maldives on Shoestring tour, which introduces travellers to the culture, beautiful scenery, friendly local people and atmosphere of this tropical paradise. This is her story.
Limited by our days off at work, my partner and I finally found the time to explore a different country and get away from the cold weather in South Australia. I’ve always had my eye on the Maldives on a Shoestring tour – eight days hopping from one inhabited island to another, immersing in the country’s culture, with a pre-designed itinerary and led by a local guide. Yes please!
Our expectations were far from staying in one of those bungalows you can see while flying over the Maldives. We had opted to see as much of the country we could instead of spending a fortune for a week in a resort with restricted and pricey activities.
Upon arrival we were greeted by our guide Kokko, this young and chilled Maldivian who would show us everything about his country and tell its deepest secrets.
As Kokko transferred to our first guesthouse in Hulhumale, we saw families and couples heading straight to resorts by private speedboats. We realized that most of them would never have the chance to meet the locals and experience an authentic Maldivian experience.
Being on the Equator, where the sun is hottest, we had several hours of sunshine even though we decided to travel during the low season. I was apprehensive about not being able to snorkel and sunbathe during the monsoons, but we made the right decision! The islands had few tourists and the rain was sparse and short, accommodation prices all over the country significantly decrease during this time of the year making it a very good time to travel.
We woke up on the next morning around 6:30am in Hulhumale, an artificial island built to accommodate the existing and future housing, industrial and commercial developments of Male, the capital.
After breakfast we explored Hulhumale, from one end to another while getting used to the heat and humidity. We sipped some papaya, guava and mango juice at different places around the island and decided to leave to Huraa, an exquisite and very peculiar inhabited island for an optional tour, which you can read here.
Day two was all about exploring Male! After travelling for about 20 minutes by ferry, we arrived at this busy and beautiful city. The refreshing raindrops became unmerciful fat big drops and later on a torrential rain, which lasted for an hour and left us as smoothly as it arrived.
Kokko took us to the central market, where we tried a variety of local food, snacks and sipped a sweet coconut while exploring its colorful aisles. Our guide introduced us to how Maldivians eat, live and work in a busy and big capital, but that would be nothing compared to how life looks like in local islands and we were ready to experience it.
After an afternoon of discoveries in the city of Male, we were transferred by a speedboat to Guraidhoo, an inhabited local island located in South Male Atoll. There we had the chance to swim at the house reef, less than 80 metres from where we were staying. The guesthouse offers masks and fins free of charge and the Guraidhoo reef was one of the prettiest we saw during the entire trip, stingray and turtle encounters included!
That evening we had a memorable dinner with a local family, where we had the chance to eat freshly caught fish, seasoned and barbecued in traditional Maldivian style. The challenge? We Use our hands and try every specialty prepared only for us. After unbuttoning our pants and having sweet watermelon for dessert, we walked along the jetty to spot some stingrays.
The next day, it was time to breathe a different air and swim in warmer waters. The ferry took only 20 minutes to take us to Maafushi, the most popular and vibrant island at the Maldives. Once again Kokko introduced us to his friends and between playing Uno with the locals, visiting their places and going sunset fishing, he made us feel home and for that we were grateful.
I’ll never forget a sunny afternoon after a rainy day in Maafushi where we spotted the most beautiful and curious reef turtles I’ve seen. The day was spent snorkelling and exploring different reefs, also looking for dolphins and having a picnic at a sandbank in the middle of that blue and warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
Our last stop in the Maldives was spent in Gulhi, a quiet and inhabited island close to Maafushi. With a beautiful beach for foreigners and many hidden places to relax, we explored every corner of Gulhi before our final departure on the next morning.
The Maldives tour was so refreshing, with the perfect balance between activities and free time, endless laughing and an immense amount of exploring and swimming. I was extremely satisfied with how much we interacted with Maldivians and how they taught me from small to very significant things. How to fish, to clean and prepare a meal, how to pray and share, the value of friendship and family, the courage of Maldivian people and most of all, how to be kind to others.