Republic of Maldives, 23-26 November 2023.
This blog entry was originally written in Spanish here.
This is a translation into English using ChatGPT.
Maldives 1/6 (11´23¨) – Medley – November 23-26, 2023.
Maldives 2/6 (5´25¨) – Swimming with stingrays – Fulidhoo Island, November 25, 2023.
Maldives 3/6 (6´51¨) – Swimming with nurse sharks – November 25, 2023.
Maldives 4/6 (3´39¨) – Sunken ship near Keyodhoo. Vaavu Atoll, November 25, 2023.
Maldives 5/6 (2´48¨) – Relive Video November 23-26, 2023.
Maldives 6/6 (58¨) – Accommodation in Maafushi – November 25, 2023.
The fourth Thursday of November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day. My school in Delhi is called the American Embassy School, and with that name, it cannot deny the cross of its parish, so Thursday, November 23, was a holiday, leading to a four-day weekend. The plan: a little getaway to the Maldives.
Thursday, November 23, 2023. Vistara Flight UK273
Delhi T3 (11:55) – Male – Velana International Airport (15:30) – Direct flight of 4h05´
Sunday, November 26, 2023. Vistara Flight UK274
Male – Velana International Airport (16:30) – Delhi T3 (21:05) – Direct flight of 4h05´
For 4 days, I wanted to keep it simple. And reading the Lonely Planet, one of the easiest options was the island of Maafushi. This is how the Lonely Planet describes it:
"Maafushi (population 3030)
The hub of independent travel scenes in the Maldives, the island of Maafushi has undergone seismic changes since the opening of the first guesthouses here in 2010 and now boasts over 50 hotels and guesthouses. It is easily the most cosmopolitan and progressive inhabited island in the Maldives, featuring a bikini beach and a very competitive diving and excursion market.
You can even leave the island to have alcohol in floating bars just outside the harbor or take a day trip to one of the many nearby resorts that welcome day guests in search of alcohol, pork, and a more relaxed attitude towards semi-nude bathers.
Maafushi may not be the most attractive island, with only a few good beaches that tend to get crowded, but it is well-located for dozens of day trips, and honestly, the abundance of guesthouse competition keeps prices affordable. Welcome to the Maldives for backpackers."
Ready, here we stayed! It was time to find a hotel, and I searched for a reasonable guesthouse, Chao Guesthouse.
No visa is needed to enter the Maldives.
But you do need to fill out a form within 96 hours before arriving and departing.
In that form, you have to indicate which hotel you will be staying at.
When I arrived, they asked me in which hotel I was going to stay, and I told them at Chao Guesthouse. They asked to see the reservation. So yes, you have to go with a reservation made.
That reminded me of an anecdote when I traveled to Cuba over 20 years ago.
I arrived at the airport, and while talking to other tourists in the immigration line, they mentioned that you had to have a hotel reservation. I didn't have one. When the immigration officer asked me which hotel I was going to, I replied, "Hotel Revolución." I had made it up, and I didn't even know if it existed. He said okay and stamped my entry seal. Later, in a taxi, I went to find a private house.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2023
I land in Male. I have dollars, Indian rupees, and euros with me.
In the airport arrivals, there are banks, and at the Bank of Maldives, I exchange some currency for the local currency, rufiyaa. I ask if I can exchange Indian rupees, and they tell me no, only dollars or euros. I exchange euros for the local currency.
During the 4 days I spent there, I paid in the local currency at local shops, but for restaurants, excursions, ferries, everything was in dollars. So:
- Try to carry dollars.
- Don't exchange too much into the local currency because payments are usually in dollars. Anyway, if you exchange at the bank, they give you a receipt, and upon return, at departures, you can exchange from the local currency to euros or dollars again (to the currency you exchanged first) at an office of the same bank. If you do this, keep in mind the following:
- Exchange from euros/dollars to rufiyaas at the Bank of Maldives in Arrivals.
- When leaving, I wanted to exchange from rufiyaas to euros at that same office. They told me it wasn't possible. I had to go through immigration, and in the departures hall, I would find another Bank of Maldives office. It bothered me a bit because I went through immigration, security, reached Duty-Free and the restaurant area, and there was no Bank of Maldives. Then, I went downstairs to my boarding gate, and there it was, the Bank of Maldives. With the receipt, I exchanged the remaining rufiyaas, and I was ready.
To get from the airport to Maafushi, you have to take a boat. You have several options:
- Local transport: slow and cheap.
- Speedboats. I opted for this option. These are the websites for the connection to Maafushi:
--- iCom Tours
--- Maafushi Tours
iCom Tours ($25): 09:00, 10:25, 13:10, 15:25, 18:10, 21:15.
Maafushi Tours: 08:40, 11:40, 14:10, 16:55, 21:30.
I landed at 15:30, exchanged money, and spent time walking around until 18:10 when I took the speedboat. By the way, landing in the Maldives is amazing because the atolls look wonderful from above. I was in the left window seat (A); I don't know if it's the same on the right.
I boarded the boat, and the captain asked me which hotel I was going to. I told him Chao Guesthouse.
We stopped in Male, which is right in front of the airport; people got on, and we went to Maafushi.
At the port, there were many people from hotels waiting for their clients. I had been in contact with my hotel, but at no time did we talk about them picking me up, so I calmly walked. I arrived, and there was no one at the reception. They did have a paper with the Wi-Fi password, so I connected and sent a WhatsApp to the hotel guy saying, "I've arrived." He appeared and told me he had gone to pick me up at the port on a motorbike; the captain had called him saying he was heading there. Well, communication things.
With two full days ahead (Friday and Saturday), it was time to maximize them. I talked to the hotel guy to see if he knew agencies for tours. He handed me a Velaa Trips brochure, and the excursions were listed there. There were day visits to resorts, but that didn't appeal to me much. I selected a couple of tours:
Tour 1 for Friday (7:30-16:00)
Whale Shark Snorkeling
Manta Ray Snorkeling
Visit to Dhigurah Island
Tour 2 for Saturday (7:30-15:00)
Snorkeling at a Sunken Ship
Nurse Shark Snorkeling
Fulidhoo Island (Vaavu Atoll)
The hotel guy offered to take me by motorbike to the agency for reservations and payment. Cool. The Velaa booth was next to the port, to the left. After making the reservations, the hotel guy offered to take me back on the motorbike, but I told him I preferred to take a leisurely stroll around the island, have dinner, etc.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24
Very excited to see whale sharks! I had seen videos on the Internet, and they are impressive. It is the world's largest fish, approximately 12 meters in length. Despite their size, they pose no danger to humans. You might wonder, "Isn't the whale or the orca the largest fish in the world?" No, because they belong to a group of marine mammals known as cetaceans. Unlike fish, they have warm blood, breathe air through lungs, and give birth to live young that feed on maternal milk.
Once on the boat, they told us they had seen one the day before, and the probability of seeing them was high. However, we circled and circled and circled, and we didn't see any all day. That's the way with wildlife. The same with manta rays; we didn't see any either. At one point, they pointed to some dolphins that I didn't manage to see either. While snorkeling, I did see a turtle, and apart from smaller fish, that was all. The outing, in any case, was spectacular, navigating those transparent seas with incredible color variations.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 25
This day, we were sure about our plans.
We swam with nurse sharks at Fuldhoo Shark Point. The nurse shark is a small-mouthed shark that sucks in its food to later crush it with its curved teeth. It's generally harmless, not aggressive, and poses no danger to humans, although it can attack if provoked. They have been feeding them at that point for about 15 years, so they come every day, and tourists swim with them every day. They are very accustomed to humans, making it a joy to swim with them.
While sailing, we saw various resorts that looked very appealing. We stopped to have lunch on a sandbank, a small island with only sand, no vegetation, with a surface like a football field. Beautiful. The clarity when you dive underwater is impressive.
From there, we went snorkeling at a sunken ship near Keyodhoo, in the Vaavu Atoll.
The day before, we didn't see manta rays, but this time we did.
On the way back to Maafushi, I walked around the island. I passed by Kaani Grand Seaview, which is the hotel where Edu and Eli stayed during their visit in June. I also passed by Entre Azules, the hotel my cousin mentioned, run by a Spanish woman. Later, after some research, I found out that she has written a book called "Entre Azules," which might be worth reading to gain a deeper understanding of the Maldives. This girl also organizes week-long tours to the Maldives in Spanish. Another recommendation from my cousin was to try coconut ice cream, and if Dudu says it's good, it must be.
In the Maldives, alcohol is not sold as it is a Muslim country. However, where there's a will, there's a way, and next to Maafushi, there's a boat docked that can be accessed by free boats from the port. I was tempted to take a stroll and see the atmosphere, but I felt lazy.
Next to my little hotel was the Maafushi prison. The tall walls prevent prisoners from seeing the sea, how sad it is to be in this paradise-like place and not be able to enjoy the view.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26
My flight was scheduled for 4:30 pm, so I had the whole morning ahead of me. The ferry schedules for iCom Tours Maafushi-Male-Airport were 8:00 am, 9:30 am, 12:00 pm, 2:30 pm, 5:00 pm, and 8:00 pm. I took the 9:30 am ferry to Male to explore the capital of the country. I visited Jumhoore Maidan Square, the Grand Friday Mosque, the National Museum, the fruit market, and the fish market. For my 4-day trip to the Maldives, I brought a small backpack that I didn't even need to check in on the plane, allowing me to move around and stroll without any issues. Instead of taking a taxi or a boat to the airport, I walked across the Sinamalé Bridge, which is described this way on the website:
"One of the best places to visit in Malé is the Sinamale Bridge, also known as the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, with a length of 2.1 km and separate lanes for pedestrians, cars, and bicycles. This beautiful bridge over the lovely sea is one of the main attractions in the Maldives and also establishes a connection between Malé and the Hulhule International Airport. The Sinamale Bridge is funded by the Chinese government as a display of friendship between the two countries. The beautiful entrance to the bridge notably represents Islam, along with the unity and nationalism of the Maldives."
On the plane, I had two Maldivian seatmates, aged 18 and 20. Chatting with them, they told me they were going to Delhi because they had an interview at the Spanish consulate to obtain a visa for Spain. The reason: they were starting a two-year course in Madrid in January to become commercial pilots. Interesting! I asked them if they were paying for it themselves or if it was subsidized, and they said the Maldivian government was subsidizing it.
And that's what the 4 days in the Maldives yielded. Short, but a spectacular trip.