The morning after our night fishing excursion and following a hearty Maldivian breakfast (chapatti with potato curry and tea), we took an excursion to a sandbank. The water around many of the islands in the Maldives is so shallow (fun fact: the Maldives is the world’s ‘lowest’ nation with an average elevation of only 4ft 11in above sea level!), that sometimes at low tide small sandbanks are exposed, and you can picnic on what looks and feels like your very own ‘private island’—until the tide comes in. We packed some snacks, snorkels, and sunscreen (essential!) and set off in the hotel speedboat for about 15 minutes until we reached an exposed sandbank on which to set up our cooler and umbrella.
What followed was 3 hours of paradise. Only 4-5 other people stopped by ‘our’ sandbank while we were there, it wasn’t intrusive, and we did end up with some moments when we were the only humans as far as the eye could see. This was the stuff of tropical island paradise. The sandbank was surrounded by a reef, so we took out the snorkels to check out the schools of fish and coral, which was a bit healthier looking than that off the main island. Between swimming, slathering on sunscreen and taking heaps of selfies and jumping photos, the morning on the sandbank flew by, and we soon realized the actual sand was getting significantly smaller as the hours wore on. Luckily the hotel crew came to pick us up right when planned, so we didn’t have to worry about getting submerged.
Later that afternoon, we had booked a scuba dive with Maafushi Dive. This was my second scuba dive (the first in Ko Mak in 2012) and A’s first, so both being unlicensed beginners we had to do a ‘Discover Scuba’ dive, which consists of watching an instructional video and then going out with a guide keeping close watch on you. We practiced the basics with the guide off the side of the boat, and then he kept track of the most complicated bits (our buoyancy—to make sure we didn’t float away, and our air tank levels—to make sure we didn’t, well, die.). Even though it was my second time, the feeling of breathing underwater still felt surreal and panic-inducing at first, but once we got away from the side of the boat, all that was forgotten as the underwater world came into sight. We didn’t have to go very deep to explore the life on the sides of the reef, and 45 minutes passed in a second while spotting underwater sea life—anemones with clownfish darting in and out (we found Nemo!), a moray eel looming in a crevice, spiny lionfish, scorpionfish camouflaged on the rocks, massive tuna speeding by in the distance, and all sort of colorful fish that we tried to identify poring over the guidebook in the dive shop once we returned. I cursed my broken waterproof camera every time we saw something cool (next time!).
Evenings on Maafushi were spent recuperating from all the sun at beach restaurants by candlelight, enjoying seafood and watching hordes of tiny hermit crabs scavenging for dropped morsels in the sand. We even stumbled upon hermit crab races on one evening walk back to the hotel, being held by the entertaining crowd at Maafushi Water Sports. With no bars on the island, cheering for hermit crabs with numbers on their shells ‘racing’ toward rings in the sand to the sounds of dubstep music is Maafushi night life at its finest.
For our last full day in the Maldives, we found a good deal at one of the hotels on a full day tour, so we booked it to try to squeeze in as many more activities as possible. We left in the morning for snorkeling on a shallow reef nicknamed ‘turtle point,’ as it’s a popular hang out for sea turtles. Sure enough, we managed to see two while we swam around, along with schools of colorful needle-nosed fish.
Our hangout for the hottest hours of the afternoon was Vishugiri picnic island. This uninhabited island is set up for picnics, with a small shelter and grill, hammocks and lounge chairs. While the guides grilled up some fish and made a salad for lunch, we snorkeled more around the island, took in the scenery and napped on the chairs until lunch time.
Grilling up a lunch
Picnic Island lunch
After a feed and a good number of hours on the island, the boat dropped us off at the next stop, an hour to explore and souvenir shop on another local island that doesn’t have any hotels, Fulidhoo. Finally, as the day of sightseeing came to a close and the boat took us back to Maafushi, we found dolphins! The guides were somewhat in disagreement about whether they were technically classified as dolphins or as a species of small whale, but they entertained us either way.
The next afternoon, slightly sunburnt, majorly relaxed, we reluctantly boarded the ferry to take us back to the airport. I don’t think I would have managed to force myself to board the plane, except that more adventures awaited in Sri Lanka.
Tips for Travelers:
-The local (non-resort) islands are still local—meaning you should respect the culture and customs of the residents. There’s no drinking on the islands (alcohol is simply not sold), but if you need to have a drink, you can take a day trip to one of the resorts or check out the ‘floating bar’ on the boat off of Maafushi—speed boats will shuttle you there and back for free as long as you purchase drinks. This goes for dress as well—while you aren’t expected to dress the same as the locals, you shouldn’t walk around town shirtless (even men) or in short shorts and a tank top. Save this for the tourist beach and wear tshirts and breezy skirts while walking around town.
-Drop in to multiple hotels on Maafushi to shop around and see what tours are on offer, instead of immediately booking with your own hotel, especially if you’re traveling as an individual or a couple. You can save money by joining another group’s tour, or find more unique one-off tours that hotels are offering on special. (Like our full day trip.)
-If you’ve got a couple hours’ layover to kill in Male, check out Newport Restaurant, walking distance from the airport ferry dropoff point. Good, reasonably priced breakfast and lunch food, coffee, internet. The perfect place to drink decent latte while posting your vacation photos to make people jealous. Score.