Fulidhoo: Maldives on a Budget

The Maldives is a destination I’ve aspired to visit for a long time. I believed experiencing the Maldives was unattainable until earlier this year but this post proves that everyone can visit and also a particular island that everyone should visit.

IMG_5399

Only in the last few years has the Maldives become so popular. Much to my distain, the Maldives jumped onto my radar when the celebs began posting idealic snaps of themselves with their plush water villa, dangling their feet into the crystal clear turquoise ocean with baby reef sharks swimming underneath and captioned ‘living my best life’.

IMG_5405
Living my best life!

As much I hate to admit it, social media and the lives of celebrities influence so much of what we do and aspire to and I’m pretty confident that without instagram the Maldives wouldn’t be half as popular as it is. At this present moment, #maldives pulls up over 5.9 million instagram posts and practically every photo looks as picturesque as the next. It’s a completely saturated instagram tag.

The Maldives is one of those places that a lot of people admire on instagram but almost immediately disregard. I was guilty of this for a very long time. This was mostly due to the price of the resorts. But I can now confirm spending thousands on resorts are not the only way of visiting the Maldives, you can have just as good a time for a fraction of the price. I don’t actually think the resorts are worth the money they charge.

*However, if any Maldives resort wants to whisk me off and prove me wrong I’m game… don’t all jump at once.

I want to provide every reader with a way of travelling to the Maldives that doesn’t involve remortgaging your house, selling all your bodily organs and declining all social invitations for 2 years before you visit.

Travelling to the Maldives

The cheapest way to travel to the Maldives from the UK is to travel somewhere closer first. In fact, I don’t think you can get direct flight to the Maldives.

When we decided to travel to the Maldives we had already planned a trip to Sri Lanka.

Getting a flight from Sri Lanka is the cheapest way to travel to the Maldives. This is because Sri Lanka is only 1.5 hours from the Maldives. This makes Sri Lanka the perfect place to incorporate into your holiday. When I get my butt into gear you’ll also be able to read about my time in Sri Lanka!

Budget flight tips

We booked our flights in January 2018, 9 months in advance, through Travelup. This incorporated all our flights from London Heathrow to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka to the Maldives, the Maldives back to Sri Lanka and finally Sri Lanka back to London.

We travelled with Sri Lankan Airlines for each and every flight.

It was a nice that as soon as people had boarded, they came round and offered you a glass of water before even taking off.

Not long after take off I ordered my first G+T, though, obviously.

IMG_3283

There were cheaper flights with other airlines available. However, the flight times weren’t very convenient and, because of the flight length and timezones, meant you missed out on a lot of valuable hours.

Sri Lankan Airlines were hands down one of the most attentive and hospital airlines I’ve ever flown with. For the price of £550 per person, all flights included, we couldn’t have secured a better deal.

We were able to pick our own seats in advance of the flight (free of charge, may I add). We also could have requested particular meal options but we didn’t. The meals were adequate for plane food. Nothing gourmet but simple and edible.

Travelling between the Maldivian islands

The most complicated and expensive part of travelling to the Maldives is getting to the island you’re staying on. I can’t even begin to describe the sheer amount of research, emails I sent and options I looked at before we travelled. There are plenty of blogs out there giving you a baseline idea but unless you’re doing the exact same trip as them, i.e. same day, same time, same island, same guesthouse/hotel, same budget for travel, then it’s unlikely to be straightforward! That’s just part and parcel of travelling to a local island, you have to look around for the best deal!

The Maldives consists of around 1200 isolated islands, some more populated and touristy than others. This means that the tourist populated islands are obviously more easily accessible.

The only known factor for getting to your island is that you will need a boat (or a seaplane, if you’re going all out!)

You fly into the main island of Malé to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport which is in North Malé Atoll. From here you aren’t technically on the island of Malé but a very short boat trip will get you there. Malé has been built up into the Maldivian’s city, with various high-rise buildings. We didn’t visit Malé island.

For me, the magic of the Maldives is encapsulated by the quieter islands. When I picture the Maldives I immedietely imagine a small island far away from anything with natural wildlife, bustling house reefs and pristine turquoise waves lapping against the fine white sand.

Unfortunately, as the Maldives becomes ever more busier there is development going on all over these quieter islands in order for Maldivian’s to take advantage of budget tourism. But you can still find plenty of unspoilt and less frequented islands if you look closely and do some proper research.

Transport options

I’ve listed the transport options in order of expense.

Public ferry

The Maldives introduced a public ferry in 2010 that runs between the inhabited islands. Inhabited islands are the local islands. The ferry costs between $2-$3 per person return.

The ferries will not travel to the resorts!

This is a very budget friendly option. However, it is not a time effective option. Firstly, the ferry only operates on certain days for certain islands. It does not operate for every island, everyday. Also, there are often only one or two set times for you to get the ferry on a given day. The ferry will never operate on a Friday. Friday is a religious prayer day for Maldivian’s so most businesses are closed until 1.30pm after prayer time.

Therefore, check which day you are arriving because the ferry may not be an option!

In addition, the schedule of ferry times is only a guide. It often changes or gets cancelled if the weather is stormy or the sea is particularly choppy.

Public speedboat

Public speedboats are far more time effective and can be organised easily through your guesthouse. There are also websites you can book through but the guesthouses are so devoted to their guests that they will ensure there is a speedboat there for you and keep you updated on times. A public speedboat usually costs between $30-£50 dollars per person one-way.

We opted for a public speedboat to get to Fulidhoo island.

We stayed at Thundi Guesthouse on Fulidhoo island and they were extremely helpful with transport. On our last day we were due to leave Fulidhoo and go to a resort island. We wanted to leave Fulidhoo around midday to make full use of the Resort (as we were paying over £400 a night!) However, it was also a Friday and leaving around midday is near impossible because of prayer times, which we completely respected. Nevertheless, Thundi managed to commandeer us a boat (from a good friend I can only assume) which picked us up at 1.30pm just after their prayers.

The boat trip to the resort was one of the most hilarious, exhilarating and frightening experiences of my life. I will never forget it. Read on below if you want to find out why!

Private speedboat

I would steer away from this option. It could cost anywhere upwards of $300 per trip. If you are going to pay that much you may as well fly by seaplane and arrive in style!

Seaplane

As mentioned above, a seaplane will set you back about $300-350 per trip. We would have loved the seaplane experience but maybe next time!

The resorts tend to make you organise a private speedboat or a seaplane through them. You can arrive by other means (if you can organise it!) but to leave the resort you have to book the transfer through them. Obviously this makes things more expensive!

Arriving on Fulidhoo island

Fulidhoo is a slice of paradise that I almost want to keep hidden. It’s only a matter of time until Fulidhoo turns into one of the more popular islands that tourists flock to, which is both good and bad news.

Fulidhoo is the most Northern inhabited island of Vaavu Atoll in the South of the Maldives. It took about 1.5 hours to get there from Malé. Our guesthouse, Thundi Guesthouse, organised the speedboat for us and we were met at the airport by a member of their team who directed us to the boat and told us when it would be leaving.

When you arrive at Fulidhoo it is absolutely breathtaking. The water glistens a beautiful opaque blue around the entire perimeter of the island. The sand is fine and white, not a rock in sight! I knew when we arrived on Fulidhoo that this was the Maldives I had been dreaming about for so long.

IMG_5397

Where to stay on Fulidhoo

We stayed at Thundi Guesthouse which I would thoroughly recommend. The rooms are of a very high standard for a small island guesthouse. It is very clean, modern, well furnished and air conditioned. The bathroom we had was lovely. Ours was an ‘outside-in’ bathroom – it felt like you were outside but you were inside. There was a little shrubbery in it and some open ceiling space.

IMG_3800

The bathroom was built as a wet-room and the wood used for the sink table had clearly  been recycled from old excess wood. I loved this because I could clearly see the island initiative of reducing human waste.

All around Fulidhoo you can see the clear impact that plastic and waste is having on an isolated island. In such a deserted place with very few residents you should never experience plastic turning up on the shore. We didn’t experience too much waste washing up but we did see the odd item.

Fulidhoo regularly organise clear ups for waste, most of the guesthouses are now using metal straws instead of plastic ones and they opt to re-use old materials instead of throwing them away. This can be seen from all the tree swings constructed around Fulidhoo.

IMG_3772-2

Thundi Guesthouse is on the opposite side of the island to the jetty where you are dropped on arrival.

IMG_3779-2
Fulidhoo Jetty: supplies for the island being dropped off

Considering you can walk around the whole island in about 10-15 minutes, the walk to Thundi from the jetty is very quick!

We stayed on the ground floor of Thundi. This was lovely as each morning we would wake up and walk straight out to an ocean view. There is a small strip of beach outside the guesthouse but generally the better stretch of beach is on the other side of the island. There is also a table and benches outside for you to eat at, some sun-beds and a hammock to relax on.

IMG_5377

Although meals, except breakfast, aren’t included in your stay, Thundi will cater for lunch and dinner for an extra cost. The meals are quite simple but they are also cheap and there’s a good variety. There isn’t much choice for dining on the island as it is still relatively quiet and therefore most people tend to eat at their guesthouse. However, there was talk of a restaurant being built whilst we were there. I’m not sure when its due to be completed though. There might be more open for food in high season.

For meals, you fill in a sheet at the beginning of each day specifying what you would like for each meal from a given list. You also specify what time you would like to eat at. Thundi were excellent in catering to your needs.

The owner and manager of Thundi, Mohamed Arif, couldn’t do enough for us during our stay. He organised transport for us to get to our resort island when our only option was arriving at 6pm and missing most of the day there! He was an extremely friendly, helpful  and chatty man, as were the rest of the staff! Mohamed also checked in on us at various times during our stay to check everything was going well.

Despite it being a small island and low season, the guesthouse staff were very attentive. On our first night, we met another couple from the UK staying at Thundi who were due to leave the next day. They spent most of their stay as the only guests of Thundi. Turns out that we also spent most of our time as the only guests! Regardless of having only two guests, there was always someone at the guesthouse if we needed them. Thundi were not absent, they were very much present and were devoted to ensuring we had a great stay.

My only criticism during our stay was when a large family from another local island came to stay at the weekend. The other couple from the UK had warned us about this before they left because this had also happened during their stay. The local family were staying directly above us in various rooms but they would stay up until midnight or afterwards running, jumping, laughing and making all manner of noise. I am by no means a party pooper but after a day of diving and sunbathing, I really just wanted to sleep at night as there wasn’t much else to do.

Regardless, this did not taint my experience of Thundi, it was just slightly annoying!

Diving with Fulidhoo Dive

In the lead up to the Maldives, David and myself decided we were going to learn to scuba dive. It would have been a missed opportunity to travel to the Maldives and not be able to see its famous underwater life.

Learning to scuba dive is the BEST thing I’ve ever accomplished. It’s honestly so addictive once you get over the initial shock of breathing underwater!

The main pull for Fulidhoo island is that they have an incredible dive centre that take you to some of the best dives site in the Maldives. Fulidhoo Dive recently won the Maldives Travel Awards for the best dive shop in the Maldives and there are a lot of dive shops!

We completed our basic scuba dive skills in the UK at Wraysbury Dive Centre and then completed our open water dives with Fulidhoo Dive. The dive centre is run by Ali and Adele. We didn’t meet Adele as she was back home in the UK but Ali was our open water dive instructor and he was excellent.

I was particularly nervous for the open water dives because, as the name suggests, it was my first dive in the open ocean.

I was also completely useless in the UK at clearing my mask when it was flooded. So imagining doing that at depth in the Indian Ocean made me feel queasy. However, Ali put me totally at ease. Through some sort of miracle, I was able to clear my mask the first time! No choking on water, no losing my contact lenses, no gasping for air and racing to the surface! I count that as a huge success.

During my first dive I was also nervous and couldn’t descend because I wasn’t breathing properly. By the end of the fourth and fifth dive I was using my breathing to descend and ascend and stay buoyant. In the UK I was under the impression you had to increase and decrease air in your BCD to stay buoyant but actually, you can control slight descents and ascents by simply breathing better.

As with everything, the more I understood diving the more I enjoyed it and relaxed. I absolutely loved diving by the end of our time on Fulidhoo and wished we were staying for longer. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much underwater footage because we spent a lot of the dives learning the skills. But next time!

We visited 5 different dive sites in the Maldives. Some of the more interesting ones were:

Shark Point: whilst we didn’t actually see any reef sharks on this dive (because we were too slow and learning skills!), we did see a huge moray eel hiding in a rock. Who knew eels were so big?!

Faru Kolhu: is a channel dive so there was quite a strong current. As its a channel, more sea life swims through it meaning we saw lots on this dive. The reef on the edge of the channel starts at 12 metres and goes down to 30 metres but we only descended to 18. You follow the reef around but have to be careful because of the strong current crossing it. We saw an abundance of fish and a school of barracuda swam by which was cool. No sharks or rays unfortunately.

Alimatha Jetty: When David and I planned to visit Fulidhoo we immediately emailed Fulidhoo Dive asking if we could plan a shark dive after becoming qualified. They said it depended on how confident we were on the other dives.

So on our last day of diving, Ali mentioned they had a night dive with sharks planned on the day we became qualified, and asked would we like to join? We jumped at the opportunity!

This was our first dive after becoming PADI open water qualified so it was safe to say the adrenaline was extremely high!

As expected, this dive far exceeded all the previous dives. This is a night dive next to the resort of Alimatha. The resort staff used to throw the scraps and fish guts into the sea from the jetty which effectively trained the sharks to feed there because it was an easy hunting ground. They don’t feed them anymore but the sharks have fed there for so long that they still return.

We descended into the deep just as the sun was setting. Then we had about 5-10 minutes of light before complete darkness and then we had to get out our flashlights.

There were nurse sharks were everywhere! At first a few swam by in the distance and that was cool but then a nurse shark swam right underneath me and then another swam straight over my head, I could see its eyes and teeth when I peered up! It was amazing.

Alimatha jetty nurse sharks

When we reached the sandy bottom, we all dug ourselves into the sand watching them. At this point, two nurse sharks came and laid right next to David. Such an incredible experience. I was slightly jealous.

We also saw a stingray swim over our heads and there were plenty of lion fish littering the sand. There were so many that someone had to pull me up when one approached my leg to stop it stinging me! Little devils.

Usually Alimatha is very busy with dive schools but as it was low season, we only saw one other group on our dive. This meant we were much closer to the sharks and it felt like our own private viewing.

I had to stop myself bawling my eyes out when we boarded the boat after the dive. When I tried to view the footage on my Go Pro I realised my it had run out of storage 15 minutes into our dive. I practically missed all the best shark footage. Sigh, there’s always next time.

Other things to do on Fulidhoo

I’ll be honest, there isn’t much else to do on Fulidhoo and the main pull for us was the diving. If you want a relaxing holiday, though, there is no better place!

Bikini beach – this is Fulidhoo’s dedicated tourist beach. Relax on the white sand and top up your tan while swimming in the crystal clear lagoon.

Fulidhoo sea

Also, look out for hermit crabs scurrying along in search of their next shell.

IMG_5374

As well as hermit crabs, there are also masses of other mini crabs that spend the whole afternoon carrying sand around and making holes for themselves. The beach is literally full of them! And they fight each other to take each other’s holes.

If you are lucky, you might see rays swim by too, we saw a small stingray whilst lazing on bikini beach. We also saw a big school of fish that gather there at the same time each day, usually just past the rock barrier at about 5-6pm.

IMG_3886-2

Also, watch out for bats flying around near the beach. I thought bats only came out in the nighttime but we saw plenty flying around in the day.

You aren’t allowed to use the local beach for sunbathing. Maldivian’s are Muslim so you must respect their religion and cover up while on their island

Don’t miss out on the tree swing (if it’s still standing!) The chair was, very precariously, just about functioning as a seat when I visited. There were only a few strands of wicker left and those pieces burned me to the deepest, darkest hell when I sat down. I also went hurtling into the palm tree at one point. BUT it was a lot of laughs and David managed to capture a good photo. Do it for the ‘gram.

IMG_3888

In fact, we both got photos…

IMG_3829 (1)
You can see the crabs mounds of sand from where they’ve chucked it out to scurry in the hole they’ve made!

Snorkelling – If you don’t fancy scuba diving the guesthouses also provide various snorkelling trips. Sometimes you can even see whale sharks and manta rays if you go in the right season. However, they don’t guarantee sightings and you will have to pay even if you don’t see any so take that into account for your decision.

Jetty viewing point – keep an eye on the jetty in the evening, stingrays often congregate there. We saw a family of three on our last night. Obviously, keep well away and don’t touch them!

IMG_3858
Very bad quality as I only had my phone when we arrived back from diving 🙁

Watch the sunset – the sunset on Fulidhoo was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

IMG_3794-2

Walk over to the locals beach near the jetty when the sun begins going down. You get the best view of the orange, yellow and pink hues as it disappears behind the ocean.

IMG_3796

At this time, some of the younger locals also take to the beach to play football while their relatives chat and watch the sunset. On our first evening, we walked over to watch the sunset and a local little boy strolled over and held my hand! It was the sweetest thing ever.

IMG_3784-2
He’s the one playing with the balloon

Diving – this section is meant to be ‘other suggestions’ but seriously, dive into the deep blue! You really won’t regret it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done and what better place to start! We’re already looking at going back again for the diving.

When to visit

The high season in the Maldives is between December and March. Typically because you can ‘ensure’ the weather is good.

We went in mid-September which is apparently the ‘monsoon’ season.

Granted, on the first day we arrived in the Maldives, there was a huge storm. The sea was black and ferocious. I really thought we’d brought the English weather with us.

Storm maldives

However, as soon as we arrived at Fulidhoo the storm miraculously cleared, presenting a shimmering clear blue sea below our speedboat.

IMG_3806
The angry black cloud drifting away as we approached Fulidhoo!

We were in the Maldives for 6 days and we only saw a sprinkle of rain in the early morning or late evening. The rest of the time it was 32 degrees and the sky was completely clear.

Maybe we got lucky. Or maybe low season rain is exaggerated. The locals explained that it’s always hot and sunny in the Maldives but they occasionally have a storm during low season, which stops tourists visiting.

Because we went in low season we paid a fraction of the price, enjoyed superb weather, had the beach to ourselves at some points and shared the island with a maximum of 8 tourists during our stay. It was absolute bliss!

If you aren’t too worried about a storm for (maybe) one day of your trip, then go in September like us and its a lot more affordable!

The diving is also as good in low season as it is in high season because from Fulidhoo you can reach the east and the west of the Atoll, meaning you can always find good diving if the weather is changeable!

Leaving Fulidhoo

We were looking forward to leaving because we were relocating to a resort island but leaving was also tinged with sadness. Little did we know that we’d actually prefer Fulidhoo to our resort. As we went off, our guesthouse owner Mohamed escorted us to the jetty and both he and the dive team waved us off.

The boat trip was an experience to say the least! We travelled roughly 30 minutes to the resort from Fulidhoo. I’m no boat connoisseur but I would describe the boat we travelled on as a fishing boat. There were seats but the limited seats offered weren’t really fit for tourists. The boat was completely open at the sides and the guys surfed the sea at the speed of light. This boat was defying its purpose of gliding along the surface and took to the air multiple times during the trip. I could see the propeller whirling right behind us, with the back of the boat angled down towards the sea, as we soared into the air and plummeted down again to touch the ocean waves.

David and myself were dying with laughter at how treacherous this could become. It’s definitely the quickest boat trip we had during our time in the Maldives and definitely kept us on our toes!

I’m very happy on boats and generally in the open sea but on this trip I was clinging on for dear life. Very suddenly the guys took a sharp change of direction, like they’d just talked for too long and ended up going the wrong way! At this point, with no exaggeration, I almost went overboard and had to grab the edge to stop myself! I don’t think they even noticed, ha! Up until this, I’d always wondered how people ended up overboard…now I know.

We were almost at the resort and then it started raining to top things off! This boat didn’t have cover either! God only knows what we must have looked like when we turned up at the resort. Most people arrive on speedboats or seaplanes but not us. We like to shake things up and turn up looking like we’d swum the whole distance.

David looking at resort
The only picture I managed to capture when the boat slowed!

Don’t think for a second that I’m criticising Thundi or the guys that delivered us safely (just) to the resort. I appreciate all the extra effort! The guys steering the boat even stopped for us when they spotted dolphins surfacing in the ocean. I would have been happy to go overboard at this point!

In all honesty, this experience added to the rawness of Maldivian life and I loved it. It showed me that, if you are a local islander and don’t have a boat, or have friends with a boat, then you are well and truly stuck! You have to make the best of things.

Currency options and Maldivian restrictions

The local currency for the Maldives is Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR) which is non-exchangeable outside the Maldives. Therefore, if you change up any sterling or dollars etc. to MVR, make remember to change back any MVR you have left over as you won’t be able to do it in your own country! You could probably just stick to dollars though, everywhere accepts dollars. We exchanged about $40 to MVR, it lasted us the whole 6 days and we still had some left over!

The Maldives is a Muslim country so there are various restrictions which you must abide by when visiting.

Some things to note:

  • Alcohol – strictly forbidden on local islands. You can only buy alcohol on resort islands and you cannot import your own alcohol to the local islands.
  • Drugs – strictly forbidden.
  • Dress – as I mentioned above, dress accordingly with the Muslim religion. Do not walk around half-naked in your bikini because you will be disrespecting the locals. Men should wear a t-shirt and shorts and women should wear t-shirts and loose fitting shorts/long skirt/long dress so they aren’t too revealing. Swimwear should be limited to tourist beaches and resorts.
  • Pork – also forbidden.
  • Mosques – there are mosques on some local islands and you will probably hear a call to prayer in the morning and evening. Men must ensure to cover their body and legs and women must ensure their head and shoulders are covered if you decide to visit a mosque.

Some other pictures from Fulidhoo 

IMG_5382
Fulidhoo mosque
IMG_5380
Fulidhoo school

IMG_5387

Pictures are only the beginning of Fulidhoo. If you want the real experience of just how beautiful the island is, you must visit yourself! Photos will never do Fulidhoo justice.

One comment on “Fulidhoo: Maldives on a Budget

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: