You don’t have to go to a fancy resort to experience the heavenly island nation’s attractons, discovers Heidi Fuller-Love
As Maldives opens never-seen-before islands to tourism, there’s nothing surprising about them - they’re stunning island paradises, too.
The first tourists came to the Maldives back in 1973. Until recently, however, they could only stay on the resort islands. Now, following an initiative launched by the country’s former President Mohammad Nasheed, non-resort islands can now accept tourists, and islanders are opening guesthouses where they can stay.
I’ve come to the Maldives to visit some of the lesser-known islands and meet the people who live on them. DAY ONE MAAFUSHI IN THE KAAFU ATOLL The traditional Dhoni boat with curved prow glides out of the Villingili Ferry Terminal. Beneath our boat the water shimmers clear as turquoise glass as we bump across the waves, past tiny islands set in the sparkling sea like green egg yolks surrounded by the blue-white waters of their coral lagoons. ‘Most people come here for the diving – it’s the best in the world,’ says Mohammad who lives on the first island where I plan to start my island-hopping adventure: Maafushi (right) located in Kaafu Atoll just 27km away from Male.
Although the southern island was damaged by a tsunami in 2004, there are no signs of this when we leap from the ferry onto Maafushi’s tiny jetty.
The sandy track fringed by brightly painted tin roof houses glitters gaily in the hot afternoon sun and islanders smile and greet me with halu kahinay, the breathy Maldivian word for ‘hello’.
Guesthouses were first opened here in 2010, and now provide valuable income that helped islanders rebuild. Nowadays Maafushi is a bustling and prosperous island with a scattering of souvenir shops and more than 40 guesthouses. Mohammad, a staff from the Velana Beach hotel where I’m staying, meets me and loads my luggage into the hotel’s brightly painted wheelbarrow.