Discovering the Maldives like a local
We won’t fault you if you can only dream up scenes of sunbathing, overwater bungalows, and fancy cocktails when you think of the Maldives. It’s practically impossible to hear or see the word Maldives without conjuring up visions of the clear, turquoise waters and powdered-sugar sand beaches. However, do you think that the Maldives is all luxury hotels and dive schools? Look a little closer to discover genuine local culture in this little slice of paradise.
Hop onboard the public ferry
Forget seaplane transfers from the airport to a resort, if you can master the public ferry timetable it’s possible to travel from Male to a number of atolls. Travelling by ferry provides a great opportunity to engage with local people, as well as the chance to take in the beauty of the islands. It’s a real adventure and if you’re lucky, you might even spot some dolphins.
Tuck into afternoon tea
Walk into any coffee shop, café or restaurant on any island from 3 to 5 pm, and you’ll find an feast of bite-size savoury and sweet delights known as hedhika. Savory nibbles are filled with vegetables, tuna, egg and chili, and the sweet treats include pancakes, French toast and sponge cake. In true Maldivian style, wash them down with a mug of black tea.
Seek out the islands’ history
On many islands, particularly in the far north and south, there is evidence of the Maldives before all of the resorts arrived. You’ll discover ancient mosques, Buddhist stupas, baths and shrines. Visit them with a local and hear the story of how the Maldives converted from Buddhism to Islam. Head to the northern atolls and visit Utheemu, home of the revered national hero Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu. The Sultan fought an eight-year war to drive out the Portuguese invaders who occupied the Maldives from 1558 to 1573. The wooden palace is well preserved and evokes the lifestyle of the past centuries’ ruling classes.
Dance to Boduberu
Boduberu, or ‘big drum’, is performed by groups of men, including three drummers and a lead singer. The songs mainly tell stories of heroism, romance or satire. The slow starting beat and dancing may get you onto your feet, but be warned: as the music reaches a crescendo you will be expected to keep dancing!
Eat like a local
Maldivians are known for their friendliness and hospitality, and if you make the effort to interact you never know when you might be invited over for dinner. Your hosts may not be able to speak English, but they’ll do their utmost to understand your sign language, after all, you’re just as intriguing to them as they are to you. Learning to eat traditionally with your fingers is also a great ice breaker!
Hit the surf
In the Maldives there are plenty of surf spots within a short distance of each other, and the waves will accommodate every experience level. At weekends (Friday and Saturday) you’ll find local surfers keen to pitch their board skills against yours, head to the surfing hotspots of Thulusdhoo in North Male Atoll, Guraidhoo in South Male Atoll and Gan in Laamu Atoll. The Maldives rely on the same swell as Indonesia, and the best and most consistent swells occur between April and October, peaking from June to September.
Where to stay
Set on the private island of Lankanfushi in the North Malé Atoll, Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives is an intimate coral island in a sparkling lagoon, with jetties threading across the water out to spacious villa accommodations, where ultimate privacy can be found. The scenery at Gili Lankanfushi is breathtaking. It is an upmarket boutique resort that stands at the forefront of the eco-luxury sector and acts as a benchmark for luxury resorts. All of its 45 over-water villas which reflect the harmony of life by the water’s edge. At Gili Lankanfushi they are very sensitive to the environment. The utmost care has been taken in developing the island with respect to its ecological balance.