For years the Maldives had been on my bucket list. I fantasized about the beautiful beaches, abundant marine life and epic surf waves. Unfortunately it’s also notorious for being ridiculously expensive and I assumed that as a teacher a trip to the Maldives was an intangible dream. However, in recent years guesthouses have been popping up on “inhabited islands”, creating a viable option for budget conscious travelers looking to visit the Maldives.
What is an “inhabited island?”
Islands on which local people live and work are referred to as inhabited islands. The resort islands are privately owned and managed by the resort. When you are staying on an inhabited island you are expected to respect local rules, such as dressing more conservatively. Also, alcohol is forbidden on inhabited islands and apparently the punishment for being caught with booze is severe. Expect to see Muslim women in burkas, locals playing soccer in the evening, and boats bringing in fish. Most inhabited islands that have guesthouses also have a “bikini beach”. This is literally a beach where you can wear your bikini. At one point I accidentally ventured outside of the bikini beach zone in my swimsuit and was told by a local that I needed to cover up.
The guesthouse experience
On the inhabited islands you can opt to stay in a guesthouse which is a fraction of the cost of a resort and offers a more authentic stay. Many guesthouses can arrange boat rides to snorkel spots or surf breaks and encourage interaction with other guests. Food might be included in the price of the accommodation or there might be a meal plan option. Since surfing was the main focus of our trip we opted to stay at Cokes Beach Guesthouse, a laid-back little guesthouse that caters to surfers. The guesthouse’s surf guide was able to provide us with invaluable information about the local breaks and the surrounding area Meals were served on the beach where you could savor fresh fish and watch the waves break out at Cokes. The view and the vibe were so spectacular you almost didn’t notice the lack of fruit cocktails.
Eat, Surf, Snorkel, Repeat.
We stayed on Thulusdoo for five days and pretty much just surfed, snorkeled, strolled around the island , played cards, ate and surfed some more. If you’re looking for a wide variety of activities than you might be better off at a resort. If you can embrace a slower pace of life and are primarily interested in surfing than you’ll be stoked with inhabited island life. The waves are more suited for intermediate/advanced surfers although there is a tiny break, ” baby chickens” that can be suitable for beginners. There are board rentals available, about $20-$30 a day and the selection is decent. Most of the experienced surfers we encountered brought their own boards with them.
We learned the hard way about Maldivian currency. When we arrived at the airport we withdrew a substantial amount of rufiyaa for ferries, board rentals etc. What we discovered is that everyone accepts U.S dollars ( make sure you know the exchange rate because the ferry operators weren’t always completely honest about the exchange rate) and that Maldivian rufiyaa is impossible to exchange for a different currency. We flew back to Sri Lanka with rufiyaa thinking we would exchange it in the airport but nobody would exchange it. We tried different banks in Sri Lanka and contacted currency exchange centers in the U.S when we returned from our trip, but had no luck. We even heard stories of travelers who tried to convert money at the bank across from the airport in Male before departing the Maldives and were unable to exchange their money. I would advise either withdrawing a small amount of rufiyaa or sticking with U.S dollars.
- Surf accessories (extra wax, leashes, fins..)
- Ding repair kit
- Powerful sunscreen
- First Aid kit
- Plenty of books
- Snorkel equipment or check if the guesthouse has sets for guests to use
- Dry bag
- Beach towel
- Bug repellant
- Outlet convertor or check if the guesthouse has them