When most people think of the Maldives, luxurious overwater bungalows come to mind. But I was determined to visit the Maldives without spending thousands and thousands of dollars. The answer: local Maldive islands, not the private ones. You can find all the beauty at a fraction of the exorbitant price at some of the best local islands in the Maldives.
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With almost 1200 islands, the Maldives are completely and utterly overwhelming. How do you even start? Well, I did something a little surprising and literally scoured Google earth maps, inch by inch, to find the most beautiful and best local islands in the Maldives. Then I did tons of research about each island that appealed to me.
Of course this doesn’t replace personal experience of going to different islands and comparing. But after seeing pictures of other islands and visiting my chosen two islands, I am confident they are among the best local islands in the Maldives, and certainly a couple of the most beautiful.
- 1 Click Here to Learn How To Visit the Maldives on a Budget
- 2 Why Visit the Local Maldives Islands
- 3 About Local Maldives Islands
- 4 Best Local Islands in the Maldives – Fulhadhoo Island
- 5 Best Local Islands in the Maldives – Dhigurah
- 5.1 How to Get to Dhigurah
- 5.2 Where to Stay in Dhigurah
- 5.3 Where to Eat in Dhigurah
- 5.4 What to do in Dhigurah
Why Visit the Local Maldives Islands
Since 2009, the Maldivian government has made it legal for locals to open hotels and guesthouses on local Maldive islands. Prior to that, only private islands catered to tourists in the Maldives and the costs of these private islands make them rather exclusive and expensive. Now, you can enjoy all the beauty of the Maldives, and as a bonus, you can experience the beautiful culture of these wonderful people as well.
About Local Maldives Islands
The Maldives islands are south of India and Sri Lanka and it is the smallest Asian country in size and population. Around 200 of the 1200 islands are inhabited and around 130 more are private resorts.
The Maldives are a Muslim country and locals speak a language called Dhivehi, related to the language of Sri Lanka. They are also often fluent in English, Arabic, and other languages. Particularly since tourism has been introduced, English has been taught in schools.
We felt incredibly safe and taken care of on the local islands in the Maldives. Transfers and communication were well organized and everyone was incredibly helpful.
Social Customs in the Maldives
Since the Maldives are strictly Muslim, you should be aware of customs and rules before you go.
Things NOT to Pack in Your Suitcase:
- Bibles/Religious symbols not pertaining to Islam
- Dress Modestly – The private resort islands are the exception to this, but when you visit local Maldive islands, please follow the local expectations to not wear swimwear or revealing clothing around guesthouses, towns, or local beaches. On the local islands, there are designated “Bikini Beaches” where tourists can strip down to any swimwear they like (not nude). Ask your guesthouse to be clear where the designated beach is. In all other areas of the island, men should have a shirt on, but shorts are fine. Women should aim to cover their shoulders and thighs, although this seems to be loosely followed. I had no trouble in relatively short shorts but I chose to cover my shoulders with a loose fitting shirt and avoid tank tops outside the beach area.
- Public displays of affection – keep the making out to your private room but hand holding is fine, of course.
- Alcohol – we did not see alcohol served on either of the two local Maldive islands we visited. Alcohol is prohibited on local Maldive islands.
Usually both the Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR) and US dollars are accepted, but if you use an ATM or pay in US dollars, you’ll probably get MVR back. Make sure your US bills have no tears in them or they won’t be accepted. $1 US is equal to roughly 15.42 MVR at the time of writing this.
There is a good chance there won’t be an ATM or bank on local Maldive islands so get cash ahead of time. Confirm with your hotel/guesthouse whether or not they accept credit cards. And even if they do, the machine could be broken (happened to us) and you’ll have to get cash when you get back to Malé to pay the hotel representative. It’s probably best just to bring at least enough US dollars to cover everything.
Overall, the temperature doesn’t vary more than a few degrees all year and stays in the mid 80’s Fahrenheit. Monsoon season begins in April and can last through November (northern islands are more affected than the southern ones). January and February are high season and have the least amount of rain which is why I chose this time of year. Prices are about 30% higher during this time. But look at those blue skies!
Best Local Islands in the Maldives – Fulhadhoo Island
The best things about Fulhadhoo are its remoteness, solitude, cultural authenticity, and beach. There are only about 200 residents on the island. The 1.5 hour long speed boat ride plus a 15 minute dinghy boat ride from Goidhoo (more populated) ensure this is not a touristy island. There are less than 5 guesthouses, like one restaurant (if you can even call it that), and one convenience store. Over three days, we saw maybe half a dozen other couples at most on the island.
The walk to the tip of the beautiful sand bar takes about 15 minutes from the guesthouses. After walking the jungle path once, we started walking the 1 km long beach to the sandbar instead as it was more beautiful. The jungle path is good for comparing beaches on both sides though. The southern beach is MUCH nicer and is the designated “bikini beach.”
There are a handful of dilapidated lounge chairs and palm covered umbrellas (made out of satellite dishes I think?) tucked into the jungle edge along the beach. Get there early enough to snag a couple before the other few couples do. It seemed some of the loungers belong to Three Hearts Guesthouse for their guests, so take note of any names on the chairs.
The beach at Fulhadhoo is stunning. The water is clear turquoise with perfect white sand. Sure, there is a bit of trash in the jungle and along the fringes of the beach. It is inevitable. But I can overlook that for this:
How to Get to Fulhadhoo
From Malé, the main island with the airport, you’ll take a pre-booked daily speedboat to the nearby island of Goidhoo, and from here, a tiny dinghy boat to Fulhadhoo. The total trip takes about 2 hours and costs $90/person roundtrip.
The speedboat runs most days of the week (excluding Friday) to Goidhoo at 10 am or 1 pm. Interestingly, ourspeedboat got cancelled and we had to wait until 4pm to leave Malé. Honestly, you really can’t count on what time it will depart. Always check with your hotel to confirm speedboat times to and from the island. I’d even contact the hotel before booking dates to make sure the boat runs that day. Regardless, the hotel will send a representative to the airport to meet you and help you with your transfers.
Another transfer option is a daily flight to a nearby island, then speedboat to Fulhadhoo. This option is much more costly.
Lastly, there is a weekly slow ferry for very cheap that stops in Goidhoo. It currently takes 6-9 hours and leaves at 2am from Malé on Mondays. From Goidhoo you could take a short dinghy ride to Fulhadhoo. Keep in mind ferries can break down, change schedule, etc. With only one stop per week, you’re kind of gambling.
A word of caution pertaining to the boats: if you are prone to motion sickness, take motion sickness medication prior to your transfers and any boat trips you take. It was a lifesaver for me. Sit towards the back of the boat for less motion.
Where to Stay in Fulhadhoo, Maldives
There are literally only 5 guesthouses on Fulhadhoo at the time of writing this. There may be other local homes rented, but only these few are published on Booking and other major travel sites. We stayed at Fulhadhoo Inn as it was the last available place when we booked last minute. It was family run, modest, and fairly comfortable with air conditioning. But after seeing the other 3 guesthouses on the island, I’d choose those over Fulhadhoo Inn if you can. Prices are awesome ranging from $35-$75 per night depending on the guesthouse and the season.
3 Hearts – Quite popular and great reviews. If you aren’t staying there, you can still get lunch there but must order ahead by 11am. Just stop in and ask.
Villa Marina – We stopped in for lunch here twice and enjoyed the food, the environment, and the company of the Russian manager there. She was very helpful and kind. She asked her cook to make a little extra lunch so we could join their guests and made us a special order for smoothies. There are a few poor reviews on TripAdvisor which I find very odd and uncalled for. I didn’t stay here, but gladly would after visiting.
Azoush Tourist Guest House – Also has good reviews and is super affordable! I forgot to take a picture.
Village Hideaways and Spas Guesthouse – I’ve listed this relatively new “luxury” guesthouse last because reviews are hard to come by, it’s not listed on Booking, and their website is a little limited in information. Plus, it isn’t really budget friendly in comparison to the rest of the island. It looks nice though, and the handful of reviews are quite good. If I’d known about it, I would’ve stopped by to check it out, but I never came across it on the island. They also have a restaurant called Village Grill.
I did see another luxury place being built, and you can find it on the map as “Island Luxury.” The pictures are a computerized concept and it’s not available yet. This actually makes me a little sad. I think the budget guesthouses are what make staying on the best local Maldive islands special. I hope these little quiet islands don’t turn into all inclusive, expensive resorts.
Where to Eat in Fulhadhoo, Maldives
As far as meals in Fulhadhoo, options are slim. Breakfast will be provided at your hotel and room rates include it. Many hotels also offer “half board” with dinner or “full board” with lunch and dinner included. We opted for dinner included at Fulhadhoo Inn for $25 per day for the two of us. Otherwise, we would’ve starved. For lunch, we went to Villa Marina because our inn didn’t seem to offer it.
Guesthouses typically make one meal for all their guests. So picky eaters or restrictive diets may find this difficult. You could bring some food with you from the grocery store in Malé just in case. But let your hotel know ahead of time of any dietary restrictions. I consider myself a vegetarian, but will make exceptions for convenience, especially when traveling. But when I got two hot dogs for breakfast with my eggs, I was bit horrified. I still ate one of them just to avoid starving. It’s hard to avoid meat on the local Maldive islands.
There is one little standalone restaurant called A Yacht’s Cafe. We went in once to inquire about lunch and the young man working there said he could make fish, chicken, noodles…we didn’t end up coming back but it has good reviews on Google. For snacks like cookies, crackers, and ice cream, you can find the little convenience store towards the eastern end of the island.
What to do in Fulhadhoo
Fulhadhoo is the perfect place to kick back and reset your stress meter. There is literally almost nothing to do, which was exactly what I needed. We ate breakfast, walked the beach and frolicked in the water each morning, took strolls around the entire island, took a daily afternoon nap when the sun got too hot, and reemerged in time for dinner. The light breeze across the island made mosquitos non-existent as far as I could tell, there were no sand fleas like in the Caribbean, the weather was perfect…I honestly had the most soul-nourishing experience here.
You can absolutely do more than vegetate in Fulhadhoo. You can go snorkeling, go on a diving tour, arrange a sandbar lunch, a romantic sunset dinner on the beach, or go on a fishing tour. Just ask your guesthouse to arrange it.
The best things about Fulhadhoo (besides the obvious perfect beach) are the slow pace, the friendly locals and culture, the feeling of being a world away from normal life, and the lack of tourist development. Hopefully it stays that way. I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Fulhadhoo as one of the best local islands to visit in the Maldives.
Best Local Islands in the Maldives – Dhigurah
If you could only pick one best local island in the Maldives, pick Dhigurah. It’s the perfect combination of small and local, with enough experience in tourism to keep you comfortable and totally blissful.
Again, I searched Google satellite views for the perfect long stretch of island to provide a stunning sandbar at the end. Dhigurah looked perfect at first glance, then checked all the boxes the more I investigated.
With a population of around 600, there is a bit more tourist infrastructure and more like a dozen hotels and guesthouses. They feel more like boutique hotels rather than small guesthouses like Fulhadhoo, but not so big that they feel like resorts. With a handful of hotels and restaurant options, it makes it feel a bit more like a vacation with a little indulgence. Hotels are all mostly clustered in the same area in the middle of the island.
Dhigurah is slightly larger than Fulhadhoo at around 3 km long. It takes a while to walk the entire length of the island but you can either follow the jungle path, which is sandy, or you can walk the entire island along the beach. Both are fun and scenic. When we rented bikes, we rode them along the jungle path, then propped them against a tree near the beach and walked the rest of the way. There are many little trails that lead out to the beach from the jungle path. There was also a sweet gentleman driving a little truck back and forth along the jungle path that you could pay a few dollars to catch a ride.
Dhigurah is directly near the luxury resort of Lux South Ari Atoll Resort and Villas, one of the most stunning private resorts in the Maldives. You can literally walk from the sandbar on Dhigurah all the way to the private island (as seen in the picture below). But be prepared for staff to immediately approach you and charge you for a day visit. This would definitely be a fun way to splurge one day and visit their restaurant or coffeeshop and see the resort. But for a fraction of the price, you’re getting the exact same scenery on Dhigurah.
Another special thing about Dhigurah is this area has year round whale sharks. I really wanted the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks and see them, so that factored into my decision to pick this island.
How to Get to Dhigurah
Again, you’ll take a pre-booked speedboat from Malé (Jetty #1 most likely), which takes about 2 hours. The boat first stops at Dhangethi, then onto Dhigurah 10 minutes later. The speedboat typically departs Malé at 4pm, but always confirm with your hotel. Cost is $100/person roundtrip.
There is also an option to fly to a neighboring island, and if seas are rough, this can be the only option. The cost is $140/person EACH WAY.
Dhigurah is also along the ferry route, but again the ferry usually only travels once per week and is very slow and uncomfortable. If you’re on another island, chances are, you’ll have to go back to Malé first.
The speedboat ferry back to Malé from Dhigurah leaves at 6:30 am. Yikes.
Where to Stay in Dhigurah
The great thing about Dhigurah is there are quite a few great options for lovely hotels. We got lucky and our first choice was available.
Bliss Dhigurah – We absolutely loved the staff, the meals, the property, and the location of Bliss. They pick you up from where the speed boat drops you off, put you and your luggage in the back of a little motorbike trailer and whisk you to the property where you’re greeted with welcome drinks.
We were able to book excursions hosted through the hotel, but they typically only do one activity per day so you need to plan which day you want to go. I’d recommend spending a minimum of three days on Dhigurah so you have the opportunity to go whale shark snorkeling if that’s something you want to do.
Breakfast is included from their restaurant, Hermits, and they always had a nice option each day, along with an espresso machine which honestly made my life complete. Hermits serves fantastic (alcohol free) lunches and dinners as well. It’s a great place to hang, even if you’re not staying here. Then, dinner in the breeze on the rooftop after dark was one of my favorite experiences. You must have their chocolate lava cake. It is out of this world.
You can rent bikes or paddle boards from Bliss as well. We totally enjoyed paddling down the beach just near the hotel.
Dhiguveli Maldives – Very close to Bliss, this hotel looks very beautiful and well located. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here. They have great reviews and even offer massage at their spa!
Other hotels on the island with great reviews:
There are a few other hotels on the island as well, and they all seem to have great reviews. With such a small island, being a few hundred feet farther from the beach doesn’t make all that much difference. You’ll want to walk down the beach to the “Bikini Beach” anyways. Expect to pay somewhere around $70-$150 per night in Dhigurah.
Where to Eat in Dhigurah
You definitely want to take advantage of your included breakfast, wherever you are staying. But I can’t help but rave about Bliss’s meals and whole vibe, so I think you’d be wise in choosing this hotel.
For lunch, we tried a couple of the local restaurants on the island and they are a little cheaper than the hotels for lunch. We tried Absolute Thai and it was just ok. We also tried East Cafe, and for the $5 noodle bowl, I was fairly impressed. We tried just about everything on the menu at Bliss for dinner and were never disappointed. Expect to pay around $10-$15 per person for lunch and up to $20 per person for dinner.
You won’t find alcohol on Dhigurah, just like other local Maldive islands.
What to do in Dhigurah
Besides the obvious of meditating in silence on the beach or frolicking from sand bar to sand bar?
Whale Shark Snorkel/Dive
This experience can be done anytime of year due to the anomaly of Dhigurah being one of the few regions in the world inhabited by whale sharks year round. I had hoped the experience would be uncrowded and I’d be able to see and photograph the whale sharks underwater.
The experience was not what I hoped it would be, however. Many boats from the area congregate in the same region and then wait. The boat crew watches carefully from the top of the boat, then hurries to get to it when a whale shark is spotted.
And so does every other boat in the area.
At that point, all the tourists aboard the boats rush to get their flippers and masks on and ungracefully leap off the boat in chaos, flopping around in the water in hordes, making it virtually impossible to see the whale shark. Some people definitely spotted them but the sharks dove down deeper as soon as we invaded their space. There was certainly no chance of a calm, personal, magical experience. Perhaps during the low season it would be different.
You can have your hotel arrange a picnic or romantic dinner on a private sandbar or Dhigurah’s beach if you’d like. They can pack you a meal and umbrella and deliver you somewhere to experience complete solitude in the open ocean.
Fishing has been a tradition in the Maldives forever. Join a local fisherman and barbecue your catch on the beach for dinner.
Bliss had a few free bikes to borrow or just around the corner was a local bike shop. It was cheap (around $5/person for the day). The bikes have seen better days, and one of them broke down on us in the jungle and we had to hitch a ride, but they made the jungle path journey so much quicker.
Cooking Class, Dolphin Watching, Scuba Diving, or Snorkeling, Jet Skiing
Bliss Dhigurah can arrange any of these activities for you. Just inquire with your booking so they can plan it for you.
I hope I’ve convinced you that these two islands are some of the best local islands in the Maldives. Admittedly, I don’t have personal experience with other local islands to compare them with aside from web research and quick stops via the speed boat. But I’m confident these are some of the most picturesque and all around best local islands in the Maldives.
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