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Maldives – Northern Atolls

March / April 2019

After a month in Sri Lanka I returned to the Maldives. Before my stay in Sri Lanka I was already in January / February 2019 on the Maldives and explored the touristy North and South Ari atolls.

This time I wanted to discover the barely visited northern atolls Haa Alif, Haa Dhaalu, Shaviyani, Noonu and Lhaviyani. Since the report about this trip contains 116 photos, I have divided it into three web pages.

As in the book and film “The Beach”, my journey began with a map. Ali, a hotel employee in Male, used to travel from atoll to atoll as a dive instructor on a dive boat and said he knew the Maldives very well. During the first days of my trip to the Maldives in January 2019 I asked him which atolls he could recommend for my next one month trip. He suggested the less visited north of the Maldives. First I should fly to Hanimadhoo in the Haa Dhaalu Atoll. He mentioned a few more places, but since I knew the Maldives very little, I asked him to draw a map. Now my interest was aroused and I decided to return to the Maldives after Sri Lanka and to travel from Hanimaadhoo by ferry from island to island back to Male.

The map drawn by Ali, on the basis of which I decided to get to know the Northern Atolls

He couldn’t give me any details about islands, accommodations and transport possibilities, because these questions didn’t arise on the dive boat. Nevertheless, he said that this trip would be a great experience. At that time I hardly knew anything about traveling on local islands and trusted him. Only on this second trip to the north did I realize how little Ali knew (e.g. Rasdhoo is actually much more southern than shown on this map). I sensed that this trip was an adventure. But the challenge was bigger than I imagined.

Male

My plane from Sri Lanka landed late in the evening, so I spent one night in Male. In the morning of the next day I visited the fish market, the only place of interest in the city. Sometimes you can see big tunas.

Here two large specimens of yellowfin tuna are prepared for sale.

In the afternoon I flew with a propeller plane of Maldivian Airline in one hour to Hanimaadhoo in the Haa Dhaalu Atoll.

Right next to Male airport is the island Farukolhufushi, which was filled up in 1979.

Hanimaadhoo

Via Airbnb I found a well furnished house in a newly built settlement that I could use on my own. A Nespresso coffee machine provided excellent coffee and with the available bikes I could explore the island. The landlord Habib was a very friendly and helpful man. The island is large for Maldivian standards with 7 km length and 750 m width. However, more than half of the island is occupied by the airport.

The next day Ivana arrived in Hanimaadhoo. I got to know the Uruguayan in Sri Lanka. She had been traveling for some time and was enthusiastic about my already planned trip to the Maldives. Due to her limited budget she was happy to share the costs with me.

On Hanimaadhoo there is a bikini beach where tourists can stay in liberal clothing such as a bikini. It was about 2 km away from our house, so we went there by bike.

This bridle indicates the end of the bikini beach where bathing clothes are no longer allowed. Because of the many Italian tourists on the local islands, the sign is also written in Italian.

Habib thought that snorkeling on the house reef near our house was too dangerous because of the fast boats near the beach. He twice organized a boat for a good price that took us to snorkeling spots in a few minutes.

We saw several hawksbill sea turtles.

Habib, meanwhile, was collecting Raakani clams. These have been used by the Maldivians as food since long ago. After being heated in the fire, we ate the smoky meat of these animals. Delicious!

A Raakani clam

After two days we got to know Hanimaadhoo and its snorkeling areas and wanted to travel further north to the Haa Alifu Atoll. There is hardly any information about this area on the internet, so I asked several locals about possible island destinations. Matheen from Fanhaa Guesthouse suggested the islands Mulhadhoo and Hoarafushi. Mulhadhoo would be known for its large turtles and Hoarafushi for its corals. Since there was no accommodation in Mulhadhoo, he organized a room with a family, which they had prepared for guests. I was curious about the island, which was hardly visited by tourists.

Matheen also told me that he could book Maldivian Airline flights for tourists at half price. As foreigners we had to pay USD 200 for the 55-minute flight from Male to Hanimaadhoo, more than three times as much as locals. To make Hanimaadhoo and his guesthouse attractive for tourists despite the great distance to Male, he and other guesthouse owners were able to negotiate an attractive airfare with the airline. Unfortunately, nobody told us about this possibility before, so we paid the full tourist price.

Mulhadhoo

The next day we took the local ferry via the atoll capital Kulhudhuffushi to Mulhadhoo, where the family picked us up and brought us to their house. The price for the accommodation was high and on arrival we knew that it was much too high for the room without windows, without internet access and without any possibility to stay outside the room. Later we could achieve a reduction of the room price.

Afterwards we explored the island. At the beach we could watch dolphins about a hundred meters away. We also saw some sea turtles stretching their heads out of the water to catch breath. Ivana bathed in a bikini at sunset in the sea, although this was officially not allowed. But since nobody was around, it didn’t cause any problems.

A sandman on the beach

Since there was no restaurant on the island, we always ate with the family who cooked good meals with several courses. We asked about the plans for tomorrow, because we wanted to see the big turtles for which Mulhadhoo is known according to Matheen, but we only got evasive answers and were put off for the next day. Snorkeling in the house reef was not recommended.

Matheen of Hanimaadhoo gave us the phone number of the government-appointed island administrator Sameer, who holds the highest political office on the island. We met him in front of his house in the evening for tea and discussed many things. I also learned that large mangrove crabs live in the island’s forest, which the locals call Kadoofa Kakuni. Sameer was kind enough to take me with his motorcycle to the place in the forest where the crabs live in self-digged holes.

This mangrove crab called Kadoofa Kakuni had a head over 10 cm wide and was therefore the largest type of crab I encountered in the Maldives.

Even the next day at breakfast it was not clear what we could undertake. Ivana made contact with the family’s 17-year-old daughter and learned a lot about her life and plans. Thanks to Ivana I got to know the view of the local women, because for me as a tourist it was impossible to talk to a local woman. The daughter told me that next year, when she reached the age of majority, she would marry a member of the army in the capital Male, who already had children from his first marriage. She is actually against this marriage, but has to submit to her parents. Afterwards she wants to go to Canada with her husband to visit relatives and study there. I was surprised that the people here are also internationally networked, although the island is remote.

The daughter suggested that she would like to wade with us to the next uninhabited island and we could snorkel there. Since we didn’t have any news about the trip to the big turtles yet, we gladly agreed. The walk and the snorkeling were nothing special. We came back for lunch. Now we were told that we would go to see the turtles at 4 pm. So late in the afternoon the light for snorkeling is no longer ideal, but for unknown reasons the trip could not take place earlier. When asked about the costs, our contact man in the family said that the boat belongs to the head of the island, Sameer, and we had to agree with him. Since I had gotten to know Sameer from the previous evening as very nice and not profit-oriented at all, that was okay for me.

After a short trip by boat we reached an interesting snorkeling area a few hundred meters away from Mulhadhoo, where we saw sharks, rays, an orange fin emperor and shoals of different reef fish. As feared, the light for good photos was often insufficient.

This sea cucumber has erected itself so that you can see its mouth opening with which it picks up sand. It feeds on the plant constituents the sand contains.

A Spotted Eagle Ray

Actually we came to Mulhadhoo because of the big turtles, but we didn’t see any turtles at all while snorkeling. The local muttered that they were seasonal. When we received the bill in the evening, the price for the snorkel boat was much too high. Sameer’s boat was used elsewhere, so our hosts organized another, more expensive boat without informing us. After the price for the accommodation we had to defend ourselves now also for a reasonable boat price. Too bad. Matheen from Hanimaadhoo gave us bad advice. In the evening Sameer invited us to a friend’s house. He was a Pakistani doctor who had been providing medical care on the island for a few years. He and his wife like this secluded island, where they can lead a quiet and safe life that is very different from that in Pakistan.

Hoarafushi

The next day we left Mulhadhoo a bit disappointed in the early morning and took the local ferry which leaves every Wednesday. We reached Hoarafushi in 45 minutes, where according to Matheen great corals awaited us.

I reserved for three nights in a beautiful new guesthouse with good ratings. The owner Momo was very nice to us as his only guests. He showed us the way to the beach and the isolated coral blocks for snorkeling. Ivana wanted to sunbathe on the beach and I got ready for snorkeling. After thirty minutes I left the water disappointed. There were only a few small coral blocks with the usual fish off the coast.

Bluestriped Snappers on a few meters long coral block in front of Hoarafushi

Ivana was also dissatisfied. Momo had set up a shady place on the beach with two deck chairs for his guests. Unfortunately the mosquitoes also discovered this place, so that Ivana had to flee soon. We walked along the beach which was littered with garbage like I had never seen before on an island in the Maldives. We decided to leave the island as soon as possible. So another tip from Matheen was useless.

Garbage at the beach of Hoarafushi

The premature departure caused us a lot of headaches, because our schedule was coordinated with the timetable of the local ferries, which sometimes only travel once or twice a week. After Hoarafushi we wanted to visit the island Utheemu, the birthplace of the national hero Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu, who expelled the Portuguese from the Maldives in the 16th century. But for that we would have had to stay three nights in Hoarafushi, which we ruled out. We also had to find an island on our way south to Male, from which we could continue our journey to the next atoll, the Noonu Atoll. Booking.com and Tripadvisor were not very helpful in this touristically less developed area, so that we often relied on Airbnb to find islands with accommodations. We then found the host’s phone number on Facebook or via Google Maps. Funadhoo, one of the southernmost islands in the Sahviyani Atoll, fulfilled these conditions after the owner of the guesthouse assured us by telephone that the day after our arrival a cargo ship would leave for Male and make a stop in the Noonu Atoll.

Although the Maldivian ferry company is state owned, there are no official timetables, even less on the internet. There are a few private websites that list the routes and departure times with great effort, but since they are not official, the times must always be confirmed locally. There are many cargo ships that take passengers sailing between the islands and atolls, about which there is no information on the Internet at all. The best contact person is the owner of the guesthouse, who for example knows the telephone number of a friend whose brother-in-law works as a cashier on the boat and therefore knows the departure day and the time.

According to a website, a local ferry should leave Hoarafushi the next day for the atoll capital Kulhudhuffushi. But this was not the case, so that we had to resort to a much more expensive daily speedboat.

After hours of research our journey was finally planned and we could explore the island. From the north shore we discovered these cowtail stingrays and three white-spotted eagle rays.

We saw these two cowtail stingrays from the shore.

The next morning at 7 a.m. the speedboat headed for Kulhudhuffushi, the capital of the Haa Dhallu Atoll and economic center of the northern Maldives. This island does not have much to offer for tourists. After a few hours stay we chugged on board a local ferry from island to island and reached after almost four hours our destination Funadhoo.

Funadhoo

The guest house owner Yammin was already waiting for us at the harbor. We learned that he is only recently the new owner and that the guesthouse was actually closed because he wanted to carry out some changes. We were glad that we could stay overnight anyway, because on the other islands in the southern part of the Shaviyani Atoll there were no further overnight accommodations. We immediately talked about our onward journey to the Noonu Atoll. Since the new owner was not from the area, but from Male, he brought the local previous owner. The next disillusionment followed when the previous owner informed us that the promised cargo ship does not actually stop in Noonu Atoll, but can make a stop for USD 60 in front of the desired island. We would then have to change to a boat organized by us in the dark on the sea, which could take us to the desired island. All in all, we would have to reckon with USD 100, which would have exceeded Ivana’s budget. Since the onward journey became much more expensive than originally planned, we asked for an alternative. After a few phone calls, the previous owner found another solution. The day after next, a speedboat departed for Male for USD 40 per person, which could drop us off on our destination, the island Velidhoo. We decided to go for this option. The speedboat owner was not available, but Yammin wanted to reserve two places in the speedboat for us. We were relieved.

The next day after jogging through the almost 2 km long island, Yammin invited us for a snorkeling tour in the afternoon. In between I asked about the speedboat reservation and Yammin said it was under control. It was Friday, the Muslim weekend. We were a few men and women on the boat and snorkeled off Funadhoo and the neighboring island Farukolhu. Unfortunately the water was partly turbid and we were late in the afternoon, so I don’t show any pictures of this snorkeling trip.

Back on land I talked again about our onward journey with the speedboat. It seemed to me that Yammin had forgotten the reservation. After a few clarifications we were told that the boat was already fully booked and would take a different route on the way to Male anyway, so that this boat would be out of the question. Now we were angry, because the cargo ship that we had been promised at first had already left, so that this was no longer an option. Since the island offers little for tourists, we did not want to stay further. Ivana was also in contact with people on a sailing boat she had met in Sri Lanka and who she wanted to meet in Velidhoo. After animated discussions and a few tears from Ivana, who became increasingly dissatisfied with the journey and new costs, Yammin was able to organize a speedboat just for us for the next day, which was USD 100 for both together for the 54 km distance, which was apparently fair.

The next morning at 9 a.m. the small speedboat waited for us in the harbor and brought us to Velidhoo in 1.5 hours.

Ivana on the speedboat to Velidhoo with her Uruguayan Mate tea

Velidhoo

After the odyssey in the north of the Maldives I finally found in Velidhoo an island where I wanted to stay for a longer time.

Meanwhile Ivana communicated with her friend on the sailing ship, which we could already see at the edge of the reef. In the afternoon we visited the sailboat. After a snorkeling tour from the ship we were invited for apero and dinner. The Swiss Patrick from Geneva fulfilled his dream and now sails with his ship around the world. In order not to be alone and to share the costs, he offers interested persons a ride. On the Maldives route, besides skipper Patrick, there were two women, one from New York and one from Italy and the Italian Mauro, whom Ivana knew from Sri Lanka. The crew invited us to sail with them in two weeks to Male. But there were only sleeping places on the round bench in the common area and on deck. Ivana wanted to sail with them, so there would be even less space for me. Furthermore I liked Velidhoo and the reef around the island promised great snorkeling experiences. Therefore I renounced the sailing trip. The following morning I said goodbye to Ivana, but we wanted to see each other again.

On Velidhoo Adam was the perfect host. He has many plans for the further touristic development of the island. One project is the opening of a bikini beach on a bay near his guest house, which is lacking on Velidhoo. He also wants to buy a boat to bring guests to nearby uninhabited islands at cost price. These plans should be implemented by the end of 2019.

Adam with his father on the swing in his house.

Every day I enjoyed breakfast at one of these tables overlooking the sea.

The island was in election fever: Each party had its number and color.

The bicycle is a popular means of transport on the approximately one kilometer long island.

In the vicinity of the harbor several partly large ships were under construction.

On a fishing boat I could have a look into one of the cool boxes, where big yellowfin tunas were stored in ice water. The destination is the fish market of Male.

Unfortunately there is no sunset beach on Velidhoo. I took this picture on a wall of big stones that surrounds the northern part of the island.

Like every local island, Velidhoo has a landfill. Interestingly, the reef in front of the landfill is particularly species-rich.

The whole island is surrounded by a reef, whose biodiversity impressed me. It is one of the best house reefs on the Maldives.

A Napoleon Wrasse, also called Hump-headed Wrasse or Giant Maori Wrasse

A Pacific Trumpetfish

A Cornetfish

Females of the Indian Sheephead Parrotfish

A Freckled Hawkfish

A Three-spot angelfish

A fusilier species

A Blue-and-yellow Grouper

A Bluefin Jack

A Grey Reef Shark

Lined Rabbitfishes

An escaping Cowtail Stingray

Two little crabs look out of their shells

A Thicklip Wrasse

A Black-saddled Coral Grouper

A Clown Triggerfish

A Hawksbill sea turtle

A male Bicolor Parrotfish that is being cleaned by a Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse

I liked Velidhoo so much that I stayed six days. Adam also ran a restaurant whose menu was geared to the local clientele and therefore had no vegetables and, as is usual in the northern part of the Maldives, no fresh fish dishes on the menu. But he was happy to cook dishes according to my wishes.

With the local ferry I continued to another island in the Noonu Atoll.

 

This text is an automatic English translation from the German original by deepl.com