While planning our trip to the Maldives, we debated whether to stay on a private resort island, a local inhabited island, or both. The resorts are where you can stay in one of the iconic over-water villas, but we also like to see how locals live wherever we go
Since we have two Hilton free night certificates to use this year, we considered the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which would have been an excellent redemption except for one detail – you can only get to Rangali island via the hotel’s private boat, which costs $950 per adult for a roundtrip ride. It just didn’t seem worth it for such a short trip, so we decided to try a local island instead.
Our original plan was to island hop from Mahibadhoo to Dhangethi to Dhigurah, but Covid regulations were so tight we were told to pick just one island. We went with Dhigurah, a thin line of sand in the vast ocean. If you walk to the tip, you can see water on both sides, and you feel like the ocean can swallow you.
The speedboat to Dhigurah only cost $55 per person each way, or $220 roundtrip for both of us. Much more reasonable.
We flew in from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Male, the capital of the Maldives. Our flights were $817 for both of us, and included our onward flight to Dubai, where we were headed next. When we arrived, we took out 2300 MVR from the ATM (about $150) for incidentals, which we spent very little of. Most places took a credit card.
We arrived in Male at night and took a taxi to our Airbnb, which was $63 for one night. Our lovely host from Indonesia helped us get a SIM card at the local rate (around $10) and packed some local fruits for us in the morning. I had no idea what I was eating but they were delicious – I think they’re called water apples.
Before our boat ride, we tried to visit the National Museum, but their payment system was down and they refused to take cash, so we weren’t allowed in. That didn’t leave the best impression. Overall people weren’t too friendly in the Maldives.
We also experienced sticker shock at the produce market. Fruits and vegetables are more expensive than in the US, but cheaper on Male than on other islands, so we stocked up on oranges and apples. We also grabbed breakfast at a tasty bakery called The Bakers and lunch at Bread Matters, which serves a buffet with lots of vegetables.
Our hotel on Dhigurah had arranged the speedboat for us, so we just had to give our names when we arrived. It’s a shared boat and comfortable enough that I fell asleep. When we got to Dhigurah, the owner of our hotel, Ithaa Dhigurah, was at the dock to meet us and drive us to the hotel in a motor cart.
Our hotel was okay. There were some ants and the air conditioner made a racket the first night, but it was clean, there was enough hot water, wifi was decent, and the girl who served breakfast was very sweet. We almost stayed at Bliss, but it didn’t have an enclosed shower and the price was almost double. Ithaa was $340 for 3 nights.
We quickly discovered that tuna was the theme of eating local. We went to a beach cafe where all the locals were eating and had tuna burgers, tuna rice, tuna kotthu roshi, and tuna samosas over the next few days. The waiters were Bangladeshi. They climbed a tree to get me a coconut and brought me chilled pudding another time.
We walked to the beach twice a day to swim in the crystalline water or watch the sun set. Even though it was March, one of the most popular months to visit the Maldives, we passed only a few tourists. It was extremely serene.
Only one sandy road ran down the middle of the island. One evening a few women set up big woks by the side of the road after sundown. Aaron wanted to know what they were frying. Coconut flakes and chili. They gave him some to try. Delicious, he reported. It would be used to flavor some communal dishes for Ramadan.
Three days on one island turned out to be the perfect amount of time. One can only last so long at the equator. You’ll break a sweat just strolling on the beach at a turtle’s pace, and you’ll tan or burn almost instantly, even underwater.
The waters around Dhigurah are home to whale sharks but we didn’t go on any boat trips. If you bring your own snorkeling gear, you can snorkel in the house reef on the lagoon side of the island. There hadn’t been any recent sightings of whale sharks when we went in early March, and I can’t help but think tourism has pushed marine life farther afield. In recent years, getting too close to wildlife has been both awe-inspiring and upsetting, especially after our elephant safari in Sri Lanka.
Leaving Dhigurah, we woke up at dawn to take the same speedboat. Some other tourists were chatting in the back of the boat. I overheard one of them say that they had done both the over-water resorts and the local island, and found the latter to be more interesting.
Back on Male, we had breakfast at Bread Matters, then took a ferry to the airport to fly on to Dubai. In total, we spent about $1500 on this trip, but it would have cost us $600 to fly from Colombo to Dubai, so in essence we spent $900 to stop in the Maldives for four days. It was one of our more expensive trips, but we spent so little in Sri Lanka it balanced out.
I would say it’s definitely worth visiting the Maldives if you’re in the region, especially during the dry season from December to April. The view flying in is stunning, the water is clear and warm to swim in, and it feels surreal to be so far from everything on a tiny spit of sand in the ocean.