On my trip to the Maldives, I decided to mix up where I stayed by staying a few nights on the island of Thoddoo. The Maldives is world renowned for their ultra luxury resorts that exude opulence at every corner. However, in recent years, the Maldives has opened itself up to local tourism. Sure, staying at an ultra 5* resort like the Park Hyatt Hadahaa is amazing, but I wanted to really get a feel of the culture and eat some local food.
Make sure to read why I think the Maldives is the world’s ultimate beach destination before this post!
Why Local islands In Maldives?
Historically, the Maldives has only been home to some of the fanciest resorts operated by the largest hotel networks. These resorts are often times located on their own islands (don’t worry, the Maldives has over 1000 islands in the country), adorned with fancy decor and overwater villas. Within the last decade, the Maldivian Government has paved the way to allow locals to also benefit from the tourism trade. Islands where locals have always lived could now set up guesthouses, B&Bs, hotels etc to benefit from the tourism trade.
Nowadays, local tourism has increased substantially, but is still dwarfed by the traditional resorts. The secret/not so secret here is that these local islands are all in the Maldives, and therefore many of them have some of the most pristine beaches you can find in this world.
The best part? It comes at a fraction of the cost. You can expect modest but quaint accommodations but easily pay under $100 a night versus resorts that can charge over $1000 a night.
After much research, I booked a few nights on the local island of Thoddoo and stayed at a wonderful guesthouse on the island.
Killing time in Hulhumale
We arrived in Male early, and we had a few hours to kill before our 11am ferry ride. Male is a quick 5 minute speedboat ride from the airport and the smaller but more suburban Hulhumale was a 15 minute bus. We asked the information desk if we should kill time in Male or Hulhumale, and without any hesitation she said the latter. She warned that Male is just a chaotic city with lots of bad traffic, which I totally believe. From the plane, the island of Male looks quite interesting as it is jam packed with big buildings like a collection of lego blocks.
We ended up taking the bus to Hluwemale which is a local town 15 minutes north of the airport. They have a nice beach here with restaurants serving delicious local food. Hulhumale is a locals town and we got a nice glimpse of Maldivian life here.
Maldivians at some point in time came over from Sri Lanka as the language is closely related to that of Sinhalese. The Maldives is a Muslim country (and also the smallest Muslim country in the world) but until the 12th century Buddhism and Hinduism was practised in the islands. Islam was later brought by Moroccan traders. Local women dress in traditional abayas with some covering the face as well.
We had a delicious breakfast on the beach here sampling the local delicacies including mashuni, kulhimas, and kottu roti.
Getting to Thoddoo
Thoddoo is a 1 hour speedboat ferry ride from Male International Airport. This was the first stop on the trip, and someone actually met us at the airport to take everyone to the ferry. Note that you do NOT have to go to the capital city of Male, but rather there are loads of boats that wait at the airport to take tourists and locals to nearby destinations.
The guesthouse prebooked all the ferry transfers and we paid $70 per person for a round trip transfer on the speedboat. The ferry runs twice a day at 11am and 4pm from the airport, and at 7am from Thoddoo back to Male.
The speedboat ferries int he Maldives are quite comfortable. The boats are new and the seats are spread out and well padded. Make sure to sit in the back of the boat as the ride to Thoddoo can get very bumpy especially at the speeds they like to travel at.
As well, there is a cheaper but much slower option to ride a local ferry between Male and Thoddoo. This option leaves at midnight and takes roughly 4-5 hours but only costs $5 or so. If your flight is arriving late at night, this may be a good option as you can sleep on the ferry and not have to spend a night in Male. We met two girls that did exactly this and they said the ferry was mostly empty and they could lie flat for a nice sleep.
The Vibe of Thoddoo
After a lot of research on local islands around Male, I settled on the island of Thoddoo. From the pictures and blogs, the beaches looked unreal and its proximity to the capital city meant it would be easy to get to. Thoddoo is one of the only islands int he Maldives that is not part of an archipelago.
It’s one of the larger islands in the country, and is home to much of the home-grown agriculture of the Maldives. Loads of fresh fruit and vegetables are grown on the island. I had the most delicious papaya of my life here, as well as watermelons, mangoes, and other tropical fruits.
The island itself is rustic and charming. Narrow sandy roads with few cars are the theme here. Colorful guesthouses dot the main streets before turning into large and expansive fruit plantations. The island itself is not very large and you can get your bearings within a few minutes.
The locals are also very friendly and kind as well. However, I will say that the majority of the tourists in Thoddoo are Russian, who are not known to be the friendliest of tourists. At the very least, they do not smile or bother to talk to most people.
I feel like that has rubbed off on the locals as they would never smile or wave at me unless I initiated it, at which point they would happily reciprocate. If you’re Russian and reading this, I know home is you have to fight bears and bath in ice back home, but you’re in paradise so the love of God, smile! Such an easy gesture with zero effort but goes a long way.
Staying at the Veli Thoddoo Inn
After perusing Booking.com over and over, I decided on the Veli Thoddoo Inn as it had great reviews and nice pictures. The guesthouse was indeed nice. It was basic but that is the case with all the accommodation on the island.
We had a large room with a king sized bed, private bathroom, and very strong A/C. We didn’t spend much time here besides eating our delicious breakfast every day that included mashuni, fresh fruit, and juice. Our host was absolutely wonderful and took great care of us. He gave us a tour of the island and the beaches and was there for us during our entire stay.
All the guesthouses on the island are located inland. I did not see any accommodations with ocean facing rooms or anywhere with rooms that even had views of the ocean.
The Beaches in Thoddoo
It did not disappoint! Thoddoo is blessed with incredible reefs and white sandy beaches all around the island. There are two beaches on the island, one in the south, and one in the north. The southern beach is the more popular beach, drawing most of the crowds with its expansive beach and turquoise water. The beach in the north is a bit newer and offers more tranquility, as well as the ultimate Instagram worthy beach swing. The guy at my guesthouse told us he actually put it up, and specifically for that reason.
As soon as I saw the beaches, I knew I had come to the right place. The water is incredible here and the sand extremely soft and comfortable. The crowds were never overwhelming in the northern beach and it’s easy to find a spot that’s open for yourself. The locals even decided to add hammocks and beach chairs for public use. There were other tourists here, mostly Russian, but they all kept to themselves.
I never felt like the beach was crowded at any point, but the shaded area with the hammocks and chairs are mostly taken early in the day. If you’re okay without much shade, there is a wide beach that will be entirely available for you.
One thing I must say is that the mosquitoes on Thoddoo and all the other Maldivian islands are crazy. I’ve been to many tropical islands but have never been attacked by mosquitoes like I have on Thoddoo. Be sure to wear loads and loads of bugspray.
Getting around Thoddoo
The island is connected with sandy roads and there are almost no cars. Walking is the main method of transportation here and you can walk from the northern beach to the southern beach in 20 minutes which we did frequently. We also decided to rent bikes from our guesthouse ($5 a day) which made it super convenient to explore the island. There is a road that completely encircles the island and is perfect for exploration by bike. There really isn’t much to see that you can’t walk to so renting a bike is just because it was so hot to walk otherwise.
Like most of the local islands open for tourism, it is acceptable to wear bikinis and show some skin on the beach, and on the beach only.
Eating in Thoddoo
The charm of Thoddoo and other similar islands is the ability to eat the local food. I think if you just stayed in a resort, you would never fully experience the delicious cuisine of the Maldives.
At our guesthouse, breakfast was included and it was quite the feast. The traditional breakfast of the Maldives is Mashuni. Tuna, cocunut shavings, onions, and chilies are diced up together and served on thin roshi bread (thin chapatti style bread). It doesn’t look like it would be the most appetizing of dishes, but it was perhaps my favorite thing to eat in all the Maldives. We were then served fresh papaya, mango juice, and the works.
As Thoddoo grows their own fruit, eating the papaya is an absolute must. I’m normally not a big fan of papaya but the Maldives had the sweetest and softest papaya I’ve ever tried. I couldn’t stop eating it in fact. Walking through the island, you can see the many papaya and watermelon plantations. Fruit vendors will even sell you papayas whole, cutting them in half and serving it with a spoon. Take this to the beach, and you are in tropical paradise!
For restaurants, it’s not a sprawling marketplace like hulhumale but more and more restaurants are opening up on the island. Don’t expect any fine dining but the local restaurants can cook up anything from local cuisine to pastas and burgers. Skip the latter and stick with the local food. Kottu Roti with Maldivian chilies was my dish of choice served with fresh juice. You can find tasy local dishes for 40-70 rufiyaas ($3-5).
As Maldives is a Muslim country, the local islands do not serve any alcohol. That is perhaps the one downside if you are a big drinker and want a party. I love a good beer and there were times when I thought to myself, this sunset would be so much better with a cold drink. Nevertheless, 3 days on the island without beer was totally fine.
Diving in Thoddoo
During our two week adventure to the Maldives, we did a lot of scuba diving. Thoddoo was one of those places! There are essentially 2 or 3 shops on the entire island. We went with Thoddoo Diving Center, run by a very entertaining and friendly Latvian guy Anatoly (not Russian!). He has been on the island for a few years and does daily trips around Thoddoo, and to the nearby islands of Rasdhoo and Ukulhas.
We did 2 days of boat diving with Anatoly and it was great. It was good to get in the water and dive again before our epic week long liveaboard on the Carpe Novo!
For the first day, we went to the nearby island of Rasdhoo to look for Hammerheads in the morning. We left the dock at 5am before the sun was even up. The sun was rising on the horizon as we got to the dive site which was a treat. Although we didn’t see any hammerheads, we saw loads of other fish including snappers, triggerfish, groupers, trevallies, white tip sharks, turtles, and morays. The fish concentration in the Maldives is absolutely fantastic as we saw school after school of fish.
The Maldives is known for its currents so all of our dives were some variation of drift diving (which I love).
Visiting the Rasdhoo Sandbank
The Sandbar is probably one of the highlights of my trip to Thoddoo. It is located right next to the island of Rasdhoo and offers some of the most spectacular pictures and scenery you can find in the area. As we went diving in Rasdhoo, we acutally visited the sandbar on our surface interval (how can you beat that?!).
Otherwise, from Thoddoo you’ll need to hire a boat to take you there. Our guesthouse sold this trip as a snorkeling and sandbank day trip with lunch. It was $75 per person which seemed quite steep considering it wasn’t super far away and it was just snorkeling.
Nevertheless, I was very happy I could see this on a surface interval (free!) while diving! It was a great way to kill a surface interval and saved us $150. Plus these are definitely pictures you keep forever!
And of course, here is a video of the experience using my drone.
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