Nearly every aspiring traveler has already heard of the crystalline turquoise lagoons, the multicolored coral reefs, and ultra-luxurious over-water villas. Maldives is all that and more. Yet beyond the villas and underwater restaurants is an ancient seafaring civilization scattered across hundreds of islands in the middle of the Indian ocean. This year marks the 50th golden anniversary of Maldives tourism, yet the local island tourism industry is a mere 13 years old. Guesthouses are now one of the principal products of Maldivian tourism, alongside resorts, liveaboards, and hotels.

In 2009, the Maldivian government amended regulations to allow guesthouses to open in the local islands. Before that, tourists could not freely vacation amongst locals on an inhabited island. By staying on a local island, travelers can delve deep into the many sides of life that make Maldives so utterly unique, including five unique Maldivian experiences that go beyond mere luxury!

Humble Yourself with Tiger Sharks at Fuvahmulah Island

Fuvahmulah island is arguably the most unique island in Maldives. Located in Southern Maldives, historian H.C.P Bell stated that Maldivians have deemed Fuvahmulah as one of the most beautiful islands Rightfully so, mother nature endowed Fuvahmulah with tropical woodlands, wetlands, white smooth-pebble beaches, and one of the largest populations of tiger sharks in Maldives.

Gear up in a scuba kit and plunge into the famous ‘Tiger Zoo’, a haven where you can observe tiger sharks all year round. Veteran divers described their first encounters with tiger sharks as chilling, humbling, and absolutely beautiful.

The dive centers in Fuvahmulah place utmost priority on safety during dives with tiger sharks. The dive guides at Fuvahmulah Dive Maldives, have shark specialty and shark expert certificates. All divers are also given a special safety stick and a comprehensive briefing on safety regulations before each dive. So far, there hasn’t been a single shark attack on a tourist diver in the history of Maldives. A good dose of awe and respect for the wildlife will keep you safe. After a humbling dive with the beautiful predators, you may need to treat yourself to a well-deserved natural mud bath at Koda Kilhi.

Zero Degree Residence: A boutique guesthouse in Fuvahmulah located just a few minutes from the beach. 

Tiger Shark Residence & Dive: A charming guest house in the island with quintessential outdoor showers and a swimming pool 

scuba diving with sharks
Photo: Vincenzo Sopranzetti

Photo: Vincenzo Sopranzetti/Shutterstock

Mangrove Kayaking in Addu Nature Park

Close to Fuvahmulah, Addu Atoll is the Southernmost Atoll in the Maldives. The British army used the Atoll as a secret military base during WW2, and many of the old military barracks and remnants remain.

In 2020, Addu Atoll was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Travelers can explore a variety of ecosystems such as lagoons, reef passes, seagrass beds, sandbanks, lush tropical vegetation, and of course, one of the largest wetland areas in Maldives. If you’ve had enough of the crystalline tropical waters, visit the Addu Nature Park for something different.

Grab a kayak, and gently row through the gorgeous red mangroves. You may even come across baby stingrays and baby sharks in the wetlands.

maldives addu park aerial view
Photo: raaveriya

Photo: raaveriya/Shutterstock

Wave Sound by 3S Maldives: Stay here for one of the best resort-like experiences you can have in the Maldives.

Rekidhiye Inn: Close to the Addu Nature Park, stay at Rekidhiye Inn for some of those gorgeous equatorial sunset views. 

Overnight Camping on an Uninhabited Island near Fulhadhoo

Located in Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Fulhadhoo is truly one of the most idyllic islands in Maldives. Many ask me which is the most beautiful island here, and I always say that there are so many that I can’t choose. But truth be told, I always think of Fulhadhoo. And as they say in the Maldives, “it’s better in Baa”.

Several uninhabited islands neighbor Fulhadhoo. One of the coolest experiences you can have in the Maldives is to camp overnight on one of these uninhabited islands. Imagine the dark equatorial sky brimming with stars right above you, with no one, and nothing in sight besides the dense jungle. A bit scary, a whole lot more exhilarating. While it is rare for travelers to stay overnight on an uninhabited island, you can talk to the guesthouse to see if they can organize such a trip for you.

As always, respect the wildlife (and the spirits), don’t swim in waters that you are not familiar with, and you’ll have a phenomenal experience.

Palms Retreat: Located in the village, every room has a balcony with a view of the endless blue sea. 

Village Hideaway and Spa: Contrary to the name, not really in the village. Yet beautiful and tranquil in every way possible. The beach is right on your doorstep. 

Tour the Tropical Farms at Thoddoo

Thoddoo is one of the few agricultural islands in Maldives. Famous for its juicy sweet watermelons, mouthwatering papayas, and awfully spicy chilies, Thoddoo is one of a kind. Almost every family in Thoddoo owns a plot of farmland. Travelers can buy fresh tropical fruits from the farmers directly.

thoddoo farm papaya tree
Photo: skyNext

Photo: skyNext/Shutterstock

Oftentimes, the farmers are happy to give a tour and show off the prized crops. The Maldivians are famous for their hospitality, and this hospitality is evident regardless of whether you’re in a luxury resort or a local island. After your farm tour, put on your snorkel gear and swim alongside turtles in Thoddoo’s house reef. You’re almost always guaranteed to see the gentle animals.

Accommodation in Thoddoo: 

Royal Stay Thoddoo: Situated just outside the farms, Royal Stay Thoddoo offers minimalism and simplicity. 

Evila Inn Thoddoo: As close to the beach as it gets in Thoddoo. 

Walk Through Street Art in Rinbudhoo

Rinbudhoo, also known as the jewelers’ island, epitomizes the skill and crafts of the Maldivian people. The people of Rinbudhoo are masters jewelers, and they pass down their ancient knowledge and skills through the generations. Oyster shells, pearls, and black corals are used in the jewelry alongside gold and silver.

In 2020, the Maldivian Artist Community (MAC) and the Rinbudhoo city council opened a ‘cultural highway’. The highway is adjourned with beautiful paintings showcasing the culture, folklore, heritage, and beauty of the Maldivian islands.

Accommodation in Rinbudhoo:

Villa Stella: A quaint three bedroom guest house furnished in a traditional style. 

Sevidlam Rinbudhoo Inn: A barefoot lodge offering a relaxing stay close to nature

More than Sun, Sand, and Sea

There is so much more to the Maldives than luxury over-water bungalows. Beyond the sun, sand, and sea, we find mangrove forests, wetlands, lakes, and hundreds of untouched, uninhabited islands. Through connection with locals, we find music, art, and crafts that pay homage to the rhythms of nature. It is up to you, the curious traveler, to dig deeper into what the Maldives holds.