Outside Dubai International Airport Terminal 2 at 11:30pm. It was my first time back at Terminal 2 since my trip to Lebanon the previous year.
We had checked in online and only had carry-on luggage so were through security and immigration in less than 10 minutes. Our flight wasn't until 1:30am so we grabbed a camembert and turkey croissant and a coffee at an air-side café.
Our flights were on flydubai (FZ) and we had booked them back in September when they had a sale for $429 each. The outbound flight was direct to Malé and coming back was via a 1 hour stopover in Colombo in Sri Lanka.
Our bus to the plane parked almost directly under the wing (you can see the shadow of the bus)! We then climbed aboard via the rear stairs to begin our 4.5 hour journey to Maldives.
After catching a few hours sleep I woke up about an hour out of Malé and saw the wonderful orange and blue sky as the morning sun peeked below the horizon.
Some of the Maldives islands as we begin our descent.
The island resort of Embudu below as we make our approach to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
And the capital, Malé, in the distance just before touch down.
After arriving on time at 7am, we parked up close to the main terminal so no need for a bus for the short walk to arrivals.
Maldives currently had entry restrictions for people who had recently visited the three main Ebola countries (Guinea, Sierra Leone & Liberia) but luckily it had been 38 days since I had left Liberia.
Immigration was very easy and we were quickly stamped in. Maldives is celebrating 50 years since independence and we got cute little 'Maldives 2016' sticker in our passports too.
It was only 7:20am and our speedboat ferry we had booked didn't depart until 9am so we grabbed some beef and seafood noodles for breakfast. It was $28 for the two dishes and a coffee, and would turn out to be our most expensive meal for the trip!
After meeting up with the guide, we boarded the speedboat for our trip south to Maafushi. The first option to getting to Maafushi was the public ferry. This costs only $2 each but takes almost 2 hours and only departs once a day at 3pm. Another option was to hire a private speedboat, but this was relatively expensive at $160 each way. The best option though was to catch the speedboat ferry. It departs three times a day, takes just over 35 minutes and costs a very reasonable $45 per person for the return journey. For comparison, The Holiday Inn Maldives resort, which is very close to Maafushi, charges $220 per person for the same journey.
Maafushi is located ~30 kilometres south of Malé. After picking up a few passengers in Malé we headed south to Maafushi. The speedboat had two big Johnson outboard motors on the back and we cruised at a relatively brisk ~65 kmph (as per my GPS).
Maafushi is a local inhabited island in the South Malé Atoll and is ~1.2 kilometres long and ~200 metres wide. Tourism is relatively new to the Maldives, with the first resort opening in 1973. Since then, tourists were largely restricted to staying at the expensive island resorts. Most of these resorts are owned and operated by a few businessmen in the country, and the rest are owned and operated by foreign companies. Hence, most of the benefits of tourism were not shared evenly to the local citizens of the country. In 2010 however, the government changed its regulations to allow guesthouses to open on the local islands. The guesthouses provide the island with direct employment and many other indirect economic benefits.
We arrived at about 9:45am, and after a bit of help with directions from the locals, we walked off to find our guesthouse for our stay in Maafushi.
Signing in after arriving at our guesthouse, the Water Breeze. We had booked the guesthouse online through Agoda for $110 (including taxes & service charges) a night including breakfast.
And our room for our stay, including butterflies on the wall! The room was quite new, very clean and had good AC and had all that we wanted.
Love heart. After a bit of a nap to shake off the jetlag, we headed out just after noon to explore Maafushi.
A wooden boat under construction with the minaret of the local mosque just behind.
Rianda testing out one of the local hammock-style chairs about.
At the southern end of the island is Maafushi Prison. It is the largest prison in the Maldives islands and has held numerous political prisoners, including the former President from 2008-2012, Mohamed Nasheed.
The barbed fence on the prison perimeter. Former President Mohamed Nasheed was famous for once holding a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear to highlight the threat of climate change on Maldives. After being pressured to resign in 2012 'at gun point', he was later jailed in Maafushi prison for 13 years in 2015 under seemingly spurious terror charges. On January 16, 2016, after foreign pressure, he was allowed to temporarily leave Maafushi prison for the UK for back surgery.
Local ladies on a motor scooter.
Outside Maafushi school. Sunni Islam is the state religion of Maldives.
We then went to Maafushi Dive to confirm the scuba diving we had booked for tomorrow.
We were starting to get hungry so then went to Rehendhi Restaurant and had a couple of very nice illy cappuccinos.
For lunch I had the cheese burger and fries and Rianda had the fish and chips. The total bill for both coffee's and the two meals was $15 so was very reasonable.
A local Maldivian kid. We then went back to the guesthouse to chill out for a bit.
Later in the afternoon we went to Bikini beach.
To avoid offending the locals with skimpy bathing suits etc., there is a special beach where the tourists can swim.
There was also a shop on the beach selling fresh coconuts.
After drinking the juice, it was cut up for us to get to the flesh.
Very tasty! We then relaxed on the beach for the rest of the afternoon. Unfortunately with the overcast clouds we would have to wait another day to see one of the famous Maldives sunsets though.
In the evening we headed out to the Stingray Beach Inn for dinner.
Where we had the tuna steak, Maldivian fish curry with salad and rice.
And shared a delicious Neapolitan banana split for dessert. Total price was $26 and again very reasonable.
We then headed back to the guesthouse after a great first day in Maldives.
After breakfast at the hotel we met up at 8am at Maafushi Dive before heading out on the boat for our morning dive excursion.
Quite a wide range of nationalities on the dive trip. Italian, British, Korean, Swedish, and of course one South African and a Kiwi!
We then suited up and jumped in for our first dive. My last few dives were in Bali and Hoi An, and the Maldives definitely seemed a step up though.
Clownfish bobbing in and around the anemones.
I was really blown away by the amount of underwater life too. Unfortunately I didn't get any good shots with my wide-angle Gopro, but we saw a sea turtle, a moray eel, some rays and a few sharks.
And doing our safety stop at the end of an amazing dive.
We then swapped out new tanks on the boat and then headed to our second dive site.
Our second dive was at the Kuda Giri wreck.
It was my second time doing a wreck dive.
It was really cool to explore and check out a relatively recent wreck in good visibility.
A trio of butterflyfish.
More exploring of the wreck.
Again lots of fish to keep us company.
This guy was quite co-operative and stayed still while I took his photo.
Heading back towards the bow.
We then headed along the reef to check out the sea life.
Another butterflyfish amongst the coral.
Again it was a really amazing dive and definitely amongst my most memorable after 14 years of diving.
Back at the boat after our safety stop.
After a great morning diving we went for a walk along the beach back at Maafushi.
We then stopped for a cool fresh watermelon juice at a restaurant on the beach.
And shared the tasty pizza mariana for lunch. Again quite a cheap meal for $15 total.
A couple of local surfers heading out to the break to catch some waves.
The front door of a local house.
We then went for a wander through the streets and alleys before crashing out at the hotel after the busy morning.
After a decent rest we then headed out again.
A local family enjoying a Friday afternoon swim at a beach on the eastern side of Maafushi.
We then went to the main beach on the western side and shared another coconut.
And enjoyed watching the spectacular sunset.
We then headed to dinner at the Arena Beach Hotel where they had a BBQ dinner buffet for $10 (~$12 including tax, service charge etc.).
We had a table right by the beach, and enjoyed a candle-lit dinner while listening to the gentle lapping of the waves nearby. A great way to finish our second day in Maldives!
After a run around the island (I managed three laps) we had breakfast again at the guesthouse. Simple but tasty and filling
There was a bit of morning downpour but it quickly passed.
We then headed out on a speedboat we had organised through the guesthouse for a day trip out to Villivaru island.
The island was ~ 5 kilometres away from Maafushi, so the trip in the speedboat was relatively quick.
We then landed on the island and disembarked. The guesthouse had also organised a picnic lunch (in the cooler bin) for our day on the island.
We then went for a walk around to explore the island. Villivaru island is relatively small at ~350 metres across. In 1982 a three star resort was built on the island. The resort was later sold to a Singaporean investor. He then attempted to 'refurbish' the resort by extending the island and adding overwater villa's. This however resulted in significant damage to the surrounding reef and he was subsequently fined a signficant sum.
The fine went unpaid, the refurbishment halted and the island has since been abandoned for the last ~10+ years with only a few cats as now its only permanent residents.
A passing catamaran in the distance.
A heron enjoying some sun with Maafushi on the horizon.
The old and now crumbling resort pier.
A hermit crab having a stroll on the beach. The deserted island was home to quite a few of these guys, both big and small.
Our speedboat anchored by our 'private' beach. We then went for a swim on the sheltered western side of the island.
A couple in a catamaran came ashore for a break from their sail around the islands.
At about 12:30pm, our guide laid out our picnic lunch under the palm trees for a very tasty feast for two!
A great picnic lunch with an awesome view.
Our guesthouse had also organised snorkelling gear for us, so after lunch we went out to explore the local sea life.
You could see alot of broken and damaged coral about, presumably from the attempted resort refurbishment.
It appeared to slowly be bouncing back though with some live coral and plenty of fish about.
A school of Green Chromis hovering over some coral. Was fun to see them dancing and ducking about. If you got too close they would all retreat into the safety of the coral.
A lurking moray eel.
She was a little cautious when she spotted us, and even started showing us her fangs!
After the fun and cool afternoon of snorkelling, we had a stroll to the end of the pier. You can see the remains of the pier underwater at the end as it has started to crumble away into the ocean.
And then enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing unde the palm trees.
At about 3:30pm we said farewell to the beautiful deserted island of Villivaru and headed back in the speedboat to Maafushi. The total cost for the day for the speedboat, picnic lunch, beach towels and snorkelling gear was $65 each or $130 total, so was very reasonable. Such an amazing and relaxing experience too!
After retrieving our bags from the guesthouse and thanking them for a very enjoyable stay, we walked down to the speedboat ferry for the 5pm trip back to Malé to begin our trip back home.
Quite a few people, both locals and fellow tourists, were heading back to Malé so they had a second speedboat running as well.
We got to Malé at about 5:35pm. The speedboat was heading on to the airport but as our flight back to Dubai wasn't until 10:20pm, we decided to see abit of the capital instead.
The island of Malé is only 5.8 square kilometres in size, and with a population of 153,000, is 60% more densely populated than Hong Kong Island and 40% more than Macau!
After enjoying a walk around bustling Malé, we retreated to a local restaurant and enjoyed a banana smoothie.
We then had dinner of ginger and sweet and sour fish with rice for dinner.
The balcony of the restaurant looked out over the street below, and was great to watch the people, whizzing motorbikes and a few cars.
We then caught one of the frequent ferries (one every ~10 minutes) for the short ride across to the airport.
Getting some Oreo cake, coffee and water air-side with the last of our local currency.
And about to board the flydubai 737 after an amazing three days in Maldives!