There’s a clear winner for me and you might be surprised which it is. Deborah Ives answers the question
I first visited the Maldives three years ago when I went in search of mantas and stayed at a very nice resort in Baa Atoll, about half an hour by seaplane from Male. It was a lovely week, you can read all about it on my blog, and yes I did see mantas and enjoyed the full resort experience. As with this latest trip I was there out of season and as some of you will know, I’m a big fan of travelling this way as not only do you avoid the crowds and get a much more personal experience, it’s also much more affordable (although to be honest, nothing in the Maldives is ever cheap!).
Reviewing the options for my solo trip
So here was my thought process for booking this trip. I really wanted to see whale sharks. They’d eluded me on so many holidays. I was fed up with the whole ‘you should have been here last week’ routine. This time I was going to find them. I Googled the best places to see them in September and landed on the southern atolls of the Maldives. Looking into it further I found that the locally inhabited island of Dhigurah was one of the best places to stay in order to see them and so I selected a lovely boutique guest house there and booked a week with a dive package included. Up until that point, I hadn’t realised that a local island was an option. I’d always assumed that it was a resort or nothing and although I hadn’t set out to particularly find a less expensive option it seemed that, by chance, I had landed on a very affordable alternative. Result!
Wait, it’s a dry island!
Now is a good time to mention that if you’re not willing to go without alcohol for the length of your stay then opting for a hotel on a locally inhabited Maldivian island is not really an option. (The Maldives is an Islamic nation made up of around 1,190 coral islands of which 200 are inhabited islands plus 80 islands with tourist resorts. Alcohol is only available in the resorts and you are not permitted to bring any into the country from outside).
Not really could I go a week without booze, but did I want to – after all this was supposed to be fun!
Full disclosure here, I had to think about this for a while – not really could I go a week without booze, but did I want to – after all this was supposed to be fun – but ultimately I decided it was a very small price to pay for a week of diving and snorkeling with whale sharks, and in the end I can honestly say that it didn’t bother me at all, in fact, I felt really great for a week of abstinence!
I reached Dhigurah, population 500, via plane from Male followed by a short boat ride – all organised by the hotel. Arriving at the harbour, my first impressions were mixed. The greeting from the hotel team was very friendly but as we made our way down the one main road (I’ll call it a road although it was sand and there were only about 3 vehicles on the island) I noticed that the island was so quiet – I mean, really, no one around at all. A small row of shops all closed – I never did see them open! The local houses looked ‘lived in’ – well of course they were! – but I suppose I had the manicured impression of the resort in my mind from 3 years ago, so it was a bit of a shock – ridiculous I know!
The hotel itself had the absolute best location of any of the 4 on the island, situated right on the beach. My room was perfect – looking out onto the sand and sea, very spacious and clean, with all amenities – really spot on. Being out of season, there was just me and another couple staying – they left after my first night and were replaced by a young single Italian chap who’d booked a stay with his girlfriend only to split the week before (I did wonder whether the no alcohol situation might have put her off?) and so decided to travel solo – a story that I completely identified with!
Not an International Buffet in sight!
I fell quickly into a very chilled and relaxed routine. The vibe, barefoot everywhere, pretty much obligatory; the only rule being no bikinis on the beach (there was a separate bikini beach for anyone who absolutely had to) so as not to offend any locals, although after a couple of days I was beginning to wonder just who these locals were as I had hardly seen any at all! The meals were all freshly prepared by the Sri Lankan chef – again very relaxed and based around whatever I felt like at the time – fresh local fish featuring highly, of course – and served whenever I felt hungry. For anyone like me who shudders at the phrase ‘international buffet’, it was absolute heaven!
So what about the whale sharks I hear you say! Well, another HUGE advantage to being there almost alone was the fact that I was the only diver and so basically had the entire boat to myself. The first attempt to see one was a massive disappointment as I hadn’t realised that every resort in the area ran whale shark safaris and so as soon as one was spotted boats arrived from miles around with snorkelers ready to jump in and generally harras the poor animal. Not what I’d been expecting at all! Day two and an early start proved to be much more successful. I finally had my one-on-one, up close and personal whale shark encounter and it was everything I’d imagined and more!
I finally had my one-on-one, up close and personal whale shark encounter and it was everything I’d imagined and more!
Thank goodness it was so special because the day after I was struck down with an ear infection and so couldn’t dive or snorkel – I was beach lounger bound for the remainder of my stay! I think it was at this point that I really did reflect on how an island stay compared to being at a resort. Let’s be honest, when you go to the Maldives, no matter where you stay, you know it’s a beach holiday and water sports are going to figure highly. I was not disappointed with the options here – in fact, they were much more affordable than at the resort and a lot more personal – which I always find so important as a solo lady – and for a diver or snorkeller, the variety was stunning. Personally, I loved the relaxed vibe at the boutique guesthouse. If you want to go slightly more upmarket there are other hotel options there, some with spa facilities, although none of them have the beachfront location and as a lady who likes quite a few bells and a fair few whistles during a stay, I was completely happy!
With time on my hands, I explored more of the island and it really grew on me – what’s not to like about the beautiful beaches, the warm, turquoise sea, and the stunning vegetation – apart from the fruit bats or flying foxes, which really did make me squirm! It takes around an hour to walk the length of the island and at the very end, you are met with the most picturesque beach and shallow lagoon, perfect for flopping into to escape the 30 plus degrees heat. Even out of season I think there was maybe one evening of rain – liquid sunshine, really – and with the sea temperature at 30 and the air never lower than 27 you’re not going to freeze!
A big thumbs up from me
I would most certainly recommend staying on a local island – it gets a big thumbs up from me – not only is it more affordable and personal it has the added advantage of not attracting many honeymooners – so a really great choice for a solo trip! (Although hats off to the young Italian chap I mentioned earlier who managed to find a Tinder date for the week!)
If you’re thinking about going to this island I would say go now rather than wait as there was quite a bit of building going on and I heard talk of a total of 7 hotels in the future, which would, of course, make it much, much busier. Oh, and if you really can’t imagine a week without booze, then fear not; there is an option to take a boat to a local resort and have a drink there but I rather sanctimoniously decided against that, after all, it was only one week!
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|Deborah Ives – Blogger, Writer, Speaker – Solo In Style
Deborah is a 50 something solo traveller. That wasn’t always the case. She came to it later in life after a very unexpected divorce. Finding herself left with a booking for 2 on a trip of a lifetime to Borneo, Deborah decided, sod it, she wasn’t going to lose the deposit, she would go alone. That first solo trip turned out to be one the most inspirational and fabulous adventures of Deborah’s life and she’s been travelling solo ever since. Deborah started Solo In Style, as the voice of the over 50 independent solo female traveller, where she writes about her travels and share experiences which she hopes will inspire women who, for whatever reason, may be looking to travel solo for the first time later in life. Deborah also contributes content for other luxury and travel online publications.