The Edition visits isles across the Maldives on a bi-monthly schedule, discovering the intricacies of island life and amazing islanders residing in different atolls, taking our readers through a 'virtual' tour of the country.
Situated approximately 35 kilometres south of capital Male City’, Kaafu Atoll’s Guraidhoo is one of three islands that bear the same name in Maldives. However, this quaint island is your traditional local fishing abode, albeit offering a more urban landscape when compared to islands further away from the hustle and bustle of the Greater Male’ region.
Arriving via a two-hour ferry that operates daily except Friday, the roughly USD 2 dollar ride from Male’ is easy to access for the common backpacker, though if you opt for the swifter option of a speedboat transfer, you could be treading the soft sands of Guraidhoo in an hour...but 10 Dollars poorer.
Following two hours of sun and sea, with islands passing left and right, I got all giddy when I first laid my eyes on the stretch of reef that encompasses Guraidhoo. The all too familiar excitement of visiting a new island, chatting up strangers and exploring untouched reefs, kept surging through my restless mind. I was in desperate need to slow down to an ‘island pace’ and what an opportunity this was to do just that!
Thankful for the lovely weather and calm seas, I sighed in relief as we entered the harbour, knowing that, accompanied by UB - our wonderful guide from the local tour company Secret Paradise, our adventure was just beginning.
Although just roughly 2,000 people reside in the tiny island, over 23 guest houses have popped up across the isle, offering both budget and luxury lodgings for all sorts of travellers.
Once the boat had safely moored at the harbour, I stepped onto the island, taking some time to wiggle my toes into the soft white sand, only snapping back to reality when our guide motioned us over to our butler from Guraidhoo Palm Inn, waiting to receive us.
Eyes glued to the new surroundings, I slowly made my way to the Inn, snapping pictures here, there and everywhere. To my surprise, the guesthouse was only a minute away from the harbour, which I thought would make for hassle-free arrivals and departures.
As a nature lover who dreams of owning an old-school thatched house by the beach one day, the functional wooden interior design and warm colour combinations helped ease me into my weekend stay on the island.
After a short introduction to the guesthouse’s rather humble owner Jalaal, I was escorted to my room which was situated on the second floor, adjacent to the inn’s open-dining area.
Now that the sun was setting across the seemingly endless beach, elongated by a powerful spring tide, I climbed atop the terrace where I was treated to a 360-degree view of the tiny civilization. Encapsulated by the fleeting amber gold sky and the fiery shimmerings of the glassy ocean surface, I gazed across at the most breathtaking sunset I’ve witnessed recently.
With the night slowly coming to life, I grew more and more excited for the next item on my list...swimming!
Armed with the bare minimum knowledge of where the beach is, I took my time exploring and crisscrossing through the island. As I ventured through twisting lanes, I noticed many households with lush gardens and produce wherever possible. I kid you not, Chinese Kale was growing everywhere! Among other common cultivations were the occasional water apple, moringa and breadfruit trees.
Eventually, I found myself before the bridge that connects Guraidhoo to neighbouring islet ‘Lhosfushi’. To my dismay, all hope of a swim before the last ray of light faded were lost when I saw that the extreme low tide had rendered the lagoon almost dry.
However, my little escapade did not end in vain, for ‘twas the night before the full moon, As such, in (almost) all her glory, the moon rose high and mighty into the sky, illuminating the island and my surroundings with her soft silver reflections of the harsh sun. Nature simply finds its way to captivate you, one way or the other.
With some serious relaxation ticked off my checklist, I made my way back, just in time for dinner.
Invited to Jalaal’s house for a traditional Maldivian feast, dinner was made better by two lovely Latvian and Chinese couples who joined our group. As a Maldivian, it seemed logical for me to centre my conversations around the cuisine and lifestyle of the Maldivian people, to share as much knowledge as I could with the lovely visitors only experiencing a hint of ‘paradise’ during their short stay. Based on their endless curiosity and eager questions, I’d like to think they enjoyed every bit of their dinner.
Full of food and drained from my walk, the tranquillity of island life soon lulled me back to the guesthouse and to the comfort of my bed. My slumber was cut short by the songs of the Asian Koel in the wee hours of the morning. Knowing I had a snorkelling session later on, I promptly went back to sleep in hopes of getting that extra bit of rest.
Having mostly forgotten about my itinerary, it took me by surprise when I found out I was invited to Jalaal’s house once more for breakfast. With local favourites ‘rihaakuru’ and ‘mashuni’ on the table, I was full before I knew it.
My energy levels back on peak, I quickly collected my snorkel and fins without wasting a minute and off we went. If adventure was my second name, I’d say it suits me as the engine abruptly stalled and we were left stranded right outside the harbour.
The captain was quick to hail another boat to receive us, apologizing profusely. As we waited, I constantly fought the urge to dive into the turquoise water. “South Male Atoll is something else”, I remember thinking.
Having formerly worked as a Divemaster intern in the neighbouring Maafushi Island, returning to these waters was somewhat of a homecoming experience for me. Back at the very same reefs I visited only a short while ago, it was fitting that I take the plunge into my favourite of all places.
As fortune would have it, all of my worries washed away as soon as I heard the distinct sounds of parrotfishes munching algae off corals. Although sharks too can be spotted frequently in the region, their magnificence alluded me during my search for a shimmer under the ocean surface.
But hey readers...I’m wondering what you might be looking for.
If you said yes to any of those, then you’re in luck! Guraidhoo is located in a hotspot for the best waves and dives sites Kaafu Atoll has to offer. The lagoon encapsulating Guraidhoo has a total of three islands, including the resort Holiday Inn Kandooma and islet Lhosfushi, both of which produce top-notch waves.
The surf break ‘Quarters’ of Kandooma, ‘Foxy’s’ of Lhosfushi and ‘Riptides’ on the reef adjacent to Guraidhoo can be reached within 10 to 30 minutes by boat transfer.
If you want to save the hassle of chartering a boat, you can simply paddle out to ‘Foxy’s’, a barreling shallow left-hander from Lhosfushi and surf without bearing any additional costs. If you’re here to surf, be sure to visit during April through December, when the Southwest Monsoon ‘Hulhangu Moosun’ is in full swing.
Although I have yet to charge these thrilling waves myself, I have dived in these waters quite a few times. Being situated on the same lagoon as Kandooma, you could be hooked on, adrift to the current and observe more sharks than you could ever count at the world-famous pinnacle ‘Kandooma Thila’.
With the possibility of diving with guitar sharks, ginormous napoleon wrasses, stunning ornate eagle rays and experiencing the artificial reef of sunken wrecks, Guraidhoo is an ideal one-stop wonder for all things ocean adventure.
If the training required for diving and surfing seems a bit much, perhaps you could try taking the ‘SeaBob’ on a ride. The worlds fastest underwater scooter requires simple instructions to operate and Jalaal's Dive Centre will be happy to help - you'll be zipping through and under waves in no time!
Apart from the ease of accessibility to famed wave breaks and dive locations, what makes Guraidhoo even more interesting is the stories of inspirational humans who call the island their home.
I was lucky enough to come across a man who practices the seemingly lost art of metal casting, a lyrically gifted lady who had built up a successful souvenir business in the 80's and a fisherman with decades of experience that reiterated the colours of the reef vividly, pre-industrial interference.
Islanders who at first seem to be ordinary folk, can very well hold compelling stories within them. Be sure to interact with the locals whenever you get the chance to, they are always full of smiles and can lend you a hand when in trouble.
While I was busy getting inspired meeting fascinating individuals, my short trip was drawing to a close. It seems two days is not enough to explore and take in the splendour of life in Guraidhoo.
Guraidhoo is a speck of gold, nestled in a prime location that features the very best that Maldives has to offer ocean loving adrenaline junkies.
Isle be visiting, will you?