I’ll be frank: I’m writing a review of the worst local island in the Maldives – Maafushi. I’ll talk about the pros and cons of vacationing there, how to get there, where to stay, how to spot turtles and mantas near the island. There will be plenty of tips and life hacks that will help you organize your vacation in the Maldives, some of which will even save you money and time. There will be no personal negativity, only dry facts and comparisons with other local islands.
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Table of Contents
A brief history of tourism development on Maafushi
To help you understand why this island is so popular, I’ll be brief:
- In 1972, the Maldives opened up to international tourism. However, because the country was then radically Muslim, tourists were not allowed to vacation on local islands where the local population lived.
- Private, exclusive resort hotels were built on separate islands for tourists, and there are still several hundred of them today where tour packages can be purchased for $5,000 – $10,000 – $20,000 and even more. It was because of such luxurious and very expensive vacations that the stereotype of the millionaire resort was created in the Maldives, where only rich people could afford to vacation.
- Everything changed for budget and independent tourists (like me) only in 2009. An important state reform in the tourism sector was carried out. Local residents were allowed to build hotels and guesthouses on local islands, and tourists were allowed to fly in for vacations and relax outside the resorts.
Interesting fact:There is only one global restriction left today: alcohol is allowed on resorts, but strictly prohibited on local islands. You can’t buy it here. If you’re interested, here’s a useful article about alcohol in the Maldives.
The first guesthouse and the first local island to open up to independent tourists in 2010, as you may have guessed, was Maafushi. And in the first year, it had almost no competition. This is one reason for its current popularity. This is why tourists flock here, as this island is well-known everywhere. But believe me, it’s not even in the top 30 best local islands for tourists.
Pros and cons of Maafushi Island
I’ll be straightforward. Maafushi has only three pros:
- Proximity to Male and the international airport, just 30km away. The island can be reached in an hour, which is super fast by Maldivian standards.
- It is one of the cheapest local islands, but I will write more about prices later.
- It is a highly developed island with everything a tourist needs, including many restaurants, cafes, shops, souvenir stores, a wide selection of accommodation, and a hospital.
Interesting fact:The paradox is that tourists, especially budget travelers, choose Maafushi precisely because of the first two points, as they can get to the island cheaply and quickly and stay there on a budget. However, neighboring local islands that can be reached just as cheaply and quickly, and where one can live just as budget-friendly, are overlooked, even though they are 25 times cooler.
Disadvantages of staying on the island. It is important to understand that the disadvantages are in comparison to other local islands:
- Very weak bikini beach. It is very small, overcrowded, and as a result, quite dirty. Although the locals try to keep it clean, regularly cleaning it, it is not enough. Tourists make it dirty faster 🙂
- There is almost no house reef. Snorkeling at the shore is not possible. If you look at the photo above, there are four Y-shaped breakwaters – part of these beaches are for tourists. So, a somewhat living reef begins at the border with the ocean. Look at how far the reef-ocean border is from the shore. It is impossible to swim here independently.
- The underwater world around the island is very poor, but this is a consequence of the previous point.
- There are relatively few palm trees and greenery. There are much greener local islands with thousands of palm trees.
- There are many tourists, and the island is quite crowded. The local tourism ministry reports that Maafushi and Thoddoo are the most visited local islands, with a large margin from the third place.
Just an interesting fact:The country’s main (probably only) prison is located on Maafushi. It occupies about 30% of the island and the coastline. Honestly, there are no maniacs or murderers running around the streets, and the presence of a prison does not affect the vacation, but just know about it.
Maafushi Island: General Information
Now, let’s begin our review after the introduction.
- Maafushi Island on the map and coordinates: 3.9408279692203867, 73.48953629516771
- The island measures 1300 by 300 meters, with approximately 30% of its territory being occupied by the prison.
- The population is around 2500 people, which is quite a lot. Most local islands have a population of less than 1000 people.
- Maafushi is located 27 km away from Male and the airport.
- The island is situated in the South Male Atoll (or Kaafu Atoll).
Good to know:Sometimes in official sources and ferry schedules, you might come across the name K.Maafushi for the island. Know that this is the same island. The letter “K” stands for the atoll’s name, which in this case is Kaafu.
How to get there from Male: Ferry and Speedboat
Getting to the island is easy since there are two options: the government-operated ferry and private speedboat. Here’s what you need to know:
About the Male-Maafushi ferry:
- It departs from Hulhumale Ferry Terminal in Male: 4.177959360862951, 73.51716386459321
- The ticket price is around $1.5 one way, and you can buy the ticket directly on the ferry without any prior booking.
- The travel time is just under 2 hours.
- The ferry number is 309 K.GURAIDHOO – MALE.
- It operates daily except on Fridays.
- From Maafushi, it departs at 7:25 am and arrives in Male at 9:05 am.
- From Male, it departs at 3:00 pm and arrives at Maafushi at 4:40 pm.
For more information about ferries in the Maldives, where to find the latest schedule, how to read it, and how often they cancel, read the article at the provided link.
A speedboat is a fast private boat that travels on the route Male-Maafushi-Male. On the way, the speedboat picks up and drops off other tourists to/from the airport. This is the most popular and convenient mode of transportation. Here’s what you need to know about the speedboat to Maafushi:
- It runs about 8 times a day in each direction. Almost every 1.5 hours.
- Travel time is 45 minutes.
- Ticket price: around $25. There are several carriers, and prices can even drop to $20. But the most standard price is $25 one way.
- Tickets must be purchased in advance, at least half a day or a day in advance. Tickets may not be available on-site.
- The main carrier on this route is ICOM. Purchase tickets from their official website: https://icomtours.com/
- For more information on tickets, tips, and pitfalls of speedboats, please refer to the article: Transfers in the Maldives by speedboat between islands.
Restaurants and hotels
This is a short chapter, as everything here is very easy and straightforward. Maafushi is an island with many accommodation options and no shortage of dining establishments.
Today, there are already about 80 guesthouses and 2-3* hotels on the island. The standard room rate for almost the entire rental market ranges from $50 to $100 per day. For this price, you will get a room with a large bed, air conditioning, a refrigerator and private bathroom.
It’s important to understand that:the Maldives are not Vietnam or Bali, where finding accommodation on site is not so difficult. Book everything in advance. And locals are very reluctant to bargain. More often than not, they will give you the same price on-site as you would find online. If you don’t like it, look for it elsewhere. This applies to everything, not just accommodations. There’s almost no bargaining for souvenirs. What to bring as a gift from the Maldives.
On Maafushi, there’s a good selection of souvenirs and low prices. Buy everything here. It’ll be 5 times more expensive at the airport.
- Complete list of hotels and guesthouses on Maafushi, the best resource for travelers today: Booking
- Many tour packages with tickets, transfers, and meals from your city to Maafushi: Expedia
There are plenty of dining options available, and all of them are quite budget-friendly. The food is typical Maldivian cuisine, with a lot of dishes featuring fish and tuna, as well as some chicken dishes. Popular side dishes include noodles and rice. For more information about national cuisine, taxes, and tipping, please refer to the article linked below.
It’s worth noting that almost all guesthouses and hotels offer free breakfast, which shouldn’t be missed since many of the island’s restaurants don’t open until after lunchtime.
The average cost of dinner in almost any restaurant is unlikely to be higher than $30 for two people. We often have dinner for under $20, which is cheaper than eating out in our hometown.
About the island beaches: turtles, mantas, sharks, and glowing plankton
The beach is the main reason why I don’t like Maafushi.
It’s important to know thatthe Maldives is a Muslim country. Sunbathing and swimming in open swimsuits, as we are used to, is only allowed in designated areas called bikini beaches. Such beaches can be found on any tourist local island, including Maafushi, but:
- Maafushi’s bikini beach is very small, literally two patches of land measuring 50-100m each. During the season, it gets overcrowded.
- Here is the location of Maafushi’s bikini beach: 3.9453210757807415, 73.49095491853315 (near the Kaani hotel)
There is no house reef, or rather, it exists but is dead. And as I wrote above, there is not much to see underwater near the shore. If you want to do some decent snorkeling, you need to buy an excursion for money, and they will take you to the outer reefs on neighboring islands.
It’s important to understand thatthe real Maldives are sharks, mantas, turtles, and glowing plankton right by the beach. You can see all of this by simply snorkeling 20 meters from the shore. Maafushi doesn’t have any of this. To understand what you’re missing out on, read the article and look at photos of the glowing plankton in the Maldives.
Here’s the thing: the Maafushi beach bikini overall is not bad. The sand is clean and fine, and the water has a gradual slope, making it perfect for children.
While vacationing in Maafushi, you will see that iconic Maldivian water color that attracts tourists from all over the world. You will definitely take a swing photo in the ocean with the Maldives sign to show everyone that you were here. That’s pretty much it. This is the Maldives on a budget, where you were there, took photos, but didn’t feel any significant difference from other popular world resorts.
But don’t worry if you’ve already booked accommodation or purchased a package here. You can still experience the fantastic underwater world that the Maldives are known for through various excursions.
Excursions and Activities in Maafushi
On any local island in the Maldives, if you need any activities, you must go to the diving center. They offer the widest selection of excursions and water activities.
I don’t think I need to tell you that there are no landmarks or entertainment on land, and everything is related to water and the ocean in Maafushi. There are no discos, nightclubs, and after 23:00, everyone is asleep, just like on any other island. All activities and entertainment in the Maldives are related to water and the ocean.
Currently, there are about six diving centers and two tour agencies in Maafushi, one of which is Icom. I mentioned them earlier; they are the guys who take tourists to and from the airport on speedboats.
Here’s what you can find for entertainment in Maafushi:
- Kayak, SUP – $10 per hour
- Jet ski – $50 for 30 minutes
- Fishing on a boat for beginners from $20
- There are plenty of snorkeling tours available, such as snorkeling with turtles, manta rays, and whale sharks. You can choose a two-hour excursion to a neighboring reef just to see fish, or a full-day tour to another atoll to see whale sharks. The price range for snorkeling is also vast:
- Snorkeling for 2 hours on a neighboring reef with fish and the possibility to see turtles – from $15-20
- Snorkeling with sharks and manta rays for the whole day with meals – from $100-150.
- Visit the diving centers to see what they offer.
- Diving starts from $50 per dive. You can buy a course for 4-5 dives and receive an international PADI diver certification for around $300.
- Full-day trips to neighboring resort islands are very popular on Maafushi. These packages usually include transfer to a 5-star resort, access to all the island’s infrastructure, beaches, pools, restaurants, food, and unlimited alcohol. You are brought back to Maafushi in the evening.
- There are about 10 resorts to choose from, with different prices. Here are two of the most popular and luxurious: Fihalholi Resort and Adaaran. You can find reviews for both at the provided links.
- The price with alcohol is usually around $100-140 per person for the whole day.
- There are also resorts for $50, but always clarify what is included with food and drinks. For $50, you will only get lunch and access to the resort, with drinks for an additional fee.
- You can find a full list of hotels and resorts to which you can be taken in Maafushi’s diving centers.
Travel tips, or why you should choose another island
If anyone reading this article thinks that there is a lot of negativity about Maafushi in it, then no. I like Maafushi, it has its own atmosphere, and you will have a good time here. It’s just that those who choose this island will miss out on half of the real Maldives, and I want to help make the right decision.
The absolute majority choose Maafushi because it is close and cheap to get here, this is the fundamental criterion. And now a little math:
- Yes, you can get to the island in 45 minutes for $25. But then, for the chance to see any fish, turtles, you will have to pay for excursions. And often, the whole package of excursions for a couple can cost from $300 to $500 for the vacation.
- Or you can choose another local island that is very expensive and time-consuming to get to. For example, Rasdhoo in the Alif Alif Atoll. It takes 60 minutes by speedboat and costs $35 to get there. But there are sharks right on the beach, turtles, and mantas at dawn. And you don’t need to buy excursions for any of this, or almost none. You can snorkel for free all day on the reef 50-100 meters from the beach.
- The island is much greener, the bikini beach is bigger, and there are fewer tourists. And there’s even luminous plankton on the beach at night. And accommodation and food are not more expensive than on Maafushi. So, do the math yourself.
Here are some islands that I recommend visiting instead of Maafushi, which are relatively close to Male (there are detailed overviews on each island in the links). These local islands have better beaches, richer reefs and underwater world, and are not more expensive:
- Thoddoo Island in the Alif Alif Atoll. Here, turtles lives right on the reef, 20 meters from the beach, and even children can swim there.
- Rasdhoo Island in the Alif Alif Atoll. And here, every evening a flock of nurse sharks sails into the harbor, and they can also be seen on the reef during free snorkeling.
- And there is also a super cool local island, almost like a private resort – Thinadhoo. It will be more expensive than Maafushi, though. Prices for accommodation and food are higher there, but the island and reef are simply amazing. And the most interesting thing is that the ferry to Thinadhoo (Vaavu Atoll) from Male goes right through Maafushi. You can spend 2 days on Maafushi and then head to Thinadhoo.
In the Kaafu Atoll, there are two neighbors of Maafushi, two local islands. To be honest, the only difference between them and Maafushi is that they are quieter and there are fewer tourists. But everything else is like on Maafushi: a small bikini beach, no reef, no manta rays, no glowing plankton. These are:
- Gulhi local island
- And Guraidhoo Island with the main psychiatric hospital in the Maldives.
Maafushi, Guraidhoo and Gulhi are not on my list of best local islands. But for those whom I have not convinced, it is better to choose Guraidhoo from these three, and why – read in the review in the link.
In conclusion: Maafushi local island is the most popular and visited by independent tourists today. That’s all it has to offer. There is a beach with fine white sand, a turquoise ocean like in pictures, and swings in the ocean with a sign of the Maldives :). If you want more, choose islands on neighboring atolls.
Resources to help you plan your dream trip to the Maldives
- Flight tickets and the best deals
- Hotels and guesthouses on any island: Booking
- Tour packages (from budget to luxury): Expedia
- Comprehensive insurance: EKTA
- eSIM virtual SIM card with internet package at the same price as in telecom store in Male