Unfortunately, we weren’t able to align our schedule with the public ferry from Male to Ukulhas (our “home” in the Maldives) so we hired a semi-private speed boat to take us. Arriving in Ukulas felt like a dream. I kept thinking, ‘someone pinch me because there’s no way this water is this blue’. It’s not even blue, it’s a colour of its own.
Ukulhas, a local island
Ukulhas is a local island, a fishing village in the Indian Ocean, 72 km away from Male. In the past, tourists were only allowed to visit resort islands. This changed in 2008 when the government allowed local Maldivians to introduce tourism on their island. This opened up more affordable travel and the opportunity to have a local experience.
Local islands in Maldives are not densely populated like Male; in contrast, most islands are about 500 – 2,500 people, depending on the size of the island. Ukulhas is 1,025m long and only 225m at it’s widest point. The only available mean of transportation is by walking on this tiny island.
A stroll around the island can be done in less than half an hour. I found out once I arrived on the island, that Ukulhas is one of the best diving spots in Maldives.
The cost of living is the starkest difference between the local islands and the resort islands. Even though it’s a reasonably priced B&B, our place has everything a hotel room would have, including breastfast every morning! The B&B provided us a 3rd cot bed as well since we’re three people sharing the room. The best part is that our B&B is located at the beach, not even 10 meters away from the sandy white shores.
I spoke with a Maldivian and he sees the tourism industry as positive, with over 70% of the workforce involved in service and tourism oriented occupations.
It’s important to be respectful of the local culture and traditions. Being on a local island means that the community are the hosts, opening up their home for us. Maldives is a Muslim country and while they are apparent differences, it has never made me feel uncomfortable or inconvenient.
On Ukulhas, and other islands, there are clear signs that indicate where the tourists beach starts and ends, and respective markings for the locals.
The tiny island is great for getting familiar with a place, but unfortunately, our options for food became quite limited. There are three or maybe four main restaurants – all which serve similar dishes of rice, pasta, some meat and seafood dishes. Maldivians have local cuisines that I also had a chance to try in the past several days.
- Mashuni: Mashed tuna mixed with coconut, chilli and onion and served for breakfast with roshi
- Roshi: Flatbread
- Garudiya: Fish broth (soup) prepared using chillies, onion and lemon juice
- Coconuts and curries are popular – and spicy food as well!
Despite being a sandy island, there’s a lot of green with draping large leaves from coconut trees that provide shade almost everywhere. There’s a lot of hanging fruit, but that’s usually from someone’s home. But someone gave me a water apple and I was thankful!
Ukulhas, a “UNEP Best Practice”
The island has a population of around 900 people. Ukulas is well known for its good practices of waste management and is now considered the ‘first systematically waste-managed’ island in the Maldives.
“Managing waste is everyone’s responsibility. We must understand that we all have a duty. If we fail to do so it endangers the entire community’s well-being,”
Ukulhas is considered to be one of the most eco-friendly islands in Maldives, and in 2014 the island won a governmental award for championing such environmental initiatives. It’s like a cherry on top, knowing that this island has been recognized for its environmental practices.
Overall, I’m most grateful for the warmth and the opportunity to experience this country from a local’s perspective. I look forward to sharing more of my adventure!