Like the Philippines, the Republic of the Maldives is an archipelago composed of 26 atolls and 1,192 islands. Some of the islands are owned by resorts, other are inhabited by locals, and a few are uninhabited. We went on a two-part holiday in this archipelago (flying to Sri Lanka in between) and went diving on the first part of the trip in the South Ari Atoll and tried to go surfing on the second (we were not able to). First, we decided to stay in the local island of Dhangethi to take advantage of the pelagic diving opportunities.
Dhangethi is located 90 kms from Velana International Airport and Malé, the capital. There are a number of options to get here: the cheapest is by local ferry at around 4 USD but would take four hours and the most expensive by seaplane -a short 20 minute ride but also costs 360 USD per person per way). Personally, I think the best option is to take the scheduled speedboat that leaves daily except Fridays (the Maldives is a Muslim country). It took us one hour and 45 minutes from Male and only cost 35 USD per person per way. We paid an additional 10 USD per person for airport assistance. I’m glad we took this service because the locals helped us not only with our things but they also picked up my left luggage at the airport for me and had it delivered to the resort.
We stayed at the lovely Ariston Dhangethi Inn. The location was by the beach and the place was cosy. Their staff was also most hospitable. Other guest house/ hotel-resort options include Mala Boutique Maldives, The Red- Maldives, and Huvandhu (Banyan Villa guest house). You can book accommodations via Booking.com and a 10% discount on your stay when you use this link.
You have to try the traditional Maldivian breakfast of mas huni – it is tuna and coconut flakes sauteed with lemon and onions. The dish is served with roti. Also try the different curries and the fried noodles dish reminiscent of mie goreng. There are only two (or perhaps three) restaurants in the island. However, the resorts serve meals, too. The restaurant at Ariston Dhangethi is pretty good.
My favorite Maldivian dish: mas huni
See and Do
The South Ari Atoll is famous for its pelagic diving. There is only one dive center in the island and it is also run by Ariston. We went on dives on nearby reefs and saw turtles, sharks, stingrays, and a variety of fish, coral, and macro marine life. The best dive we went to, though, was the manta dive. We saw about six to seven mantas ‘flying’ over us. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
Spot the dolphins!
Dhangethi island is surrounded with white sand beaches and clear water so it is easy to take your pick for a swim. However, since it is a local island, you cannot wear bikinis everywhere except the local bikini beach. The bikini beach itself is not too big but it is enough for the visiting tourists. The water is also clean and clear for swimming. Keep an eye for the baby sharks that swim in the nearby lagoon. It was one of the best moments of our trip when we saw them swimming by the shore.
Walk around the island
Dhangethi is small and it is quite easy to walk around. Make sure to check out the giant banyan trees that the island is known for. In the afternoons, you can watch the kids play in the public playground before walking to the eastern side of the island and wait for the sunset.
Look for the island’s gigantic banyan trees and fruit bats (also quite big)
If your definition of a perfect holiday is doing nothing, then Dhangethi is the island for you. Since it is farther than most islands and less populated, we felt like we owned all of the island. There was no pressure to see everything and do everything. Sit by the beach and watch the sunset or get a tan all day at the bikini beach. Forget about ‘the real world’ for a moment (or a week) and let the island cast its magical spell on you.
Candy-colored skies at the end of the day
Check out these links for notes on the second leg of our trip: a guide to Thulusdhoo followed by our experience in one of the Maldivian island resorts. Plus, here are the things you should consider when deciding between staying in a local island or a resort island.