Stop number 2 in the Maldives took us waaay south to Fuvahmulah Island. The third largest island in the Maldives and one of the most southerly, it is around 500 kilometres from the capital, Male. We literally had to cross the equator to get there. It is also known as “The Tiger Shark Capital of the World”. But we’ll get to that a bit later. For now, some other fun facts:
Fuvahmulah is pronounced something like “FOAM-oo-law”, for some reason.
Fuvahmulah is the only atoll in the Maldives that consists of just a single island.
Even though it is the third largest island in the entire Maldives, it still covers just 5 square kilometres. And with around 14,000 residents, the population is the second largest in the country. Which makes it relatively cosmopolitan but both of those things tell you quite a bit about the Maldives, in general.
It is so far from everywhere else that the Fuvahmulah language is actually their own dialect of the national language, “Dhivehi”, known as “Fuvahmulaki baha”. And, as explained to us by a local teen, “it is kind of the same, we can understand them, they just can’t understand us”. So it’s like Scotland, then?
Fuvahmulah also has a pair of freshwater lakes, the only ones in the whole of the Maldives. Although, to be fair, us water-flush Canadians might be tempted to describe these “lakes” more accurately as “ponds”, “sloughs” or “marshes”. But it wouldn’t matter because Maldivians don’t use these words and would simply look at you blankly. The entire middle of the island, though, is filled with lush tropical vegetation, yet another feature that makes it unique in the Maldives.
Fuvahmulah is Islamic, meaning a strict no alcohol policy. Of course, this is the same on all the local islands in the Maldives and isn’t unique to them. I just felt it bore mentioning yet again. I think it’s important for our readers to see that travelling the world as a job can also have some serious drawbacks… Although, full disclosure, we did end up getting invited to share some local fruit liquor one night. It was much appreciated, despite a taste that was difficult to describe. I just know you wouldn’t use the word “good”.
On a related topic, the people of Fuvahmulah also have fairly strict clothing rules – no revealing clothing, short shorts, crop tops, shirtless dudes, etc., and if you leave your fly open it better damn well have been an accident, that sort of thing.
However, unlike Dhigurah, our last Maldives island, Fuvahmulah has not set aside a designated “bikini beach” for tourists (something which, Laynni correctly points out, should more accurately be called a “tourist beach” to attribute a fair share of the licentiousness among the guys as well).
Traditionally, they have supported themselves mostly through fishing (there are over 100 fishing boats on the island and their daily fish market is bonkers) and agriculture (producing some of the only mangos and bananas in the Maldives).
And those two things have now been joined by tourism. Which, if you can believe it in this day and age, has only existed in Fuvahmulah since 2017. Which is pretty crazy, considering it has some of the most memorable scuba diving in the world.
Everywhere on the island you can see evidence of planning, building and expanding in preparation for a serious tourist boom. However, with no beaches, no calm snorkelling lagoon, no alcohol and strict clothing laws, we’re not convinced Fuvahmulah has what it takes to become a true tourist hotspot.
It does have a couple of good surf breaks but, for now, their entire tourism industry is riding on the rather narrow shoulders of the resident tiger shark population. Those teeth are pretty cool, though. Anyway, maybe the locals will eventually make some exceptions for tourists to increase appeal, or maybe they will remain true to their traditional culture and just see how far their tiger shark fame will take them. Either way, I’m extremely curious to see what Fuvahmulah will look like 10 years from now.
Nonetheless, even though most of the dive shops, hotels and restaurants have only appeared in the past 5 years, the diving in Fuvahmulah is no joke. It is unique in that it is a small island kind of in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a coral reef that just drops off into open ocean in all direction. Which is the main reason it is visited by so many large pelagics (a categorization that basically means fish that like big open spaces), including an extraordinary number and variety of sharks.
Fuvahmulah also has some unusual currents that make it ideal as a cleaning station or nursery for some of the world’s largest and most interesting marine animals, who tend to just show up “out of the blue”. Somewhat embarrassingly, it was only upon writing this sentence that I finally made the connection between the phrase and its likely origins.
In addition to a permanent tiger shark population, it is possible to see thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, reef sharks, oceanic manta rays and occasionally even whales. So, whatever happens with the Fuvahmulah tourist industry as a whole, it will probably always be a big scuba diving destination.
Fuvahmulah City legitimately earns that name, although as a rather laid-back, tropical one. There is Fuvahmulah airport which handles domestic flights, plus 8 individual districts. Sure, there are only a couple of paved roads at the moment (although they are clearly working hard to rectify that) but there are still plenty of hotels, restaurants, dive shops, supermarkets, ATMs and clothing stores. And every morning you can bid on giant tuna fresh out of the sea, if that’s something you’re into.
$US are used almost interchangeably with Maldivian rufiyaa and most hotels and dive shops will accept credit cards (although potentially with a small added fee).
Where to Stay: Fuvahmulah Hotels
There are now at least 20 hotels on Fuvahmulah and more on the way. The Fuvahmulah resorts on the south end of the south end might be walking distance to the harbour but most of the dive shops provide transportation if necessary, anyway.
We book the majority of our hotels on Booking.com. With frequent stay discounts, thousands of reviews and free cancellation, it is very rare for us to have a bad hotel experience these days.
Also, we were able to save about $200 per person on our flights from Male by having our hotel, Marina Boutique, arrange them for us. I don’t know if this is a deal that all the hotels can get but it is worth asking.
We really enjoyed our stay at Marina Boutique. We had a big, comfortable room with a small, enclosed outdoor terrace (with swinging chairs). Breakfast was good and the guys were very helpful, getting us the discounted flight from Male, connecting us with Extreme Dive and finding a scooter for us to rent. From the hotel it is a hot 20-minute walk to the harbour or a short scooter ride.
They also have basic mid-range rooms at Extreme Dive itself, which is only a couple blocks from Marina Boutique and includes use of the dive training pool. There is also a nice garden, a bar and a friendly group of staff. Plus, it could be handy to be right on-site if you are diving with them.
Although it is farther from the harbour, Tiger Shark Residence is a comfortable 4-star hotel with a lounge, pool and restaurant. They provide transportation to and from dives and also offer all-inclusive packages if you want to keep it simple.
Very close to Thoondu Beach, Maa Thundi is a relatively new, upscale option with nice, modern rooms, a good restaurant and a beautiful rooftop pool.
In the same area as Tiger Shark Residence, Endhaa Divers Home is a slightly cheaper option that features a highly recommended breakfast, as well as a shared kitchen.
If you’re looking for a great budget choice, Hedheykuri Residence is one of the best Fuvahmulah guesthouses with good value rooms with air-conditioning very close to the airport and harbour.
Tiger Shark Diving in Fuvahmulah
Things may change in the future but, for now, Fuvahmulah tourism revolves around scuba diving. Of course, there is spectacular scuba diving all over the Maldives and we thought it was interesting (and brilliant) that the Maldivian government offers free scuba training (as far as Divemaster, I believe) for any resident of the Maldives.
It is a great idea to give local kids the opportunity to rise up the ranks of the growing legion of Maldivian scuba diving shops rather than have these lucrative businesses completely staffed and run by foreigners.
We shared all our dives (as well as many of our meals and much of our free time) with Marco, a wonderful Colombian who, thankfully, has much better English than we have Spanish. Since we are not carrying an underwater camera with us, we also have him (and his GoPro) to thank for some of our diving photos and videos. The rest were taken by either Ansaar or Oleg at Extreme Dive (much appreciated, guys).
Tiger Shark Dive / Tiger Zoo / Neremathi / Merikefalu / Femunu Kol
The site goes by many names but whatever you call the location, the Fuvahmulah tiger sharks are famous throughout the world diving community. It is allegedly the only place on earth where you are guaranteed to see huge, impressive tiger sharks on your dive. Although technically considered an aggressive shark, these tiger sharks have been living near humans for a long time and are considered completely safe. They are also well-fed, leaving them little incentive to try for a tougher meal.
Apparently, centuries of fishermen dumping their fish remains just outside the harbour slowly attracted more and more tiger sharks (named for the dark stripes on their side) to the point they developed into a permanent population. These days the feeding has been more structured, with dive companies booking slots for their tiger shark dive (one group per half-hour).
Divers go down just outside the harbour and swim back to the mouth (a couple minutes at most), then set up on the bottom (about 10-11 metres down), using rocks to hold themselves in place. Then someone up top sends in the chum and the tiger sharks start arriving, sometimes 4-5 at a time.
The sharks are mesmerizing – from 2 to 5 metres in length, graceful and menacing. Both times we did the “Tiger Zoo” dive we saw a couple of sharks swimming past us in the blue on our way to the feeding site, then got a solid 25 minutes with the main contingent (and various other large fish) as they went to town on the various fish heads stashed among the rocks.
At first the sharks are completely focused on their meal but when the remains start to run out they start roaming a bit more, obviously searching for dessert, a part of the dive I personally found to be the most disconcerting.
However, these tiger shark dives are completely safe (no incidents have ever been reported) and, unlike many similar types of feeding stations around the world, Fuvahmulah seems determined to keep their Tiger Shark dive from descending into overcrowded chaos.
We were very impressed by our Extreme Dive guides (Oleg and Ansaar) – they were both very professional and helpful, finding us the best vantage points and spending much of the dive “guarding” our backs (more for our comfort than any safety concern). During our second tiger shark dive, however, the Extreme guys generously let a group from Dive Point join us (because it was a public holiday and their guides were hoping to get finished earlier than their scheduled time).
Well, the divers themselves were fine but one of their dive guides was an idiotic shitshow. A foreigner whose very appearance screamed “I need attention!” (no wetsuit, man-bun, ridiculously long metal pointer) who, unfortunately, very much lived up to that disappointing first impression.
Giving unnecessary hand signal orders to anyone whose attention he could get, banging on his tank every time a shark appeared (as though we somehow didn’t notice the 3-metre shark swimming past), potentially agitating or scaring them, and finally topping it all off by swimming into their midst and pulling some moronic Jurassic Park “halt” move like he needed to somehow protect us from the sharks (a move that presumably only works on CGI dinosaurs).
Nonetheless, not even Cowboy Dive Guide couldn’t diminish what was one of the true highlights of our diving lives. Inevitably, opinions will be mixed about any dive site that involves feeding to create an unnatural incentive for sharks to interact with humans, but at least Fuvahmulah seems devoted to keeping the process professional, non-invasive, safe and sustainable.
And it truly is something to see one of these magnificent creatures swimming past within a metre of your head, beady eye and razor teeth close enough to touch, their jagged fins and surprising collection of scars making us wonder (and worry) about who exactly is bold enough to attack these monsters so often?
Anyway, natural? Not at all. An epic experience? You bet.
Other Fuvahmulah Dive Sites
We only did a few days of Fuvahmulah scuba diving so can’t speak to every dive site in the area but based on our experience and conversations with local diving experts, we got the distinct impression that even though there are technically around 20 dive sites, many are just variations on each other and there are really only 3 standout dive sites on island.
Probably because once you get a few hundred metres away from the island the sea drops completely off, way the hell down to… I have no idea, actually. But I get the feeling it is REALLY deep. However, those three sites manage to offer a lot to the visiting diver. The first, of course, is the Tiger Zoo. The other two main sites are:
Thoondu Beach / Thresher Shark Dive
I think the dive guides try not to call this the thresher shark dive because, unlike on the tiger shark dive, they don’t always see thresher sharks. But a lot of times they do and that seemed to be the name that slipped out most of the time when they were describing it.
A deep dive that follows the wall reef just off Thoondu Beach, the coral is very impressive and both times we did it the current was gentle, allowing us to softly float along the wall enjoying the wide variety of marine life.
Thresher sharks, meanwhile, look a lot like normal reef sharks except slightly bigger and, well, they have an enormous, sinuous tail that make them instantly recognizable. We did not see one our first time down but on the second dive Ansaar found one almost immediately. It was just swimming back and forth above a sandy shelf at about 40-45m depth, all leisurely and such. Perfect for viewing from above (without having to go down quite that deep).
The best time to see thresher sharks is from April to November. They change depths and precise locations at different times of year but the dive guides will always know where the best spot is at any given time.
I never did catch (or maybe just don’t remember) the official name of this dive site but it is on the east side of the island just outside the harbour. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to dive this site because conditions were too rough. Apparently this is common, with large waves and strong currents making it a tricky spot.
When it works out, however, it is supposedly the best dive site on the island and the most likely place to see hammerhead sharks – sometimes even large schools of them! Hammerheads can be seen in Fuvahmulah any time of year but tend to appear most between late October and early June.
Other Fuvahmulah Dive Highlights
There aren’t any reef manta rays there (unlike most of the Maldives) but they do enjoy around 80% of the world’s oceanic manta ray sightings. Every year between March and May hundreds arrive for mating season, providing an extraordinary dive experience, although the exact time varies within that range, making it hard to plan around.
Other possible sightings include reef sharks (year-round), whale sharks (Dec-May) and silvertip sharks (Jan-Mar).
Fuvahmulah Dive Shops
I think that most people end up diving with whichever dive shop is connected to their hotel. Or staying with whichever hotel is connected with the dive shop they choose. Either way, while it would be possible to stay one place and dive with another, I can only imagine that would feel a bit awkward.
We went with Extreme Dive and were very happy with them. Really nice guys, professional, a comfortable and traditional “dhoni” dive boat, good equipment and excellent value (especially if you get the multiple dive discount). They have a deep pool at the dive shop for training courses and can even offer restaurant and sightseeing recommendations.
However, we also heard good things about most of the dive shops on Fuvahmulah and I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them. There are at least 7 other dive shops on the island (and probably more by the time you read this).
I believe Fuvahmulah Dive School was the first dive shop on Fuvahmulah and they have been monitoring the local tiger shark population for around 6 years. They also offer hotel/dive packages at 5 or 6 different hotels.
Other options include:
Oceanic Nomad Divers
Divepoint (just make sure you’re not saddled with Tiger Shark Cowboy)
8 More Fun Things to Do on Fuvahmulah
Now, for some of the other things to do on Fuvahmulah, most of which are essentially ways to occupy yourself when you’re done diving for the day.
1. Relax on Thoondu Beach
The only actual sandy beach on the island, Thoondu has some beautiful, fine sand backed by impressive palm forest stretching all the way around a scenic point. We even saw a wedding take place here.
The only downside for Westerners is, you know, no bathing suits allowed. Of course, is swimming in a t-shirt and shorts for a couple days really going to kill you? Probably not, unless you are a VERY weak swimmer.
2. Wander the Town
Although Fuvahmulah is a real town – city, really – with 14,000 people, it doesn’t really feel that way. Although they are working hard on the island’s road system, when we visited there were still only two paved streets – the “highway” (max speed 40 km/hr) and one diagonal street leading through downtown.
But we enjoyed just exploring all the back streets and sandy alleys on our scooter, stopping off anywhere that looked interesting. The marsh viewpoint at the end of the dock at Hoadhadi Nature Park was nice and there are several seemingly random historic sites scattered around town, the most picturesque of which was Kedeyre Veyo.
3. Check Out the Lakes
You’ll definitely want to check out both lakes – Bandaara Kilhi and Dhadimago Kilhi – the only two freshwater lakes in the Maldives. Fuvahmulah Nature Park has kayaks and paddleboards for rent on Dhadimago Kilhi.
4. Pick a Spot to Watch the Sunset
Anywhere along the west side of the island, all the way up to Thoondu Beach, can be a great place to watch epic Maldivian sunsets. Maybe because the island is narrow and most people aren’t far from the west side, this seemed to be one of the most popular local pastimes as well.
5. Experience the Fish Market
Every morning at around 9 or 10 the fish market is full of fishermen bringing in the day’s catch, along with a small crowd of people looking to buy fish, then others who seemed to just be there to enjoy the show, much like us.
The huge tuna are fascinating on their own but the entire process of weighing them (with some side betting taking place), gutting them, filleting them on the spot (you should see the forearms on these guys) and doling them out (via some system of organization I couldn’t figure out in the least) is completely engrossing.
Plus, I couldn’t help but see the potential connection between our tiger shark dives and some of the giant tuna that were missing half their body, obviously having been attacked while being hauled into the boat.
6. Go Fishing
The Maldives has always relied heavily on fishing and it remains a huge part of Fuvahmulah culture. All the hotels and dive shops can arrange fishing trips tailored for anyone, from beginners to die-hard anglers. Most of the time you’ll also be able to cook and eat your own catch.
7. Try Dolphin Spotting
While returning from our second thresher shark dive our boat driver suddenly yelled, alerting us to a pod of about a dozen dolphins passing us on low side, jumping and frolicking all the way by as only dolphins do. No guarantees, but there are enough dolphins around that at certain times of year the dive shops and fishermen will have a pretty good idea where to look.
8. Head Out for Some Fuvahmulah Surfing
The very waves that keep the island from having a lot of serene, protected beaches at least make it a pretty decent surf destination. As a barely beginner surfer myself, I can’t speak to the quality of the waves but am told that at certain times of year the surf can be pretty amazing, particularly Eleyi’s Surf Spot just off SE corner of Thoondu Beach.
Where to Eat: Fuvahmulah Restaurants
There are actually quite a few restaurants on Fuvahmulah but they are quite spread out and finding some variety is one of the main reasons to rent a scooter during your stay.
Probably the best restaurant in Fuvahmulah is Pebbles Restaurant, located right on Thoondu Beach. Great food and tremendous atmosphere while eating and enjoying sunset at a table on “Pebble Beach”.
Just a few hundred metres from there is the trendy Cool Banana, with its popular little bar and some very tasty breaded drumsticks.
The next best location is occupied by Mood’Ige, a brand-new restaurant built on a dock jutting out onto the lake (Bandaara Kilhi). There was apparently a different restaurant here in the past but this one literally opened on our last day on the island so there was a limited menu and a bit of confusion here and there but the people were very nice, the food was good and the setting outstanding.
Over on the highway, Monte Rosa has good traditional Maldivian and Indian food, plus we got a very friendly welcome our first night, making us quickly realize that tourists are still a bit of a novelty in these parts.
Highway Restaurant comes highly recommended and is very popular with the locals. The tables upstairs get a bit of breeze and twice we ordered the chili chicken – once it was amazing, the second time just okay (completely different sauce).
Track View is a pretty unique place that literally boasts views of a running track from the upstairs table. The food was pretty good and there was interesting mood lighting. Then, just as we left the dance music was starting to get louder – it might be the place to go for a little taste of nightlife (within reason, this is still the Maldives after all).
When to Go: Fuvahmulah Weather
The Maldives is a tropical country and Fuvahmulah is almost right on the equator, meaning the temperature doesn’t vary that much throughout the year (highs/lows around 30/25C). The northeast monsoon comes through from Jan-Apr but despite the way that sounds, it actually brings clear skies, calm seas and good underwater visibility. This is considered high season in Fuvahmulah (which is also partially due to frigid weather in Europe and North America).
The southwest monsoon takes place from late May to November, bringing more rain and cloud but not so much that it should stop you from coming. Late summer and fall are considered very good times to see whale sharks, although it is still possible all year-round.
In fact, from what we gathered, different weather patterns affect the currents and sea life but doesn’t really change what you can see, just where you go to see it.
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How to Get to Fuvahmulah
Arriving in Male
Almost everyone flies into and out of Velana International Airport in Male, the capital. For checking out flights we usually find that SkyScanner is the fastest and most accurate site.
As soon as you come out you’ll see two ATMs and an information booth. Then if you head to your right (north toward the domestic terminal) you’ll see offices for two cell phone companies where you can buy a Maldivian SIM card with calling, texting and, most importantly, data.
The wifi at Marina Boutique was pretty good but we find it is always useful to have data on our phones as a backup. We bought a 30-day Dhiraagu card for $35 with 17GB of data, 150 calling minutes and 150 texts. There were also cheaper plans for shorter durations.
If you have time to kill and want to go explore the city there is a left luggage office that charges $6 per bag. Ferries to Male run every 15 minutes, take only 10 minutes and cost just 15mvr ($1).
There is a large, non-air-conditioned waiting area with free wifi (you have to sign in with Google or Facebook) and a few outlets for charging. There is also a Thai Express, Burger King, some kind of café and a Dairy Queen (desserts only). A better choice, however, is to walk a couple minutes north to the domestic terminal. Directly across from it and upstairs is an air-conditioned food court with a Pizza Hut, KFC and a couple of local restaurants.
From Male to Fuvahmulah
Fuvahmulah is around 500 km from Male and there are three ways to get there:
Flights to Fuvahmulah
There are usually two flights per day to Fuvahmulah with Maldivian. The flight takes 1.5 hours and is theoretically direct. Our flight down was direct for us (continuing on to Gan after dropping us off) but our return leg changed a couple days before we left.
Instead of leaving at 5 am we now had to leave at 4:20 am so we had time to stop off at two small islands along the way. I have a feeling this happens anytime someone wants a pickup on one of those islands.
Booking directly with Maldivian as a foreigner will cost around $500 per person return but by having our hotel book for us we paid $285 instead. Like I said in the hotel section, I’m not sure if every hotel can get this discount but it is worth asking.
Ferry to Fuvahmulah
Fuvahmulah is too far from Male for ferry to be a realistic option. However, there are daily ferries to and from Gan (1 hr), which also has an international airport. The flight options in and out of Gan are much more limited than Male but you may be able to find a decent flight to Sri Lanka, India or Southeast Asia.
Cargo Boat to Fuvahmulah
Hardcore budget travellers and general masochists can ask around about the next cargo ferry heading from Male to Fuvahmulah. It won’t be comfortable (you’ll be sleeping on the deck), and it will take around 36 hours but, ooh baby, it’ll be very cheap.
How to Get Around on Fuvahmulah
Unlike Dhigurah, Fuvahmulah is too big to walk everywhere. If you pick a hotel near the harbour you can probably walk to and from your dives and find enough restaurants in the vicinity. But if you really want to see more of the island you should probably rent a “motorbike” as they call them (a scooter or moped in Western parlance).
On a motorbike you can get from one end of island to the other in 10-15 minutes. We rented one for our entire stay for the convenience of it and also spent one whole morning just exploring every corner of the island.
There are also some “truck-tuks” that hotels and dive shops use to transport people around the island.
Finally, there is a very modern, very organized bus system on the island. The only catch is that it only goes up and down “the highway”, stopping at designated spots along the way. It doesn’t veer off into the interior streets or to the coast on the far side. The buses leave every half an hour from both the harbour and Thoondu Beach.
However, they can get you to within easy walking distance of most places if you get off at the right spot. The buses are very air-conditioned, usually fairly empty and cost just 5mvr per person (about $US0.35). There is a little box behind the driver where you put your cash (they do not make change).
Trip Planning Resources
Here is a list of the most important resources we use when planning our travels, all in one convenient spot. Full disclosure, when you use any of these links to reserve or sign up for something, we receive a small commission which is greatly appreciated. However, your price does not change and we have only included products and websites that we can honestly recommend.
- Wise is by far the best international multicurrency bank account we’ve found. We can now send and receive money in half a dozen different currencies, convert to dozens more with no exchange premium and pay or withdraw local currencies. Highly recommended.
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- We’ve used Discover Cars in many different countries and they usually have the cheapest deals and have always been very reliable.
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Fuvahmulah will continue to draw more and more scuba divers looking to dive with tiger sharks – one of the most unique wildlife experiences in the world. Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure what its ceiling is as a tourist destination. With just one (admittedly beautiful) beach and strict rules against baring skin, it can’t compete with the many other gorgeous, tourist-friendly islands in the Maldives.
However, its unique geography that draws huge numbers of large pelagics make it a fantastic dive destination beyond just seeing the tiger sharks and with tourism so recent to the island it is a fascinating place to experience Maldivian culture mostly unaffected by foreign influences. Definitely one of the most unique places you’ll ever visit – both below and above the water.
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