When it comes to somewhere as heart-stoppingly beautiful as the Maldives, I think it’s all too easy to make a beeline for the beach and stay there, totally forgetting there’s an incredible culture to discover too. But today the tide is turning because I’ve decided to temporarily shun those soft white sands in favour of the archipelago’s cultural attractions – and hopefully this will inspire you to do more than sunbathe and splash about in the sea on your holiday here.
How to discover local culture
In some destinations, discovering the local cultural attractions means spending hours in art galleries and museums, but that’s not really the case with the Maldives. That’s not to say there aren’t any (the National Art Gallery on Male’ is definitely worth a look), but culture here is best discovered by taking a look at local life.
That means doing things with the locals, like going on fishing trips, and visiting some of the inhabited islands (i.e. those that house Maldivians, rather than luxurious holiday resorts). Fortunately, island hopping is very common here, so getting boats between destinations is easy.
As I mentioned above, island hopping is a must if you want to explore local culture – but simply visiting the isles isn’t really enough. Familiarising yourself with a few local traditions means you can look at a particular buildings or gatherings with a much deeper understanding of what they actually mean in terms of daily life. So, here are a few tips.
First of all, on the beaches you may well notice structures that vaguely resemble gazebos, but that are made from tree trunks. Known as holhuashi, these are places where people come to wind down and swap news and stories – particularly after work. In fact, you’ll notice that they’re often positioned where fishing boats land, which means people can head straight there to relax.
Late afternoon is a great time to be on one of these islands, since most people finish work around this time. They then head to local showers and wells for a quick refreshing wash before either going to the beach to taking a stroll around the island, calling on friends and relatives.
Fishing is an integral part of Maldivian culture, so I think it naturally follows that you add it to your itinerary. More often than not your chosen resort will be able to arrange a fishing excursion for you, which makes things nice and simple.
I recommend a night fishing trip, since these can be particularly atmospheric and magical. Plus, the fishermen you travel with will actually teach you the basics of catching fish – and trust me, they really know their stuff. Generation upon generation have fished here, so learning about it is one of the best ways to gain a greater understanding of the country’s culture.
Visit uninhabited islands
The Maldives is made up of more than 1,000 islands, but only a few hundred are actually inhabited. Visiting one of these unspoilt, uninhabited isles is an incredible experience and will give you a unique opportunity to discover another side to the Maldives.
While you can arrange a day trip to one of these, it’s worth remembering that night fishing excursions often end with a visit to an uninhabited island, where you can actually cook and eat your catch. Both options are, frankly, wonderful – and I’d actually suggest doing both if you can, since they can be quite different experiences.
Have you been lucky enough to visit some of the most popular places in the Maldives? I’d love to hear about your experiences and thoughts. Just pop your memories in to the comment section under this post. I am looking forward to reading them all.