3 mins

6 authentic cultural experiences in the Maldives

Think that the Maldives is all luxury resorts and dive schools? Look a little closer to discover genuine culture in this little slice of paradise...

Mosque and Islamic Centre in Male (Shutterstock: see credit below)
Hop onboard the public ferry
Forget seaplane transfers from the airport to a resort – if you can master the public ferry timetable it's possible to travel from Male to a number of atolls. Travelling by ferry provides a great opportunity to engage with local people, as well as the chance to take in the beauty of the islands. It's a real adventure – and if you're lucky, you might even spot some dolphins.

Street vendors, Male (Shutterstock)
Street vendors, Male (Shutterstock)

Tuck into afternoon tea
Walk into any coffee shop, café or restaurant on any island from 3 to 5pm, and you'll find an feast of bite-size savoury and sweet delights known as hedika. Savory nibbles are filled with vegetables, tuna, egg and chili, and the sweet treats include pancakes, French toast and sponge cake. In true Maldivian style, wash them down with a mug of black tea.

Seek out the islands' history
On many islands, particularly in the far north and south, there is evidence of the Maldives before all of the resorts arrived. You'll discover ancient mosques, Buddhist stupas, baths and shrines. Visit them with a local and hear the story of how the Maldives converted from Buddhism to Islam.

Mosque, Male (Shutterstock)
Mosque, Male (Shutterstock)

Head to the northern atolls and visit Utheemu, home of the revered national hero Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu. The Sultan fought an eight-year war to drive out the Portuguese invaders who occupied the Maldives from 1558 to 1573. The wooden palace is well preserved and evokes the lifestyle of the past centuries' ruling classes.

Dance to Boduberu
Boduberu, or 'big drum', is performed by groups of men, including three drummers and a lead singer. The songs mainly tell stories of heroism, romance or satire. The slow starting beat and dancing may get you onto your feet, but be warned: as the music reaches a crescendo you will be expected to keep dancing!

Eat like a local

Maldivians are known for their friendliness and hospitality, and if you make the effort to interact you never know when you might be invited over for dinner. Your hosts may not be able to speak English, but they'll do their utmost to understand your sign language – after all, you're just as intriguing to them as they are to you. Learning to eat traditionally with your fingers is also a great ice breaker!

Surfer, Maldives (Shutterstock)
Surfer, Maldives (Shutterstock)

Hit the surf
In the Maldives there are plenty of surf spots within a short distance of each other, and the waves will accommodate every experience level. At weekends (Friday and Saturday) you'll find local surfers keen to pitch their board skills against yours – head to the surfing hotspots of Thulusdhoo in North Male Atoll, Guraidhoo in South Male Atoll and Gan in Laamu Atoll. The Maldives rely on the same swell as Indonesia, and the best and most consistent swells occur between April and October – peaking from June to September.

After a 27-year career in UK retail, Ruth Franklin packed her suitcase, gathered her SCUBA gear and headed for a new challenge in the Maldives, a destination she had visited on 30 occasions during the preceding 10 years. Now, she spends her time running Secret Paradise and organising tours to the islands' most authentic corners.

Main image: Mosque and Islamic Centre in Male (Shutterstock)

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