To choose a Maldives island for vacation is very simple, isn’t it? Just use a Maldives resorts map. You are sure every island is a small part of one big universally recognized paradise. However, it is not really like that. I would like to share the information that we had not found online in preparing for our trip to Fihalhohi Island.
Well, let’s start again: to choose a Maldives island for vacation is very simple, if your only criteria are palm trees and gold beaches in “Bounty” style. Take any island. Oh, you want more, do you? Perhaps the rich and living coral reef? For a reasonable price, this mix is impossible on the Maldives.
2017. Economic crisis. Price was important for my wife and me. Testimonials on the home reef of Fihalhohi Island were positive. Some even claimed it is one of the best reefs among the not-so-expensive resorts of the Maldives. Plus economy of transport—a speedboat instead of a seaplane. Therefore we chose Fihalhohi Island Resort.
Fifty minutes by speedboat from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport of Male, the capital of the Maldives, and we disembarked on Fihalhohi Island. The island was covered by tropical greenery, and the first living thing that met us was a heron frozen like a statue near a fountain. The next phase, accommodation, was a “terra incognita” for us. In our booking stage, we tried to get information about bungalows, but the Internet was of no help. Recently, Fihalhohi Island Resort went through a reconstruction, and the data were contradictory.
Now, the first-hand information valid for 2017: If you don’t like water bungalows and prefer to live on the ground among palm trees and white sand, the best choice is premium rooms 110-130. Furthermore, this part of the island is the least windy and has the best beach. However, I must admit there are no outright bad rooms on the island.
The coral reef turned out to be not the best in our life, although we met a big sea turtle already in the first swim, and met it during each subsequent one. There was a strong wind with rain on the first day, but we saw the rainbow after it. I took it as a good sign. The sunset also was beautiful.
Because of the strong wind, the water was muddy every day, therefore excuse the quality of our photographs. For the same reason—the muddy water—beware of stingrays which like to lie calmly near the waterfront, and watch how you enter the water. During snorkeling, take into account a strong flow from the water villas to the east.
Our first night was spent under the accompaniment of terrifying screams of tropical birds, but we got used to it in several minutes. I must note it was better than the noise of cars in a big city. Then heavy rain told us a resounding good morning. Every room has a big umbrella (the staff knows the work and the local weather). We took it and headed for breakfast barefoot.
It was raining with short breaks for the next two days, the ocean was brutal, and a weather widget of my tablet PC forecasted rains and storms for the next several days. We were forced to spend our time playing billiards or ping-pong. Trips for manta rays and dolphins, which were two of the reasons we chose Fihalhohi, were cancelled. Too dangerous.
However, on the third day, the sun came out from behind the clouds, the ocean calmed down, not completely flat, but enough to try snorkeling. We put on our wetsuits and, armed with a Canon D10, went underwater. In half an hour, the camera leaked and died. It was our first underwater camera that had served us seven years: Egypt, the Maldives, Cambodia, Thailand, again the Maldives. We were upset by the loss of our old friend, but fortunately, we had two other D10s. All in all, we had three underwater cameras. Too many, you may say. Next day, the Maldives underwater god beckoned to our second camera. It leaked and died.
The last underwater camera was preserved for mantas and dolphin trips. Therefore, the next two days, we took pictures of palm trees, beaches, sunsets, and herons with my tablet PC. Herons are very photogenic. They give a special charm to the island, don’t fear people, but don’t allow them to stroke them.
We snorkeled as observers, without cameras, but apparently, it was a season of challenges for us. My wife, Irina, broke one flipper entering water. We never had such an adventurous vacation on the Maldives. How she will be able to get away from sharks? Just a joke. There were only five or so of them, and only pups (as it turned out later, this was a misconception).
It was strange how people didn’t meet each other at every step on an island as tiny as Fihalhohi. We walked around it in 11 minutes. It is about 800 meters. But sometimes in the evening, we didn’t meet anyone during our strolls, although the resort has more than 300 rooms.
One important thing. Usually on the Maldives Islands resorts, people walk barefoot everywhere—to the beach, bar, or restaurants. On the island of Fihalhohi, I recommend having shoes and a flashlight in the evening. The thing is, in the dark, enormous numbers of crabs, small and big, with and without shells, leave their underground homes to have dinner, and they don’t know that this or that path is made only for you. They are so cute, and I am sure you wouldn’t want to flatten them. If you want to watch their evening life, you will find the biggest population in front of villas 105-108.
The weather was going to be good on the excursion days, although the ocean was not absolutely flat. We signed a paper with a statement that we swim well and will be able to stay afloat at least 30 minutes, came on board, and went to look for manta rays, dolphins, and sea turtles. Fifty minutes, and we were on the place, near a round underwater atoll. Our guide said that we should jump into the water at some distance from the reef. “Our boat can’t get closer because the sea is not calm enough.”
“Jump in and kick to the reef with all your might. The sea bump is almost non-existent above it. Beware the current over there, on the right. If something is wrong, raise your hand, and well save you.”
All ten photo hunters jumped overboard. We had some feeling of danger, but a crew man jumped too and followed us all the way around the atoll. Unfortunately, the game was not worth the candle. We saw only one manta ray which did not want to pop up from the depth, one turtle, and no dolphins.
While we did not see anything unique that time, it does not mean you would not be luckier. The chase for a whale shark near the island of Vilamendhoo several years ago was one of the best experiences in our life. On Fihalhohi, we still have seen dolphins, but only briefly.
One day, we sat on the terrace of our bungalow, drank coffee with a chocolate, and admired the ocean. A big black shark fin appeared. Then a second one.
“Did you see them, dear?”
“Oh, yes, where is the camera?”
We ran on the beach. No, they were not sharks. A dolphin family passed by our island at a distant of several meters so fast that we didn’t have a chance to take pictures.
The second last day of our stay on Fihalhohi, there was another downpour. But the ocean was calm, at least by the standards of this island. It seems like it is never really calm here. Another feature of the island is permanent strong wind. At least, it was so in October/November.
I suggested exploring the area of the sea near the water villas where we have seen a snorkeler only once. No one swims there because of big waves and a current. Although the direction of the current is from the sea to the beach, there is the feeling of some danger. We have never seen lifeguards on the Maldives. Everything you do there you do at your own risk. In addition, one of Irina’s flippers was half-broken (we tied it with a sock), therefore she couldn’t move at a high speed. However, our will to find something interesting that nobody had seen before us was very strong.
It was raining. All the snorkelers slept or had their breakfast. Irina, with the only surviving underwater camera, swam ahead of me while I was covering her back. In five minutes, we faced a darting, graceful, luxury eagle ray! My lifelong dream. Many times I had seen it in the depths, but never so close. It is useless to compete with it in speed, but I tried. Watch the video (30 sec) below. It’s a pity that our camerawoman was not be able to keep up with us.
The coral reef was almost dead, but it had plenty of fish. We even met our old friend, the big sea turtle. Probably, it thought, “These punks again. Every day, they interfere with me trying to have a breakfast.” There was no need to chase the turtle. It is never in hurry, if you don’t touch it.
On the way back, we met an octopus (truly lucky day). Unlike the turtle, it was very nervous and amazingly changed its coloration. Watch the video (19 sec).
Then a new guest—a big shark, probably two meters long and right in front of us. Pause…. And everybody swam their way. Our way was to shore. Downpour. Wind. Storm. But it was very calm and safe underwater. The main thing is not to raise your head out of the water. It is scary only above the surface.
Fihalhohi Island Resort: practical tips
1. The resort has several two-floor bungalows with four rooms. Most of them are located on the southern part of the island, near the technical pier. The beach there is not bad. You can sunbathe, but not swim. It is dangerous without coral footwear, plus the water is shallow there.
2. The bungalows (classic, comfort, and premium) from 120 to 320 are located on the best beach. Only this beach has the home reef.
3. Every room has two chaise lounges, but they stand in the shadow of trees near rooms 101-108. The entrance to the water is not convenient there. Beware of coconuts. They fall down like cannonballs.
3. You will find a very photogenic swing (not a single girl passed by) and the highest number of crabs per square meter in front of rooms 106-107.
4. For us, excursions are an important criterion of choosing a Maldives island for vacation. Fihalhohi Island Resort suggests (2017):
- sunset dolphin cruise, USD 40
- excursion to Male, the capital of the Maldives, USD 55
- snorkeling with a whale shark and mantas, USD 140
- snorkeling with mantas and dolphins, USD 50
- snorkeling safari, USD 30
- and some others
5. The main restaurant of Fihalhohi was great. Every room gets a permanent table and waiter. It is a very big plus, because you should not seek a table in an overfilled restaurant (the hotel was 100% occupied in early October). You come in and a bottle of cold white wine already awaits you in a bucket of ice. If you don’t finish the bottle during lunch, your waiter keeps it for dinner in an ice-box. Waiters speak many languages. The cuisine was perfect and not worse than in Robinson Club Maldives which, by the way, is 50% more expensive.
6. Rooms are cleaned twice a day almost unbeknownst to you—for example, when you have breakfast. On the first day, we noticed a big cockroach on our ceiling, and asked our room boy to keep the door of the bungalow closed during cleaning. He did it, and roaches did not visit us anymore.
7. Workers clean the island continuously, therefore it is very groomed. Two to three times a week, they do a chemical treatment against insects by smoke. The smell is awful, but the wind quickly blows it off to the ocean. I don’t know why, but this smoke has no effect on mosquitoes or ants, but only on roaches. It does not kill them. Just makes them slow.
8. If you don’t like insects, take mosquito spray with you. Mosquitos are small, but angry on Fihalhohi. Don’t forget to take one or two roach sprays too. Doors and windows in bungalows are made of wood and can’t be an insurmountable barrier for insects. I saw how one German gentleman used a flyswatter. A cheap and effective decision.
9. The most guests are German-speaking middle aged couples. There were some Russian-, Italian-, French-, and English-speaking ones.
10. Usually, while traveling, we take good coffee (from Serbia), good tea (from China), pine nuts (from Russia), and protein bars with us. This time, I thought we could take some oranges, because it is impossible to buy fruit on the island. You can store your fruit in a small refrigerator in your room so as not to attract insects.
By all accounts, this hotel was better than Reethi Beach and no worse than Vilamendhoo. Fihalhohi Island Resort has three stars (2017), but certainly it deserves four. We have not seen such friendly staff on the Maldives Islands before.