Ultimate Guraidhoo Review
Deciding to go to the Maldives is a thousand times easier than deciding where to go in the Maldives so choosing Guraidhoo for a first visit to the country was based on a reasonable amount of time on research, and a portion of luck. Alex helped on the research side and provided some good insight so for that, we thank him. In fact, this report is a follow-up of a 2015 original.
For reference, Guraidhoo is roughly 700m long by 500m wide with a population close to 2000 where 10-15% are school going age. It is 32km (20miles) south of Male and not far from Maafushi.
We are a family of three, with a 10yr old boy so it was important to have a balanced destination with activities and a variety of outlooks. Given my wife can get seasick on occasion, a shorter ferry trip was best for a first visit to the Maldives. We didn’t want too high a cost for Speedboat Transfer either, again due to it being our first visit – we don’t mind spending more on subsequent visits if the destination proves worthwhile to return.
It was on this basis we picked Guraidhoo, a 2hr (BTCC) ferry from Male at MVR30/head (USD2) though with three speedboats per day also, at USD20/head. The BTCC was perfectly adequate for timing, departing Villingili Ferry Terminal at 2:30pm precisely, and it was good for seeing Atolls en-route. The boat passes quite close to a couple of resorts so, overall, the slower journey is good for sightseeing.
Also aiding our choice of island was input from Ahid, the manager at Kaafu Inn. He was one from only a very small number of guesthouses that took time to reply and answer our questions – we wrote to several. Kaafu Inn fitted in with our budget and had good reviews so we didn’t communicate with any other guest houses on the island, through there is currently about a dozen to choose from.
Ahid helped us an awful lot and we landed in Male relaxed that we knew just about everything we needed to, for getting to and from Guraidhoo etc. and indeed he even communicated with our overnight hotel in Hulhumale to further organise our transfer and had a friend meet us for transfer to new Villingili Terminal.
On arrival at Guraidhoo we were met at the harbour by Ahid himself and a couple of his colleagues (brother and friend) who trolleyed our bags to the hotel. After about 6-weeks of chatting to Ahid online it was a pleasure to finally meet. A short walk to Kaafu Inn and after completing check-in procedures we were off on a guided tour of the island, which actually has a smaller island called Lhosfushi attached by footbridge built mid-2016 by the guesthouses. This is Guraidhoo’s “bikini beach” area, although it is possible to wear a bikini on any beach, provided no locals are around (apparently).
A few hammocks and sun loungers are available making it a great spot to chill and snorkel into the lagoon created by it and the main island, separated from the main ocean by a reef at lower tides. Shallow, sheltered and clean, we spotted a couple of baby Black-tip Sharks, an Eagle Ray and, of course, a good supply of fish and crab. You need swimming shoes as Lhosfushi is a coral island, very sharp “sand” and getting around or in/out of the water will be very difficult with protection. Other beaches, on the opposite side of the lagoon and opposite the Holiday Inn Resort are with fine sand so no shoes required.
The island itself is cleaned regularly (there’s a couple of bins), the “sand” even raked sometimes into nice Japanese Garden type patterns and even a couple of makeshift surfer dude type huts to get some shelter from sun and rain. At either end of the bridge you’ll usually find a sentry monitoring something or somebody that we didn’t work out, since the local guys would in any case come over the bridge to reach their surfing point.
It is fun seeing the resort just opposite, imagining they have exactly the same view, same water to swim in and same overall experience but at a price starting at easily six or seven times higher than us. Despite its closeness, it is not possible to go between the two islands – there is security preventing even guests from Holiday Inn visiting Guraidhoo, but I am sure they actually have vests saying “Life Guard” instead of “Security”. The search lights over the lagoon at night adds a nice touch of elusiveness.
From Guraidhoo, though, it is also easy to see Cocoa Island, Biyadhoo and Ozen Resorts, so this spot of Maldives is very popular. This is likely because it’s just a ~40min speedboat trip from Male.
Okay, there is a trade-off for sure in facilities and bad smelling tap water but on Guraidhoo we didn’t feel like we missed anything except for maybe shampoo/soap – you need to make sure to take with you or buy locally. There is a choice of three restaurants, each serving good food in the USD5-10/head range and with wide ranging menus of Indian/Western/Local food – we ate more often at “Café Woodgarden” that was positioned on the beach, overlooking both the island’s lagoon and Holiday Inn. Perfect.
Difficult to see what you’re eating at night whatever the choice, but it tasted good. “Amore” restaurant, a few steps away from Kaafu Inn was also good, just missing a view though given the rain on our first night in Guraidhoo, shelter was preferred. Kaafu Inn itself serves food but it is expensive in comparison to others.
With regards bad smelling water, Ahid told us that in any case that Guraidhoo will be supplied with clean, fresh water from April/May 2017 ticking off even one thing less that resorts have over this particular local experience. I would prefer confirming this again before fixing a visit if this is a requirement – the water really does smell quite bad and even after a few days there it was difficult to get used to.
The island’s electricity generator is just outside the Inn, as is one of the two mosques on the island. First to call of prayers during our stay was 4:45am and whilst this might sound really bad if you’re not used to it, the call was SO early that it was possible to nod off back to sleep again for a few hours before breakfast, which we had arranged for 8:30am. The generator also didn’t make an obtrusive noise, certainly not over the air conditioning, which was reasonably quiet and far better than the fan.
We took only one organised excursion, a combined Snorkelling and Turtle Watching trip with another couple staying at Kaafu Inn. This meant costs were USD35/head and lasted 3hrs or so. We did manage to catch up with a couple of turtles and we were really pleased that our son managed to get to within a metre or so of one as it came up, nervously, for air before going deep and into safety.
The video provided by Ahid’s friend is a little special for us, a great reminder, and overall just a wonderful thing to witness.
We had planned to also book Night Fishing and BBQ, something our son wanted very much to do, but we couldn’t find anybody to share the trip meaning the USD50/head proved quite pricey. If shared, pricing would have been much better.
From one of the several souvenir shops on the island (no ATM that we found) we bought some necklace a single shark tooth on each. At USD5 is a perfect, and slightly unusual, reminder of our first trip to the Maldives.
Having said all that, I believe Guraidhoo could be about to change. There is the currently roughly dozen guesthouses on the island with another half dozen or so under construction – these, however, are mostly a little higher class. One, finishing now, is three floors high in the middle of the island with room balconies and a Thai style Spa attached. Another, due for completion in time for peak season at the end of 2017 will see the entire ground floor being raised a meter from the sand to accommodate a fish tank. With a full size, thick glass ceiling this fish tank will be full visible to all eating and sleeping on the ground floor.
Guraidhoo is maybe attempting to cash in on nearby resorts’ popularity, its easy to reach location and possibly reported overcrowding at nearby Maafushi but it reflects sentiment echoed in Alex’s post regarding his second Rasdhoo report and what changes are taking place there for tourists. It would be sad to see any downward trend on the island but they are cleaning up, getting organised, adding speedboat transfer times and so I hope impact is not significant.
Its biggest problem right now, however, is not anything to do with guesthouses, the island, service, water smell or anything – everything adds up to a perfect local experience. It is, instead, sadly, the condition of reefs and coral around Guraidhoo, and I suspect around much of Eastern Maldives. If the rest of the Maldives, though, is the same way then I fear the country is living from prior reputation more than current circumstance.
Color is provided by fish, though at places you must go searching for them. Sadly, the coral itself has very little in the way of colour. Warm water has the biggest impact but it could as well be related to pollution (saw tin cans and a large tractor tyre whilst snorkelling just off the north end of the island) and, if there is such a thing, over snorkelling/diving. Ahid predicts colour will return in 3-5yrs but, honestly, I doubt it.
The couple we stayed with at Kaafu Inn decided to leave and head further west in search of color – don’t know if they found it or not but that would be my plan for a further visit to Maldives soon. We are definitely looking to return either later this year, or next.
Overall, I give our trip 8.5/10.
Kaafu Inn and Guriadhoo are near perfect and in combination provides for a relaxing yet active vacation, with plenty facilities and services. My son had a great time snorkelling (for the first time in his life) around the island and playing with hermit crabs.
The people, easily found tranquillity, clear and beautiful blues of the ocean and reefs, Ahid and his family, food, sea life, convenience from Male (good and bad) all make Guraidhoo and ideal destination for singles, couples and families.
I must give marks off ONLY for the condition of reefs around Guraidhoo, that proved a disappointment. There is no other reason for us not returning to Guraidhoo – everything else was perfect in current condition. I wonder how the island will look and feel in a year or two with additional guesthouses and possibly higher tourist numbers. Lhosfushi and the lagoon could have more people taking away from their tranquillity, especially during peak seasons, so this is something I would recheck with Ahid prior to any return. We do, hope, for good reasons to return.