The Maldives are located in the Indian Ocean just to the west and south of Sri Lanka. Over 1100 coral islands make up this unique country which is the most low lying and flattest in the world with the highest peak being just 2.4 meters above sea level!
With soft powdery white sands, encased by sparkling turquoise lagoons and tropical swaying palms the Maldives are popular with honeymooners.
Rather than a weeklong extravaganza of all-inclusive indulgence for our Maldives trip we chose to stay in the Barefoot Eco on a half board basis. This removed the temptation of constant Margaritas and Mai Tai’s and even more so with the strict no alcohol regulations on Hanimaadhoo island.
Most locals are strict Muslims and indeed Maldivian law states that any of the 1100 odd islands as inhabited by locals are not permitted to sell alcohol. Many large hotels are the sole residences of some of the tiny islands and as such are not populated by locals. These resorts are allowed to provide alcohol to their guests.
The Barefoot Eco is located on an island inhabited by locals hence no alcohol. They do however get around this with a booze boat, a floating bar which is moored 5 minutes offshore and accessed by speedboat. We knew all of this when we booked so we were not disappointed!
Built only 3 years ago the eco friendly concept of the Barefoot with its approach to preserving the environment appealed to us. For example, there were zero plastic bottles in the resort. Tap water is supplied via a ‘reverse osmosis desalination process’ which is suitable for cleaning your teeth.
Drinking water is further filtered and twice a day a large glass bottle of drinking water was left in our room and each evening we were given complementary still and sparkling drinking water with our dinner. The rest of the time we used our own Water-to-Go bottles which we filled with tap water for instant filtering.
Other sustainability examples which drew us to the Barefoot Eco included:
- Use of solar panels to generate electricity
- Use of energy efficient lighting
- Air conditioning system which ingeniously doubles as a water heater
- Employment of mostly local people
They also justifiably pride themselves on their conservation centre, encouraging both locals and tourists to become more environmentally aware with a number of activities as part of their conservation programme.
We had booked a standard room but to our delight we were given a free upgrade on arrival to a sea front room. And even better this was the very end block of 4 rooms tucked at the quiet end of the beach and meaning we had hardly anyone walking past our ground floor patio.
Nestled inconspicuously amongst the gorgeous tropical gardens the rooms were spacious, the huge bed was comfortable and the rainfall shower was consistent and powerful. We had room make-up twice a day.
The ground floor meant we could come and go via the patio to the beach which was just a few feet away. There were plenty of good quality sun beds and umbrellas where we could leave our stuff safety while snorkelling.
We were booked on a half board basis meaning we were provided with breakfast and evening meals. Much of the food is locally and organically sourced and fish was caught daily by a local fisherman.
As with most Maldive hotels, the Barefoot had its own turquoise lagoon and reef meaning snorkelling and diving were the main daily activities. Chris and I have been fortunate to have snorkelled in a few places around the world and enjoyed doing this every day right on our doorstep!
While the fish were colourful, the coral was mostly white with the odd blue or purple dome shaped patch. At times the water also appeared a little cloudy from the sandy sea bed. This didn’t detract from being a wonderful experience however; the lagoon was so calm you could even hear the fish nibbling at the coral.
We did snorkel off the beach most days and in addition the Barefoot offered a free snorkel excursion on 4 afternoons each week. They look us by dhoni (a traditional wooden Maldivian boat) to the edge of the reef where the group snorkelled obediently behind one of the resident marine biologists as she led us through the deeper water. On one occasion we were fortunate to see a small pod of dolphins although we had all just climbed back into the boat!
The Barefoot also had a number of excursions where you had to pay. Most of these were snorkelling based and some were designed to assist with the conservation work being done by the marine biologists. For example turtle monitoring, dolphin monitoring and manta ray monitoring. Compared with excursions offered on previous holidays and trips, for example our South American cruise where a typical excursion might have been $150 each, these were relatively inexpensive at around $30-40 per person.
We did a snorkel excursion to a nearby reef called the Barra Reef where we snorkelled over a spectacular reef which was teaming with fish. This was quite deep so we were unable to get close to the fish to take pictures. We saw two turtles on this occasion with one swimming right underneath me (but Chris had the Go Pro at the time).
Complimentary yoga sessions
In addition to the snorkelling the Barefoot offered complementary kayaks for two hours each day, complementary use of bikes, a fully equipped air conditioned gym and also free daily yoga sessions. I had never tried yoga before and went to a daily yoga session each morning before breakfast. These lasted for about 50 minutes each day and were led by an extremely bendy and seemingly professional yoga expert… I say this as a yoga novice… He did seem to know exactly what he was doing and would ensure everyone was stretching in the right way and in a rhythmical manner and while keeping the body aligned. These sessions were relaxing yet quite demanding at times… I felt like every muscle in my body had been well and truly stretched each morning…
Cycling village tour
Keen to experience some local culture we participated in a cycling village tour. There are few motor vehicles on Hanimaadhoo island and all of the roads are made of sand! We had to cycle on the left and while mostly the sand roads were fairly compact, at times the sand was too soft and we had to get off and push!
During our village cycle tour (Chris, me, a friendly Czech woman and the guide) as we cycled around the village making frequent stops, we learned a great deal about the local Maldivian culture. Firstly, Western women, and indeed any women, are not allowed to be seen in public without their shoulders and knees being covered. Being Muslims many of the local women had their heads and faces covered with their burkas.
These are a few of the facts we learned as we cycled around the village:
- The coconut is only native tree with all other trees having been imported.
- The Maldive language is Dhivehi which is spoken by almost all Maldivians. Children learn English at school.
- The Maldives have their own currency called the Maldivian rufiyaa but we didn’t have any and didn’t need to use it as every Barefoot transaction was put onto our tab and paid for at the end of the week by credit card and anywhere else charged in US$.
- The Barefoot makes a point of employing locals and these are mostly men as there is still some reluctance for local women to work in tourism and mix with internationals.
- Despite being a nation where the vast majority of the country is surrounded by ocean many of the locals are unable to swim!
- Each populated Maldive island has a school and sometimes from school, young people go to university. There are limited Maldive options and many young people go to universities abroad.
Young Maldivians are keen on technology such as smartphones which, like many other previously rural places around the world are opening the minds of the younger generation. They can now see a world beyond an enclosed existence of sand and turquoise oceans… As with young populations in places such as the Philippine rice terraces young people can use the Internet to see an increasing world of alternative life options, luring them away from centuries of tradition.
There are 6 mosques on Hanimadhoo island. The largest is just one year old (above).
The cycle tour culminated at the house of a lovely local Maldivian family and was hosted by the mum of Ibrahim, the head house-keeper at Barefoot. We arrived to a little backyard with a table decorated with flowers. Snacks consisting of a mixture of vegetable, meat and fish samosas, coconut cake and cups of delicious sweet local tea were given to us.
We really enjoyed our little trip into the village life of Hanimaadhoo which was humbling particularly as all of the locals were so friendly towards us and greeted us as we cycled past.
Entertainment and drinks
In keeping with the ethos of the hotel the evening entertainment was low key. Every evening, following dinner, there was either a presentation by one of the marine biologists or a film, both of which you sat in a large area on bean bags with little bean bag tables.
As the Barefoot Eco is not allowed to sell alcohol there is an alternative option! Each evening a ‘booze boat’ opens at 6 pm which is moored offshore, a short 5 minute speedboat ride away. We were envisaging some kind of pirate ship playing Bob Marley songs however it was a white modern boat anchored and bobbing about in the sea. Drinks were expensive at $7 for a small tin of Tiger beer and $11 for a cocktail. To be honest, we didn’t really enjoy this experience as there was only 3 other couples who sat on their beanbags and seemed to want to keep themselves to themselves. There was no music and not much atmosphere so this was the only time we visited the booze boat and the only alcohol we had all week! Yes indeed! A holiday where there only alcohol we had was a small tin of Tiger beer each…
The hotel did have a lovely on-site juice bar which served a range of fresh and delicious juices and non-alcoholic cocktails
As mentioned, the Barefoot Eco offers 2 hours of complimentary kayaking every day. This enables you to kayak around the lagoon and house reef immediately in front of the beach although you are not permitted to go beyond the two markers at either end.
The nearest marker just stops you going off towards the locals beach and Handimadhoo village centre and harbour and the other marker basically stops you venturing out of the lagoon and onto the rocks with the crashing waves. Oh, and keep to the turquoise lagoon and not the deep blue Indian beyond. Fair enough…
For the first day of kayak hire we handed in our room key and set off without a bag or even the Go Pro just to try things out and get a feel for Maldive lagoon kayaking. With Chris at the front we set off, co-ordinated our paddles, sussed out our steering and before long had glided gracefully across the bay.
This is easy we exclaimed smugly as if we were some kind of pro kayakers. We paddled right across the bay marvelling at the incredibly clear sea beneath us and even spotting the smooth black diamond shape of a manta ray making its way underneath. We kept on the lagoon and before long we reached the far marker where the waves did indeed become more choppy as they roared and crashed just on the headland.
We floated around for a bit and watched as two other couples had their snorkelling gear with them. We soon became a little bored and decided to row back to shore. This was much more difficult due to the strong current beneath us. However we made a good team as we re-co-ordinated our strokes and made it safely back.
By around day 5 and after 5 days of snorkelling off the beach and participating in snorkel excursions we thought we would take our snorkel gear and head off to the edge of the lagoon in a kayak. This time we took the Go Pro, beach bag, snorkels, masks, water, tissues etc.
Our aim was to snorkel at the edge of the reef, just a little further than we had managed to swim to…
This particular day was somewhat more choppy than the previous swimming pool flat lagoon surface, however after a few ‘look at us’ Go Pro selfies we soon made it to the edge of the lagoon.
Chris decided to disembark the kayak to snorkel in the tantalisingly clear lagoon edge… Donning his mask and snorkel, Go Pro in hand he soon slipped off into the water… I remained safe and dry on the kayak and did my best to paddle and stay close to him… After just a couple of minutes and after several waves going right over his head he had had enough and decided to climb back on board…
He first handed me the Go Pro and we had a quick chat on the best climb-back-on-board strategy which resulted in me leaning as far to the right of the kayak as I could as Chris climbed aboard the left…
All of a sudden the kayak capsized and threw us both off the kayak… OMG OMG… I gripped the Go Pro tightly but what about the open beach bag and all of our stuff!!! We both clung onto the upturned kayak and both agreed immediately to stay calm… Yes… Calm… Stay calm…
Thankfully we were both OK… As the kayak was turning I had pushed my knees underneath it roughly in the direction of where our bag should be and miraculously I could feel it was still there, tucked under the upturned kayak and not sinking beneath us.
I hung on, hoping that our stuff hadn’t sunk in dribs and drabs to the depths of the ocean whilst being thankful that we were both OK… I had also managed to grab both oars while still gripping the Go Pro for dear life. I was assuming the oars would float rather than sink but much didn’t fancy our chances of recapturing float-away oars…
And as we were getting to grips with our predicament we found we had drifted out into the deep blue Indian Ocean, some distance from the safe turquoise lagoon…
As we drifted clinging onto the upturned kayak and with me at one end still clutching what was left of our beach bag and any possessions still trapped underneath the kayak and Chris at the other we needed an action plan…
I hung onto the bag and oars underneath and tried to steady the capsized kayak while Chris managed to clamber aboard. We remained calm as I systematically handed him both oars. Then grabbed a flip flop… Then another flip flop before managing to heave the entire waterlogged beach bag to the top of the kayak. All the while we were still drifting further out into the deep blue ocean and, as I dangled in the water, clinging onto the kayak, I tried to obscure any visions of *Jaws and any other vicious sea creatures that may have been lurking just beneath us…
With Chris sitting safely atop with the Go Pro, oars and the salvaged beach bag we decided that rather than me trying to climb back on board and rather than attempting to de-capsize the kayak we would try to make our way back to the shore.
So with Chris paddling on the top and me steering from the back still in the water pushing the kayak and kicking my legs behind we started to make our way slowly out of the deep ocean with its bigger waves and back to the safety of the shallower turquoise lagoon…
Thankfully we did manage to get back to the turquoise lagoon and breathed a sigh of relief… Relieved that we were not washed out with the current and relieved that we hadn’t so far drowned! We continued to work hard against the current, Chris paddling and me steering and kicking my legs behind me as we eventually made it back to shore…
As the sorry sight of the still capsized kayak, with Chris sitting on the top with both oars and the soggy beach bag and me bedraggled and still in the water behind we finally dragged ourselves onto the beach quickly turning the kayak back to normal, replacing both oars and kind of pretending all was well in the world and hoping nobody noticed such amateurish incompetence…
Once safely on the beach, after a little fit of giggles mixed with relief, we sat for a moment to rest and gather our thoughts… And our possessions… Unbelievably they had all been contained within the wide open beach bag! Seriously! This bag contains no zips or ways of being fastened yet everything was still inside! 2 X full Water-to-Go water bottles; a packet of wet wipes; a bottle of sun cream; my snorkel and mask; the room key; Chris’s sun glasses…
We realised they must have all been trapped in an air bubble while underneath the kayak and all we ‘lost’ was a now rather soggy packet of tissues! So most importantly no littering of the ocean… Or so we thought at the time… The following day Chris couldn’t find his mask or snorkel so we can only presume these were the only casualties which probably slipped off the kayak unnoticed during the drama…
Yeh! We didn’t drown!
Every trip or holiday we have taken has been fairly action packed, full of sightseeing, immersing ourselves in the local culture, trying new activities and generally cramming as much in as we can. So this was quite an unusual holiday for us! Wherever you stay a holiday in the Maldives is primarily about the water and the beach.
We enjoyed the snorkelling and I enjoyed the daily yoga sessions. The organic locally produced food together with extensive daily swimming, kayaks, yoga, gym and bikes ensured this was more of a healthy retreat than a typical holiday for us.
It was lovely to have the freedom to both go in the sea and leave our stuff on the sun beds rather than taking it in turn… Well, within reason and obviously keeping our valuables locked in the room safe!
We both felt that one week of relaxation was enough and while we enjoyed the beach life and healthy experience we are both looking forward to more activity on future trips.
And we actually didn’t even miss having no alcohol for (almost) a week! One can each of Tiger beer in a week… Go us!
*Just to mention that the Maldives are recognised as being shark safe with apparently no shark attacks since 1976…