The southern metropolis of the Maldives is a getaway from the whirlwind pace of life of its northern rival and country’s capital Malé. Sprawled across the equator, sparkling like a beautiful pearl necklace, over a group of six islands, of which five are ringed by a tangle of causeways, if you drive in any direction, you’ll soon find yourself awed by the sublime panoramas stretching beyond.
Despite the commencement of the only international flights to Addu with four frequencies a week from Sri Lanka since December 2016, the colonial relic remains blissfully calm, laid-back and is a monumental city where you get a real sense of the Maldivian history. During WWII, when the British forces withdrew Sri Lanka, they built a naval base on Addu’s Gan island, later converted to an air force base during the Cold War, and now is the city’s international airport.
Accommodation – There are three resort hotels in Addu City:
Equator Village – 78 rooms and rates start from 1,500 MVR a night.
Canareef Resort Maldives – 271 villas under three categories, rates start from 14,000 MVR a night.
Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa – 132 villas under eight categories, rates start from 8,300 MVR a night.
You can also book budget accommodation through Airbnb for rooms as low as 385 MVR a night from local guesthouses. If you haven’t booked a place to stay prior your arrival to Addu, you can still approach the guest-houses directly, and sometimes they offer good walk-in rates and packaged specials. However, if you are planning to visit in the festive season during Eid, Christmas and New Year, you probably should book in advance, since guesthouses could be fully booked. Air-conditioning, WiFi and attached bathrooms are relatively standard at most guesthouses across the Maldives, but, if you’re looking for accommodation including a swimming pool, the most economical hotel in Addu would be the Equator Village.
Food – If you are staying at a resort hotel, food can be expensive, costing 1200-1500 MVR per meal. It can be included based on your preferred meal plan at the time you confirm your hotel reservation, if not, you can dine at the property’s restaurants. A nice buffet breakfast with table service could cost between 45-70 MVR at a casual city restaurant, but at a local “saai hotaa” (less standard café), it could be between 35-40 MVR. Buying your own groceries and cooking at your own pace is not an option, since guesthouses will not allow you and you probably not have sufficient kitchen utensils and space to do such at your guesthouse room, unless you are staying at a friend’s home.
Transportation – Transfers to resort hotels depend on how you book and settle the payment for your accommodation, it could be included in the price if you book your stay directly with the resort hotel, or pay separately if you have booked it through an online hotel booking website. Equator Village is located in Gan and is a 5-minute drive from Gan International Airport, but Canareef Resort Maldives and Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa are located in two different islands and require speed boat transfers. If you have your transfers booked with the resort, airport representatives will meet and greet you on your arrival and assist you with swift transfers to the resort hotel. Getting from the airport to Feydhoo in a taxi to will cost 50 MVR, to Maradhoo it will be 70 MVR, and to Hithadhoo it will be 130 MVR.
Activities – Activities tend to cost 900 MVR or more depending on what you want to do. Diving, for example, will be around 925 MVR for a single-tank dive and a week’s worth of diving will cost around 6,000 MVR.
Ideal daily budget – 500-700 MVR / $33-46 USD (Note: This is a tentative daily budget assuming you will stay at a local guesthouse, eat local food at a saai hotaa, and rent a motorbike for transportation.
Consider flying into Colombo from the Middle East or Far East first – Getting to Addu from Malé on a domestic flight is incredibly expensive, Maldivian is the only domestic carrier that operates and dominates this route, hence they do not have special fares for tourists. However, low-cost carriers that operate from Middle East and Far East to Colombo such as AirAsia, Malindo Air, flydubai and Air Arabia offer cheap fares to Colombo, take advantage of the early bird fares from these airlines and fly into Colombo before continuing and connecting your flight to Gan, Addu!
Stay with the locals – In 2009, the Maldives Government allowed guest houses to be operated in the local islands, letting travelers stay and lodge at homes owned by the island residents. This is also the cheapest mode of accommodation growing rapidly across the archipelago and popular among the locals as well. Many of these guesthouses are registered and listed on Airbnb and could be booked for as low as USD 25 a night in Addu. Please note that there are no hostels operated in any parts of the Maldives, in case you find one operated in dormitories, please note that it is not allowed and the authorities have not given permission to operate such models in the Maldives tourism industry. Stay with the locals in guesthouses and learn about the Maldivian culture, you will certainly save lots of money!
Couchsurf – Signup for the Couchsurfing network and stay at a local’s home for free. I have been an active member of the Couchsurfing community since 2013 and frequently use it to meet locals during my travels, I have also met some amazing people and made hundreds of friends from different parts of the world. Having a local to give you the insights of a place you are visiting for the first time is a thousand times better than a tour guide who only takes you to places where he is often given a commission.
Rent a motorbike – Roadside shops in Addu rent motorbikes for 200-300 MVR a day, get one and explore the city instead of paying expensive taxi fares in Addu. If you have a driving license from your home country, and is in English, you are good to ride a motorbike in Addu.
Take advantage of packaged excursions – Several guesthouses have packages including accommodation and excursions, usually it will be your host entertaining you with such excursions and activities (scuba diving or snorkeling).
There is no alcohol – As the Maldives is a Muslim country, the sale and consumption of alcohol is illegal anywhere in the country, however, resort islands are exempted including certain safari boats and liveaboards that have obtained special permits from the relevant authorities for sale and consumption of alcohol on-board. Equator Village in Gan island allows tourists to buy and consume alcohol within the premises, the security guards would ask for identification from foreign visitors and note the time of entry to the facility at the entrance and sign-off during exit. A beer at Equator Village will cost around 60 MVR.
Don’t withdraw from ATM’s – Bring lots of US dollars to avoid bank fees and transaction charges against cash withdrawn from ATM’s. US dollars are accepted all across the Maldives, even if you cannot find an authorized money changer, local shops will accept US dollars and often offer better rates while the monetary regulations allows the exchange rate to fluctuate between 12.85 and 15.42 Rufiyaa per US dollar. However, don’t change all your US dollars upon your arrival, instead keep changing based on your need and budget.
Eat until you explode – While in the Addu city there are so much local food options that beckon you to savor the authenticity of the cuisine. Roadside cafés and food establishments commonly referred by locals as “sai hotaa” churn out some delicious fare, making your dining experience a memorable one. They serve some delectable delicacies like faraata and Addu kukulhu-riha, curry prepared with Addu hawaadhu (a spice mix available only in Addu), kalhu sai (black tea), Addu bendi – a delicacy made of sweetened coconut, palm sugar and rosewater and much more at very reasonable prices. Most saai hotaas start their business as early as 5 AM and remain open till early morning 1 AM. You will find plastic chairs and tables scattered in these establishments.
Take a trip to Hulhumeedhoo island – Hulhumeedhoo is geographically a single island, but administratively divided and considered as two, “Hulhudhoo” and “Meedhoo”. The island lies in the eastern side of the atoll and is incredibly different from the rest of the islands in Addu — some of the locals in the island still use diesel generators for power and fetch water from wells. Rent a bike from the Charming Holiday Lodge guesthouse and explore the beautiful sights of Meedhoo. The Southern Transport Link operates daily ferry round-trips by dhoni and speedboat between Feydhoo and Hulhumeedhoo.
Try spotting a Dhondheeni – The White Tern (Gygis alba), a small seabird confined to Addu has all its body white with a black eye-ring and bill. In recent years the unique bird has been proudly used as a symbol by its inhabitants to represent Addu.
Be Awed by the incredible sunsets in Addu – While the islands of Addu are the southernmost in the Maldives archipelago, it boasts some of the most spectacular sunsets in the world, with the sun’s rays bouncing off the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean. Don’t forget to Instagram your sunset shots of Addu!
Admire the British war memorial – In 1976 when the British forces withdrew from Gan, they left two cannons from the World War Two-era. It stands as a monument today, symmetrically placed inside a square surrounded by a cement railing with a small entrance. Rumors say the British government pay a royalty to the Maldives government to maintain the monument.
Partake in any of the two Eids – Eid ul-Fitr is celebrated at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha celebrates the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The residents of Addu mark both the ceremonies in social atmosphere including the traditional “Maali Neshun” and “Bodumas Beynun” performances. Maali Neshun showcases masked performers dressed in ash and palm leaves attempting to scare the parade onlookers. Bodumas Beynun exhibits a form of black magic to catch a large fish woven with palm leaves. Over time, the customs of celebrating the Eid have been changing and the various cultural events associated with these two Eids now differ from island to island across the country.
Wander around the Equatorial Convention Centre – The iconic landmark of modern day Addu city, located in the island of Hithadhoo. The convention center was built to host the 17th SAARC summit in November 2011, today the building remains abandoned due to several politically motivated reasons.
Immerse yourself in nature at Eedhigali Kilhi – One of the largest wetlands and mangroves in the nation, the uninhabited area is now an environmentally protected area for its delicate ecosystem. Rent a motorbike and ride all the way to the north end of Addu Atoll, southernmost of the Maldives.
Find tranquility at the Ranin Hanaa Fengandu – Also known as the Queen’s Pond, is a large natural pond surrounded by coconut palms and lush tropical foliage, located in the environmentally protected area of Hithadhoo island. Local myths say the pond was once used by fairies to take showers. The color of the pond water is of a pale yellow and green.
Koagannu Cemetery – A 900-year-old cemetery located in the island of Meedhoo is the oldest cemetery in the Maldives. In February 2017, the Magistrate Court of Addu City’s Meedhoo issued an order for Police to watch and protect the historical heritage after reports of vandalism inside the cemetery. Read about my experience visiting the Koagannu Cemetery in November 2016.
Explore Addu’s bountiful underwater marine life – Located 33-meters beneath the turquoise blue waters of Addu, lies the wreckage of the 5.5 ton oil tanker, the British Loyalty. It was torpedoed twice during World War II, and today its remains make it one of the best dives sites with excellent coral growth in the country.
Umarus Place is another underwater oasis waiting to be explored with brilliant overhangs and caves. The reef starts at a depth of five meters and goes down 30 meters like a staircase. You will find hundreds of fish at Umarus Place from gorgonians and table corals, sweet lips, schools of snappers, groupers, and with some luck also manta rays, eagle rays, sharks, sailfish, green turtles and lobsters.
GoPro the Link Road – The five neighboring islands Gan, Feydhoo, Maradhoo, Maradhoo-Feydhoo and Hithadhoo are connected through a 17-kilometer road, also called the “Link Road”, the second longest paved road in the country. You should also be careful riding motorbikes on the Link Road as it claims several lives an year through tragic road accidents. There is also a particular section of the Link Road with a minimum speed limit of 60 km/hour and cycle helmets are compulsory. Don’t forget to GoPro the amazing roadside views, especially if someone else is riding the motorbike, and you are seated at the back!
If you don’t fancy the intriguing charms and mysteries of the underwater marine life, leisurely wander around the backstreets, try the fabulous Addu food, and discover a city that is still firmly Maldivian in all its aspect, atmosphere, and attitude – Addu will soon grow on you once you get to know it. So what are you waiting for?