A Maldives Holiday on Makunudu Island

The Maldives Islands are the place to go to see white coral sand beaches, cyan waters and colourful fish. This year I returned to the Maldives to see if my luck would hold out.

I’d just like to say right away that we were very happy with the whole thing, but it did take a day to settle in and realise everything would work out fine. Sibs wasn’t as keen to be there as I was, which was a slightly awkward situation from the outset and initially, I thought I had made a rather expensive mistake.

sunset on Makanudu Island in the Maldives
sunset on Makunudu Island in the Maldives

Getting To The Maldives

A week before we set off I found this in the news:

The Maldives government have declared a state of emergency. Security forces have been deployed in the capital Malé in response to political developments. There are no reports that outlying islands, resorts or Malé International Airport are affected.

We didn’t get any notification from Kuoni about a travel warning so we decided to continue.

A map of the route from Heathrow to Doha to Male on a Qatar Airways Airbus
The route from Heathrow to Male via Doha on a Qatar Airways Airbus.

On the day we flew out from Heathrow the UK temperatures plummeted at the start of a big freeze. Our Qatar Airways flight went out from Heathrow to the hub at Doha in Saudi Arabia, with a transit time of just less than 7 hours.

Doha is on the East coast of Saudi Arabia and is the home of the world news channel Al Jazeera. Our tickets seemed to indicate that we should prepare for a 3-hour wait, but because of the local time difference, this was in fact only 1 hour – something you might need to watch out for.

A view of the trail left by a speedboat transfer in the Maldives
A view of the trail left by a speedboat as it slams into each wave with all the grace of a flat-pack wardrobe.

The Doha to Malé leg of the trip took 4.5 hours and we didn’t see any sign of trouble that had been reported on TV. 

From Malé, we took a speedboat out to Coco Bodhu Hithi on our way to Makunudu. It was like riding a high-speed wardrobe.

We waited on the jetty for our next boat to arrive. It was a scorching hot day and it didn’t take long for my jeans to turn into a personal sauna in the hard sunlight. When the second boat arrived and we continued on another gut-wrenching, wave slamming trip for 20 minutes. I knew Sibs felt ill because she adopted an embalmed pose while I concentrated on not being hurled out of the window.

Arriving at Makunudu Island

a satellite photo of Makunudu island in the maldives
a satellite photo of Makunudu island showing large areas of shallow water. However, it’s not safe to go out that far due to the depth of the water and the sea currents etc.

I cannot tell a lie, I was pretty disappointed when we first arrived. Our hut looked out at the jetty rather than the natural uncluttered vista I had been looking forward to, and it was raining hard. The last thing I wanted to see and hear were speedboats and tourist activity. Reception said there were no alternative huts spare :0(

I hadn’t chosen the all-inclusive food and drink option so we were going to have to pay for everything other than breakfast. Sibs wasn’t happy with that and I was in the most frosty of dog houses.

Fairly soon we were told that we shouldn’t swim out too far. This was particularly bad because I had based my choice of an island on the large swathes of shallow water extending into the sea around the island, as seen on Google Earth. I thought we would have a lot of space around the island to explore.

All this was bad news, it was raining, we were gloomy and I was to blame.

Getting to Grips with Makunudu

a view of the sea looking out from the Makunudu Island Sand Bar in the Maldives
A view of the sea from the Makunudu Island ‘Sand Bar’ in the Maldives.
A view of the bar area on Makanudu Island in the Maldives
A view of the bar area.

We ventured into the bar area to find something to eat. There was a large à la carte restaurant to one side that wanted $45 per person.

Instead, we followed his pointed finger to the bar snacks. I thought that meant a week of eating bags of crisps etc, but it turned out to be a decent and more casual menu where we ordered burgers and beer.

Thank goodness for that! It was really tasty too. It was so good that I ended up getting the same meal most nights and although it always looked different it was always really good.

a Heron on Makunuduu Island in the Maldives
We would see a Heron near the breakfast bar waiting for his food. He was so full that he didn’t eat a fish he caught later

Next door was a little shop for Sibs to look at. I knew that would cheer her up a bit.

A yellow sunset in Makunudu in the Maldives.
A section of the shoreline a few paces from our hut.

I think our previous trip to Biyadhoo was affecting our judgment and we identified a few differences that we were struggling with.

A Gecko on a wall in Makanudu, Maldives
One of our tribe of Gecko’s

Primarily, Biyadhoo was a bigger island where we had a prepaid buffet of tasty food each day and the marine life was much more evident on the shoreline. Hopefully, we would feel more positive once we have had some rest.

I had taken insect repelling incense coils to burn at night as a lightweight travel option but since we couldn’t take matches into the plane I put the coils into a drawer unopened. Soon my legs were soon going to resemble a bumpy buffet for my mozzie mates.

The Makanudu Menu

Whatever island you end up going to, it can be handy to have an idea what kind of food you will get and how much it might cost. Here are the March-2018 prices for Makunudu.

There is a very attractive A La Carte menu for $45 USD per person. Since the same chefs make all the food, it’s not a bad idea to stay with the bar menu at all – we really enjoyed it every day.

Click on the following titles to see a photo of the menu, expand the photo to read it.

Be aware that the total will have 10% service charge added and then 12% tax after that. That gets close to 25% more than the printed price. However, we found that the pay as you go strategy was still half the price of the cheapest options for all inclusive and full board.

The First Morning

Having rested on the first night here, the sun was shining and we both felt more positive.

on Makunudu in the Maldives, each hut has an open air bathroom
Each hut has an open-air bathroom
tiny ants carrying their queen or a victim up the bathroom wall in the Maldives
tiny ants carrying their queen (or a victim) up the open air bathroom wall.

Interestingly, there were tiny ants in the sink that you couldn’t work around easily, and I didn’t like the idea of killing them inadvertently each time I used it.

After a bit of experimentation I discovered that if I blew gently on the sink plug, my breath wafted up the inside walls of the sink and sent the tiny animals into red alert to get out of the Sink of Doom. I would now be able to clean my teeth without miniature casualties.

Breakfast every day was a prepaid buffet and was always tasty. I made good use of that and the water to reduce costs later in the day. An afternoon cappuccino costs £6-50p per cup! That’s a lot but let’s not forget that everything has to come from the mainland.

vegetation extending over the coral sand towards the sea on Makanudu Island in the Maldives
Vegetation extending over the coral sand towards the sea. Part of our daily walks around the island.

We looked at the economics of my booking and in the end, I had chosen the right options, which meant I was now out of the dog house. As far as I’m concerned that something she should have done months ago, but I went along with it.

an eel on the shoreline on Makanudu Island in the Maldives.
an eel on the shoreline. Part of our daily island walk.

Settling In

We didn’t find the promised Sunbrella that we were told we could use and I phoned the receptionist who said she’d go and ask and let us know. She didn’t call back, which I kind of guessed even before she put the phone down. It’s their way of saying they can’t help you, which is a little bit frustrating since it feels like a trick if you are used to direct answers.

A baby Blacktip Reef Shark near foliage on the shoreline on Makanudu in the Maldives.
A baby Blacktip Reef Shark near foliage on the shoreline, about 18 inches long.

We sat in the shade with a few mozzies, hermit crabs and a majestic fruit bat with a 30-inch wingspan and it all felt good.

Our neighbour took to feeding the fuzzy chicks with bread. This wasn’t a good idea and they soon took to looking for handouts rather than searching for the healthier insect option.

A fluffy chick and its parent on Makanudu Island in the Maldives
A fluffy chick and its parent on patrol looking for insects.

Later, we swam out to the darker water where the depth increased to about 30 feet and disappeared into the blue. There were a good amount of fish to see here and a resident turtle. We were feeling more positive now and were rewarded with views of the fascinating marine life.

a patterned crab on Makunudu Island in the Maldives
a patterned crab

I was volunteered to sort out our dwindling bathroom supplies and that led to an inconclusive conversation with a guy at reception that is quite typical here.

What I have realised is that the locals have enough English to deal with common issues, but if you deviate from that they don’t understand what you are saying but won’t say so, which leads to a weird blank situation where you are left looking at each other and nothing happens.

They also have to Dutch, German, Italian and Chinese visitors, which is a lot to deal with if you are not given any help with language tuition. I imagine they just try to pick up the languages as they go along and I suppose we expect them to know something because we have paid to be there.

Part of our daily shoreline walk around Makunudu island in the Maldives
Part of our daily shoreline walk around the island.

Fortunately, we have been able to sort our problems out the hard way after each baffling exchange with a designated expert who is of no use.

A large hermit crab on Makunudu in the Maldives
One of the larger Hermit Crabs here were continually shuffling around in the undergrowth.

The Nights Get Longer

The sleepless part of the night was getting longer. At best I can sleep 8 hours, but in Makunudu, I’m in bed by 8 and up again at midnight.

Towards the end of the holiday, I started watching Netflix on my phone via their wobbly but free WiFi. That worked surprisingly well with very few pauses even though the bandwidth was limited and coverage was as variable as you might expect on a small island in the middle of an ocean.

By now I have tons of bumps from mozzies and the heat. I don’t use enough Deet, obviously. I have insect bites all over my legs that I can’t stop scratching once I’ve started, and it seems worse at night.

I took to using our Reef Safe sunscreen to sooth and protect my legs at night, it deters bites, soothes the ones I have and is far safer for the reef too. I should have bought an extra one to be sure. It’s expensive but significantly less harmful to the reef than all the others. What you choose to bring counts as it can accumulate over time.

A Double Shark Scare

I was out on the reef at 5 pm videoing with a go-pro camera and worked my way around the deep rocks to a shallow sandy section where I happened upon something I couldn’t make out.

It was dawning on me that it wasn’t just an odd-looking rock, it was the tail end of a massive shark and it was bigger than me – much bigger. I was so close to it there was no hope of getting away if wanted to have a go at me so I figured I might as well film it. It took me a few seconds to turn the camera on so I could only get the part where it was swimming away.

Luckily nurse sharks are fairly docile so I probably wasn’t in any danger, but I didn’t know that at the time and it did make my heart hit my boots to find myself just a couple of feet away from it.

Having been shaken up a bit I made my way back thinking that was enough for one day when I found my way blocked by a blacktip reef shark that was just as big as the first one! Omg! It swam in an arc in front of me which blocked my path to the shore temporarily. It may not look like it in the video but this was a big shark that moved really fast.

Again, these are supposed to be fairly docile animals but they are known to have made misjudged attacks on people in Florida. I was hoping this one knew it was in the Maldives.

Thankfully it swam away up the reef. ‘Probably not a good idea to go out in the evening again’ I thought.

That night we went out for a stroll and the moon was bright enough to see by. We saw a stingray in the water, and in the corner, under some shrubbery on the shoreline a group of nurse sharks sleeping, ranging in size from 3 to 5 feet, which is smaller than the one I ran into in the late afternoon.

a stingray and nurse sharks
at night we saw a stingray on the shoreline and sleeping nurse sharks

Luckily we saw the local fruit bat in flight several times with a wingspan of somewhere between 2 and 3 feet. It’s a gentle creature that is now on the endangered species list. It feels like an honour to be near these cretures.

Towards the End of the Holiday

a jellyfish on Makunudu Island shoreline in the Maldives
fortunately, the only jellyfish we encountered all week was this one on the shoreline on the far side of the island.

By the end of the week, I felt satisfied that I had seen what I had come to see and began to looking forward to getting back home and back in control of my life.

Decking in the bar area on a cloudy but hot day on Makunudu in the Maldives
Decking in the bar area on a cloudy but hot day.

On the last day, we were due to vacate the room at noon so we asked about the so-called  ‘minimum rate’ extension that we had heard about so we had somewhere to rest until the boat came at 4 pm.

The coiffed youth at the reception desk calmly quoted a $120 for 6 hours more use of the hut that would be empty anyway. So… not a minimum rate at all then, more like twice the daily rate actually. I had in mind something more along the lines of totally free.

We decided that we would go without, and if we had any problems after swimming we would change in the bar area shower rooms.

Nurse Sharks near the jetty at Makanudu Island in the Maldives
Nurse Sharks near the jetty. They used to wait here in the evenings to eat leftover food from the restaurant. These were like the one I swam up to in the bay one afternoon.

When we cleared out at noon I left some useful items in the drawers for the next occupants. Various types of mosquito repellents and the remaining Reef-Safe sunscreen. About 30 minutes later at the reception area, I was handed these things back by the helpful cleaning staff.

Shells For Sale in the Airport?

Having been told not to pick up shells or coral for the sake of the island, I was a bit miffed to see thousands of shells, coral, sand and starfish on sale as tourist items in the airport departure area. That’s a pretty poor double standard to have.

a collage of photos from Male airport which sells coral, sand, shells, starfish and lufus
Male airport sells coral, sand, shells, and starfish.
That’s pretty much all of the things we were asked not to take from the island.

Summary: It Was Great!

This holiday turned out to be just what I wanted although it took a day to settle in. Although its a holiday, its one of the few ways I will be able to see a huge variety of interesting creatures of all sizes, and a way of getting in touch with nature, for which I am truly grateful. It’s a kind of spiritual experience and an honour to be there to be totally honest. Sorry to get gushy on you.

The accommodation is good and I really didn’t mind seeing the jetty after all. It provided the best calm water and sandy beach on the island and was a good place to begin a swim to the rocky reef area.

I have hundreds of photos and videos to remember my visit for years to come, and I do treasure these holidays for years afterwards, whereas the mozzie bumps are gone in a few weeks.

Next time I’ll try to evict the mozzies with a USB gadget of some kind.

What To Take With You

DEET spray and reef safe sunscreen
Choose a reef safe sunscreen

The two best things you could take for a holiday in the Maldives to protect yourself are a spray-on DEET insect repellent and a reef-safe sunscreen such as JĀSÖN sunscreen.

Reef-safe means that the sunscreen will be a lot less harmful to the reef than other types so it’s worth getting.

DEET is poisonous, so you won’t be doing the marine life any favours at all if you cover yourself with that and get into the water.

Please be kind to the critters and your hosts and have a good holiday :0)