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After eight weeks in the Maldives, I can easily say Dhigurah Island in the southern part of Ari Atoll was my favorite stop. What made it so wonderful? It’s a little bit of all the best in the Maldives.
Tourism in the Maldives is HUGE, but much of it is private island resorts. There are pros and cons to that style of vacation, and while I would never turn down an all-inclusive tropical island vacay, I would rather experience something small, local, and enjoy the natural beauty of the Maldives.
Ari Atoll is one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks, and manta rays are also very prolific. At Dhigurah, the whale shark tours are on the outside of the atoll, while the manta ray tours are inside the lagoon – although while we were there several whale sharks were sighted inside the lagoon. Dhigurah is home to the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program, where a good majority of whale shark research around the world is being done.
Dhigurah is a large island – its name actually means Long Island. There’s plenty of walking and a good long bikini beach. It’s one of the rare local villages we went to that has exceptional guesthouse facilities. You can walk the village, mingling with locals, snack at a local cafe, or lounge in a Maldivian hammock. At the same time, you can stay in very nice westernized accommodations, and enjoy fantastic meals and high-quality excursions.
There are two BIG reasons to stay at a private island resort.
- Alcohol is ONLY served at resorts, not in restaurants, cafes, or hotels and guesthouses.
- In public, conservative dress is required, and for ladies, that means covering your knees and shoulders. There are designated bikini beaches on most touristed islands where it is ok to wear a bathing suit. Private island resorts do not have this requirement.
If an all-inclusive resort is your thing, Ari Atoll is a great place to go. Just south of Dhigurah Island is the LUX* South Ari Atoll Resort, one of the most luxurious resorts in the Maldives. Rooms start near $1,000 a night, with eight restaurants, a spa, a fitness center, and many other amenities, the LUX is absolutely gorgeous.
If that’s too rich for you (it is for me!) but you still want an all-inclusive resort, Amaya Resorts & Spa Kuda Rah is nearby and at about half the cost.
However, if you want to stay on Dhigurah Island proper, there are some great, and surprisingly inexpensive, options, typically referred to in the Maldives as guesthouses. While we were there, we made friends with the Activities Coordinator at Bliss Dhigurah, a beautiful guesthouse on Dhigurah Island. I would definitely stay here if I came back to Ari Atoll – the rooms start at $100 a night! It’s definitely more of a hotel than a resort, as the rooms aren’t as luxurious, but the amenities are pretty great for the price.
We dined at Hermit’s, Bliss’ restaurant, twice while in Dhigurah. The rooftop view of the sunset over the palm trees is really stunning, and the meal was wonderful. The highlight was, for sure, the warm chocolate pudding with espresso sauce and homemade coconut ice cream, though the calamari was also spectacular.
Other options nearby are the Dhiguveli Maldives or Boutique Beach All Inclusive Diving Hotel. Dhiguveli is similarly priced to Bliss, but Boutique is significantly more expensive (though I was not as impressed with the facilities or staff when I stopped in).
First and foremost, go on a snorkeling trip to look for whale sharks and manta rays. Read about our experience swimming with whale sharks in the Maldives.
After you’ve done that, have a beach day. The bikini beach is on the southwest side of the island (just south of Bliss). The water is so stunning and can be super clear and/or amazingly calm.
Then, take a walk to the southern tip of the island. It’s a picnic area, complete with lounges and thatched roof cabanas. The walk is about an hour from Bliss each way, and you’re likely to see tons of crabs, lizards, and even enormous flying bats on your walk!
Finally, have a massage! This was a pleasant surprise – the TME Retreats Dhigurah, a small hotel, has a masseuse on staff. She’s a lovely Balinese woman (who speaks a little bit of English) and the massage was very good. I was not expecting such a wonderful massage. It was better than either of the two massages I had while in Bali, and while not Bali-cheap (I paid $10 USD for a massage at an upscale spa in Bali), it was $70 USD for the one-hour massage.
I’m sure you can see why, out of all the islands I went to, Dhigurah is my favorite. Would you rather stay at a guesthouse, or at a resort?