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Most of the tourism in the Maldives is all-inclusive resorts or liveaboard dive boats. There are definitely some benefits of the tourism industry here, such as the government requiring resorts to employ a certain percentage of locals or the tourism industry boosting the economy. The Maldives went from being one of the twenty poorest countries in the world to an upper-middle income economy. But I suspect that most tourists to the Maldives come for the luxury experiences and the beautiful views, not the history and culture of a place like Utheemu.
When we arrived in Utheemu, we meet a man named Bale in the wharf. As another great example of the hospitality of Maldivians, Bale acted as our tour guide to Utheemu, showing us his island and answering our questions.
The History of Maldivian Freedom
In the 1500s, the Portuguese attempted to colonize the Maldives and convert the people from Islam to Christianity. The Portuguese rule was short-lived (15 years), as Muhammad Thakurufaanu and his two brothers left the Maldives and built a small navy. They came in the night, attacking and killing the colonialist an island at a time until they reached Male. In Male, Maldivians were being imprisoned and sentenced to death for refusing to convert to Christianity. Muhammad Thakurufaanu’s attack freed the Maldivian people who fought and killed the garrison and the Maldivian traitor who converted to Christianity and ruled with the Portuguese. Muhammad Thakurufaanu became a national hero and the sultan of the Maldives.
Utheemu Ganduvaru Palace
Muhammad Thakurufaanu was born on the island of Utheemu, which is in the Haa Alif Atoll in the north of the Maldives. The palace where he lived is still there, preserved as a museum – the Utheemu Ganduvaru residence.
Silly us, we didn’t pay attention to the public holiday schedule and came to Utheemu on a holiday. The museum was technically closed, but Bale made a phone call for us, and got the palace unlocked!
The entire island has a square developed area, 500 m long on each side. The government has designated the western side is a tourism zone, I assume that this means that there are plans to develop a resort with a bikini beach and alcohol area (both of which are otherwise not allowed).
Lunch at Beach Taste
Bale’s brother owns Beach Taste, one of the only two restaurants on the island. Bale called ahead so that we could have a traditional Maldivian meal.
How to get to Utheemu
Utheemu is not far from Hanimaadhoo International Airport. Maldivian Airlines offers daily flights to Male’s international airport. Maldivian Airlines also offers flights twice a week directly to Trivandrum International Airport in India. Check schedules and prices with Maldivian Airlines.
Most of the nearby resorts, like the Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa, can arrange transportation to Utheemu for a day trip.