Hoarafushi Island is now open for guesthouse tourism and there are plenty of reasons to be excited.
The island is located in the northern most administrative division of The Maldives, called North Thiladhunmathi Atoll or Haa Alif Atoll. The Northern Thiladhunmathi Atoll consists of 43 islands spread over two natural geographic atolls, that include Northern Thiladhunmathi, and Ihavandhippolhu. Hoarafushi is located in Ihavandhippolhu, and this natural atoll has a length of 25 kilometers.
Ihavandhippolhu is the northern most natural atoll in The Maldives and situated just at the mouth of the busiest shipping route of the Indian Ocean. The atoll formation is rich in natural history and in human stories. One can explore the mystical Wish Island (Mathee Rah), the Bilehdhoo Thila, (commonly known as the Fish Aquarium) reportedly with the highest diversity of fish in the country, the protected ecology of Gallandhoo Island (the Bird Island), a century old shipwreck and many more in a small single natural atoll. Hence, it is an extraordinary location in The Maldives Archipelago to visit and explore. Rich culture and diverse nature interactions at its best.
According to oral tradition, the settlers of Hoarafushi hailed from Gudhanfushi (now non-existent) and when Gudhanfushi became uninhabitable due to soil erosion, the inhabitants migrated to Huvahandhoo, and after an outbreak of a disease, the people decided to leave Huvahandhoo which is to the south of Horarafushi to finally settle down in Hoarafushi. The island is said to be a major stopover point for the great frigate bird (Hoara) which rule the skies of the Indian Ocean. Large Pisonia trees were known to be found in Hoarafushi at that time.
The proud folk of Hoarafushi share a rich history. Historically great poets are known to have lived there. The grave of the first Maldivian poet Huiy Ali Didi is located on the island. Even today, many of the well-known contemporary literature experts call Hoarafushi their home.
Other than the island being famous for poetry, music and literature, the people are historically known for their creativity and ingenuity.
On the streets, Hoarafushi resonate both modernity and traditional simplicity. The island has banking service, piped water, a sewerage system, 24-hour uninterrupted electricity, fast speed internet, 24 hour health centre service and a modern harbor. The island is well connected with the rest of the country through Hoarafushi Airport, located to the south of the island. The airport can be reached via a 1 hour 15 minutes flight from Velana International Airport (Male’).
The plots for tourist establishments will be allocated from the island's tourism zone remotely placed in the island's land use plan to ensure maximum guest privacy. All assigned lots will be on beach-front, with scenic views of the open Indian Ocean, right outside the window. The aim of the government and the Hoarafushi council is to spare potential investors from the typical financial hurdles associated with the industry. This is manifested in the low benchmark acquisition fee at USD 1000.00. The land rent fixed at USD 2 per year with a grace period of 3 years. In bid evaluation, 60% of the points are assigned for CSR; this shows the attention given by the authorities to maintain a balance between the welfare of the inhabitants of Hoarafushi and that of the businesses.
Construction and builders-ware materials are readily available in Hoarafushi Island, and would offer better prices compared to The Greater Male’ region. This practically solves any logistical issue the potential hoteliers might face otherwise. To make matters more concrete; HA. Atoll STO Trade Centre is located on the island.
The Surrounding Atoll
Haa Alif Atoll itself is a marvel of nature. It is the perfect place to observe how the formation of atolls unfolded in nature. The natural evolution of islands, inter-island migration and island way of life are all found in the surrounding environment of Hoarafushi. One can witness newly formed coral islets, formed on top of rising coral reefs, which eventually get covered by sand and are inhabited and fertilized by birds and insects, and new coral reefs growing on top of sunken islands.
The economic potential of Haa Alif Atoll is unparalleled. In the vicinity of a main international sea-lane, the prospects are plentiful. The sea-lane is used by traders, yachts on world tours, marine researchers and other thalassophiles from all over the world. Customs and immigration facilities are already in place on neighboring island of Uligan island to cater to this market. To attract their attention there are numerous places of interest, scattered across an atoll; which is just the right size to be covered in a full day tour.
Hoarafushi is located at the end of a large house reef that stretches nine and a half miles beyond the northern boundary of the island. One can paddle the length of the reef and translate experiences they have had in reel-life like in The Life of Pi to real-life. As you start the northward journey, you are greeted by schools of friendly turtles, rays, plentiful colorful fish that are abundant around the reef. several of the small islands in this house reef is accessible to many of these islands on bare foot during low tide.
The reef houses several islands and islets, both inhabited and designated for tourism. These include Hathifushi, an abandoned ghost town frozen in time. You can disembark at the island and be transported back in time and witness the remnants of a society as it existed before humans ventured into the Age of Information.
Directly north of Hathifushi and accessible on foot (during low tide) is the Mathee Rah or Wish Island. Wish Island is a place of great historical significance. In ancient times a learned person/ a polymath was buried on the island and his grave is still visible on the island today. Traditionally the grave was treated as a shrine that was visited by people making wishes in return for offerings. Until recently, Maldivians from across the nation frequented there, bearing gifts of coconuts, banana even high priced gold to solicit blessings and good luck. During those times, almost every newly-built marine vessel in Maldives was taken there on its maiden voyage, to be blessed at the shrine.
At the north end of the Hoarafushi Reef is the channel opening called the Bilehdhoo Thila. Popularly known as the fish aquarium, the location is already popular among divers and is known to be a prime diving spot in the country with the highest fish diversity. Its marine biodiversity is akin to that of global hotspots of continental reef systems found in countries like Indonesia and Thailand. It is in close proximity to another patch of reef in the inner atoll, that is known to have abundance of soft coral. Both these locations can be covered during a single dive tour.
The crown jewel of Haa Alif Atoll is Gallandhoo or 'Bird Island'. In 2019 the island with its wetlands and ecosystems was declared as a protected area. Marine birds consisting mainly of lesser noddy (Kurangi) flock here throughout the year. These birds travel from all over the Indian Ocean and beyond to roost on this island. Lesser noddys share a symbiotic relationship with pole and line fishermen. During the day they help the fishermen in spotting schools of fish, and when the fishermen head home, these birds travel to Gallandhoo for the night. The island is constantly fertilized and seeded by hordes of these navigational geniuses and this can be seen from the flora and fauna of the island. The jungle and wetlands of Gallandhoo will perfectly blend in with the coastal forests of the subcontinent, and plant species that are uncommon in rest of The Maldives can be found thriving here. Sunset time offers the most exciting hour on this island, when hundreds of thousands of birds flock in the island for roosting. Along with the thunderous sound of the calls you will be the witness to a magnificent show, in which these skilled aviators arrive and land in full synchronization and in harmony. It is one of the few places in the world where a human will feel as a guest of another species of equal might and grandeur.
In addition, one of the most historically significant places in The Maldives is in Northern Thiladhunmathi Atoll. The Utheemu Ganduvaru located on the island of Utheemu is accessible via a short boat ride. Utheemu itself is a historical island, where the Utheemu brothers planned and executed the resistance movement that overthrew the Portuguese rule in Maldives. Utheemu Ganduvaru is the official residence of As-Sulṭaan al-Ghaazee Muhammad Thakurufaanu al-A'uẓam, who was the leader of the resistance and who ultimately became the King of Maldives.
From the above given glimpse of Hoarafushi and Haa Alif Atoll, the potential for tourism is more than apparent. Given the easy accessibility to the island, availability of almost all necessary services on the island together with surrounding unique ecology of the atoll, Hoarafushi is destined to become one of the top guest house tourist destinations in the Maldives.