A guide to the Southern Atolls 

The Southern Atolls have only established tourism fully in the last decade or two, but they are now exceptionally well-connected, with their own international airport and several domestic ones. Despite this, travelling to these farther flung atolls often feels like charting a final frontier. Wild waves for surfing, intensely idyllic beaches and superlative resorts all conspire to tempt visitors, while the inhabited islands offer a genuine opportunity to discover local life.

  1. Vaavu Atoll 
  2. Meemu Atoll 
  3. Faafu Atoll 
  4. Dhaalu Atoll 
  5. Thaa Atoll 
  6. Laamu Atoll 
  7. Huvadhu Atoll 
  8. Vaadhoo 
  9. Gnaviyani Atoll 
  10. Addu Atoll 
  11. Equator Village on Gan 

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

The opening of the southern atolls to tourists has only begun in recent years, with several islands sold in the mid-noughties for development being located here. Safari boats also comb the waters to make the most of extraordinary dive sites, and visitors to these equator-straddling atolls will find paradise beaches galore to claim for themselves.  

1. Vaavu Atoll

The four atolls to the south of the Ari atolls face each other like two pairs, with Vaavu and Meemu on the eastern side, and Faafu and Dhaalu on the west. Vaavu Atoll is the least-populated atoll with only five inhabited islands, and two resorts, both popular for water sports and diving.

Vaavu Atoll has been exposed to tourism since 1975 but remains isolated and less commercialised than other tourist atolls. It is much visited by safari cruises and is considered to have the best dive site in the country – one of the top five in the world – Fotteyo Kandu, which is a channel connecting the deep seas to the uninhabited island of Fotteyo. Here, a 50km-long barrier reef welcomes sharks of all types, turtles, manta rays and schools of fish.


2. Meemu Atoll

Vaavu’s southern neighbour, Meemu Atoll, has lots of isles and islets on its rim but none within the atoll. There are nine inhabited islands, of which the capital is Muli. The atoll is a port of call for vessels plying between the southern atolls and Malé, with boats stopping over for the night at Muli.

Medhufushi Island Resort

A haven of rustic luxury, Medhufushi is one of only a handful of resorts in this atoll, and with a focus on stylish and relaxed tranquillity, it’s a great base for exploring the incredible dive sites in the area. There are lots of dhoni experiences to join in with, too, from night fishing to island hopping.

3. Faafu Atoll

The nearly circular Faafu Atoll is at the northwestern tip of the parallelogram and has only five inhabited islands and a few resorts. At its southwestern edge lies the island of Nilandhoo, which boasts evidence of a past that embraces the main religions of the Indian subcontinent. A mosque, 800 years old, built with stones from a Hindu temple, has ornate stone carvings and ornamental wooden scroll work.

Filitheyo Island Resort

Considered to be one of the most romantic resorts in the Maldives, isolated Filitheyo has one of the best house reefs around, as well as a truly magical Balinese spa. The resort has a spacious, breezy design, and with low-key entertainment, it’s all about kicking back and being with your loved one. 

 

4. Dhaalu Atoll

Faafu’s southern neighbour, similar in shape, is Dhaalu Atoll. The country’s finest gold and silversmiths are reputed to come from this atoll, following a tradition begun when an ancient sultan’s goldsmith was exiled to the atoll. The islands of Ribudhoo in the centre and Hulhudheli on the western rim have jewellery makers. There are eight inhabited islands; Kudahuvadhoo, at the atoll’s southern tip, is the capital.

Meedhoo is a village island popular with guests staying at the atoll’s resorts, Sun Aqua Vilu Reef and Angsana Velavaru, about 15 minutes’ dhoni ride away. The latter is especially well known for its incredible dining options. 

5. Thaa Atoll

Thaa Atoll lies at the end of the aforementioned parallel atolls. It's almost circular and has a reputation for good fishing. Other local trades still found here are mat-weaving, by women on the island of Buruni, and carpentry by the men of Kandoodhoo. Dhiyamigili, on the eastern rim, has traces of the home of the founder of the Dhiyamigili dynasty of sultans that ruled in the 18th century. There are 13 inhabited islands in the atoll and just one resort. 

Como Maalifushi

The only resort in Thaa Atoll really makes the most of its ‘away from it all’ vibe. Como Maalifushi has a contemporary design that opens out into the wide expanses of the turquoise sea, with airy public spaces, shady trees around the pool and sweeping boardwalks out to water villas. From here, all the great dive and wild surf sites of the area are in reach. 

6. Laamu Atoll

The next southern atoll, Laamu, is served by a domestic airport at Kadhdhoo, and is approximately halfway between Malé and Addu, the southernmost atoll in the archipelago. Once an important religious centre and regional power base, it is, after many quiet centuries, regaining importance as resorts open in the area. The atoll has 12 inhabited islands – some of which can be visited on excursions from resorts – and over 70 uninhabited ones set in its horseshoe shape. Its islands of Gan and the capital, Fonadhoo, are both large and support three villages on each. They are also connected to each other and to Kadhdhoo by a causeway, making it easy to explore all three together.

The atoll has plenty of relics of the past. Isdhoo island has a mosque over 300 years old, with many calligraphic flourishes in its stonework, hand-carved rafters and lacquered pillars. Gaadhoo, at the southern tip, has ruins that were probably once part of a huge Buddhist stupa (dome). 

Six Senses Laamu

Six Senses Laamu has the distinction of being the only resort in Laamu Atoll, but what a resort it is. Gorgeous villas in natural materials and thoughtful, luxurious design creates a backdrop for getting on and enjoying the natural surroundings. It’s all about finding that perfect, deserted stretch of sand, too, whether on a private deserted island or a sandbank. The marine life is extraordinary too, with a fabulous house coral reef and a raft of resident dolphins, manta rays and parrotfish. 

7. Huvadhu Atoll

Huvadhu Kandu or One and a Half Degree Channel, the largest gap of ocean in the Maldives between two atolls, separates Laamu from its southern neighbour, Huvadhu Atoll. Huvadhu Atoll is divided into Gaafu Alif (North Huvadhu) Atoll and Gaafu Dhaalu (South Huvadhu) Atoll. It is the world’s largest atoll, with a lagoon area of 2,237 sq km.

Gaaf Alif has 10 inhabited islands and over 80 uninhabited ones, many of which have ruins of ancient Buddhist stupas. The people of the capital, Viligili, are renowned mat-makers, while the inhabitants of Dhevvadhoo, in the centre, are good at textile-weaving and coir-making. Local resorts run excursions to the area, including to explore the rich marine life in the waters here.

Gaaf Dal has more than 150 uninhabited islands, as well as seven inhabited ones with populations of over 1,000. More than 6,000 people live in the capital, Thinadhoo, which is situated on the atoll’s western rim and is served by the domestic airport built nearby on the uninhabited island of Kaadedhdhoo. Two small inhabited islands, Fares and Maathoda, close to the equator, were joined by a causeway in 1981. 

8. Vaadhoo

The inhabited island of Vaadhoo is the best-known place in the Maldives to witness the extraordinary phenomenon known as the “sea of stars”, where the shoreline glows blue at night. As a result, there are a few guest houses and tourist facilities here. In its daily life, this is an island that’s been long-inhabited, as is seen in its ruins from an earlier Buddhist civilisation and a 17th-century mosque. 

Ayada Maldives 

In this remote, especially beautiful corner of the Maldives, the highly-regarded Ayada really leans into the setting with a luxurious style that’s pretty much made for Instagram – think oversea hammocks and swings, dining areas perched right on the water’s edge, and elegant villas with wide terraces, so guests can make the most of the romantic sunsets. 

9. Gnaviyani Atoll

The largest (4.4 by 2.8km) single island in the Maldives constitutes Gnaviyani Atoll, the only administrative atoll with a solitary island, also known as Fuvahmulah. It lies south of the equator and is 496km from Malé. The island used to be very isolated, but the relatively recent additions of an airport and harbour have helped with that and today, the island is gradually entering the modern world, with a range of accommodation, restaurants and one particularly special experience – healing mud baths at Koda Kilhi!

The island is mainly agricultural, producing grains, yams, mangoes, oranges, bananas and vegetables for sale in Malé. There are two freshwater lakes and much of the island is wooded, making it a lush and pretty place in its so far undeveloped interior.

As one of the oldest inhabited islands in the Maldives, Fuvahmulah has an impressive history. There are Buddhist ruins and ancient mosques, including the Kedeyre Mosque, surrounded by beautifully carved tombstones. 

10. Addu Atoll

The only part of the Maldives that’s south of the equator, Addu Atoll is the second most populated atoll after the Malé Atolls, with six inhabited islands set in a crescent and connected to each other by causeways and reclaimed land.

Addu Atoll is sometimes referred to as Addu City and it’s the main economic and population centre outside of Malé, with its own international airport.

The population of more than 33,000 people live mostly on four islands linked by a causeway which terminates in Hithadhoo, the capital. Hithadhoo is a developing town with everything from a hospital to a bustling fish and cargo harbour, and streets of stores and teashops. The causeway links Hithadhoo to Maradhoo and then Feydhoo, further south, before going on to Gan. With the sea on the northern side for its entire length, the broad highway here matches the corniches of the Mediterranean in splendour and views. Where possible, trees have been left growing and coconut palms have been retained as a road divider.

11. Equator Village on Gan

Gan stands out as a completely unique place in the Maldives. It was once home to a British Royal Air Force base, and visiting Gan today, you can see remains of the old RAF buildings and landscaped streets, somewhat like a preserved movie set, all against the backdrop of a large (by Maldivian standards) tropical island.

Equator Village, Gan's only resort and the most southerly resort in the Maldives, fittingly offers a unique experience outside Malé: the chance to meet and mingle with Maldivians without having to make a special excursion. Bicycles or taxis can be hired to travel to the other islands attached to Gan by a lengthy causeway, allowing visitors to drop in at local villages on the way. This vast, greenery-draped resort with colonial-style bungalow accommodation allows visitors to explore the land here as well as the sea, and do things like take local culinary tours, in addition to snorkelling and diving. Look south from the island, and you are gazing out into miles and miles of Indian Ocean, stretching southwards towards Antarctica with no further human habitation. 


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