The Maldives, located in the middle of the equator, is an island nation with something for every kind of holidaymaker, be it those looking for a family vacation, fun in the sun, a romantic getaway, or even a relaxing solo journey reconnecting with yourself. For the conscious traveller especially, the Maldives is a veritable paradise of untouched natural habitats filled with a variety of unique wildlife, flora, and fauna. This International Day of Tropics, we celebrate the diversity of the Maldives’ ecosystems by bringing you 06 eco-rich areas in the Maldives to visit for a holiday in tune with nature.
1. Huraa Mangrove Nature Reserve (HMNR) in Huraa, North Malé Atoll
A protected area located in Huraa of Kaafu Atoll, HMNR stretches to 5.2 hectares at the northern end of the island. It is a favoured spot for conservationists and nature-lovers, especially bird-watchers, as the site is commonly visited by many species of protected birds in the Maldives. The vegetation is unique, with the IUCN recognising it as home to several species of mangrove plants and thousands of surprisingly friendly mangrove crabs.
The HMNR has the honour of being the only mangrove located in Kaafu Atoll of the Maldives, where the capital city is located. It is also the most easily accessible mangrove reserve in the Maldives, only a short speedboat ride directly from the main international airport (Velana International Airport) or from the capital Malé City itself.
2. Mathikilhi Eco Garden in Hulhumeedhoo, Addu Atoll
One of several protected areas in Addu Atoll, Mathikilhi Ecogarden is located in the MathiKilhi wetlands area at the intersection of Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo. The first Eco Garden in the Maldives, the area encompasses over 54 hectares, of which some 25 hectares comprise two lakes, and another approximately 50 hectares of lush, green, carpet of lake sedge.
One of those lakes is the famous green ‘Mathikilhiye Fenfila Koaru’. This Eco Garden is home to several species of unique flora and fauna such as tulip, ironwood, and screwpine. Several types of fish, including a large number of Tilapia and other species, are found in this wetland.
One of the best things about Mathikilhi is the fact that you can easily go down the constructed walkway to take a natural, warm mud bath, full of precious minerals and nutrients for your skin. The walkway itself has arches and tiny bridges that are perfect for photographs, or just to sit and dangle your feet below as you take in the beauty, tranquillity, and serenity of the space.
Travelling to Addu City is also extremely easy, just take a flight directly to Addu International Airport located on Gan Island and make your way through the different islands, all connected via a link road.
3. Dhigemahkoda Nature Park at Hoandedhdhoo, Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll
The Dhigemahkoda Nature Park located in the northeastern wetlands of Hoandedhdhoo Island of Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, also known as Huvadhu Atoll, was constructed with aid from the Bank of Maldives under their community fund initiative. The park encompasses mangroves, wetlands, and freshwater lakes, and is one of the most beautiful, untouched pieces of wild forestry in the Maldives that stretch as far as the eyes can see. The park area includes an 85ft walkway, along with benches and a barbeque area constructed so as not to disturb the natural ecosystem of the wetlands.
Hoandhedhdhoo is connected via causeway to Madaveli, allowing visitors to stay on either island and still have easy access to the park. Visitors can easily get to Haa Dhaalu Atoll by taking a flight to the airport located on Hanimaadhoo Island, and then taking a speedboat or ferry to Madaveli or Hoandedhdhoo.
4. Baarah Wetlands in Baarah, Haa Alifu Atoll
If you are a traveller who loves history as well as nature, the Baarah Wetlands is the perfect place for you. Encompassing some 52 hectares, the Baarah Wetlands houses several species of marine life and about 10 bodies of water within the area. One of these is directly connected to the adjacent lagoon and marine habitat, giving it crucial ecological value. An abundance of fish, crabs, and other juvenile marine organisms call this area home.
This specific lake is extremely significant in Maldivian history as well, as it was one of the mangroves used by Sultan Al-Ghazi Mohamed Thakurufaanu Al-Auzam (Bodu Thakurufaanu), the Maldivian hero who liberated the nation from the Portuguese invaders. Bodu Thakurufaanu and his loyal crew of freedom fighters used this mangrove in Baarah as a hideaway for the legendary war-vessel, the Kalhuohfummi, in between raids on the invaders, and was instrumental in the success of the Maldivian campaign against the occupying forces. Bodu Thakurufaanu and his crew of freedom fighters spent 04 years fighting a guerilla war against the invading force, sneaking onto islands in the dark of the night and defeating the forces on the island before departing again before daybreak. They slowly liberated the Maldives, one island at a time, until the final defeat of the Portuguese in 1573 after 15 long years of occupation.
Visiting the Baarah Wetlands is easy due to the domestic airport located on Hoarafushi Island of the atoll, from which the island is just a boat ride away.
5. Kaashidhoo Wetlands in Kaafu Atoll
The Kaashidhoo Wetlands located in Kaafu Atoll is special for lovers of tortoises, as one of only three islands in the Maldives with an indigenous population of the Maldivian Black Turtle, (Melanochelys trijuga thermalis, locally known as Kanzu Kahambu) an endangered and protected species in the nation. Kaashidhoo Wetlands is the site with the most frequently reported sightings of these majestic creatures, as they thrive feeding on screw pine and breadfruit found in abundance in the area. The 42 hectares of wetlands were designated as a protected area in February 2021 by the incumbent government, due to the diversity of life in the area.
In addition to the wetlands, Kaashidhoo is one of the largest suppliers of fresh fruits and vegetables to the capital city. This island also holds great historical significance to the Maldives, as home to one of the largest archaeological sites in the country, the ‘Kuruhinna tharaagandu’- the ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery from the pre-Islamic period. An excavation of the 1900sqkm site, conducted between 1996 and 1998, revealed a sprawling monastery complex with multiple structures and over sixty coral stone structures.
Being located in the capital Atoll, Kaashidhoo is easily accessible via a ferry ride from Malé or the main international airport.
6. Kendhikulhudhoo Eco park in Kendhikulhudhoo, Noonu Atoll
Located in Noonu Atoll, the Kendhikulhudhoo Eco Park is in the wetlands region of the island, created through a project initiated by the tireless efforts of the youth of the island and completed with the aid of the entire community. This park was built specifically for ecotourism, and it shows. The community of this island takes vigilant care of this protected area. The entire wetland area of this island is a whopping 494 hectares large and received protected status from the state in 2019.
The island community continue to build walkways, benches, viewing platforms and other recreational facilities at the park, and is one of the best places to visit for the traveller who wants to give back to nature as they gain from her: volunteer to help with the regular clean-up or augmentation of the park for a holiday that is more than just relaxation and fun.
Maafaru International Airport located in Noonu Atoll is your easiest gateway to this well-loved and taken care of park in Kendhikulhudhoo Island.