Historic Haa Alifu & Haa Dhaalu: Highlights from the Visit Maldives Storytellers' Conference 2023 Sideline Program

The Visit Maldives Storytellers’ Conference 2023 which was held on 30th May was a tremendous success. The picturesque regions delicately handpicked by MMPRC ensured that each participant would experience unforgettable adventures. The distinctive conference brought together 5 content creators from various corners of the world including Italy, India, and Germany to the Historic Haa Alifu and Haa Dhaalu to share their stories and experiences, exploring all the unique aspects of what the remarkable region has to offer.
The adventure in the historic Haa Alifu and Haa Dhaalu started upon arrival at the exceptional property: the Barefoot Eco Hotel. Located along the shores of the charming local island, Hanimaadhoo lies the Barefoot Eco Hotel. The moment they stepped foot on the gorgeous property, they were greeted with warm smiles and exceptional hospitality. The enchanting retreat enhanced the participants to explore the untouched gem with uninterrupted views. They also had the opportunity to have an authentic and meaningful experience, interacting with the locals all the while discovering the true Maldives.
In a picture perfect setting, they got to traverse through the beautiful island by engaging in a bicycle tour, encountering the unique spots of the island. The bicycle tour was guided by the representatives of the Barefoot Eco Hotel which made the entire experience truly memorable. They got to explore the encompassing natural beauty of the island including green vegetation. The participants visited the local schools and traditional houses, learning about the local culture and lifestyle and discovering the warmth and kindness of the Maldivians up close. They even had the opportunity to stop by at the local house and try out some refreshments which are distinctive to the region. Relishing on the traditional snacks over engaging conservations created strong impressions and connections.
As the first day at Haa Alifu and Haa Dhaalu came to an end, the participants took part in a wonderful sunset cruise, an impressive story to share, no doubt. The vibrant hues of the sky reflecting on the deep blue expanse of Maldives make it a perfect backdrop to enjoy with one another. The participants basked in this relaxing time, capturing magnificent moments to share with the world. 
‘’It is absolutely hard to choose absolutely one experience which is favourite, but I think I would go with sunset cruise and this entire Visit Maldives Storytellers’ Conference has been nothing but incredible.’’ - Payal from India 
At the Barefoot Eco Hotel, the participants engaged in a wonderful lecture given by the Marine Biologist of the hotel. They learnt various aspects of manta rays and more about the work of the Manta Trust that is ongoing at the hotel. Uncovering the tales of the eco concept of the hotel was a great experience for the storytellers.  
With the bright sun rising beyond the horizon, the participants got to partake in a morning yoga experience, energised for the beautiful day ahead of them. They had the privilege to snorkel at Baarah island, exploring one of the most spectacular house reefs in the region. This exciting escapade left them all entranced as they encountered a wide array of turtles at once.
“The best experience for me was snorkelling at the Baarah island, because this was my first experience-snorkelling, that is why it was best for me, so close to my heart. I have never ever snorkelled. And what better place to snorkel than a destination like Maldives, and yes I was living in a dream and I could see the life underwater and I would do anything to come back again and do snorkelling in the Maldives!’’ - Varsha Singh from India Outbound Magazine 
One of the hosting properties, Barefoot Eco Hotel put extra care and attention in all their arrangements. They were accommodating to each and every one of the requests asked by the participants. What made the trip especially special was the owner of the retreat displaying his traditional house built from the societal support which stands tall and proud. 
‘’This house is so magnificent. It is a perfect combination of modern yet traditional…he has kept everything intact, what makes a proper traditional Maldivian house.” - Varsha Singh from India Outbound Magazine
The opportunity to visit the historic island, Utheemu was an enriching experience that created marvellous moments. The warm welcoming and reception coordinated by the Utheemu Council was truly exceptional. As the participants arrived at the heritage rich island, they were greeted with a grand welcome at the jetty which was an unusual experience for participants. The Utheemu Council president joined throughout the entire trip which made the trip truly distinctive, showcasing significant areas unique to the island. The guided tour at Utheemu Palace was absolutely impressive as the participants learned about the history behind the revered figure, Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu. They even immersed themselves in a tour of the Kandhuvalhu Mosque and visited the Kaani Tree which was said to be historically linked to the Utheemu brother’s struggle for independence. They were presented with refreshments at the Utheemu beach which was arranged by the women of the island with warm smiles.
The participants got to experience a delicious Maldivian dinner after which they enjoyed traditional music through a boduberu performance where the staff of the hotel also joined with enthusiastic hands. This gastronomic-cultural experience was moving and exhilarating which they enjoyed immensely. 
The adventures of the trip did not stop there- the participants got to spend a truly exciting time at the Filladhoo shipwreck organised by the Barefoot Eco Hotel. The famous diving point in Maldives, home to a myriad of colourful corals and abundant marine life. As they snorkelled the diverse area, they even saw dolphins which was an adventure like no other! They even got the opportunity to snorkel at the Maafahi reef, discovering the interesting coral reefs and the vibrant underwater ecosystem. 
The participants had the joy of staying at yet another remarkable accommodation: Hondaafushi Island Resort. Full of greenery and nature nestled in the Haa Dhaalu Atoll, it offered spectacular views and a variety of experiences. The warm welcome by the management and staff for the storytellers did not go unnoticed! Beyond the planned itinerary, the most enthralling experience the participants shared among themselves was a sandbank trip which the Hondaafushi Island Resort arranged upon request. They packed delicious snacks and drinks for the excited storytellers to relish on as they enjoyed the beautiful day ahead. The real enthusiasm began with the thrilling experience of wandering the sun, sand and turquoise waters of the Maldives. The participants revelled the natural beauty of the tropical haven with multitudes of stories to unfold. 
The Visit Maldives Storytellers’ Conference would not have been successful without the glorious assistance and contributions from the Utheemu Council, the management and staff of Barefoot Eco Hotel and Hondaafushi Island Resort. Their kindness and genuine care offered made such a significant impact on the journey which was undoubtedly valued by the participants. 
The overall experience left a lasting impression on the participants that they would carry for their lifetime. In such a short duration of time, they got to partake in a wide array of activities, make meaningful relationships with diverse individuals from various parts of the world and share their experiences for years to come. For the participants this experience was enriching as they engaged with valuable lessons, values and culture of the destination, forever imprinting a profound perception of the remarkable Maldives.
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