Ukulhas (Dhivehi: އުކުޅަސް) island is one of the inhabited islands of North Ari Atoll in the Maldives. The island has only been a travel destination since 2012; therefore, it has just a couple of inns and is somewhat hard to get to. Hence, if you enjoy diving, fishing and swimming without a crowd of fellow tourists, Ukulhas might be the destination you're looking for.
Although this flat, coral sand cay is only 1,025 m long and 225 m wide at its widest point, it's one of the best diving spots in Maldives. No land anywhere on Ukulhas is more than the height of a tall man above the high water mark and all of the Maldives are probably doomed to be inundated by rising seas during the next century.
Like the other islands in the Maldives, Ukulhas has traditionally been a meeting place of people from cultures from around the Indian Ocean. The about 1,000 inhabitants are Muslims and have a diverse heritage being descendants of Tamils, Sinhalas, and other people from the Indian Subcontinent. Ukulhas was the second Maldivian island that was electrified, but it's still a quite green island, with coconut palm trees covering good portion of it.
Opened to tourism only in late 2012, Ukulhas was recognized as an environmental role model island in the Maldives and achieved the ‘Green Leaf Award’ in the year 2014.
Like the rest of the Maldives, Ukulhas has a tropical monsoon climate with warm temperatures around the year. December through April is usually the dry season which is also a high tourist season. The hottest month is typically April and the coolest is December, though in practice the difference between the months is just a couple of degrees.
Dhivehi is spoken here, as in all parts of the Maldivian archipelago. Because there is a good school teaching British A-level standard, and because of the burgeoning tourism industry, good English is widely spoken.
Ferries are operated by Atoll Transfer. Lines 301 and 303 call at Ukulhas, the latter connecting it to Malé. The distance between Malé and Ukulhas island is about 70 km. A scheduled ferry operates three times a week, on a dhoni (traditional Maldivian boat) virtually hand built by craftsman with strong wooden planks. The ferry leaves Ukulhas from MTCC (Villingili) ferry terminal in Malé on Su, Tu, and Th at 9:30AM. The ferry leaves to Malé from Ukulhas ferry terminal on Sa, M, and W at 10:30AM. The trip takes 4½ hr and costs USD4 (April 2017).
Somewhat irregular speedboats taking 50 minutes from Male, are "operated by a third party" but tickets are sold by Atoll Transfer. One-way tickets are USD55 (June 2017). Here is the weekly schedule for these speedboats, and you can also reserve tickets there.
1 Ferry Terminal. Empty building with zero practical information.
It's possible to fly to Rasdhoo (a neighboring island) by TMA seaplane, as there is no TMA platform at Ukulhas Island. From Rasdhoo to Ukulhas it’s another 20 minutes by speedboat or 1 hour by slow boat.
The island is tiny and thus the only available means of transportation is by foot. You can walk around the island in less than half an hour. Sometimes there are large puddles, especially during rainy season when one has to be careful standing on them as they tend to be very slippery.
Ukulhas is more about activities than sightseeing. There are a few small mosques on the island, the oldest of them from the mid-17th century.
- 1 Fushi island (Ukulhas Picnic island). This is a small uninhabited island with three grown trees in the middle. It's covered by white sands and washed by turquoise water with stunning underwater beauty. There are no toilets, bars or rooms. You can swim, snorkel, play beach games, have a BBQ, do reef fishing. Fushi has also a shallow long reef which projects quite a long distance from the west coast of the island. From USD45 per person.
- 2 Gaagandu. The biggest isolated rock in the Maldives. This limestone islet is about 15 m (50 feet) long, 8 m (25 feet) wide, and about 1½ m (5 feet) from the water’s edge, It is the only part of Alif atoll that is above water, and it's a good place to dive and snorkel. The rock has cracked in the middle and has been shattered into two fragments, and it is surrounded by an abundance of sea creatures, in particular, moray eels.
- Sand bank. It has only sand, no rocks, no trees. Considered to be a good spot for fishing. From USD60 per person.
Activities are in general arranged by the guest houses.
- Swimming at the beach. The turquoise lagoon and reef that encircles Ukulhas is not a bad place to swim. Chairs and benches are all provided on request by hotels.
- Sunset cruise. Cruises are usually on a traditional Maldivian boat (dhoni in Dhivehi), a sturdy wooden structure. Almost all the interior and exterior décor and furnishings in the vessel are built by hand. Occasionally it’s possible to catch glimpses of schools of dolphins from the boat while it circles the island. From USD40 per person.
- Snorkeling. This is one of the best ways to enjoy underwater life at Ukulhas. Snorkel gear is provided on request by the hotels. It's possible to spot a large number of fishes and other sea creatures, including groupers, octopuses, turtles, moray eels, manta rays, stingrays, eagle rays, anemones, jellyfish, lobsters, prawns, shrimps, squid, giant clams and starfish.
- BBQ. From USD50 per person.
- Water Sports. Jet ski - USD25 per 15 minutes. Water ski, banana ride.
- Dive Plus, Bodu magu. 18:00-20:00. The only dive center on the island, with a very clingy Egyptian instructor. USD100 per dive.
Surface trolling. Surface trolling and surface lining is an effective method for catching small fish, such as mackerels, especially for visitors who are afraid to go fishing by boat. It’s possible to fish from anywhere around the island.
Night fishing. Night fishing is done from a ‘dhoni’ (traditional fishing vessel with a mechanized engine), which departs from the island and anchors at a neighboring reef before the sunset. After anchor is dropped, the fishing lines are set tethered with hooks and sinkers for catching emperors, snappers, squirrelfish, jacks, etc. Even if the fishing turns out to be weak, you can still relax under the twinkling stars.
Big game fishing. For big game fishing, the dhoni leaves for the bait fish ground early in the morning for the collection of live baits such as small scads, silver side, mackerels, and sardines. After the search of bait fishes, the dhoni heads towards the shoal ground, which is said to be 65-80 km (40-50 miles) away from the island. Those catches are kept in the hull of the vessel and sea water is pumped in and out of the hull for circulation. When they reach the open sea, they search for yellowfin tuna schools and speed up the vessel. When tuna are sighted, the speed is reduced and the crew begin to throw a handful of bait fishes (the baits are thrown to prompt fish to surface); along with that crew starts to place their hooked line into the shoal and starts to catch the tuna.
Prices for organised fishing tours start at USD65 per person.
Several simple grocery shops can be found at Bodu magu, island's main road that goes from east to west. Those shops sell a variety of items ranging from food and beverages to cosmetics and building materials. You can also reload your cell phone there. Distinctive kinds of local fruits, vegetables, jams, sweetmeats, homemade sweets and pickles, etc., are available from those local shops.
There are no banks, ATMs or money exchange offices on the island. However, any hotel or restaurant will readily accept US dollars as a means of payment.
Eat and drink
Unsurprisingly, seafood is an important part of the local cuisine, often served with rice and different fruits and vegetables. Nowadays, Western dishes have become popular as has food from other parts of Asia. Alcohol isn't available, but why not do as the locals and enjoy fresh coconut or orange juice.
- 1 Central Diner, Bodu magu. Second OK restaurant that sometimes prepares good food. Fried rice and noodle dishes are good, burgers are not. Its wooden tables and nice garden make it not a bad place to seat. USD5-20 + 16% taxes.
- 2 Olhumas restaurant (it's hard to find, but there are lots of signs showing direction to this place). No more than a local eatery charging restaurant prices. However, they serve food very quick, plus this is the only place on the island that bakes cakes.
- 3 Retro Royal, Bodu magu. Big menu with lots of seafood dishes and very good curries. Has become one of the most popular eateries on the island with tourists.
Also popular with locals drinking Nescafe. USD5-20 + 16% taxes.
- 4 SeaLaVie (Chicco D'oro cafe). Run by the Thais and serving Thai cuisine. Good service and setting, second floor deck. They are also proud to have the only coffee machine on the island brewing Swiss Chicco D'oro coffee. USD3-8 + 9% taxes.
- 1 Coral Reef View Inn, Vasha Magu, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Equipped with mini bar, air-conditioning, overhead fans, satellite TV channels, CD player, TV, hair drier, shower with hot and cold water, tea and coffee making facilities, bathrobes, beach towels, direct phone, deposit box, free Wi-Fi and king bed.
- 2 Gunbaru Inn (Gunbaru), Chanbeyli Magu, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. With air conditioning and peaceful garden views, all rooms are well-furnished with a flat-screen satellite TV, minibar and ironing facilities. The private bathrooms have free toiletries and a hairdryer.
- 3 Moodhu Inn, Jumhooree Magu, ☏ . Equipped with bathtub, mini bar, air-conditioning, overhead fans, satellite TV channels, CD player, TV, hair drier, shower with hot and cold water, tea and coffee making facilities, bathrobes, beach towels, direct phone, deposit box, free Wi-Fi and king bed.
- 4 Ukulhas Inn (Ukulhas Inn), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. All rooms are en suite with hot and cold water, individually controlled air-con. King sized bed, LCD TV with satellite channels, CD/DVD player, free Wi-Fi, mini-bar, hair dryer, phone, touch light and umbrella.
- 5 Gangehi (Gangehi Island Resort) (Seaplane), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Located on the outskirts of North Ari Atoll, Gangehi Island Resort features a diving school, spa, and a long sand bank. It offers rooms situated over water, on the beach, or within tropical gardens. 500$.
Nudism is prohibited. Swimming in bikinis is allowed only on the 1 main tourist beach and prosecuted in all other areas, a rule that is strictly monitored and enforced by the locals. Alcohol is banned by law but still can be arranged by some of the hotels, for highly inflated prices.
- See also: Maldives#Stay healthy
There's a small modern health centre on the island with a medical doctor available day and night. If something serious has happened, you likely need to get to Malé, or even to the Asian mainland.
Mobile operators Dhiraagu and Ooredoo operate on the island and offer 3G/LTE connections.
Guesthouses and almost all restaurants offer free WiFi (occasionally slow).
- Rasdhoo — one of the nearest island, capital of North Ari Atoll
- Thoddoo — isolated island north of Ari atoll
- Bodufulhadhoo, Mathiveri, Feridhoo, Maalhos, Himandhoo — all of these Atif atoll islands can be reached by ferry from Ukulhas