When you think of the Maldives, what first comes to mind? Picture-perfect turquoise lagoons, white sand beaches, swaying coconut palms and lazy waves lapping overwater thatch-roof bungalows? You're not wrong - there are hundreds of islands in this beautiful country that offer these things exactly as you imagined. Underwater, the reefs are also as colourful and teeming with life as in your mind's eye, home to species from tiny frog fish to enormous whale sharks.
On this particular trip to Maldives in February 2023, we decided to visit the island of Fuvamulah - famous for its population of resident tiger sharks. While there were definitely powder sand beaches and graceful coconut palms, there were definitely no overwater bungalows or even a lagoon. Located in the very south of the Maldivian archipelago, Fuvamulah is distinct in that it is a single island atoll, and it does not have a prominent ring of coral around it. As such, it is directly exposed to ocean swells. In fact, a man-made rock wall protects its small shipping harbour, and it is at the mouth of this harbour where tiger sharks patrol, waiting for tasty morsels to fall from fishing boats above.
As far as tourism goes, Fuvamulah - as I understand it - only recently opened to international travellers. so don't expect the island to have any of the facilities or the party atmosphere you might find in a typical beach town such as in Thailand or Indonesia. For one, the Maldives is a Muslim country so there's no alcohol and women have to dress modestly (i.e. no swimwear but shorts/short sleeves are ok). This rule applies as soon as you get off your dive boat, as you disembark straight into a working port and busy fish market, where locals gather to haggle for the day's catch.
But none of this really matters because you're here to see the tiger sharks and there's a pretty good chance you will!
The reason for this is that your dive operator will - and this is controversial - have a couple of tuna heads in the dive boat, that will be dropped onto the shallow harbour floor a few minutes after your group has assembled behind a rock wall.
The sharks of Fuvamulah are evidently very well accustomed to this because almost as soon as we were lined up, a huge female (in tiger sharks the females are much larger than males) swooped in, looking for an easy feed. Then a couple more sharks arrived, along with schools of opportunistic smaller fish. This happened on almost every dive we did at this spot.
The sharks had a clear hierarchy - size decides who eats first. But what surprised me was their diverse personalities. Some were playful - deliberately swimming very close to us, while others were shy. There was even one occasion when a cheeky pair decided to escort us back to our boat!
For a bit of variety, we dived a few other sites around Fuvamulah as well - searching for thresher shark, hammerhead and manta ray. Our dive operators, the locally owned Pelagic Divers, were careful to manage expectations as a lot of these larger deep sea species can be elusive and in our case, most were! Admittedly, it was hard to relax and enjoy watching the smaller species - including green turtles - when you were scouring the blue below for sharks. On one occasion, we were all squinting below so hard that we almost missed seeing a whale shark glide past over our heads!
Baby white tips
During surface intervals, much time was spent hanging out at the Pelagic Divers headquarters, by the harbour, which has a nice little cafe and wi-fi. They also had an open air tuk-tuk which ferried us to our accommodations - which for us comprised of a brand new and very comfortable hotel called the Ataraxis Grand & Spa on the quiet, northern side of the island a short walk to Thundi, a lovely white powder sand beach. Not knowing what to expect, we had opted for a full board package, so all meals - simple, fulfilling and generous - were included at the hotel's restaurant.
Should you prefer not to have your meals included, there are a few good eateries around Fuvamulah including the Cool Banana, a cafe with an international menu located just a short walk from the Ataraxis, and the excellent and atmospheric Moodige, which sits at the edge of a freshwater marsh. Mostly, we walked around the island to take in some of the local colour, but scooters were available for hire quite affordably.
Moodige Restaurant's breezy dining pavilion