Tucked on Alif Alif Atoll, the little island of Ukulhas, spanning just one kilometre, is known for its pristine ecology, cleanliness, and high marine biodiversity. With its crystal-clear lagoons and coral reefs encircling the island suited best for snorkeling, Ukulhas is home to local Maldivians and resembles a precious pearl floating in the Indian Ocean.
Ukulhas, which has been accorded as the ‘best local tourist island’ by the Maldivian government, is home to around 1,400 locals and is renowned for its snow-white beach, lapped by the turquoise waters and adorned with lovely, little shacks, quirky, painted streets and hammocks. Even more important, it offers a perfect stay for those who wish to travel to Maldives on a budget.
“Tourism in Maldives is much beyond the luxury resorts,” said Abdulla Waheed Imad, Secretary General of Ukulhas Council when we met up with him on our visit to the archipelago. “One can experience everything replicating the Maldives experience on and around Ukulhas Island and still go back with much ease since it offers both accessibility and affordability.” he added.
For the easygoing residents of this island, tourism was never the main focus. “Local tourism spurred quite recently and is now well established with growing occupancy. We have been getting a lot of European travellers and now we hope to get traction from the India market,” Imad said.
Language is not a barrier as most people can communicate in Hindi and English. That Indian food is readily available is a big plus. “We are now working to improve the quality of the guest houses and bring in more three to four star hotels that should be able to cater to all segments. Within the next few years, we expect tourists to come in greater numbers to Ukulhas,” one of the council members and owner of Koimala Beach Abdullah Nawaaz told ETTravelWorld.
250-room Kaani Hotel to debut soon
Interestingly, there are no vehicles apart from a few two wheelers in Ukulhas. There are no big resorts and only a choice of a few guest houses and that too in the middle of the island. Currently, there are up to 300 rooms (600 beds) on the island spread over in 33 guest houses and hotels and expansion plans in the offing.
Kaani Hotels, a prominent guesthouse brand in the Maldives, has recently signed an agreement to construct a state-of-the-art 10-storey hotel with a capacity of 250 beds on the island of Ukulhas. This strategic move is cited as a ‘major development for the island’ and is expected to bolster the brand’s already robust presence in the Maldives.
With five guest houses already in operation, Kaani Hotels boasts an impressive 495 tourist beds, a testament to its success since its inception in 2008.
To give a further push to the local island accommodation units, the island’s council is also planning to create an association ‘NHGAM’ comprising the hotels, guest houses and more tourism related units.
The promise of sustainability
Ukulhas is known for its commitment to sustainable practices. Widely regarded as the leading environmentally-friendly local island in Maldives, Ukulhas is a shining example of how an island can be developed in a responsible and eco-friendly manner for both tourism and daily living.
The island is well known for its commitment to preserving its natural environment, as observed through its yearly clean-up and awareness programs and top-notch waste management system looked over by the ‘Waste Management Centre’.
The island’s locals actively sort and manage their waste, with organic waste being transformed into valuable fertilisers for sale to farmers and leftovers fed to fishes. In addition to this, the island boasts various initiatives promoting environmental sustainability such as planting and marine conservation programs.
In fact, Ukulhas received the green leaf award in 2014 by the country’s President and is recognised as a model for eco-tourism, making it an essential part of the Maldives’ ecology. “It is a symbol of pride for us,” a local emphasised.
The island council now is pinning hopes on a new roadmap for “Greater Male Environmental Improvement and Waste Management Project”, which is a government funded project and will establish a sustainable solid waste management system in the Greater Male capital region and its inhabited outer islands.
“This will help Ukulhas maintain its commitment to cleanliness in a big way,” the locals stated.
Ukulhas is also working towards complete reliance on solar energy and the restriction of vehicle usage by turning to environmentally friendly buggies and bikes, by the end of this year.
An Indian-funded convention centre
Ukulhas packs a powerful punch when it comes to daily amenities. It boasts of a health centre, school, playground, Ukulhas Convention Centre, numerous shops, and cafes adorned with enchanting fairy lights where you can grab a quick bite or purchase daily essentials.
As per reports, the Ukulhas Convention Centre, the second of its kind after the Addu Convention, is a joint funded project between the Indian government and the Maldives. India contributed more than MVR seven million as grant aid for constructing the convention center, which was later built by Ameen Construction within 25 days.
The convention center features ample space for international seminars and events and can accommodate up to 400 people simultaneously.
Besides this, the island also has two mosques, including the historic Kudamiski’y mosque, which dates back to 1656 and is now a popular tourist attraction thanks to its well-preserved ruins.
The northern harbour of Ukulhas is also a rare spot in the North Ari Atoll where you can catch a glimpse of Lemon Sharks without the need for a water excursion. In addition to Lemon Sharks, visitors can also observe other aquatic life such as stingrays, various types of sharks and tropical fish.
Apart from its friendly locals and colourful streets adding to the island’s charm, Ukulhas is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, boasting long stretches of powdery white sand beaches and beachside sun lounges.
It is located near a sandbank and popular diving spots, making for an ideal destination for those seeking adventure and exploration.
It is also fascinating to note that Ukulhas boasts a unique phenomenon of a “moving beach”. This means that the sand within the beach area shifts throughout the year based on the direction of the wind, resulting in an ever-changing landscape that adds to the island’s allure.
To reach Ukulhas, the most popular options are travelling from Malé or Rasdhoo, which is a convenient hub for transportation to nearby islands. Other nearby local islands also offer access to Ukulhas through public ferry and the speedboat.