Rasdhoo (rhymes with “kazoo”) is located nearly due west from Male, the capital of the Maldives and arrival point for virtually all visitors. A quick 1 hour speed-boat ride can put you on Rasdhoo and within minutes you could be sitting on the spacious sandy beach. So if you are very time limited but you don’t want to stay near the capital city, then Rasdhoo is a smart choice.
There are many islands in the Maldives which have the classical atoll shape: bright blue lagoon in the center fringed by aqua shallows and pure white sand beaches. And Rasdhoo certainly matches that description. The island has only one beach area but it’s a lovely place for a swim with a great view of the other nearby islets. If you jump on a boat then in a couple minutes, you could be sitting on the picture perfect “picnic island” or the even a more glamorous “sand bar”. The sand bar is a very popular place to take wedding or anniversary photos. It’s truly a picture of paradise.
Rasdhoo sits between Ukulhas and Thoddoo, and is the first stop on the speed boat coming from the airport. It’s also the “capital seat” for the Ali Alief Atoll group (listed at “AA.Rasdhoo” on the Maldives entry form). As such, it has a few more governmental offices than the average small island. And the corresponding culture is a bit more stuffy, although one would hardly notice.
Like other “local” island vacation spots, Rasdhoo has a good number of guest houses, restaurants and cafes. Check the reviews on line and see what matches your preferences. As before, keep in mind that you are not booking a resort. These are budget accommodations for the budget minded traveler. If you want fabulous digs, double (or triple!) your nightly rate.
The food selection is also typical… local island fare with a good number of western dishes. Don’t expect any beef or pork. Chicken and fish are the only game in town. Most guest houses offer AC, hot showers and comfortable conditions, but you might want to double check if your chosen accommodation has a fridge in the room (if that is important to you).
As with Thoddoo and Ukulhas, I’d recommend the B&B (bed and breakfast) choice over “half board” or “full board”. You always have the option of eating at your hotel, but by booking B&B, you can feel free to check out what other venues are offering on their menu.
And the snorkeling is…?
With literally unlimited snorkel-able locations, Rasdhoo could be a top spot on anyone’s “Maldive snorkeling bucket list”. And I’d venture to say that prior to the start of this millennium, it was probably one of the most stunning snorkeling spots in the world.
Alas, global warming and coral bleaching has hit Rasdhoo very hard. Maybe it’s that huge beautiful lagoon with it’s shallower semi-enclosed waters. It seems that the El Niño years of 2010 and 2016 created a perfect storm of “above normal water temps” which built up in the lagoon and then flowed over much of the reefs. Truly a sad event. Because the result today is that countless magnificent fields of branching corals (Acropora, Montipora, Pocillopora etc) have been wiped out.
In some places, the devastation is unfathomable
For example, there’s a reef I call “Imagination Reef”. It’s right between Rasdhoo and the Picnic island. And it’s in a perfect location for a reef: sandwiched between two islands which act like a funnel and channel plankton-rich waters to the doorstep of night-feeding corals. I can just imagine how incredibly dense those colonies of many Acropora must have been… as thick as any jungle canopy… all benefiting from high-flow, ultra clear, nutrient free water. But “heat tolerant” wasn’t in the branching coral’s job description.
The space which was once occupied by those corals can still be seen. Now, all that remains are millions of coral fragments. Imagination reef must have been an incredibly spectacular reef only a couple dozen years ago.
But before this gets too depressing, let me tell you about the reef east of Picnic Island. That reef faces the open ocean and while much of the Acroporas and other branching corals are indeed missing, the reef more than makes up for it with a kaleidoscope of Porites, Galaxea and Platygyra. To reach the reef, one must hire a boat, but that will likely afford you the luxury of a “drift snorkel”. The current wasn’t so strong as to make the snorkel untenable, but it does move you along at a decent pace. You can easily see 200 meters of reef in an hour with very little swimming!
A very similar snorkel can be had just off the west point of Kuramathi island. That island is only couple hundred meters from Rasdhoo, but it’s a location that requires a boat ride. The good news is that the boat ride will likely cost you 1/3 the price of a single night at Kuramathi Resort. Even better, your boat captain will likely take you a couple hundred meters past where anyone on the resort would dare to snorkel (it’s just too far to go, especially if there’s a current!).
Rasdhoo house reef
Ok, how about house reef snorkeling on Rasdhoo itself? Well, there are some interesting points. There are small patches of reef which are bursting with life. There are many of the typical players, with more than plenty of trigger fish, angel fish, butterfly fish, wrasses and damsels. There aren’t many turtles around, and certainly nothing like the population on Thoddoo.
One species that is more abundant are the black-tip reef sharks. I’m not sure what brings them to the edges of the reef on Rasdhoo but I saw more large sharks at Rasdhoo than any where I’ve ever snorkeled. Another nice surprise was a magnificent group of leather corals. And the most surprising of all, a hell’s fire anemone!
Between Ukulhas, Thoddoo, Rasdhoo, Kuramathi and the Picnic Island (also called Alif Alif island) the best reef was Picnic Island. It’s far enough from any habitation to keep things pristinly clean. And it seems to be in the right position to benefit from cooler waters. The “drift snorkel” there is fantastic if you are short on time and want a beautiful fly-over of an incredible reef. Of course, currents will ebb and flow, so it may be running too fast or not at all on the day you visit. Plan accordingly.
Rasdhoo’s house reef – additional notes
There’s no trick to find the reef, as it wraps around the entire island. But best to head to the southern-most point. It’s just past the football field. The beach is well shaded and plenty of lounge chairs are present. There’s also a sand volleyball court and a new shower/toilet.
The trick on the house reef is to head for the pole. It’s sticking out of the water due south from the southern-most point. Depending on the tides, getting there can be an easy swim, or one of those air-gulping moments where you just barely get over the rocks while on your way to the drop off.
During low tide, some people walk out to the drop off. I wouldn’t recommend that. No only are there a number of long-spined sea urchins in the vicinity, but also some small fragile corals trying to make a comeback on the fore-reef. And if you snorkel from the beach, you will have a chance to see quite a few reef fish, many of which are in the juvenile stage of their development.
I’ll add that the fore-reef is a great place for kids and not-so-acomplished snorkelers to have a great time looking around. The water is almost always crystal clear as the emergent reef protects that end of the island very effectively. There is hardly any detectable current (especially at low tide) and the water is really warm.
As with most islands, the drop-off is where the real reef action starts. You could head east or west from the pole marking the edge of the reef. In either case, just follow along the drop off and you will see plenty of interesting fish and invertebrates. Keep an eye on the currents as there is quite a bit of variability depending on waves, wind and tides.
Rasdhoo is a small island and the house reef is not very extensive. You can snorkel around most of the circumference of the island. It seems, as in other places in the Maldives, that marine life has found a way to flourish no matter what real estate they find themselves attached to or swimming through.
Although Rasdhoo suffers from those global factors which have decimated many reefs in the Maldives, the bonus is you don’t have to spend a fortune getting there, and you can stay there for pretty cheap too. It’s probably not the cheapest location, nor the location with the most restaurants, but it could be rated the “easiest island to get to” (not including those islands within 10 minutes of downtown Male). And given the fact that there are some amazing reefs within a short boat ride of Rasdhoo, for time crunched travelers it’s a nice place to get wet.