Initially I was guiding daily snorkelling and dive trips for a dive club, then I spent some time onboard a cruise boat, where I accompanied the guests during their holiday whilst we cruised the Maldives.
I originally trained as an engineer and worked at a couple of resorts in the power plant or generator areas. However, I missed local island life and so moved back to the capital, Male. I started work with the dive club, assisting with servicing equipment as well as completing my dive certification which then led me on to becoming a guide.
How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?
The role I have now is very unique in the Maldives as Secret Paradise [is] the only company offering local island guided tours. I have always got on with people and this is a big part of what I do, making guests feel welcome and accommodating their needs whilst introducing them to the local side of Maldives life. The initial challenge for me was to ensure, when guiding groups of guests on multi day tours, that the itinerary was followed but also individual needs were met without it impacting on the group as a whole.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t have a typical day as it will depend on whether I’m guiding an excursion or guiding a multi-day tour. A part of my day will be spent checking on requirements for the following day or next trip, especially if it is an arrival or departure day, and liaising with guesthouses and with the office to ensure I have all the necessary information I require. On multi day trips, I will meet with guests at breakfast and then spend the day with them, leading them on the day’s activities. This could range from an island tour and meeting local families to snorkelling, or from traditional fishing to learning to cook Maldivian style. On multi day trips, I also accompany guests in the evening – we may go late night swimming, watch films or take coffee in a local café.
The names of the atolls running north to south reflect the name of each letter of the Dhivehi alphabet.
What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?
I can’t think of a bizarre experience but my most challenging experience was dealing with a guest who suffered a mild heart attack whilst we were out snorkelling. At the time we didn’t know. The guest complained of having difficulty breathing and having a tight chest. We immediately took them in the speedboat to the local island during which time I had the guest take deep breaths in and out using a plastic bag (we didn’t have a paper one). At the medical centre, a nurse administered an injection and we organised a further speedboat back to Male to the hospital where the guest was admitted into ER.
It was following a number of tests that we all discovered it had been a mild heart attack. The guest remained in hospital for six days, during which time we celebrated their birthday with a cake and balloons. We had to organise accommodation for a further six days until the guest was able to fly home and during that time I continued to visit them.
Why is Haalif Barrah your favourite place in the Maldives? What one site or activity do you like to show people there and why?
Because it is so naturally beautiful. We don’t currently have a tour which visits this area. So my second choice would be the island of Fuvahmulah, where we operate a cooking and culture tour. It is a very unique island, with natural lakes and lots of vegetation but also with the most beautiful beach. The sands of Thundi are famous for their shiny pebbles and shells in whites, browns, pinks and purples, which stretch to form the largest beach in the country. For total seclusion and [to have] the beach to yourself, head there first thing in the morning.
No odd requests. But it does surprise me how some guests travel to a country and haven’t done any research. One guest didn’t realise the Maldives was made up of over 1,100 islands and thought we would be able to drive from place to place.
What sea life have you seen during your tours? Ever had any scary or exciting sea life encounters?
Turtles, moray eels, eagle rays and reef sharks are commonly seen when I snorkel with guests, as well as lots of colourful coral and tropical fish life. If we are in the right place at the right time, manta rays and whale sharks can also be spotted. There’s nothing really scary in the Maldives’ waters except for guests who don’t know snorkel and dive etiquette. Touching coral and marine life, and standing on coral, are the things we see a lot if people are inexperienced and haven’t been coached in how to snorkel/dive responsibly.
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
Guides allow guests access to places or experiences that may not be readily available to others. Guides provide local information and knowledge and ensure that the boring stuff like transfer timings are taken care of. Guides can deal with problems. I hope I turn a holiday into an experience.
First time travellers to the Maldives must see what’s underwater. Over 90% of the Maldives is water and there are some amazing coral reefs and marine life to discover either by snorkelling or diving. For guests who can’t swim, there are a few resorts which have glass bottom boats or there is a tourist submarine based in Male.
Learning to eat traditionally with your fingers is a must. A very traditional local dish is garudhiya – a clear tuna broth served with white rice, pickled vegetables, chilli paste, and a squeeze of lemon.
Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on?
I’m not keen on completing the trip report for my boss at the end of each trip… I prefer not to be in the office!
In your view, what makes a good tour guide? Have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
Someone who has a good knowledge of the place so can answer guests’ questions. Someone who listens, who is friendly and puts guests at their ease: they are on holiday and will want to have a good time.
Look for someone who arrives on time to meet you or responds to emails promptly. Someone who provides information and answers your questions. Someone who is friendly but still professional.