The Upper South Province of the Maldives consists of the Gaafu Alif and Gaafu Dhaalu Atolls.
The Gaafu Alifu Atoll, also known as the Northern Huvadhu Atoll or Huvadhu Atholhu Uthuruburi is an administrative division of the Maldives that corresponds to the north-eastern section of the large natural atoll north of the line extending between the channels of Footukandu and Vaarulu Kandu. Its inhabited islands are: Dhaandhoo, Dhevvadhoo, Gemanafushi, Kanduhulhudhoo, Kolamaafushi, Kondey, Maamendhoo, Nilandhoo, and Vilingili – the capital of the Atoll.
The Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, also known as the Southern Huvadhu Atoll or Huvadhu Atholhu Dhekunuburi is an administrative district of the Maldives that corresponds to the southwestern section of the large natural atoll, south of the line that extends between the channels of Footukandu and Vaarulu Kandu. The Atoll is situated about 340 kilometres south of the capital Malé. There are 153 islands in this Atoll, 10 of which are inhabited. The inhabited islands are: Fares-Maathodaa, Fiyoaree, Gaddhoo, Hoandeddhoo, Madaveli, Nadellaa, Rathafandhoo, Thinadhoo – the capital of the Atoll, and Vaadhoo.
The Atoll is known for the important Buddhist archaeological remains that have been found there, particularly on the islands of Fiyoaree, Vaadhoo and others. The ruins consist mainly of large stupas, but like many Buddhist ruins in the Maldives have not yet been properly researched.
Dhevvadhoo or Devvadū is an island of the Gaafu Alifu atoll. It is a sizeable round island, and some of the ancient kings of the Maldives traced their ancestry to certain families that were from here. There are several Buddhist archaeological remains in Dhevvadhoo, meaning it is likely that it was an important island during that era of Maldivian history.
A mound known as “Dhevvadhoo Usgadu”, located in the north-east of the island, is likely a large stupa, is 200 feet long, 96 feet wide and 4 feet high. Close to north-west shore is a large ruin called “Usgadu”, and in the same area there are several more sites, none of which have have been properly investigated yet.
Kolamaafushi is one of the inhabited islands of the Gaafu Alif Atoll. The island is one of the remotest in the Atoll with the closest inhabited island being about 20 kilometres away. It is connected to the nearby Kolaa Island by a narrow causeway. Being so remote, the main economic activity of the islanders is fishing, agriculture and boat building.
Kondey or Kondē is one of the islands of the Gaafu Alif Atoll. The island is long and wooded, located on the Atoll's eastern rim. Kondey contains large ruins from the historical Maldivian Buddhist era. In the east of the island is a ruined stupa known as “Kodey Haviththa” and to the south, another called “Haviththa”. There are many other ruins scattered all over the island that remain to be fully investigated.
Gaddhoo, Gadhdhoo or Gaddu is one of the islands of the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. It is well known for the local women who weave beautiful mats with patterns in three colors, off-white, yellow and black, with strands of the bark of Hibiscus tiliaceus. There are two qualities of mat, thinner mats woven with simple knots, or thicker, better quality mats woven with more complex knots.
Traditionally the best mats were used by the Maldive Royal House in Malé that were given in tribute by the Atoll. In modern times, production of these mats has suffered as the women receive just a small fraction of the price collected from tourists, meaning women no longer wish to go through the arduous training for little recompense.
Fiyoaree or Fiori is one of the inhabited islands of the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. There are significant Buddhist ruins here which are largely unexplored. The most important ruin, probably a large stupa, is found on the western side of the island and measures about 32 feet in circumference and 3 feet in height. The women of the island also weave mats here, considered to be of lesser quality than those of the island of Gaddhoo, but they are produced in larger quantities.
Rathafandhoo is an inhabited island of the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, where the islanders are famous for their handicrafts and net making from a local plant called Hau. Some islanders also weave mats as souvenirs for tourists.
Vaadhoo is an island of the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll where important Buddhist remains have been found. In the north-east there are a few sites of ruins, including a stupa called “Vādū Havitta” that is about 90 metres in circumference and 10 metres in height. Early investigations in the 1980s discovered some carved coral stones that represented Buddha's foot and some Vajrayana symbols, but as yet the ruins have not been well researched.
Vaadhoo is also famous for its surf spot Blue Bowls, also known as Voodoos. It is a popular stop for boat charters in the Maldives, with visitors enjoying the opportunity to stop in a local village. Its protected setting from the wind makes Blue Bowls almost always surfable, especially as it handles all stages of the tide really well.