Imagine the Maldives. Pure white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters with abundant marine life, extraordinary sunrise over the ocean, followed by a sublime sunset. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? The catch is; the Maldives is a luxury destination and you can’t afford it….or so you may believe.
I’d like to share with you some precious information and explain how you can visit the Maldives on a budget!
Essential information to know before you go:
The Maldives is an island nation in the middle of Indian Ocean. The closest country is Sri Lanka (about 600 km).
There are over 100 resort islands, but only 5+ with independent accommodation available.
The Maldives is a Muslim country. It means that alcohol is forbidden, and you won’t be able to buy alcohol on local islands (the resorts-island offer alcohol). Women should also cover their shoulders and legs. Some local islands do have so-called “bikini zone” where tourist can sunbathe, usually separated by a fence. Ask if you’re not sure and please do respect the local customs. If you’re heading to Picnic Island or going snorkelling, you can then wear a bikini.
How to get to the Maldives on a budget:
Getting to the Maldives on the cheap can be tricky. Forget your travel agent, forget your favourite airline, chances are the cheapest flights can be found online.
The best connection for Male, the capital of Maldives is usually with Colombo in Sri Lanka (Sri Lankan Airlines) or Dubai (Emirates Airlines). I recommend using flight search engines such as Skyscanner or Momondo.
You can view a whole week or month of flights to compare prices. If you are flying from anywhere in Asia or Australia/NZ, your cheapest options would be AirAsia to Sri Lanka and then a connecting flight to Male.
Sadly the direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Male with AirAsia, starting at US $100 is no longer operating. It’s important to book a flight that arrives in Male in the morning so you can connect with an onward ferry to your island.
How to Visit the Maldives On a Budget – Palm tree on Maafushi island
How to get around in the Maldives on a budget:
The Maldives is an island nation formed from 26 atolls. Most luxury-focused tourists fly to the main island of Male and take either a speedboat (150$-300$) or a private seaplane ($$$). However, it is possible to travel around the islands on a budget.
First, take the ferry from the airport to the main island Male (1$, every 15 minutes, takes about 20 minutes).
Then take a taxi (5$, 5 minutes) to the main port on the other side of this island (or walk 15-20minutes) and then take a ferry to your island (2-4$ per person). For example, a ferry to Mafusshi island takes 90 minutes and departs twice a day.
Where to stay in the Maldives on a budget:
Only in 2009, the Maldives government changed the regulations and locals can since then open up an independent hotels/guesthouses on some islands. So if you want to stay in the Maldives on a budget, forget the resort islands, stay on a local island in a hotel or guesthouse.
Staying on a local island will also give you insights into the culture and the people of the Maldives.
Think of it this way: Do you prefer to stay in a 5 star, all-inclusive resort when going on holiday without venturing out to see more about the country/city/people and culture? Probably not, so this is also an opportunity to see the real Maldives.
Affordable guesthouses/hotels are available on a few islands starting at 30$/per night for a twin/double room.
Usually, rooms include TV and A/C and hot water, the cheaper rooms might be less “fancy”. It depends on your priorities.
The best way to book a budget hotel or guesthouse in the Maldives is to check the following websites: Agoda (one of the best ones for hotels in Asia) and booking.com.
Both list multiple choices and can help with selecting the “right” island for you.
AirBnB is a great option if you are looking for a real local experience as they specialise in homestay accommodation or private apartments.
Click here for a discount of $38.00 off your first Airbnb stay.
I have personally stayed on a local island, Maafushi, which is home to about 2000 people. There are a few guesthouses/hotels available; it has a local supermarket, a few restaurants and a dive shop.
We stayed at the White Shell Beach Inn, which was very nice, and it also had it’s “private bikini beach” and a restaurant. I would highly recommend this island as it seemed to tick all our boxes.
Other local islands include Mahibadoo, Huraa, Thulusdhoo and Guraidhoo.
How to Visit the Maldives On a Budget – Our hotel – White Shell Inn with bikini beach
Where to eat in the Maldives on a budget:
Most guesthouses and hotels include a decent breakfast which can keep you full until the afternoon. If you’re doing excursions: snorkelling or visiting picnic island, lunch might be included. There are usually a few small restaurants on the island itself, or you can eat at one of the hotel restaurants.
A typical meal would include fish in some form: fish curry and rice, fish BBQ with rice and fried fish. It usually sets you back between $5-10. The Maldives are also known for coconuts so you might be lucky to taste them in some dishes.
Maldives – Fulidhoo island
Things to do in the Maldives on a budget:
The Maldives is home to some of the richest marine life in the world, and it’s a must for a visitor! Most guesthouses and hotels can organise excursions such as:
Snorkelling trips – usually involve a short boat trip to the reef, where you can snorkel. You get to see baby sharks, coral walls, many rays and fish. You won’t need a wetsuit as the water is warm. Prices start from $20, inclusive of snorkelling gear.
Excursion to Picnic Island – An unspoilt desert island visit is an incredible experience. You will be able to spend a few hours on a pristine island with stunning white beaches and crystal clear waters. The excursion often includes lunch that is brought with on the boat. It is a perfect opportunity for those fantastic photos you have been looking at while dreaming about the Maldives.
Price starts at $25 per person which includes the boat trip to the island, fresh BBQ lunch and some snorkelling time.
Fishing trip – A fishing trip can be a real highlight of your stay in the Maldives as fishing is the primary industry here. The main fish would be tuna, barracuda and sailfish. Some hotels offer a night fishing as well if you are feeling more adventures.
Fishing trips from $25 – $40 depending on the size of the group.
Excursion to a resort island – If you really want to see how the other half lives, you can visit a resort island to see what all the fuss is about. Prices range from $25 up to $150 depending on the package.
The basic includes entry to the resort island; the most expensive option includes an all-inclusive pass with food and drinks included for the whole day at the resort.
Diving and dolphin cruises are also available. Please note that all excursions offered on local islands are usually a fraction of the cost compared to the package offered by resort islands. So again, you are saving!
Maldives – Amazing marine life
So the secret is out, you can visit the Maldives on a budget! Add it to your bucket list and get there before everyone else to enjoy the tranquillity.
Note: I visited the Maldives in 2014, and all information is based on my experience and some additional research.
A coffee lover, history junkie, former tour guide, and endless optimist. The mastermind of logistics and chief navigator for Very Hungry Nomads, two women on an adventure to visit EVERY country in the world. Marty is a social butterfly who describes her life as “just livin’ the dream".