The Maldives: home to some of the most amazing beaches in the world. I have to admit I was very misinformed, because never in my wildest dreams did I see myself travelling to the Maldives on a budget!
Usually, people think of the Maldives as this faraway paradise, with high-end resorts, pristine white sand beaches, and pricey activities that could very well cost you a kidney. And sure, it can be all that, but we were happy to confirm that a trip to the Maldives doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot on luxury.
We went for a week (had to cut our holiday short due to the pandemic), and had an awesome experience that felt like a million dollars but was actually very cheap. We promise you CAN go to the Maldives, enjoy paradisiacal beaches, swim ethically with manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, etc., go snorkelling or diving, and get to know a bit of the local culture for about 50 USD per day. And even less than that.
Keep reading to learn how to plan a trip to the Maldives on a budget. There are a lot of factors to consider and this travel guide to the Maldives will be extended, so remember to come back to check it out 🙂
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10 Tips to Travel Maldives on a Budget
There are different factors to consider when planning your budget for the Maldives. Your costs will vary depending on the island where you stay, the time and day of your arrival (which may affect your way of transportation), what type of food you want to eat, if you are travelling alone or with someone else, how many excursions you want to take, etc.
Travelling to the Maldives on a budget is completely possible, but to do it successfully may require a bit more planning than other destinations. Some mistakes can turn up very high priced! (More on that later).
Here are our best tips to visit the Maldives on a budget and save lots of money in paradise.
1. Resorts vs Local Islands in the Maldives
Years ago, tourists could only visit the resort islands in the Maldives. These resorts cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per night, hence the country’s image of being a full luxury experience.
Each resort has its own private island and there are some big differences between these islands and local islands.
In 2009, the Maldivian government opened up the local islands (where the locals live) for tourism, and a lot of small hotels and guesthouses started to pop up offering budget-friendly prices.
So, obviously, our first suggestion to travel to the Maldives on a budget is to go to a couple of local islands instead of a resort.
The main differences between them are:
1. Bikini Beaches
Resort islands have no problem with people being in swimsuits anywhere on the island. Local islands have designated areas called “bikini beaches” where tourists can be in a bikini or swimsuit.
On the rest of the island, you need to wear clothes but not very -let’s say- “revealing” clothes. I’d say they are pretty used to tourists being in shorts or short dresses. But best to keep it as ‘decent’ as possible out of respect for their culture :).
On our first day there, we asked the staff of the hotel if these clothes above were ok, and they were like “…what? why not?” and kind of laughed a little about us being worried about these clothes. Just so you get an idea.
I really like this store as it has a very wide-ranging catalogue of bikinis, swimsuits, and beachwear of good quality, and with fast shipping.
The swimsuit you see in my pictures was very flattering. I was kind of nervous about choosing it because I have the kind of body that means spending HOURS trying out bikinis and swimsuits only to end up with none because nothing fits. But I was thrilled to see this swimsuit not only fitted on the first try, but I had many beautiful options in case it didn’t.
2. Alcohol consumption
There is no alcohol in the local islands with the exception of safari boats. Not all local islands have one though. Also, you can’t enter the country with alcohol even if you bought it in the airport duty-free. They will confiscate it at the airport and you can pick it up on your way out. Resorts do sell alcohol.
3. Same excursions, different prices
You will find the exact same excursions and day trips a lot cheaper on local islands. An excursion to the same turtle point might cost you 30 USD on a local island, and 100 USD on a resort (having the same experience).
4. Saving on the little things
Snorkelling is part of the daily fun and you will probably need a mask and fin several times during your trip. Resorts charge you around 10 USD per day every time you rent them. Most hotels in local islands give you the equipment for free.
5. Experiencing local life
I don’t want to sound like it’s better to go to a local island. We actually want to go to a resort the next time we go to the Maldives because the experience is worth the extra budget. It comes down to what kind of trip you want to have. That being said, you can get a better feel for the authentic local life of Maldivians by staying on a local island. You can see their houses, their school, and their mosque, and you can experience how friendly and chill they genuinely are with tourists.
2. Local Ferry vs Speedboats in the Maldives
Transportation in the Maldives is a whole other topic for a new blog post.
However, we will explain in short how you can choose your transportation if you want to travel to the Maldives on a budget.
For transportation between islands, you have 3 options:
- Local public ferry
The seaplanes are only used for landing in a resort. Prices depend on distance so they can start from USD 250. You can only get to a resort by seaplane or speedboat. I’m sure it’s an amazing experience but we will focus on the ferry and speedboat since these are the most budget-friendly options.
At what day and time does your flight arrive? Do you wish to stay in Male for a day? – Your answer to these questions will determine whether you can take the local ferry or the speedboat. Here is why:
The public ferry, also called Dhoni, is the cheapest way of transportation. Any route will cost you between 1 USD and 3 USD. Its main disadvantages are that it only departs once or twice a day, and is slower than the speedboat.
For example, if you want to go from the airport to Maafushi, you would need to take a boat to Male, a taxi to the port, and then depart at 3 pm on the ferry, or wait until 3 pm on the next day. Unless it’s Friday. On Fridays, there are no public ferries.
To see the public ferry schedule, visit this website.
The easiest way to schedule a speedboat is with your hotel. Our flight didn’t arrive on time for the public ferry, so we had to take the speedboat. We went to Fulidhoo Island directly from the airport in a speedboat arranged by the hotel. The price was 40 USD per person.
Another option is to ask at the airport at the information desk. There are only a few companies offering this service, so prices are not that different and there is not a lot of room for negotiation. But we found out that booking your speedboat there or with your hotel gets you better deals than booking in advance with a transfer company.
3. Which Local Island to Choose in the Maldives
The local island(s) you choose is going to have a lesser or bigger impact on your wallet.
To travel the Maldives on a budget, you should know that the more islands you visit, the more is going to cost you. This is because transportation, as explained above, can get pricey and difficult to arrange due to the lack of options.
Also, the farther you get from the airport, the more costly it gets to get back for your return flight.
However, the farther you go, the more remote and beautiful it gets!
Obviously, a lot of the fun in the Maldives is associated with interacting with marine life. And worth mentioning, I never saw the excursion companies 100% ensuring you will see lots of certain animals because they don’t attract them artificially. These animals are in their wild habitat, although it is your responsibility to be a decent human being and not stress them out.
With this in mind, consider your favourite activities to choose your island. For example, Dhigurah offers swimming with whale sharks and manta rays, Thulusdhoo is good for surfing (although not for beginners), Fulidhoo has stingrays and nurse sharks, etc. This may be especially important if you want to dive. Below there’s a visual guide to help you decide.
4. Negotiate Your Day Excursions
Day trips in the Maldives on a budget can be very varied. Usually, you can choose from visiting nearby islands, swimming with sharks/dolphins/manta rays/sea turtles, etc, snorkelling, going to a sandbank, diving, etc.
These excursions can be cheaper if you choose a ‘bundle’ of a half-day or full-day with several activities on one trip.
Also, the cheapest island for booking excursions is Maafushi. Maafushi island is the most touristic local island, and therefore, the one with more hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. For this reason (competition), you can find better deals.
However, some things can only be done in certain places and you can’t really book them from Maafushi. For example, swimming with whale sharks can be done on Ari Atoll which is too far from Maafushi. You may find an operator offering a day tour but since it is far, probably they won’t offer it every day and it also depends on the weather.
When travelling to the Maldives on a budget, there are other activities, like going to a sandbank, snorkelling, etc., that are common to all islands. Those are better to book from Maafushi if you stay there, as it will probably be cheaper than booking them from other islands.
5. Use of cash/card
Don’t forget to change your currency to US dollars before travelling to the Maldives.
US dollars are widely used in all the Maldives. For everything you need to pay (hotels, day trips, food, snacks, whatever you can think of) they accept the local Maldivian Rufiyaa and US dollars.
Occasionally, I could also use British pounds, but this is not common. The best thing you can do is change some money to US dollars back home and take the cash with you. Most islands do not have an ATM or banks, so you need to check that in advance. Most hotels do accept cards but confirm with your hotel beforehand.
You can change to dollars or Maldivian Rufiyaa at the airport. There are also banks in Male and Maafushi, but as usual, the bank change rate is probably more expensive than what you can find at home.
For that reason, I love using my Revolut card to be able to pay in whatever currency and get charged on the exact currency exchange, without extra fees.
Most businesses accept cards, but not all, so be sure to always carry some cash with you.
6. Prepare Your Own Food
Apparently, Maldivians don’t really go out to eat a lot. They opt to eat at home, so there are not many restaurants where to eat. Maafushi has more restaurants and ‘bars’, but other islands have only one or two restaurants.
During those days, there was only one restaurant open in Fulidhoo. You can see their main dishes and prices in the picture above.
Most hotels offer to include dinner on your stay or you can ask the hotel to prepare you dinner on a specific date. This can usually cost between 10 USD and 15 USD per person.
We wanted to visit the Maldives on a budget, so to stretch our money as much as possible, we decided to buy cheap food, like pasta, tuna, noodles, etc., and prepare it ourselves most days. Our hotel in Fulidhoo island, Fulidhoo Ihaa Lodge, let us use their kitchen but that’s not the case in all hotels so you may want to first confirm with yours.
By doing this, we spent around 5 – 8 USD per day per person. That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
7. Plan Your Transportation in Detail
We are adding one more point about transportation because that’s how important it is to ensure a great trip to the Maldives on a budget.
Sometimes you will read online that ferries and speedboats are not reliable in the Maldives, and that is kind of not true.
You need to know how things work and adapt. For example, let’s say you are on an island far from the airport and you have your return flight on a Saturday early morning.
If it is too early for taking the public ferry or any speedboat, you would need to go the previous day. But that’s a Friday, so there are no ferries, and maybe not enough tourists for a speedboat at a normal price. So you need to pay 100 USD for a private speedboat with a few other people you find. Then on Friday, it turns out it is raining all day, so you can’t depart. So you leave early on Saturday with even fewer people, having to pay 300 USD for the private speedboat.
Is that a realistic scenario? Yes, very. Sometimes is just bad luck but a bit of preparation can be the difference between paying 3 USD and 300 USD for getting to the airport.
How to avoid these problems? Check the weather, check the ferry routes and schedule, and book your flight accordingly if possible. Also, talk to the staff at your hotel, they can usually help you find other people on the island who need a speedboat so you can divide the costs.
Never assume you can leave with the very last option before your flight. It is good if you leave some room for a plan B just in case.
If you are at risk of having to pay way too much for a speedboat, ask other tourists (in your hotel, on bikini beach, etc.) when are they leaving. It might be helpful and cheaper for both you and them.
8. Find a Hotel in the Maldives on a Budget
As we mentioned before, staying in a hotel on a local island can be way cheaper than staying in a resort. However, you will find a wide range of prices for hotels.
We went to Fulidhoo Island, and chose that island because we read online the beaches were beautiful (they are), is not overcrowded like Maafushi, it is not that far from the airport and not expensive to get there, and there are many stingrays and nurse sharks that you can see swimming on your own around the island.
All of this is true, so we definitely suggest it for a visit! We planned to go to Maafushi after Fulidhoo but hotels stopped accepting new guests when travel restrictions started, so we took our day trips from Fulidhoo and they were at a really good price.
For example, we got a deal for visiting the turtle point, swimming with nurse sharks, and visiting a sandbank for 50 USD. The owner of our hotel arranged this trip for us and I have nothing but great things to say about this hotel. We stayed at Fulidhoo Ihaa Lodge.
It was right in front of the beach, 1 – 2 minutes walking to the main street of the island, and had great service.
Prices for a night vary depending on the season. If you go during the low season or at the start/end of the high season, everything will be cheaper.
9. Find a Cheap Flight to the Maldives
Airlines are increasing their flights with reasonable prices to go to the Maldives on a budget.
Read our guide to booking the cheapest flight and find a good flight deal to the Maldives. Using our tricks, we paid 350 USD for a roundtrip from London – Male – London a few days before departing.
10. Go to a Resort for a Fraction of the Price
If you still feel like something is missing because you are not going to a resort while being in the Maldives, then we have a solution for you.
The resort life and the Maldives are always thought together. Maybe you want to have a drink next to a palm tree after enjoying a delicious buffet, but you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars per night and transportation. I totally get it.
In that case, you can always book a visit to a resort for a day, without spending the night. Lots of tour operators offer it. They usually take you to a resort close by and offer one or two packages that include transportation, food, and hotel facilities.
It depends on the hotel, but the price may be around 100 USD – 150 USD per person. We think it is a great way to live the resort experience without breaking the bank.
We hope you find this article helpful to have an epic trip to the Maldives on a budget.
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