Your Guide To Paradise: The Maldives On A Budget
Whenever we plan a new trip, we usually check online for cheap flights to practically anywhere before we decide on an actual destination. It will save money, but it also might get you to a place you never thought about going. This is exactly how we ended up on the Maldives. When we decided to go to Australia for a year (or longer), we looked for the cheapest planetickets available heading towards Asia. Those turned out to be bound for New Delhi, India. So we decided to spend some time in India before going down under. While researching our India trip we got to know about Spice Jet and how they have a daily cheap flight to The Maldives. So we decided we would take advantage of this and go to this paradise while we would be so close by.
But aren’t The Maldives those dreamy islands with the luxury water bungalows and private beaches? Yes, they are. So maybe the flights might be cheap, but how about anything else? Read on for some info about how to travel to the tropical Maldives on a budget!
Because of changes in the tourism industry on The Maldives, it’s possible since 2009 to stay at a local island. You see, before that time, it was only possible to go to The Maldives when staying at a fancy resort on a private island. Tourists were not allowed on local islands, and you couldn’t get there if you tried. But why would you try? You just paid a ridiculous amount of money for a private isolated beach and a water bungalow that you’d be happy to stay where you were. But now the government changed the rules. You don’t have to stay in an overly priced resort to explore the real Maldives. Guesthouses and hotels are now turning up on the local islands as well and it’s way easier for the budget-minded traveller to put Maldives on the bucketlist.
The Maldives exist out of lots of Atolls; like most countries have states or provinces, here the provinces are atolls, or island-groups. Male, the capital, is situated in the south of the North Male Atoll. We spend two weeks on the inhabited island of Maafushi, in the South Male Atoll. It is not too far from Male (only 90 minutes by ferry) and it is easy accessible. Other less touristic but easy local islands are Gulhi and Guraidhoo in the same Atoll. Or check out Ari Atoll for swimming with Whale Sharks or diving with Manta Rays in season.
Was our trip cheap? No, it was not. It was still more expensive then spending the same amount of time in Thailand or India ofcourse. But it’s the Maldives! So if you are spending an average of 50 $ per day, you are doing it on a budget. So! Lets get into it and tell you how to do it yourself!
As mentioned before, we booked a flight from India. You can only fly to the capital, Male, and this can be quite expensive, especially from Europe or America. But from Asia, and in particular India and Singapore, it proves to be a lot cheaper. We flew with Spice Jet from Kochi, India for $77 / €67 per person. There is one flight every day at 12:35 arriving 13:55 in Male (flight lasts one hour and 50 minutes).
So if you want to go to the Maldives, either you wait for a big promotion on airfares, or you choose another Asia destination and combine it with The Maldives. Some airlines that fly to Male are TigerAir & Singapore Air, SriLankan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Spice Jet, Emirates and Etihad. Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka will be the cheapest to fly from, but you can definetely also check countries like Vietnam, Taiwan, China, Phillipines, Indonesia and even Japan. To give you an idea, you can fly one way from Hanoi to Male for $220, and from Male to Singapore for as little as $100. You can check and compare prices on search engines like Skyscanner, but I would even recommend checking out all the websites of airlines individually. Because we find that Skyscanner does not always include low cost companies like Tigerair or Spice Jet.
You can enter the country with a Visa on Arrival if you stay less than 30 days. They might ask you how much cash money you have with you before you enter the country (you must have about $30 per day in theory) but if you have a credit card on you that should be good enough.
Once you arrive in The Maldives, your plane lands at Ibrahim Nasir Airport on the small island of Hulhule. To get to Male, which is the main hub to go to any other island, you need to take a ferry which costs 10 MVR per person and leaves every 15 minutes.
In the Maldives, you can reach any inhabited island with a ferry, or by connecting ferries. The system is cheap and reliable, with prices between $2 and $20 each way. The ferries only run between the local islands, so you can not use the ferries to get to the Private Resort Islands, since they are… well, private. Ferries run on time and leave when full from the Villingili ferry terminal on the west side of the island.
Also, budget island hopping is not always easy if you don’t have enough time. This due to the ferry schedule. It’s cheap but you don’t have a ferry to every island every day. So if you want to visit multiple islands you might want to check the time table first and plan ahead in order to not lose too much time. Keep in mind that when you want to go to a different Atoll, ferries pass Male first, where you then need to transfer to another ferry.
Important: the Maldivian weekend is on Fridays. So when the Ferry schedule says “weekdays”, this means from Saturday to Thursday. There are NO ferries operating public transport on Friday! Here you can find a route map of the public ferry network. And you can find the whole ferry schedule on the MTCC website or on Atoll Transfer.
BY SHARED SPEEDBOAT
There are plenty of operators around Ari Atoll as well as in North & South Male Atoll offering this service as it is a good and fast way of getting around the islands or going to other atolls. A one way speedboat trip to Maafushi costs a minimum of $25 each and it would depart from the Petrol Jetty, which is on the south-west side of Male. Keep in mind that the price of a speedboat charter will depend on the distance. Prices can be as low as $25, but they can go up to maybe even $300 if you need to go quite far or if you require a private speedboat. Companies that bring you to Maafushi from Male are iCom Tours (they also have an office on Maafushi) and Venturo.
This is just a way of getting around on Male only, as there are no taxis on Maafushi – or on the other local islands I’d guess. Taxi rates are fairly cheap; we paid Rf 50 ($3) to get from the east side jetty to the Petrol jetty on the west side.
BY SEA PLANE
This has nothing to do with budget travelling, so let’s not even consider it, okay? It’s probably an amazing experience to see all the atolls from above, but prices can be very expensive, read between $200 and $1000 depending on where you want to go. Travelling by sea plane (or private speedboat) are the only way to arrive at one of the private islands if you booked your stay in a resort there. Prices are never included in your accomodation and are always rated one way and per person.
A good tip is to check out the ferry schedule from home or from your previous destination. Check what time your plane lands, so you know if you have enough time to catch the last ferry. The last ferry to Maafushi is at 15:00 and if you arrive in the afternoon (like most flights do) you will miss it. You need to collect your baggage first and get some local currency so you can pay for the ferry. Then wait maybe 15 minutes for the ferry to leave and a few minutes to get to Male. In Male you maybe want to stop at the HSBC bank to get some more dollars. Then you need to get to the right jetty (in our case the Petrol Jetty for a speedboat on the opposite site of the island) to take the ferry to your destination of choice.
Be prepared and either try to find a flight that arrives in the morning so you can catch a connecting ferry; otherwise you will have to spend a night on Male, or book a private speedboat to get to your island. Because we arrived in the afternoon, we would miss the last ferry to Maafushi. We didn’t really care for spending the night in Male, so we contacted iCom Tours to reserve a spot on one of their speedboats for $25 pp.
The official currency of the Maldives is the Rufiyaa (Rf). Rates at this moment are €1 = Rf 17.4/ $1 = Rf 15.33. This changes periodically so it’s best to check the latest exchange rate before you arrive. Keep in mind that ATM machines are scarce in the Maldives. (In 2016 an ATM of the Maldivian Bank opened on the island of Maafushi, but there are no ATM’s on the other islands) There are two at the airport, and there is also a currency exchange. In Male you might want to stop at the only ATM that dispenses US dollars, HSBC, as all other ATM’s dispend Rufiyaa. Best thing to do, is either bring US dollars from home or withdraw from an ATM as soon as you can. But why would you need dollars? Because all activities and hotel rates are priced in dollars and it is the preferred method of payment. However, if you have local currency for the ferry, for food or shopping, it will be cheaper.
On Maafushi it was possible to withdraw money at the iCom office as a card payment, but they charge a pretty high fee that it might be even cheaper to take the ferry back to Male, withdraw your dollars there, spend a day in Male and come back. So if you don’t want to do this, withdraw as much money as you think you might need. You can pay by card for the hotels or your diving, but the fees are just very high, so paying in cash will always be cheaper.
Since we are on a budget, we are not going to stay in a resort. But don’t expect to find a cheap hostel or $10 bed just yet. Try to find a hotel or guesthouse that you can just book online via Booking.com or Agoda.com, or take your chance and search for a room once you get on the island. (Although it is trickier to find something this way here) You decide ofcourse what your budget is. If you still want some luxury, why not book a 150$ room in a bigger hotel, which is still only a fraction of the price of the resorts?
For us, that did not fit our budget, however it is fairly easy to find a nice room. Prices range on average between $30 and $60 for a double room, breakfast included. We booked a room with Holiday Lodge for only $38 per night on the island of Maafushi. The room was big, simple and clean with fast WiFi and air- conditioning. The bathroom was small but very okay with a normal Western standard toilet and hot shower. Our breakfast was a buffet with musli, eggs, roshi, rice, fruit, spreads, sausages and different juice everyday, coffee or tea. And Mohammed really was the nicest guy to make sure our holiday was all that we could wish for.
Another good option is to check Airbnb. You can find accomodation all over the local islands. I do suggest not staying at Male itself. It will be more expensive and there are no beaches, so not really the island vibe you might go for.
DO’s & DON’T’s
The Maldives are a muslim country and a very strict one as well. Most islands will also not allow women to wear a bikini or men to walk around in public without a shirt. The bigger and more populated local islands will mostly offer what is called a Bikini Beach. This beach will probably be fenced, making it a separate area where tourists can walk around in normal swimwear. Also on Maafushi, Nathalie was able to just wear shorts and a tank top without any problems, but when we stopped in smaller Guraidhoo between dives, she had to keep her wetsuit on, or wear a t-shirt.
Food was a lot cheaper here than I thought it was going to be. Although I must admit, with Mike being a vegetarian we saved a lot because fish and meat dishes are ofcourse more expensive than vegetables. I am also not the biggest meat eater, so I usually choose chicken or a veggie option to keep the prices low. On average we would spend between Rf 200-400 ($13-$26) on dinner for the both of us. Grabbing lunch could be as cheap as 50 MVR ($3) for sandwiches. Or you could fill up on you breakfast which is included in your hotel, and skip lunch altogether. There are also a few grocery shops on the island, so if your guesthouse has a kitchen, you can prepare your own food, or just buy a small snack to get you through the afternoon. Restaurants where we ate most of the times were Stingray, Rehendi and Hot Bites. Some days the Arena Hotel would offer a buffet where you can go fill up your plate as much as you want for $15. We loaded up three times!
What can you do on the Islands? Lots! You can chill, swim, get a tan, read a book,… and you can actually engage in some activities too if you want a break from being lazy.
The most popular thing to do is to go snorkelling, but Mike and I are not big snorkellers. We do love to dive though! We found a diveschool that we felt comfortable with (find out here how to do that!) called Maldives Passions. We both did about 17 dives in the 16 days that we were here so this was for us the big cut in our budget. We signed up to take our Advanced Open Water Course as well, we needed to rent our gear and it was still only coming down to less then $40 per dive! Which is very cheap for the wonderful unforgettable experience we received in return.
Different watersports are available like jetski, jetpack, fun tube, stand up paddle boarding, or the banana boat. On Maafushi there are two operators, Maafushi Watersports, or you can book through Maafushi Dive School. If you are diving with them, you can get a discount on the watersports. We tried the tube thing for $15 per person and laughed our asses of. Definitely get why they call it a Fun Tube!
Hotels and guesthouses offer excursions for a day, like snorkelling with turtles, swim with whale sharks or manta rays (in season), have a private dinner on the beach or spend the whole day at a big resort. We found out that many people use this way to enjoy the private islands and hotels without having to spend the night and pay lots of money. Stay on the cheaper local islands and do day trips to the resorts. Some resorts let you use all the facilities and you can stay there for dinner as well (ofcourse you pay extra for this). Shop around for prices with different hotels for these trips. You don’t have to stay in the hotel that has the cheapest excursions. But certainly ask about it in the hotel that you do stay in, they might give you a discount. Also check to see what’s included in the price: some guesthouses will include a meal for lunch and a drink, some won’t include any extras.
WHAT WE SPEND
With the both of us we spend $2800 for 16 days in the Maldives, without the cost of our flights.
Food: we spend a total of $505/€445 on food and drinks for 16 days. This comes down to $16/€14 per person per day.
Transport: we did go to another island and then changed our minds again which resulted in having to take the speedboat twice, and spend $164/€145 on all of the transportation (read boats) costs for the both of us.
Accommodation: we switched between a cheaper and a more expensive room in our hotel due to availability (we did not book the whole 2 weeks in advance), and had a $80 room on the other island. We ended up paying a total of $607/€535 for 15 nights, which is around $40.50/€35 per night for a double room.
Other: we bought some souvenirs and postcards, send out mail, did our laundry, booked a snorkeltour and got on the Fun Tube three times, this all cost us $222/€195.
Diving: this was the biggest cost, but also our main reason of interest here. Including tips, we spend $1300/€1145 on our diving adventure. Considering the fact that we did a total of 35 dives, that breaks down to $37.14/€ 32 per dive (the more you dive, the more discount you get).
All together that is $2798/€2470 for two people to spend 16 days diving in the Maldives, which comes down to $87,50/€77 per person per day. This still seems like a lot, but please consider that this includes our diving costs. To give you an idea, without the diving, our total would be $1498/€1319 and then we would’ve spent only $47/€42 per person, per day. So although it’s not the cheapest place to go, you can definitely enjoy the Maldives a lot cheaper then you would’ve thought!
We hope to have inspired you for your next destination!