A beginner’s guide to budget travelling in Maldives

January 28, 2019

by Lara

It’s like a dream for most people. Long white beaches. Clear water. Blue sky. Sunny weather. But then comes the cost of the vacation and the dream often stays a dream. What most people don’t know: You can do budget holidays in Maldives too! It does not always have to be the big fancy resort island. You can enjoy all you have dreamt of on local islands too.

However, you should be aware of the difference of a self-organized trip to a local island and the carefree resort trip. If you are more the adventurous type, the self-organized trip is just as fun or even better! On a local island you will get to know the real Maldivian island life and can also talk to the locals (most Maldivians speak decent English). Whereas most local islands near the capital Male’ depend on tourism these days, the islands further away still have some amount of agriculture and fishing. There is quite a variety of local islands to visit, so you need to find one according to your interests.

Maldives is a country of almost 1200 islands divided into 26 clusters of islands called atolls. Even though the landmass of Maldives is quite small, the country itself is not. Due to the distance between the atolls, travelling within Maldives is always a challenge. The atolls further away have their own domestic airports, but tourists pay a much higher airplane fare than locals do. Speedboats operate between the atolls and some local ferries (often to transport goods) have limited routes too.

An aerial view of Maldives

How to start organizing a budget trip to Maldives

Organizing a trip to Maldives needs some research, but once you are into it, it becomes easy. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Since Maldives has a lot of local islands to offer, the first step will be to decide on an island. Which features are important for you? Should it be close to the airport? Do you want to visit one or more islands? Do you want to snorkel? Do you want to dive? Do you want to surf? Do you want to do water sports? Answer these first and know exactly what you want from the island you travel to.

Respecting the Culture

It is important to keep in mind that Maldives is a Muslim country. If you decide to visit a local island, you will get to know the culture of Maldives. Just roaming around the tiny islands gives you an idea of how life in islands of Maldives is. At the same time, you should always respect the Maldivian culture. That mostly means respecting a certain dress code. Women should dress modestly (means covering shoulders and knees) when walking around the island or while visiting local restaurants. However, most local islands with guest houses have a part of the beach indicated as “Tourist Beach” where you can sunbath and swim in bikini. Moreover, no alcohol or pork is served on local islands. You can enjoy fresh fruit, coconuts and Maldivian dishes (lots of tuna!) during your trip! Guest houses on local islands exist since 2008 – it is therefore quite a new business. However, this business grew fast and big over the last decade. There is a wide range of different guesthouses on different islands.

MTCC or local ferries can bring you to your island

If you do not want to travel too far (budget!), you can take a local ferry to nearby islands from Male’, which is connected to the airport island. For islands that are further away, you must take a speedboat or a domestic flight – leading to higher costs. Ferries depart daily (except for Friday) to several islands from the MTCC ferry terminal in the west of Male’. Local ferries often transport food or other necessities for the islands and depart either from the South West Harbour nearby or near the Local Market on the northern harbour of Male’. The schedule of the MTCC ferries can be viewed online on their homepage, but after booking a guesthouse, they will help you find the best way to the island. Note that if you want to take the local ferry, you often need to insist with the guesthouse since they sometimes want to sell the more expensive speedboat tickets.

Maafushi Island- The first guesthouses

The guest house business started on Maafushi island – still the island with the most guesthouses. If you enjoy snorkeling, water sports and like it a bit more happening, this is the island to go to. Maafushi is one of the local islands with a “party boat”- a boat just outside the harbour which sells alcohol at night. The prices are relatively high due to the circumstances of an Islamic country. There is a local ferry operating there (except for Fridays) once a day and there are also multiple speedboat transfers throughout the day (relatively inexpensive, given the short distance).

Islands closest to the airport

Himmafushi, Huraa, Thulusdhoo and Dhiffushi are the islands nearest to the capital and the airport. There is a daily ferry taking a route through these islands every day (except Fridays). Since these islands are close to Male’, the guesthouse business is well established owing to the good tourism infrastructure. You can find guesthouses, little shops, restaurants or cafés and from time to time water sport activities. Thulusdhoo also has the best surfing spot in the atoll – Cokes Break. However, these islands are calmer than Maafushi and therefore this is where to go to if you want to relax. Advantage stands that you can do a bit of island hopping and combine two or three islands to discover more.

Street on local island

After choosing an island

As already mentioned, there is a wide range of local islands which cannot all be named here. The Baa Atoll is known for its good snorkeling and dive spots whereas the south is known for its natural habitats (e.g. Addu City and Fuvahmulah). If you have chosen your island(s), you can check the different guesthouses that are on the island. Their qualities often do not differ too much but reading the reviews can never hurt. For the most part, the people working at guesthouses are friendly and helpful. So, you can ask all the remaining questions after booking your guesthouse.


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February 1, 2019

Good Description with helpful hints.