The Maldives on a Budget
Monday, May 30, 2016
Would you like to go to the Maldives but you’re not a millionaire? That’s not a problem! Let me show you how to travel the Maldives on a budget.
The Maldives on a Budget
When you think about the Maldives you probably picture an overwater bungalow, white-sand beaches with palm trees and crystal blue waters – a true paradise on Earth. You may also think about super expensive, 5-star resorts, however, which would cost you an arm and a leg. That’s where your dream holiday fades away.
But what if I told you that you could go to the Maldives, enjoy the beautiful white-sand beach, the palm trees, the crystal blue waters, and much more for less than what you pay for a hotel in Paris, Madrid, or London? Well, the good news is that it’s actually possible to go to the Maldives even if you’re on a budget!
I went to the Maldives during my backpacking trip in Southeast Asia, and it’s true that it isn’t as cheap as Vietnam or Laos but it’s much cheaper than what you probably think.
Besides, it’s said that the country may disappear in a couple of decades due to the effects of climate change as sea levels rise, so it’s better to go now!
The Maldives opens to local tourism
You’re probably wondering how it’s possible that traveling to the Maldives isn’t expensive. Are the resorts cheap? Not at all!
Here’s the secret: tourism in the Maldives was restricted to multinational resorts that owned inhabited islands and offered their services there with almost no benefit for the local community (the classic image we usually have).
In 2009, however, the government changed its regulations and allowed tourism on local islands. This not only created new jobs and opportunities for locals but also gave tourists new insight about the Maldivian culture, people and life.
So now apart from the super luxurious and expensive resorts on private islands, there are also guesthouses that you can stay in that are located on local islands. This option is way cheaper and lets you enjoy the same wonderful experience with the white-sand beach and the clear crystal water at an affordable price.
How to get to the Maldives
Usually the cheapest option to get to the Maldives is to fly with SriLankan Airlines from Colombo like I did. You can also find cheap flights from India, Singapore'>Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and some other major Asian airports as well as Dubai. For example, I flew in January, which is high season, to Malé,the capital of the Maldives, from Sri Lanka and then out to Singapore. I paid around $250 for my flight, buying 45 days in advance.
Additionally, this year I have seen several round-trip flights from Europe to the Maldives for less than $400.
If flying to the Maldives is still outside of your budget, you can travel there as an add-on vacation to some of the destinations I’ve mentioned such as India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Dubai, and Singapore, among others.
Transportation in the Maldives
As you can imagine, you can’t go anywhere in the Maldives without taking a ferry or a domestic flight, so one important point to consider if you want to travel on a budget is transportation. Most of the resorts and local guesthouses offer a service to pick you up on a speedboat or seaplane, and as you can imagine this isn’t cheap (around $250 per trip).
However, there are local ferries that travel to local islands for as little as $2. It’ll take longer of course but you’ll save lots of money!
Let’s start, though, from the moment you arrive in the Maldives. The airport is on a small island, so to go to Malé (the capital island) you’ll need to take a ferry near the airport exit that runs every 15 minutes and costs $1 for a 15-minute ride. From the Airport Ferry Station, you can either take a taxi to the Villingili Ferry Terminal (main ferry station), which is on the other side of the island, for around $4, or take a 30-minute walk (2.3 kilometers).
Keep in mind that not all ferries run every day and sometimes they just run once or twice per day, so make sure you check the schedule on the official MTCC website and plan accordingly.
Where to go
The Maldives is a chain of 26 atolls composed of 1,190 coral islands, so you may be wondering which islands are the best. I went to the island of Maafushi, one of the most developed for tourists where you can find many guesthouses and excursions, and it’s easily reachable from Malé by public ferry (it takes around 3 hours). However, there are plenty of other options, but consider what you want to do in the island, if it has the infrastructure you’re looking for, and how accessible it is from the airport.
Accommodation will be one of your main expenses so it’s better to make a smart decision. You won’t find hostels where you pay $5 per night like in Vietnam or Laos, but you can stay in really nice places without having to pay a lot of money.
I went to the Maldives in January (high season) and paid $60 for a double room with breakfast included at the Dhonveli Palm Beach View. I split the cost with my partner at the time, so $30 wasn’t bad at all. And if you go during off season, you can get the same room for around $35 plus taxes.
It’s a small, quiet, and simple place that had everything I needed and the staff was super friendly, so I highly recommend it. There are plenty of other options and you won’t have problems finding one that suits you.
TIP: you can find all the guesthouses on Booking.com, Airbnb, Agoda, TripAdvisor, etc. The prices displayed usually do not include taxes (which are around 20%). However, use those sites for reference and to check options but do not book through them because sites like Booking.com, Agoda, Venere, etc. charge the hotels a commission for every reservation. So, if you book directly with the hotels, they can usually give you a discount.
Once you’ve decided the place you like, write to them and say something like, “Hi, I saw your hotel on Booking.com and I really like it. I want to stay with you from [your date] to [your date], and I see that the price for a double room is $XXX, would it be cheaper if I book directly with you?”
I did that and got a 20% discount, so you should try it out too!
One important thing to consider when choosing your hotel is the excursions they offer. Most of the guesthouses have very similar options but prices may vary.
When you book an excursion, you pay for the activity and also for the transportation in a speedboat. It’s important that you try to do the excursions the days that other people are also going so you can split the costs of the transportation.
We met a couple and another guy on one of our excursions and we became friends, so then we arranged to do everything together and split the transportation cost. If your hotel does not have a lot of guests that want to do the things you want, try going to another guesthouse and join their excursions.
I highly recommend going snorkeling, visiting the sandbank and the “picnic islands” (nearby islands where locals encourage tourists to spend the day picnicing), and checking out the resorts.
Visiting the resorts
This is probably one of the best parts of the trip. Guesthouses offer day visits to the resorts so you can have the same experience and enjoy all their services for one day without having to pay for the night.
Resorts charge an entrance fee,which may vary from $30 to $400 depending on the resort, and lets you access the beach and all their services, which includes a buffet lunch and usually unlimited drinks.Bear in mind that the Maldives is a Muslim-majority country and there is no alcohol or pork available on the local islands.
Eating on a budget in the Maldives
The food in the Maldives is very good, and the good news is that it is not expensive. All guesthouses have a restaurant and they usually offer packages that include dinner. We didn’t have a package, so we tried food from many restaurants and all of them were very good.
A good meal with juice or soda in a restaurant can cost you around $15 per person. If you’re traveling on an extremely low budget, you can also go to the local shops and buy snacks and sandwiches for $4 or $5.
How long should I stay?
This varies from person-to-person and depends on what you like to do, but I think from one week to 10 days is perfect. I stayed 7 full days in the Maldives and it was enough to do everything I wanted.
Keep in mind that the islands are very small, so there’s not much to do apart from going to the beach and going on excursions. We went on excursions for 5 days and stayed for 2 days on the local beach near our guesthouse swimming and snorkelling.
Another good option is traveling to an island for a week and then going to another one. If you do this, try to go somewhere where they offer different excursions or activities.
Best time to go
The Maldives enjoy tropical weather and the temperature does not change much throughout the year, but there are two well-defined seasons due to the monsoons.
The best time to visit the Maldives is from November to April, where you will experience clear skies, low humidity, and little rain. Bear in mind that from December to February is peak season and the prices rise a lot (specially for Christmas and New Years).
November, March and April are considered the shoulder season. These are also very good months because the weather is still good and the prices are not so high.
From May to October, storms and rain are more likely and the prices are at their lowest.
- Don’t exchange too much money. Cards are accepted everywhere, you can pay with US dollars and euros in most places, and Maldivian rufiyaas are hard to exchange outside of the country. I exchanged a little bit of money to use in local shops and to pay for the ferries but you don’t need much.
- There’s a special area where you can swim and wear bikinis on the local islands.
Now you know that it’s possible to go to the Maldives even if you’re on a budget. So, what are you waiting for? Your dream holidays are waiting for you!