Yes, you heard that right. You can travel and experience the Maldives on a budget. From 1972, luxury island resorts have been the signature of tourism to this country. Then after 2009, changes to regulations began to officially allow tourists to stay among the local population. Cue the rise of the guest house on these islands. Here’s everything you need to know about the Maldives on a Budget.
All you need to do is sort by price on booking.com and you can see straight away that there are lots of cheap options. You can stay in some guest houses for as little as $50 a night per room. Yes that’s right, you get the chance to stay in this magical country for a lot less than the $5000 price tag that most prestigious resorts charge. You may even find that flights are more reasonable than you thought, check out Skyscanner to compare.
Guest houses offer you a first class service. They will be on hand before you travel to answer all your questions, they will be able to supply you with details of a speedboat transfer or give you times of the local ferries. They will greet you once you step off the boat, to take your cases and show you the way to your accommodation. When you arrive, they will be able to offer you details of excursions and arrange them for you. Some will even supply you with a number before you travel so you can contact them over whatsapp. This became an invaluable service when we were stuck in Male and being told all the ferries were full.
Watch Out For Added Tax
When booking a guest house through any site, be sure to read the small print. You will probably find the 12% tax, $3 environmental fee, 10% city fee are not included. Also watch out whether the deal you are signing up for includes a mandatory transfer with them.
Currency and Local Sim Cards
Everywhere accepts dollars and the local currency Maldivian rufiyaa. Some guest houses accept credit cards, some don’t. Make sure you check you have enough money before going, especially as most local islands don’t have ATMs either. There are cash machines and an exchange desk at the airport where you can withdraw rufiyaas. Note, you can’t exchange them once you leave the Maldives.
You can easily buy a local sim card at the airport, it costs $30 for one that will last 14 days and is loaded with way more data than you could use (15gb) plus some credit.
“No One Visits Maldives For the Food”
Whilst we found that this may be true for some of the buffets, there were some exceptions and some places where the food was amazing. If you are staying all inclusive in a resort then you can expect a buffet. Lots of guest houses also offer a buffet. On the smaller islands, expect to tell them a few hours in advance that you’d like to have dinner there. Depending on the island you visit, you may even find a restaurant or two. However don’t expect silver service, or indeed even a menu. What you can expect is tasty food however. We found prices to be standard at around $10 on the local islands, regardless of what we had.
Expect lots of fish options. Don’t despair if you don’t like fish, chicken and beef are also available along with some vegetarian options. However, there is no pork. You may find for breakfast that they will serve beef sausages and chicken bacon in some of the better places, in others toast may be the included breakfast.
No Alcohol on Local Islands
Yes, this is true, there is absolutely no alcohol on any of the local islands, as the Maldives are a Islamic nation. You can only buy alcohol on resort islands. If you want to do Maldives on a budget, then this will of course make your holiday cheaper. However, if your holiday must include alcohol perhaps look at some of the cheaper resorts or mix and match guest houses with resorts.
One exception is the airport hotel, Hulhule Island Hotel which serves alcohol, and in my opinion does an amazing Margarita.
Bikinis Are Only Allowed On the Tourist Beaches
You can only wear your bikini on designated beaches allocated for tourists. If you want to lie on the beach in your bikini then make sure that the local island that you pick has a bikini beach. Don’t be surprised if there are no sunbeds or even shade on the bikini beach of some of the smaller islands. It is recommended that you keep your shoulders and knees covered when walking around the local islands. This is out of respect to the locals. You won’t be told otherwise and many people seem to ignore this suggestion or are just unaware of it. I guess it is up to you if you want to show respect to your hosts or not.
Ferries And Speedboats
The cheapest way to get around the islands is by local ferry (http://www.atolltransfer.com/ferry-routes-c17sd). They only cost a dollar or 2. You’ll need to plan your dates carefully as depending on the islands you are going to, they may be a couple of times a day or once every few days. They only go between local islands, and if you need to get to a resort you will need to book a speedboat. Also be aware that ferries don’t run at all on Fridays.
You may find that your guesthouse quotes a price for a speedboat, and you will find these prices vary greatly. Between the airport and Maafushi I was quoted £85 by one guest house and £35 by another. Once we were there we booked a return speedboat journey and this cost us £25 each.
If you want to keep your expenses low then you’ll probably want to rule out a seaplane or a flight further south to Gan. Both cost more $500. More international flights are expected to go direct to Gan in future.
Male – the Capital
With over 100,000 people living here in the capital, in just 2.2 sq miles of land, it can feel more like Bangkok than an idyllic island. It’s worth visiting, but half a day should be enough. The airport is just a 5 minute ferry journey from here and ferries between the airport island (Hulhule) and Male run regularly.
Hulhule is linked by road to a man made island Hulhumale. This has been built to relieve some of the pressure on Male and the population is expected to be over 50,000 by 2020. There are lots of new buildings being built. Whilst this isn’t a beach resort island, it may be a good place to stay before or after a flight (especially if landing in the evening or on a Friday) as an alternative to staying in Male. Whilst you can’t get a taxi between the airport and hotel in Hulhumale, there is an airport shuttle bus that costs around $2, or your guesthouse can organise a driver for you. This will cost around $10.
If you are doing any kind of independent travel then it is likely you will end up in Maafushi at some point. It’s an ideal place when visiting Maldives on a budget. You can find a wide choice of excursions here and you’ll find that the prices here are much cheaper than the smaller/less touristy islands as there is more competition. It is also a great base to explore from. You can even visit a resort for a day, where you can have alcohol and lunch included for around $100.
There is a tourist beach on the north of the island, which they have recently extended. Some guest houses even take a sunbed down to the beach for you. However it is a very busy beach. There are lots of guest houses on this island with even more currently being built, it will only get busier as the years go on. The food is relatively cheap here too; you can buy dinner for between $5-$15.
With ever more guest houses springing up and budget tourism becoming more popular on these islands, I think over the coming years there will be many changes to budget travel around the Maldives.
Go and experience the real Maldives!