I’ve always wanted to visit the Maldives. I’ve often dreamed of those over-water bungalows and white sand beaches. But those dreams turned into nightmares when I realized how much those bungalows actually cost. Luckily, changes in the way tourism is done in the country have allowed for a small but growing budget travel industry to emerge.
When you picture the Maldives, you might think of sitting outside an over-water bungalow while looking out over the jade- and sapphire-hued ocean, with nearby staff serving sparkling wines and waiting on your every whim.
It’s the epitome of romantic luxury.
It does costs a fortune. Resort prices start at hundreds per night and don’t even include food!
To many people, this country is an unreachable dream.
But what if I told you that you can easily stay in the Maldives for less than the price of a night at a luxury resort? What if I told you that you can travel there without having to stay in high-priced resorts or eating overpriced food?
It wasn’t until I had impulse-booked an AirAsia flight to the island nation that I learned how easy and affordable travel to the Maldives can be.
While the Maldives are known for their luxury resorts and over-the-top pampering, it’s possible to enjoy an affordable trip to paradise.
Getting to the Maldives for Cheap
Getting to these beautiful islands used to cost a great deal of both time and money, with flights upwards of $1000 and lots of layovers.
The great news is that now more and more regional airlines are offering very reasonable flights to the Maldives. For example, Sri Lankan Airlines flies from Colombo to Malé for around $100 USD one-way. Cheap tickets can also be found on Emirates via Dubai, with fares starting at $300. Low-cost airline AirAsia just introduced a route from their hub in Kuala Lumpur with fares as low as $130. Flights from Bangkok and Singapore start at $300. The best flights if you are from the USA was flying out of New York to get to Maldives for $964 round trip!
Getting Around for Cheap
In the Maldives, nothing is accessible without taking a ferry or additional domestic flight. The ferries from the airport to and from Malé (the main island) are right near the airport exit and can’t be missed. With the exception of prayer times — five times per day in keeping with the Muslim religion — they’re always running and leave when full. The ferry to Malé leaves every 15 minutes, costs $1 USD, and is about a 20-minute ride.
From Malé, take a taxi for around $5 to the main ferry station to access the other islands.
To get around the islands, you can take a public ferry, but be sure to check the timetables as the ferries don’t run every day of the week. Ferry prices are $3–20 USD. If a ferry doesn’t run on the day you need or your island of choice is too far to be accessed by ferry, you’re looking at either a night in Malé, a very expensive (think $300–400) speedboat, or a $200 domestic flight.
If you’re looking to visit an island farther away from Malé, you’ll need to do some island hopping via the ferry system, which might require you to stay overnight on an island along the way.
Best Budget Friendly Places To Stay In Maldives
In 2009, the Maldives started allowing locals to start their own guesthouses. This opened the door for several affordable and locally owned establishments to welcome guests on the local islands. Though there are still no hostel or dorm options in the country, private rooms can be found for as little as $40 per night. If you’re traveling with a friend or partner, your share drops to $20.
If you’re looking to experience the Maldives, get to know the locals, and save money at the same time, staying at one of these small guesthouses will allow you to experience the beauty and wonder of this stunning part of the world without paying resort prices (which normally start at $300 a night).
To find these privately run (and affordable) guesthouses, the following sites are the best:
- Airbnb (if you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay)
- Guesthouses in the Maldives
Eating on a Budget
Typically the guesthouse, each meal is authentic Maldivian cuisine, eaten as a group with the owner’s family and included in the price of the guesthouse. This is typical, as many islands don’t have a lot of restaurants, so you’ll find most guesthouses include meals in their nightly rate.
If your guesthouse doesn’t provide meals, local restaurants are very inexpensive. Coffee houses around the island serve coffee from early morning until late at night for around $1.50. They also offer snacks, sandwiches, and noodles for closer to $3.
Moreover, each morning, fishermen would dock and sell off some of their catches. You could easily join the locals, haggle for some fresh fish straight from the source for reasonable prices, and then throw it on the grill at your guesthouse.
Other than grilled fish, typical Maldivian cuisine involves breakfast of sweet and thick milk tea, canned tuna mixed with onion and lime juice, and delicious flat bread called roshi, which is similar to Indian roti. Lunches and dinners consisted mainly of incredibly fresh fish, mouthwatering curries, more roshi, and buttered rice, which we ate with our hands (though a fork and spoon were provided if desired).
Affordable, Awesome Excursions
Snorkeling with manta rays (for $30) and, something I’ve been dying to see for years: whale sharks. Other boatloads of tourists jumped in, only to have to jump back out of the water five minutes later due to the nature of larger group snorkeling tours in the Maldives.
Every excursion is like this, from night fishing on a local fisherman’s boat (for $25), to visiting a nearby deserted island ($60).
If your guesthouse doesn’t provide these tours, ask the local resorts what they might provide. They may be willing to let you join their excursions even though you’re not staying with them. Tour operator Secret Paradise also specializes in helping those who want a local experience to set up tours and scuba diving while avoiding expensive resorts.
Other Things to Remember
While I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, I would think twice about going the cheap route if I wanted to be able to drink wine and wear a bikini, which is generally allowed only on the resort islands. The Maldives is a Muslim country and forbids alcohol (and pork!) from entering the country or being consumed on local islands. It’s also important for women to cover up shoulders and legs, which means no bikinis, though once we left the island on an excursion, a bikini was fine.
Additionally, there are some challenges in guest houses, such as a lack of Wi-Fi and the occasional cold shower.
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