The Budget Travelers Guide to the Maldives

Paradise is the perfect word to describe this group of islands.. wouldn't you agree?
See those colours? Yeah, it's really like that.

Here is everything you need to know about traveling the Maldives on a budget! I always hear people say "I'd like to go there someday! But I can't afford it right now". NONSENSE is what I tell them.

I'd like to begin by saying the Maldives has SO many islands that I couldn't possibly know everything there is to know, so I am sharing from my own experience and research. I searched far and wide for information on the Maldives, but because it is a relatively new vacation spot, information is hard to come by.  

We flew with Oman Air from Abu Dhabi to Male, with a layover in Muscat. Of course it will depend where you are flying from, but if you watch and monitor prices surely you can get a great deal like we did! I booked at the end of August for December, and I got our flights for around $300USD each, roundtrip. This price is one of the best I have heard of, and shortly after that the price skyrocketed to over $500 USD per person. I was happy to book when I did. You may have to suffer some longer layovers to save some money, but that's all part of traveling!

We arrived at the airport, and then struggled around for a bit. It is a little confusing, because you are on an island with only the airport. You have to find the ferry that will take you to the main island. We asked and found the right ferry eventually. When you get into the arrivals area, there are tons of booths set up for all the resorts. If you are staying at a guest house, these booths won't be of use to you! Walk past them and out into the open, then turn right. There is a little hut where you can buy your ticket for the ferry across to Male. They ferry is very frequent, so you won't have to wait long. Some transfers can be set up right from the airport and you can skip this step! (More on this below)

Then, we took a taxi from the docks that only go to the airport, to one on the other side of the island. The ride is about 5 minutes, and shouldn't cost more than $5USD (around 75 Maldivian Rufiyaa). If you feel like you're in an industrial area with docks, you see a boat full of garbage, and there are lots of locals, you're probably in the right place. Our taxi driver told us he could get us on a boat earlier than the local ferry, but that fell through when he disappeared! No problem, we waited and watched. It's all part of the experience! We saw the Maafushi Local Ferry pull up (it says it right on the front of the boat!). We asked about a speed boat, and for about $20 USD we purchased tickets for the speed boat about 3 hrs earlier than the local ferry would run, and it takes 1/3 of the amount of time. On a speedboat, it takes about 30 minutes to get to Maafushi. On the local ferry, it is about an hour and a half. The speed boats are not the most comfortable because the drivers just seem to put the pedal to the metal... so if you have any back or neck problems I wouldn't suggest this route! Needless to say, we were moving too fast for me to get any pictures worth posting while we were moving, however the views were amazing!

Alright, I'm not going to lie. When you first pull up to the island, you might think.. Huh? BUT I promise, it gets better. I apologize in advance for the impending doom look to the photos. We visited the local island of Maafushi in December. The weather was hot and humid, very sticky at times. It was also quite rainy!!! As you can see from the pictures further on though, we did get some sun!! I actually really enjoyed the storm we got - it was tropical and I don't see much rain or lightning here in the UAE!

This is the 'main street' in Maafushi where you might start questioning, where exactly am I?
Our guest house was in walking distance, as were most! The guesthouse we stayed at was called Ocean Vista. I thought the pictures on were a little deceiving as I thought it would be bigger, but it was fine for the duration of our stay! The breakfast was good, the people were very friendly and the room was clean. There was wifi that worked most of the time and great TV channels for when it was storming outside! It was about $240 USD for 3 nights, which is on the cheaper side of what you can find. The people who worked there were very helpful, and answered any questions we had. All of the guesthouses provide daily excursions that you can go on, varying in price from cheap to more expensive. We were fine with paying for a day trip because we had worked it into budget and the rest of our expenses were minimal.

Once you find the bikini beach with the makeshift fence (more on that below, picture included), you come across a beautiful beach. The picture is not the brightest because of the clouds, but the water is just as beautiful here as anywhere. You can see the turquoise and blue even on this cloudy day. The sand is soft and enjoyable as well! Imagine it with sunshine! :)

Maafushi Bikini Beach
Most guest houses will have snorkels for you to use for free. The snorkeling is AMAZING, regardless of where you are. Some resorts have special reefs you can visit, but even at Maafushi beach you can see so many different types of fish in waist deep water. This was one of the coolest parts for us - the marine life. I wish I had an underwater camera at the time!

This is a picture from in front of our guest house. As you can see, we didn't have the best weather, but it wasn't a problem! We enjoyed watching from the front window of our guesthouse, and as you can see we were right by the edge of the water.

We spent the sunniest day on a nearby resort island called Biyadhoo Resort. The guesthouse organized this day trip for us for $20 each, plus a $40 entrance fee to the resort. There are tons of resorts you can visit for day trips like this one. You can get the resort feel this way without paying the resort prices!!! I would highly recommend this for at least one of the days on your holiday.

The beach at Biyadhoo Resort.

Walking around the island
Overall, we had an awesome time in the Maldives. I was happy we visited the resort island, but I was also happy to stay on the local island. The food was nothing special as the local islands are fairly new to tourism. It was not a problem ordering in English though, which was good. Some hotels and guest houses have nicer restaurants you can eat at, but we stuck to the local places which worked out just fine! We were even able to try a few new things. A great place for explorers like me!

Some Info/Facts about the Maldives:

1. There are about 1,200 islands in this 90,000 square kilometer area that belong to the Maldives. You will fly into Male, the capital.

2. There are about 200 islands that people live on, and about half of them are resort islands.

3. There are not many local islands that have guest houses, with Maafushi having the most. It is also very easily accessible from the main island of Male.

4. Tourism is relatively NEW to the country. Take this into consideration if you are traveling to a local island. 

5. You have to take ferries, speed boats or sea planes to get almost anywhere. You even have to take a ferry from the airport to the main island of Male as the airport is on it's own island. (This is very cheap but requires local currency).

6. The official religion of the Maldives is Islam, so if you are going to travel to a local island it is better to dress conservatively (cover shoulders and/or knees) out of respect for the locals. I may be more conservative about this due to the fact that I currently live in a rural area of the UAE. (Don't worry, you can still wear a bathing suit on the 'Bikini Beach'). I did still see many people wearing sundresses, shorts and tank tops.

7. Due to tip number 6, alcohol is not available on local islands. Maafushi has a 'floating bar' that you can take a boat out to if you want.  At the resort islands this is not a problem.

Who wouldn't want to be relaxing here?

Tips for booking:

1. Some names of local islands: Maafushi, Hulhumale, Huraa, Thulusdhoo, Guraidhoo, Rasdu, Thoddoo. There are also a lot of places to stay on Male, where you can also take day trips from. Check or otherwise for guesthouses! 

2. CHECK THE FINE PRINT. This is more likely to affect you if you are going to book a resort, but always check the fine print in your booking. Some resorts and guest houses require you to use their own transport, and depending on the distance of their island the price can be upwards of $200 USD per person in addition to what you are paying to stay at their resort. Often this is the fee each way, not round trip.

3. If there is no fine print, ask the resort, hotel or guest house directly about transportation - they should be able to provide you with some options but may not offer the idea of the local ferry.

4. Check the weather at the time you want to go. There is a rainy season during July and August, as well as from November to March. The weather is quite hot and humid, so expect to be sweaty regardless!

5. Timing is everything! Try to coordinate your flight times with the ferries. If you want to take local ferries, they only run twice a day. I am not 100% sure on the timings so it is better to ask your guest house directly. On the way back to the island, our flight was late afternoon and the local ferry leaves Maafushi at around 7:30am. We didn't want to do that, so instead we booked a speed boat using this website: No problems at all, the guesthouse printed our confirmation for us.  This is a faster and cheaper option.  Some people will try to charge you an arm and a leg for a speed boat because they know you are stuck otherwise. In my opinion, better to plan ahead for piece of mind. 

6. Free visa on arrival. :) They may ask for hotel booking information or a return ticket out of the country to ensure you are not trying to stay.

7. All the guest houses will have day trips that you can take to 'picnic islands', resort islands, snorkeling sites, dolphin cruises, etc. You may want to book in advance, but you can also decide on arrival. You do not have to book through your own guest house if you find a better price elsewhere.

Tips when you arrive:

1. Get your local currency on the main island of Male, or bring it with you. Most local islands do NOT have ATMs, and if they do they could be empty or not working. Basically, unreliable. The airport has ATMS. But, FYI - when you leave, if you want to exchange money back to your own currency, the currency exchange will only exchange money that you got from them in the first place. So, you can bring your own currency and exchange it there - hold on to your receipt to change it back after.

2. Beaches on local islands - if you are going to use a beach on a local island, there is generally an area called the 'bikini beach' that is sectioned off for tourists that would like to wear bathing suits freely. In Maafushi, it is at one end of the island with palms from trees creating a makeshift fence. It is probably like this on most other local islands as well. I would not advise wearing your bathing suit on a local island in an area that is not sectioned off unless someone at your guest house advises you otherwise. 

The fence around Bikini Beach in Maafushi.

Well, that's about it for now.

Come on, don't you want to visit? You could be laying in that hammock!

One of my favorite spots!

As long as you are aware of what to expect, you can travel for a reasonable price and still get the resort feel. The local islands can provide a more interactive and interesting experience with the local people and you can learn more about their ways of life. I personally love this aspect of traveling!

I am happy to answer any other questions you may have to the best of my ability! Please post in the comments below or contact me directly.

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