Would you believe me if I told you that an exotic island vacation in the incredibly picturesque Maldives is far more affordable than you may think?! In fact, you can totally travel the Maldives on a budget.
The Maldives is no longer an exclusive holiday playground reserved only for the rich and famous. There has never been a better time than now to plan your own dream vacation to the beautiful Maldives than you can *actually* afford.While the Maldives don’t have to break your budget, it’s important to know a few things before you go – or you’ll make some costly mistakes:

When to Go

The high season is from December to March. If you are visiting the Maldives on a budget, it’s best to visit during the low season when prices are lower and popular islands like Maafushi are quieter. You do risk rain at this time of the year, but it’s unlikely to rain all the time. The weather is hot throughout the year with temperatures from 28ºC – 32ºC during the day and 25ºC – 28ºC at night.

Getting to Maldives on a Budget

I always thought flights here would be ridiculously expensive but in reality they are pretty cheap. If you are already travelling in Asia you can get flights to Male for as little as 77 euro one way. If you are coming from Romania, you can find flights for about 400 euro return, maybe a little more. Be sure to play with your dates, times, and departure points.
The cheapest cities to fly from are Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Colombo, Sri Lanka.
We booked Bucharest-Istanbul-Dubai-Male and return for 470 euros (Pegasus and FlyDubai).

Arrival in Male

Almost everyone arriving in the Maldives will fly into Male International airport. When booking your flight I highly recommend paying a little extra and arriving in the morning or afternoon instead of late at night. Male International Airport is actually on its only little island. If you do arrive on a Thursday or late at night, you will need to spend one night either on Male island or Hulhumale island, a second island that was only built 23 years ago to deal with the congestion and over-crowing in the capital city.

Visiting the Maldives on a budget – the local island way

In 2009, the Maldivian government allowed locals to open their own guesthouses and restaurants to tourists. Before that travelers were limited to the resort islands, now they can visit and stay on any local island they choose to. Suddenly, homestays, hotels, and guesthouses have started popping up everywhere and the trip to Maldives became more affordable

Whilst they cannot compete with the over-water bungalow in terms of luxury, they do offer a very affordable option for visiting Maldives. Booking a guesthouse or a hotel on a local island is the ultimate way to plan a Maldives vacation on a tight budget. You won’t have the luxury resort experience but you will have the opportunity to experience Maldivian culture, eat traditional foods and have access to local ferries and public transport to explore the region.

Best local islands in the Maldives

In general, the cost of living on local islands depends on such factors as:

-the distance between island and Male;
-in which atoll the island is;
-the development of the infrastructure;
-the competition among guest houses and hotels.

– Mathiveri . Advantages: a large beach; a picnic island is located nearby; few tourists; a good home reef; transfer is available every day; a floating bar. Disadvantages: a speedboat transfer is rather expensive; the ferry travelling time is 6 hours; no cafes for tourists.
– Thoddoo. Advantages: a large beach; a large island; cafes for tourists; fruit farms; an affordable transfer. Disadvantages: you’ll need to swim 500 meters to the nearest home reef; more and more tourists visit the island; a 15-minute walk to the beach.
– Rasdhoo . Advantages: a very developed island; lots of cafes for tourists; a good home reef; diving points; 2 picnic islands are located nearby; an affordable transfer. Disadvantages: a small beach; lots of guest houses.– Ukulhas. Advantages: few tourists (so far; next year the situation will change); a long beach; an affordable transfer. Disadvantages: few cafes for tourists; high prices in guest houses; in the low season the beach is rarely cleaned; the home reef is not very interesting.
– Dharavandhoo. Advantages: a large island; a long beach; a good home reef; Hanifaru Bay (UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) with lots of manta rays and shark whales is located nearby; several picnic islands; cafes for tourists; resorts are at a stone’s throw. Disadvantages: expensive but quick transfer.
– Magoodhoo. Advantages: only one guest house on the island; a sandbank is nearby; the island is clean; a good home reef. Disadvantages: far from Male; a small beach; only one cafe for tourists.
– Thinadhoo . Advantages: there are only 40-50 locals on the island; 3 guest houses; a good beach; a picnic island is nearby; a good home reef. Disadvantages: only one cafe for tourists; transfer (speedboat) is rather expensive.
– Dhigurah . Advantages: a very long beach; 50 meters to the beach; a long island; few tourists; points with whale sharks and manta rays are nearby; a sandbank is nearby. Disadvantages: an inconvenient and expensive transfer; the island is not very clean; no cafes for tourists; no good home reefs.
– Guraidhoo . Advantages: a picnic island is at a stone’s throw away from the bikini beach, you need just to cross the bridge; not far from Male; resorts are nearby; cafes for tourists; surfing points. Disadvantages: a lot of guest houses; transfer only by ferry.
– Maafushi. Advantages: transfer several times a day from/to the island; resorts are nearby; a lot of cafes for tourists; a rather developed infrastructure; a floating bar. Disadvantages: a lot of guest houses and hotels; a small beach; no home reefs.– Huraa . Advantages: the island is ideal for the amateurs of surfing; resorts are nearby; not far from Male. Disadvantages: a small beach; no home reefs; no speedboats; few cafes for tourists.
– Dhiffushi.  Advantages: few guest houses; a resort is nearby; a good home reef. Disadvantages: the beach is not large; no cafes for tourists; no speedboats available at any time.
– Hanimaadhoo . Advantages: few guest houses; an airport; a very big and long beach; a good home reef; picnic islands. Disadvantages: too far from Male.
– Felidhoo. Advantages: few guest houses; a nice beach; a good home reef; a picnic island. Disadvantages: an inconvenient and expensive transfer; a small beach; no cafes for tourists.

Getting around the Maldives on a budget

This is probably the most important section of this guide. Figuring out your transport options when travelling in the Maldives can be a really stressful experience.

Essentially you have four options for travelling around the Maldives, depending on how big or small your budget is.

  • Your first option is to stick to the local ferries for the duration of your stay, which will mean careful planning and more days than you previously thought you needed. There are no ferries on Fridays and most leave either early in the morning or at 3pm at the latest. You will have to check online for the various ferry timetables, as they tend to leave at different times and on different days depending on which island you wish to go to.
    Many travelers have ended up missing their flight out of the country due to a missed or cancelled ferry.
  • Your second option is to use shared speed boats. This is what we did and it worked really well. We paid 20 USD/person and took a shared speed boat to Maafushi Island from airport. We arrived in less than 45 minutes. We asked the boat from our hotel but there are also other options of shared speed boats.

  • Third option: 150 USD/person for a private speed boat transferto the island of your choice. If you have opted to spend a night or two in a luxury resort then you can splurge on a seaplane which can cost anywhere between $250 and $500 return.

  • Fourth option seaplane. All seaplane transfers are made during daylight hours, and offer an amazing perspective on the atolls, islands, reefs and lagoons. The cost is between 250 USD and 1000 USD return, depending on the distance and the deal between the resorts, and it’s generally included in the package price.

How to Find Budget Maldives Accommodation

Like I stated earlier, locally owned guest houses have only been allowed to operate for the past 7 years so your choice will still be quite limited. There are still no hostels or super cheap hotels like one might find in South East Asia, but I found the quality quite good and certainly nothing that would break the bank.
For the duration of our trip, I found the best accommodation options were to be found on Booking.com. We stayed at Kaani Beach Hotel on Maafushi Island and had the half board.
Unlike other countries, many hotels and guest houses in the Maldives sign up to Airbnb rather than individuals with a spare room. There are also private residences so you might get a good deal on an entire apartment if you are a group of people travelling together.

How much do things cost in the Maldives?

I decided to keep track of my spending for my entire time in the Maldives, with the sole purpose of sharing these details with you all. In general, I didn’t find food or drinks to be that expensive and even the excursions were very reasonable prices. The only way to spend a lot of money if you want to do lots of diving or if you love action water sports like jet skiing, paragliding.
One thing to be noted, and something that drove me crazy is that the Maldives there are taxes. They add 10% Government tax and 12% local tax to all prices quoted. This means if you think your meal is 10 USD, it will actually be $12.20. Definitely something to keep in mind!

Lunch – $10
Soft drinks – $1
Water – $1
Half day snorkelling – $30-$50
Trip to a resort island  – $70 – $150
Sand bank excursion – $20
Fresh fruits juice – $3
Diving – $60-75

In total, I only spent 1000 USD for my 1 week to the Maldives, including everything (plane, accommodation, food, extra trips and excursions).

Money

This is a confusing one. Everything is priced in US$ and the local currency, Rufiyaa. It works out better value to pay in US$ but bring some local currency with you if you want to buy stuff at the local shop like drinks or ice cream. Also, there isn’t any ATMS on any of the local islands. I did however see one on Maafushi, but that’s it, so bring US$ before you leave your country and get some local currency at the airport when you land. Most guest houses will have a credit card machine but check with your guest house before you arrive. 

That easily sums up my trip to the Maldives. And a major part of that, if not the biggest, was the fact that I was able to spend a week here for such a small amount of money compared to what I imagined such a trip would cost.
So, if you want to take a trip to a true tropical paradise just hop on a cheap flight to Male, catch the ferry to Maafushi Island and start experiencing the Maldives on a budget!
You don’t need to spend several thousands of dollars to make this a reality!

Roxana
Author

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