The island nation of the Maldives has always been high on my “Dream Destination” list. I had always imagined a honeymoon holiday here, after years of saving and planning.
When the opportunity arose to nab a flight to the Maldives, I booked first and asked questions later. I knew visiting the Maldives on my backpacker’s budget was going to be a bit of a stretch, but armed with weeks of research under my belt, I was determined to make this a vacation of a lifetime!
There are four main categories your holiday will fall into in order to keep within budget: flights, accommodation, excursions and island transfers. If you’ve read my previous Maldives post, you’ll know the secret to budget travel in the Maldives is local island travel. In this blog post, I’m going to outline all the costs associated with a holiday on the local islands of the Maldives.
Unfortunately, like most travel plans on a shoestring budget, sacrifices must be made to save as much as possible. Flying cheaply to the Maldives can be done, but be prepared for a long day (and night!) of travel with a few layovers thrown in.
If flying from Ireland/Britain, you’re best route is Kuala Lumpur (KLA) via Heathrow. From Kuala Lumpur, flights to Male, the Maldivian capital, can be bought for as cheap as €50 one way! KLA is also the best option as a layover if flying from Australia. Air Asia flights leave daily from KLA, and are a budget style airline, meaning food, entertainment and baggage are extra cost.
The flight duration from Malaysia is just over four hours. We filled our bellies before the flight, brought on some snacks, downloaded some movies on Netflix, and didn’t pay a penny extra once we were on the plane!
Remember, when travelling on budget airlines, they only except credit cards and the currency of the country you are flying to and from. Also, they do not except coins, only notes.
Altogether, travellers can fly from Europe for as little as €350 each way if they are nifty with their flight path.
Once known for its exclusive resorts and dreamy honeymoon vibe, the Maldives has now become a haven for backpackers and budget travellers. In 2009, the Maldivian government opened the local islands to tourists and soon, budget hotels and guesthouses were shooting up left, right, and centre.
Hotel standards are high on the local islands, and having become accustomed to South East Asia backpacking, I was pleasantly surprised with the standards of budget hotels on the local Maldivian islands. Budget boutique hotels and guesthouses go for as low as USD40 a night, based on two people sharing.
The slightly more luxurious ones with a pool, all the mod-cons and hotel amenities cost between USD80-100 a night. Local island hotels usually provide a buffet-style breakfast every morning, as well as beach towels, day tours and any other information or amenities you might need.
Local islands have a lot of competition with the resort islands being in close proximity. Therefore, the service is impeccable, with staff going above and beyond to make you stay comfortable.
The actual local people who live on the island genuinely we found were not friendly or inviting. It is still probably a huge transition for the Islamic locals to have Western foreigners walking around their islands. However, we found hotel staff to be more than accommodating and chatty.
The local islands can be a little bit quiet and at times boring, as they are very small and filled with locals going about their daily business. There were certain parts of certain islands we as non- Muslims could not visit, like barbeque areas and certain prayer zones. Designated beaches, known as “bikini beaches” are reserved for tourists and sunbathing. All other beach areas forbid swimsuits and bikinis.
Due to these local rules and customs, we did not spend much time lazing around on the local beaches in the sun. Each evening we booked our excursions for the next day through our hotel concierge, and every morning we rose early and took off for the day on our tour.
Excursions during this trip were by far our biggest cost. However, they were worth every single penny spent and made the trip my most memorable one to date.
It’s important to note, the Maldives use the USD alongside its own currency, so all prices shown on menus and hotel brochures will be in USD.
Be mindful that the Maldives is not SE Asia, and will not have the same pricing like Thailand or Indonesia. Nonetheless, I feel the price of excursions from local islands were still good deals and definitely worth the money spent.
For the equivalent of about €50, we took part in a half-day snorkel safari, which included three separate snorkel sites and lunch on a deserted sandbank in the middle of the ocean. These were the most amazing snorkel spots I’ve ever visited!
The crystal clear waters of the southern Ari Atoll are home to a plethora of exotic marine life. Every afternoon was filled with bobbing green turtles, six-foot nurse sharks and unspoiled coral reefs home to shoals of tropical fish.
Our second day in budget-friendly Maafushi was spent with a pod of seventy-odd dolphins. We nose-dived into the blue and came face-to-face with a family of bottlenoses all winking back at us as they sped in circles around our flippers.
While in Dhigurah, our whale shark excursion was our absolute highlight. For just under €70, we departed from Dhigurah harbour and sailed around the island in search of the gentle giants. You can read more about my whale shark experience here.
Keep in mind, local islands are follow Shari’a Law, meaning alcohol is prohibited everywhere. If a week in the sunshine minus your cocktails sounds like something you just can’t live without, fear not! For €80, you can speed off to a neighbouring resort and live like a king for the day. Included in the price is an all-you-can-eat buffet, free roam of the beautiful resort and all the booze you can sink for the day. Speedboat transfers are not included in your price and must be arranged with your hotel.
A factor I never considered when booking my trip to the Maldives was island transfers and how much they would dent my budget. Luckily, travelling to and from local islands is backpacker-friendly, though the resort islands are a different story altogether!
Often overlooked by tourists looking for a paradise escape, the airport transfers can put a huge hole in your wallet. As resorts have monopoly over their own islands, they charge extortionate prices just to get to the island. We’re talking €200 plus, each way…per person!
Also, the further the island is from the airport, the most costly the transfer. Some islands are so far away, a seaplane is required to reach the resort. As you can imagine, this ain’t cheap!
Local islands have the advantage of having access to local ferry lanes. Though these ferries are slow, the cost a couple of euro at most. If the hassle of ferry doesn’t appeal to you, liaison with your hotel and organise a speed-boat pick-up from the airport. This may be your only option, if your flight arrives late in the evening, or arrives on a Friday. The Maldives, being a Muslim country, takes Friday as a rest day, therefore no local ferries run on this day.
Our speedboat organised by our hotel from Maafushi was about €17 each. Once we cleared immigration, we emerged into an overwhelming arrival area. Everywhere we turned, there were stalls for different hotels and resorts picking up their guests and gathering their group together. After a minute of wandering, we quickly found our hotel stall, and it was smooth sailing from there.
We were escorted to our speedboat, and once we arrived in Maafushi we were greeted at the harbour with a big car to bring us to our destination. The car was just a formality, as from the harbour our hotel was a five minute walk at most! But we appreciated the gesture after a long day of travel.
Maldives on a budget – Is it worth it?
If the Maldives is on your backpacker bucket list, consider travelling through the local islands. Even if you’re considering the Maldives for a big occasion like a honeymoon, the local islands are still a great option.
You’ll get luxury and local culture rolled into one, with a cheap price tag that’s just too hard to decline. The sacrifices made in order to keep your holiday cheap are worth it for an experience of a lifetime.