How to travel the Maldives on a budget

Because traveling around the most beautiful islands in the world doesn't have to break the bank

I met the incredible Kristie from you.theworld.wandering on my recent trip to the Maldives. You know, the trip where this super funny incident happened to me. She’s a badass Australian expat solo traveler who splits her time between home and the Maldives (WHAT A LIFE); since she knows the country way better than me, she agreed to share the secrets on how to travel the Maldives on a budget, because guys, it’s totally possible, and no one knows you can! Enjoy!

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. That super luxury expensive island honeymoon island vacay? Myth.

No? Don’t believe me?

Get ready for a quick break down. The Maldives is no longer an exclusive holiday playground reserved only for the rich and famous, and hasn’t been for a while now, keep up. There has never been a better time than now to plan your own dream vacation to the beautiful Maldives than you can *actually* afford.

The Maldives is a destination fast being added to many travellers’ holiday wish lists. After being based in the Maldives on and off for the past three years, I’ve learnt all the tips and tricks for planning an amazing and affordable vacation to the Maldives.

Here’s how you can travel the Maldives on a budget too!

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

Local island travel 

Let me introduce to you three magical little words that will change everything: local island travel.

The Maldives is a tropical nation in the Indian Ocean southwest of India and Sri Lanka. It’s made up of over 26 coral reef atolls, some of which are islands where the local people live on and others (around 100) are private resort islands, many of them 4 and 5 star properties that cost an arm and a leg and others a much more affordable.

People are only beginning to hear that it doesn’t have to cost thousands and thousands of dollars to visit the Maldives; in fact, it can be really reasonable.

And one of the cheapest way is to travel the local islands.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

Guesthouses

The Maldives is made up of over 1000 islands – sandbanks, private island resorts and local islands inhabited by Maldivian people. In addition to all the luxury resorts, there are also over 400 guesthouses scattered across the Maldives, designed to cater entirely for budget travelers.

The government recently relaxed its rules which restricted tourism to only resorts on uninhabited islands, which means now there are guesthouses popping up on the local islands that cost much less than private island resorts. Think bed and breakfast style accommodation and facilities or mini hotels, located on locally inhabited islands.

If you want to experience the real, authentic Maldives, consider traveling this way.

Some guesthouses are more simple while others offer four-star facilities with roof top infinity pools and views over palm tree fringed beaches. With almost 7000 beds across the country in this type of accommodation, guesthouses are your key to a Maldives dream vacation on a budget.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

Whilst the Maldives is not really comparable to ‘budget’ accommodation in South-East Asia, (you won’t find accommodation for $5 a night here), a stay in a guesthouse will cost you a fraction of the price of a luxury Maldives resort (upwards of $1000 a night). Guesthouse vacations can begin as little as USD$60 per night.

Depending on the island, it’s also possible that you may even just find yourself to be one of just a handful of tourists staying there. But be warned, you might never want to leave.

Pro tip – many guesthouses in the Maldives are called ‘Ocean View,’ ‘Ocean Front’ or ‘Seaside,’ but be sure to check their real location on Google Earth, as this is not always the case. I found this out the hard way, and I ended up staying smack bang in the centre of the island!

Each local island in the Maldives is very different. Do a little research to find the island and guesthouse that best suits your Maldives holiday needs. Lets face it, some of us like lying on the beach coconut in hand, whilst others like to be a little more adventurous and try the likes of parasailing, surfing or diving.

You can read my Maldives accommodation on a budget post here.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

My top 5 guesthouse islands

1. Thoddoo – one of my favorite local islands in the Maldives. 67 kilometers away from Male, Thoddoo is not too far to get to, and there are some incredibly beautiful bikini beaches here and great spots to stay. It’s also one of the only agricultural islands where they grow food for the other islands.

2. Dhigurah – almost 100 kilometers from Male, Dhigurah is part of the Alif Dhaal Atoll with a local population of around 500. You can still travel there by speedboat. Oh, and did I mention it is home to whale sharks all year round?

3. Thulusdhoo – Thulusdhoo just north of Male and is considered to be one of the best surfing islands in the Maldives – around 1400 locals live here. You can stay and surf at the famous Cokes, or other places like the Canopus RetreatKahanbu Oceanview, or Season Paradise.

4. Maafushi – the first guesthouse in the Maldives opened here in 2010, and it’s a popular local island to visit, and there are dozens of guesthouses and even dive centers to chose from. It’s the local island with the most guesthouses in fact, in the Maldives.

5. Guraidhoo – I absolutely loved my time on the beautiful local island of Guraidhoo where you have the perfect combination of an authentic experience plus a nice holiday. Close to Male you can get there by speedboat or local ferry, and it has its own separate bikini island.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

Excursions + day trips

Staying at a guesthouse island means you can really explore all that the Maldives has to offer in a more local way, and you’re often giving directly back to the community.

Book excursions like snorkeling, diving, surfing and fishing trips and visits to sandbanks and other nearby islands through your local guesthouse.

These excursions are usually half the price of the very same excursions sold at resorts. Resort guests will often experience the exact same sandbanks and dive sites, as guests staying at a nearby guesthouse!

Island hopping

Island hopping sounds extremely glamorous right? And trust me it is!

Cruising through sunny Maldivian islands without a single care in the world… enough said! Here in the Maldives it is possible to island hop, but you definitely need a little know-how and a well executed plan!

Transfers begin and end at the international airport in Male (the capital city). If you’re willing to start and end a trip here each time you wish to ‘hop,’ it’s possible to move from island to island. You don’t really go island to island, rather looping back through the capital each time on more public transport.

However I’d recommend choosing no more than 3 islands that best cater for your tropical holiday needs, otherwise the transfers can be really long.

When to visit

The low season is from May to October, and you can often find cheaper deals then – though it’s also the monsoon/wet season. If you’re wanting to do the Maldives on the cheap, consider visiting outside peak season for much better deals.

The best weather runs from November to April, with peak prices around the holidays.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

The best of luxury and budget

If you’re coming to the Maldives, try staying at both resorts and guesthouses. If you’re on a budget, stay at guesthouses or cheaper island hotels and then splurge on one night if you can somewhere fancy to get a taste for the famous Maldives luxury.

Also remember that not all the private island resorts cost a fortune per night; there are plenty of more locally run, cheaper or even family-friendly island resorts that don’t cost that much. Resorts have cheaper rooms eg. garden view rooms that are an affordable alternative to the very expensive iconic overwater villas.

My best tip is to combine the two – it’s something I make sure all my friends do when they visit me in the Maldives.

If a short resort stay is still out of your budget, maybe a resort day pass is more your thing. Experience all of the luxuries at a resort of your choice (within close proximity to your guesthouse), and make the most of the glamorous wining and dining facilities… hello cocktails and poolside day beds! And at the end of the day, simply return home to your guesthouse accommodation.

Resort day passes range from US$50 to over US$200 per person and often include island transfers.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

Getting around the Maldives

Super obvious, but remember that the Maldives are made up of islands. That means to get from the airport in Male to wherever you’re staying you either need to fly or take a boat.

It may be necessary to transit overnight at Hulhumale Island (the airport island next to Male), in between each ‘hop’. Or, you may get totally lucky and be able to jump from one speed boat to another from the airport, depending on each guesthouse / resort’s speedboat arrival and departure times…remember how I said it needs to be highly organized?

If you really want to island hop make it known to your guesthouse in advance. They can help assist you with how you to get to your next intended island destination.

Speedboat transfer

Before you arrive in the Maldives, make sure that you organize a speedboat transfer through your guesthouse to the island you are holidaying. Remember, all speedboats must be prearranged as there are no public speedboat services from the airport. Each guesthouse will either have their own private speedboat or transfer guests via a public island speedboat. Public speedboats are much cheaper and only depart guesthouse islands at certain times each day.

Domestic flights

Make sure you do a little research to determine the location of your guesthouse before booking. The islands and atolls of the Maldives are really spread out and far apart. By staying within an hour of the airport island and the Male Atoll, you can save yourself the cost of an additional domestic flight to reach your holiday island.

Local ferries

Local ferries depart Male and cost US$2 for a slower journey. Each public ferry has set arrival and departure time, and usually only makes one return journey each day. Unfortunately this is not something that can be easily Googled. Your selected guesthouse may be able to advise you on this, just ask.

Seaplanes

Seaplanes are generally out of the question for budget travelers. The journeys can cost around US$500 for a thirty-minute trip and mainly transfer guests to the private resort islands. A longer speedboat journey is your best alternative to a seaplane transfers and may just save you a little (or a lot of!) coin.

Arriving late at night

Many international planes arrive in the Maldives close to midnight. After a lengthy journey to the Maldives and a late night arrival, it may be more comfortable and far less expensive to stay at Hulhumale Island (airport island), than to be transported to your guesthouse right away.

Just last year my best friend paid US$200 for a late night 45-minute private speedboat transfer, one way!! It would have been far cheaper to book a guesthouse at Hulhumale Island for the night for US$50 to $100, then take the public speed boat or local ferry the next day.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

Maldivian culture

One of the things I love most about a guesthouse stay is that it comes with the added bonus of an authentic holiday rich in culture that would be pretty difficult to experience on a private resort island.

The Maldivian people are up there with the most generous you will ever meet. One time a total stranger bought me a sarong on a local island!

Connect with the local people and explore what life in the Maldives is really like. Try traditional Maldivian foods like mas huni and mas roshi, and learn a little of the local language, Dhivehi.

It’s also really important to note that the Maldives is a Sunni Muslim country. Travelers must be respectful of the Maldivian people and their culture. That means no booze or bikinis on local islands (unless there is a designated tourist beach).

There is a total restriction of alcohol on all local islands, so take a day trip to a nearby resort or hop on a safari boat to enjoy your favorite holiday cocktail.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

For more details of traveling around the Maldives, check out more of Kristie’s posts on here blog you.theworld.wandering.

Have you been to the Maldives? Did you know you can easily travel there on a budget and it’s not just for luxury honeymoons? Is it on your bucketlist now? Share!

Kristie Murray is a travel writer and blogger based between Australia and the Maldives. you.theworld.wandering is travel focused with a fusion of surf culture and fashion. Kristie reviews luxury properties and surfs exotic locations, whilst inspiring people to travel, seek happiness and live the life they dream of. Follow her blog and Instagram.

TOP MALDIVES MONEY SAVING HACKS

Flights – book your flights well in advanced. Flights to Maldives can be more expensive than the price of your entire stay, so lock those dates early (lets face it, who doesn’t want to commit to a trip to paradise?!) If you’re prepared for a short stop over in Kuala Lumpur, Colombo, Dubai or Singapore instead of flying direct, you can also save big.

Accommodation – Be an early bird and help stretch your budget even further. Try booking well ahead of the current season and booking direct through a guesthouse website is also advisable.

Resort passes – Stay at a local island and purchase a resort day pass to experience a resort’s facilities without the expensive accommodation price tag.

Speedboats – 
Organise speedboats in advance, through the resort or guesthouse you are staying.

Eat local – Try eating Maldivian foods at local island cafes to gain both an insight into culture and to help your bank account.

Take cash – Paying in local currency is cheaper than paying in US Dollars. Paying in cash makes your money go a little further. Some guesthouse islands do not have ATM’s. Be sure to stock up on the local currency at the airport before departing to your guesthouse island. Also some resorts only accept US Dollars or credit cards.

budget travel Maldives

budget travel Maldives

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