The Maldives is a dream destination for many. Whether it’s for a romantic honeymoon, a beach wedding or just a relaxing holiday, the Maldives is unbeatable on many levels. White sandy beaches. Over-water bungalows. Towering palm trees. What more could you want?
Well, there is one thing that the Maldives is missing and that is low costs. While it might be the epitome of romantic luxury, this South Asian archipelago costs an absolutely fortune to visit. Resorts cost hundreds, sometimes thousands, per night, the food isn’t exactly cheap and it isn’t the easiest destination to get around either. As a result, travelling to the Maldives will remain just a dream for many.
However, what if there was a way to visit the Maldives on the cheap? What if you didn’t have to stay in overpriced hotels, eat overpriced food and pay loads just to get around? Well, today is your lucky day! I only realised that it was possible to travel to the Maldives on a budget when I impulsively booked a trip. Just because this paradise is known for its luxury resorts and OTT pampering, doesn’t mean that it’s the only option when visiting.
And, it is becoming increasingly easier to visit the Maldives at an affordable price. Changes to the tourist industry in the country are starting to enable a small but growing budget travel industry to emerge. Guesthouses are starting to spring up on local islands, offering budget travellers an affordable base to see the country from.
I would even go as far as to say that travelling the Maldives on a budget is the best way to travel it. When staying in a luxury resort, you are largely isolated from the rest of the country as they each tend to be built on their own island. Exploring the Maldives on a budget allows you to properly gain experience of authentic local life.
Read this travel guide to see how to travel the Maldives on a budget.
How to Travel the Maldives for Cheap
Tourism is relatively new to the Maldives, with the first resort only opening in 1973. Given this slow development of a tourism industry in the country, the only option for tourists visiting the Maldives has largely been via these super expensive island retreats. As a result of the lack of competition has led to an overpriced travel experience.
This is starting to change, however, thanks to new regulations brought in 10 years ago which allowed guesthouses to open on the local islands. For the first time, tourists could choose to stay with locals for a cheaper price and a more authentic Maldivian experience. Yet, given the relatively recent emergence of this affordable travel option in the Maldives, most budget travellers remain unaware of this option. As an independent traveller in the Maldives you tend to feel like the only one. This might all soon change though as more and more people become aware of the ability to travel the Maldives on the cheap.
How to Get to the Maldives on a Budget
Just getting to these stunning islands in the first place used to cost an absolute bomb and take a lot of time! Flights could cost upwards of £1000 and involved layover after layover. Today, however, increasing numbers of regional airlines are offering much more reasonably priced flights to the Maldives. For example, cheap flight tickets to the Maldives can be found from Dubai and Sri Lanka, starting at around £250.
So, you can basically fly to the Maldives from most major hubs in the Middle East and Southeast Asia on very affordable, direct flights. For budget travellers, this means that you can quite easily combine the Maldives into a backpacking trip around the Middle East or Southeast Asia. If you want to fly to the Maldives from the UK or any other western country though, you can certainly expect to be paying more and you definitely won’t have any hope of getting a direct flight.
Getting Around the Maldives on a Budget
Getting around the Maldives can be a bit tricky considering that it is an archipelago of different islands. This means that to get anywhere in the Maldives you have to take a ferry or a domestic flight. The ferries operate every day, except for prayer times which occur 5 times a day, and leave when full.
You can get a 20 minute ferry ride from the airport to Malé for close to £1. Upon reaching Malé, you can then take a taxi, which will cost around £5, to the main ferry station to access the other islands.
To get around the islands during your stay in the Maldives, you can take the public ferry. However, you should make sure to check the ferry timetables because they don’t operate every day of the week. The ferry prices range from around £5-£25. Given that the ferry system runs so infrequently, island hopping can be a real pain. If you want to avoid spending time in Malé, which can be very expensive, then you should try to ensure that your flight into the Maldives arrives on a day that the ferry operates and several hours before it leaves.
Yet, if the ferry isn’t running on a day that you need it or if the island you want to visit is too far away to be accessed by ferry, you’re only other options are a very expensive speedboat (around £300) or a domestic flight (around £200). You should also try to avoid the seaplanes if you’re travelling the Maldives on a budget as these can cost upwards of £500 for a 20 minute return journey.
Budget-Friendly Accommodation in the Maldives
First thing’s first, you shouldn’t expect to find any super cheap accommodation options in the Maldives. Unfortunately, there aren’t yet any dorm rooms or hostels offering affordable shared spaces, like in Europe or incredibly cheap bungalows on the beach like in Southeast Asia.
In 2009, the Maldivian government passed regulations that allowed locals to start their own guesthouses on the islands. This provided an opportunity for the emergence of affordable, locally-owned establishments to welcome tourists travelling on a budget.
Private rooms can be found for as little as £40 per night and if you’re travelling with a friend or partner, then your cost per night drops to just £20. Airbnb is the perfect method of finding a shared room in a guesthouse in the Maldives because it allows you to directly communicate with the host. The room I stayed in was super clean and comfortable and the hosts couldn’t do enough for me.
If you want to save some money and are looking to experience the true local life of the Maldives then staying in a local guesthouse is the perfect option for you. This cheap accommodation option gives you the unique opportunity to get to know the lovely locals and experience this beautiful part of the world without forking out extortionate resort prices.
How to Eat Cheap in the Maldives
If you do stay in a guesthouse, most hosts will cook authentic Maldivian cuisine which you will eat with the owners themselves and their family. This is a great cheap option for food in the Maldives as the price of these meals tend to be included in the overall price of the guesthouse. This is also extremely useful given that many of the local islands don’t have a lot of restaurants.
Yet, if your guesthouse doesn’t provide meals, local restaurants are super affordable. There are also a number of coffee houses around the island which serve coffee all day long for around just £2 per cup. Most of these cafe-type spots also serve snacks, sandwiches and noodles for only around £4-£5.
Another really cheap way of eating great fresh food in the Maldives is through the local fishermen, who dock and sell their catch on a daily basis. Go ahead and join the locals, haggling for some fresh fish straight from the sea for very affordable prices. Take your catch back to your guesthouse and throw it on the grill.
As well as fresh fish, typical Maldivian cuisine also includes a breakfast of sweet and thick milk tea, canned tuna mixed with onion and lime juice, and roshi (flatbread). For lunch and dinner, Maldivian cuisine tends to deliver delicious curries, more roshi and buttered rice. In general, the smaller islands tend to have fewer food options to choose from and your best bet is probably to stay and eat at your guesthouse. Whereas, for larger, busier islands, there are plenty more restaurants, offering more reasonably priced meals (£5-£10).
Cheap Excursions in the Maldives
Depending on the guesthouse you choose to stay at, many hosts are super helpful and willing to advise you on the best excursions and where to find them for the cheapest prices so you don’t get ripped off by the more commercial tourist-trap companies.
If you’re lucky, your host might even be willing to take you out on an excursion themselves, for small price of course. Most guesthouses list their prices for different excursions on their websites and Airbnb listings so you know how much you’ll be paying before booking. Options for guesthouse-offered excursions tend to include activities like snorkelling, diving,
If your guesthouse doesn’t provide tours, the local resorts might provide something instead. These resorts might let you join their excursions even though you’re not staying with them. However, this option might turn out to be a little more expensive.
Other Top Tips for Travelling to the Maldives
The Maldives is a Strictly Muslim Country
If you choose to travel the Maldives on a budget, don’t expect to be swanning around in a bikini, drinking Margaritas. Given that the Maldives is a Muslim country, alcohol is forbidden from entering the country or being consumed by locals. Women are also expected to cover up their shoulders and legs.
However, alcohol and bikinis are allowed at most island resorts. You won’t be able to find any alcoholic beverages anywhere outside of the resorts. So, you have to decide whether you’re willing to compromise on price or cocktails and a tan.
What to Wear in the Maldives
Given the strict Sharia Law in the Maldives, there is a dress code for both men and women – shoulders and thighs must be covered at all times, even when on the beach. This means that men can’t go shirtless or wear budgie smugglers (probably for the best) and females can’t wear bikinis or swimming costumes.
To be on the safe side, I would tend to swim in board shorts and baggy t-shirt. For walking around the islands, I would stick to flowy trousers and a t-shirt. On evenings, I would opt for a longer dress and wrap a cardigan or shawl around my shoulders.
There are options for being more liberal with your clothing in the Maldives though. Some of the local islands have beaches especially designated to tourists, where you can take off some of your clothes. If tanning is an important part of your holiday then you might want to check that the island you’re staying on has a tourist beach. Both Maafushi and Fulidhoo do have beaches designated to tourists.
If you go on an excursion away from the islands, you can also wear whatever you want once on the boat. Meanwhile, on the more expensive resorts, women can wear bikinis and men can go shirtless. Alcohol is also available in the resorts but expect to pay extortionate prices (£8 for a beer, £15 for a cocktail).
Choosing Which Islands to Visit
Deciding out of the many islands that make up the Maldives can be tricky. Searching Google Images to determine which islands look the most visit-worthy, you will be met with many stock photos of resorts, satellite images of islands and standard sunset pictures.
Before arriving in the Maldives, I naively expected each island to be fairly alike. But, I couldn’t have been more wrong. With 1200 islands making up the Maldives, 200 of them inhabited, you will find a hugely diverse range of scenery. Of the 200 islands that are populated, you will perhaps find guesthouses on around just 50 of them. Searching for any detailed information regarding the different islands is a real challenge though. Finding information about the main, tourist islands is much easier, but to find the places that remain untouched you will have to dig much deeper.
Maafushi is most popular tourist island, with more guesthouses there than on any other. There are also plenty of restaurants to choose from, as well as souvenir shops. Despite being slightly more built-up than other less-visited islands, this is great for travellers who feel more comfortable surrounded by locals who are used to tourists.
Fulidhoo is a quieter island, slightly off the beaten track. Perfect for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of other tourists. However, the compromise for this peace and quiet is a lack of eating options. There are only around 3 restaurants on the whole island and no one speaks any English which can make ordering food rather difficult. Because of the lack of competition when it comes to food, you will also be charged a lot for a meal.
The Maldives is Great for Digital Nomads
When I travelled to the Maldives, I expected to spend my whole time offline due to poor internet connection. However, the internet speeds were surprisingly fast and stable.
Getting a sim card in the Maldives is also promisingly simple. It costs just £3 for the sim card and around £14 to top it up with 1.2GB of data. I was pleasantly shocked to discover that I received data signal all across the country. As a result, working and travelling in the Maldives is super easy, with faster WiFi speeds than most other places I have been in the world.