How to visit the Maldives on a budget

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Is it possible to visit the Maldives on a budget?

Guest post by @thisworldtraveled

The Maldives is a bucket list destination that many people dream of travelling to one day. However, most of what you see is fancy, expensive resorts that make it almost impossible for the average person.

Luckily, there is another option which makes visiting the Maldives very affordable!

Quite a few years ago the Maldivian government began to allow the citizens on the local islands to build and operate their own guesthouses. This not only helps build the local economy with more tourism to the local islands but also helps a larger group of people to travel to the Maldives and experience its’ beauty on a budget.

Find out how you can plan your own affordable trip to the Maldives and visit one of the most beautiful destinations in the world on a budget!

How to visit the Maldives on a Budget
Maldives beach

Where is the Maldives

Maldives map

The Maldives is a small island nation located southwest of Sri Lanka in the middle of the India Ocean.

The country is made up of around 1,200 islands and 26 atolls.

Within the Maldives, there are 200 inhabited or local islands and currently 154 private resort islands.

In addition to that, there are many deserted islands that are used for day trips to relax and enjoy!

How to Get to the Maldives

To get to the Maldives you will fly directly into the Malé International Airport or Velena International Airport (MLE) located on Hulhumale in the Male Atoll. There are numerous airlines that fly to the Maldives so check Skyscanner or similar websites to find the cheapest options available.

Maldives excursion on a budget

How to Get Around the Maldives on a Budget

Since the Maldives is made up of islands there are only two ways to transfer between the different islands. This is done by either taking a boat or an aeroplane. 

By Boat

The most common method of transportation in the Maldives for budget travellers is to take a local speedboat or ferry. The cost ranges from $20-45 USD one way depending on which atoll or island you are travelling to. You will need to pay in cash (either Rufiyaa the local currency or USD).

You will also need to have your guesthouse reserve your seat prior to your arrival. The boats have limited seats available and are also used by locals so you’ll want to make sure you have a seat.  

If you’re trying to visit the Maldives on a budget consider using local ferries. They are significantly less expensive than the speedboats but will take almost triple the amount of time to reach your destination. 

Also, keep in mind that there are occasions where the speedboat transfers have been cancelled due to bad weather. Make sure to have a backup plan just in case. 

By Plane

For islands that are located in atolls far from Malé, there is the option of flying domestically. There are a 13 domestic airports on different atolls within the Maldives. You can fly domestically with Fly Me Airlines (http://www.flyme.mv), Maldivian Airlines (https://maldivian.aero) and Manta Air (https://mantaair.mv). 

If you are staying at a resort you will either take a speedboat or a seaplane directly from the Male airport to the resort. This will be organized through your resort so you won’t need to worry about that.

However, there will be an additional cost for these services which will be dependent on the distance from Malé to your resort island. Typically these services can cost an additional $100-$800 per person round-trip.

Sand strip island
Beautiful beach

Where to Stay on a Budget in the Maldives

With over 200 local islands in the Maldives, it can be difficult to choose where to go. There are a few factors that can help you decide such as what you want to see & do, duration of your stay and budget. 

The most popular atolls in the Maldives for budget travellers are the Ari Atolls (North & South), Malé Atoll and Vaavu Atoll

These are the most popular islands within each of those Atolls:

South Ari Atoll: Mahibadhoo, Omadhoo, Dhangethi & Digurah

Mahibadhoo

Omadhoo

Dhangethi

Digurah

North Ari Atoll ( Alif Alif Atoll): Rasdhoo & Thoddoo

Rasdhoo

Thoddoo

Vaavu Atoll: Fulidhoo

Malé Atoll: Thulusdhoo, Gulhi, Guraidhoo & Maafushi

Thulusdhoo

Gulhi

Guraidhoo

Maafushi

Each of these atolls can offer different opportunities for sea life sightings. The whale shark is a year-round visitor to the South Ari Atoll and can be found outside of Maamigili Island.

Therefore, day excursions from the islands in the South Ari Atoll will be less expensive than from the other atolls. The South Ari Atoll is also where large groups of manta rays migrate through during the season. So if those two sightings are at the top of your bucket list then I suggest staying in that atoll. 

Guesthouses

On each of the islands, you will be able to find guesthouses that range from $50-$150 USD a night. These prices will vary based off of what is included in your stay or how luxury the guesthouse is, but it’s generally the best options for those who want to travel the Maldives on a budget.

You can book with the options of breakfast included, half board or even full board. Also, check to see if the mandatory 12% government tax is included in the booking price or not. 

Additionally, the speedboat transfer prices will vary depending on the location of the island within the Maldives.

To get to islands like Mahibadhoo, Omadhoo, Guilhi and Maafushi the price will be $25 USD or 400 MVR for one way. Whereas it can cost $45-50 USD one way to get to Dhigurah and Dhangethi. 

Maldives street on local island

The Best Excursions to Do in the Maldives

The Maldives is not just a place to spend your days sunbathing on the soft sandy beaches. There is so much to do and explore amongst these islands that you’ll never get bored. Excursions are the best way to do just that and the cost will be significantly cheaper through a local guesthouse than a resort.

These are just a few of my top recommendations for excursions that you can do in the Maldives.

  • Scuba diving (for certified and non-certified divers)
  • Visit a private island for the day
  • Snorkel hopping to different reefs to see the sea turtles
  • Hang out on a sandbank in the middle of the ocean
  • Go on a dolphin watching sunset cruise
  • Visit a nearby resort for the day and enjoy some drinks by the pool 
  • Go swimming with the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark
  • Snorkel side by side with manta rays (during the season)
  • See unique marine life while night snorkelling including the bioluminescent plankton
Snorkelling in the Maldives
Fish in the Maldives
How to visit the Maldives on a Budget

Best Ways to Save Money in the Maldives

Book Your Flights Early

This is true for many destinations around the world but especially the Maldives. You’ll want to check for flights at least 6 months prior to your trip. This will help you a lot to visit the Maldives on a budget.

Also, keep your eyes out for package rates, holiday specials or any discounts that guesthouses or resorts may be offering. I’ve even seen some resorts or guesthouses offer specials of 7 nights for the price of 5! You never know what discounts you may find once you start doing your research!

Try and eat your meals at one of the local restaurants or cafes on the island where you are staying. Many of the guesthouses offer breakfast included or either half or full board. Your best option to save money will be to have breakfast at your guesthouse but lunch or dinner elsewhere as the guesthouses will probably charge more. 

Maldives beach

Arrive Early in the Day to Catch the Public Speedboat or Ferry

Arrive earlier in the day to make sure you can use the public speedboat or ferry as transportation. Many of the public boats only run during the day and some only run once or twice. Before booking your flight you’ll want to contact your guesthouse and confirm the transfer times. 

If you are taking a public speedboat or ferry you will want to contact your guesthouse to see if they have a representative who can meet you at the airport and direct you to the correct boat. If there is not someone who can meet you then you will need to take a taxi to get to the jetty.

Check with your hotel to find out which jetty your boat is leaving from and tell the taxi driver. Many of the public boats leave from the jetty in front of the Bank of Ceylon but not all of them so check beforehand. 

If you are unable to get a flight that arrives before the speedboat or ferry departure then your best option is to stay one night in Hulhumale. This is the airport island and is much quieter than the capital of Malé. You can find reasonably priced hotel rooms overlooking the ocean for around $55-75 a night with breakfast included.

From the airport, you can take a taxi for 100 MVR (~$6.50 USD) to anywhere on Hulhumale. The price is also the same if you are taking a taxi directly from the airport to the public speedboat or ferry departure area. 

Stay Close to Malé, The Capital Island

If you are looking to save even more money during your vacation to the Maldives or you are on a strict budget, then stay on a local island that is close to Malé or Hulhulame. This will lower your transportation costs in getting to your guesthouse. The most popular islands to stay on that are close to the airport are Gulhi and Maafushi

Whale shark in the Maldives

Best Time to Visit the Maldives

The Maldives is sunny and warm year-round with temperatures hovering around the mid 80’s during the day and into the ’70s at night. However, there are two different seasons in the Maldives which are wet and dry season.

Dry season

From November through April is considered the dry season. This is the best time of the year to visit but also the time when prices will be the highest since it is peak season. 

Rainy season

From May through October it is when the Maldives experiences the most amount of rainfall. This is when there could be rainstorms that come through every day. The amount of rain can vary from a one-hour daily thunderstorm to non-stop rain for days. If you are willing to take the risk during the rainy season then the prices will be lower.

I’ve been during the rainy season and have experienced both the daily thunderstorm as well as the non-stop rain for days. It is not fun to be in the Maldives and stuck inside your hotel room. 

Boat in the sea
Atoll

How Many Days Should You Spend in the Maldives

There are a few factors in deciding how long to spend in the Maldives. The main considerations would be budget and how far you are travelling from. If you are travelling far I would recommend at least 5-8 days in the Maldives.

The longer you stay means the more experiences you can have. If you can stretch your vacation days then stay longer or add in a trip to somewhere close like Sri Lanka.

Snorkeling in the Maldives

Getting a Visa to Visit the Maldives

Most visitors are given free 30-day entry into the Maldives with proof of travel itinerary and a departure flight. You will also be given a disembarkation card on your flight so fill it out while on the plane to save time in the immigration line. It is always best to check prior to booking your flights to confirm what the visa entry requirements are for your country of origin just in case. 

Getting a SIM Card in the Maldives

If you want to stay connected with the outside world during your time in the Maldives the best option is to pick up a local SIM once you arrive. Keep in mind that this will only work if your phone is unlocked. Many US phones are not unlocked so check with your cell phone provider back home prior to arriving. 

The local internet and phone providers are either Ooredo and Dhiraguu. They have different packages and prices available depending on your needs. There is also a tourist package offered but you can only purchase it at the airport. 

If you get a SIM on the local island then you can just purchase a plan depending on the amount of GB’s you want. Data in the Maldives is a bit more expensive than other destinations around Asia. However, the wifi isn’t always that strong at the guesthouses so you may want to purchase a small amount of GB in case of an emergency or if you want to get those incredible videos uploaded to your Instagram stories!

Desert Island in the Maldives
Maldives beach

Currency and Language in the Maldives

The local currency used within the Maldives is called rufiyaa, abbreviated MVR.

The exchange rate is $1 USD = 15.40 MVR or €1 = 16.84 MVR. 

On most of the local islands they will take USD, however, the prices will be a little higher than if you were to pay in rufiyaa. Another thing to note is that many of the local islands do not have an ATM so you will need to take out enough cash to bring with you for the duration of your stay or bring USD with you.

There are many banks and ATM’s available on Male, including a few at the airport. Check prior to arriving on the island if they have an ATM or if the guesthouse takes credit card or cash payment only. 

All of the capital islands within an atoll with have a small bank and ATM. Mahibadhoo is the capital island in the South Ari Atoll, therefore, they have an ATM where you can withdraw rufiyaa. 

The national language of the Maldives is called Dhivehi but English is widely spoken. The locals are very friendly and helpful so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it. 

Island sand strip
Maldives house, door

Religion in the Maldives and How to Be Respectful

The Maldives is an Islamic nation. This means that there is no alcohol, pork products and other things allowed into the country. If you are staying in the Maldives on a budget at one of the local islands be aware that there is absolutely no alcohol allowed. If you are wanting to enjoy some cocktails or a glass of wine on your holiday then the resort might be the way to go. Or you can save money by visiting a resort on a day trip organized through your guesthouse! 

Since the Maldives is a Muslim country it is also very important to be respectful of their culture. This means that when you arrive at the airport and exit into the country please be dressed appropriately by not wearing revealing clothing until you get to your resort. When you arrive in Malé you are still on a local, inhabited island and it is disrespectful to show a ton of skin. 

If you are staying at a resort you are free to wear whatever you please as these are privately owned islands. However, if you are staying at a local guesthouse on an inhabited island you will need to continue being respectful of their religion and culture by following an appropriate dress code while walking around the island.

On most of the local islands, there is a designated “bikini beach” area which is blocked off to the locals where visitors are free to wear their bathing suits and beachwear. Do not exit this area until you are covered back up out of respect to the locals. 

Atoll

What to Pack for a Trip to the Maldives

These are some of the top things that you’ll want to pack for your trip to the Maldives! This is not a complete packing list but just some major items you won’t want to forget!

  • Sunscreen SPF 50 or higher, don’t underestimate how strong the sun is in the Maldives. Please use ONLY REEF SAFE SUNSCREEN in the Maldives. There are many brands available but my favourite is Sun Bum. Reef safe sunscreens will not have the ingredient Oxybenzone so check for that on your sunscreen bottle.
  • Reef safe leave-in conditioner for your hair, good brands are Gnarly Head and Stream2Sea
  • Aloe Vera cream: You can purchases at the pharmacies on the islands as well
  • Mosquito/Insect Repellent: you can purchase it at the stores on the islands
  • Any medications that you regularly take plus cold or stomach medications
  • Flip flops 
  • Swimwear including a rash guard (long or short sleeve swimming shirt)
  • Lightweight clothing with breathable fabrics, leave the jeans at home
  • Thick strapped tank tops are okay but short sleeve tops are preferred
  • A hat & sunglasses with a strap to prevent it from flying off while on a boat
  • Leggings that you can swim in for snorkelling so you don’t burn the back of your legs
  • Universal adaptors for your electronics
Maldives sunset
Maldives sunset

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About the author

Hello! I’m Marisa, an avid traveller and ocean lover who loves to explore destinations around the world! I am the writer, photographer and creator of This World Traveled, a travel blog to inspire you to travel while providing tons of information about the places I’ve visited! 

While originally from Florida, I truly discovered my love for travel during the 6 years I was living in Italy. So far, I’ve travelled to over 70 countries across 4 continents and I am always seeking out new adventures and locations to visit!

During my travels I have visited the Maldives many times, often staying the full 30 days and visiting multiple local islands. My first trip was back in 2016 and since then I’ve been back at least twice a year.

My boyfriend, Hamey, is from Mahibadhoo which is the capital island of the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives and we are currently travelling full time around SE Asia.

In January 2020 I also co-hosted a yoga retreat in the Maldives so I am very familiar with how to travel to the Maldives on a budget and I hope that this post can help you plan your own trip there!

You can also follow my travels on IG: @thisworldtraveled

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