Budget Travel in the Maldives: Myth or Reality?

Why go to the Maldives?   If you have to ask that question, you have probably never heard of the Maldives.  Open another browser tab, do a quick Google image search. You’ll see a bunch of pictures that look like pre-loaded desktop beach backgrounds that come on your computer. Except it’s a REAL PLACE…That’s why you want to go.

Basically, the Maldives are the beaches of legends: the white sand, turquoise water, tropical fish, fresh coconut-sipping vacation spot that you daydream about after a particularly hard day at work. However, aside from being supremely beautiful, they are also known for being supremely expensive.  Private ocean hut, six-star resort, sea plane, thousands of dollars per night kind of expensive.

So, I never thought they would be on my travel list, assuming that these were the types of islands that only celebrities and corporate bankers and honeymooners with millions of frequent flyer miles could visit, not teacher-freelancer-professionally-undecided-what-to do-with-their-lives Southeast Asia expats like me.

But when A and I started planning a trip to Sri Lanka, some crazy part of me thought ‘Hey, that’s close to the Maldives, right?’  When my search results starting coming back that in fact it was only less than an hour’s flight away and not too pricey I started feeling really crazy. Could we actually make this destination happen?!  More than one person advised me that there was no way, as it could be too expensive once we got there.  So naturally I wanted to go even more. Reading a few other people’s travel blogs convinced me that it actually could be possible, and also that if we did it, I needed to start blogging again—because these were the most reliable sources of information I could find on the topic!

Picnic island

It turns out that starting in 2009 the regulations changed, allowing hotel licenses for non-resorts, so some mid-range and budget hotels began opening on inhabited islands (whereas resorts are only on private islands). Personally, this is more appealing anyway. If I’m going to as remote and obscure a country of the Maldives, I’d like to see how people live there!  There are a few inhabited islands that have started to gain popularity with a ‘budget traveler’ crowd (but not the same throngs of backpackers you’ll see in Southeast Asia…yet.) and have a variety of hotels, organised activities, and restaurants for tourists.

local area
Rather than just stay in a resort, I like checking out more local places like this one.

After reading up as much as we could on a few of those, we chose Maafushi, in part because it was only a 90 minute public ferry transfer from the capital, Male. We only planned to stay for 4 days, as we had a big itinerary planned already in Sri Lanka and were also still dubious on whether it would turn out more exorbitant than expected.

airport ferry
The short ferry ride from the airport to Male

The ferry to Maafushi.
The ferry to Maafushi.

I found a hotel for less than $50 per night on Agoda and we took the plunge.  After a 4:30am wake up to fly out of Colombo, we were en route to the Maldives, craning our necks out the plane windows to get glimpses like this one.

Hello, Maldives!

So…how much did it actually cost you ask?  Here’s a sample of the cost of travel in Maafushi, Maldives.

‘Budget’ travel in the Maldives in April 2015 (prices converted to USD):

$0.65 for a ferry from the airport to Male (which run constantly)
$4.50 for a taxi from the airport ferry stand to the Maafushi ferry (around 15 minutes driving)
$3.50 for a ferry to Maafushi (90 minutes, 2-3 times per day, not running on Fridays)
$10 dinner buffet at Arena Beach hotel (we didn’t stay here but came a few times for the buffet)
$7-10 shared lunch for two people
$2 Fresh coconut
$0.50-2 snacks and drinks at a minimart (things like soda, nuts, crackers)
$2 shisha/hookah at a restaurant (no alcohol on the islands!)
$25 per person night fishing trip (including dinner)
$25 per person paradise sandbar trip (including borrowed snorkels for free)
$75 Discover Scuba Diving beginner’s dive
$80 full day tour (snorkeling at Turtle Point, Picnic Island, visit to local island for shopping, dolphin watching)

One trick we found when traveling as a couple is that many of the excursions (night fishing, day tours, etc.) are charged by the boat, so therefore the more people you go with, the less expensive it is per person.  Most of the hotels on the island offer the same activities, so we walked around asking what they had groups booked for already the following days to see if we could join, so that we could save on some of the activities.

Maafushi ferry roof The ferry to Maafushi

So, all in all—not as cheap as backpacking Thailand, but probably cheaper than most four day excursions in Europe.  Give up the fantasy of staying in a water villa and it’s possible…you can still visit a resort on a day trip (all of the hotels on Maafushi offer resort trips, with varying levels of all inclusiveness), still snorkel at the same places and bask on the same white sandbars, but with an opportunity to actually see some local towns and to save your precious rufiyaa for the next trip!

It felt like a good time to visit—‘budget’ tourism  here is not on many people’s radars yet, although this may change soon, especially with the start of budget Air Asia flights there later this year.


Coming soon: another post on details and stories of our trip to Maafushi!
Check out the video teaser of our trip!
 (Unfortunately only a couple of seconds of the Maldives, due to one broken waterproof camera, and a general constant state of sandy wetness that inhibited other video-taking.)

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2 Responses to Budget Travel in the Maldives: Myth or Reality?

  1. Pingback: Four Days in Maafushi, Maldives: Part One | See Think Explore

  2. Pingback: Four Days in Maafushi, Maldives: Part Two | See Think Explore