Maldives on a budget-less than 50$ a day

 

Maldives is as beautiful as the pictures say and yes it is expensive as hell. That being said it is completely possible to travel Maldives without being a high flyer or emptying your last penny. Before heading into the guide here’s what we did.

Maldives beach
White sands of Maldives

Flights to Maldives

We booked our flights some 4 months in advance when one of the aggregators launched a deal. Our return tickets cost us under 100$ for both of us, using our miles. Our flights were ex Kochi and we were in Hyderabad. A lot if last minute things happened including airlines rescheduling their flights. We had to opt for a last minute flight change which is the reason we had a hop flight from Kochi to Hyderabad on our way back. Could we have avoided that if we had booked our flights straight from Hyderabad? Maybe but we were not sure where we would be in August and if we had moved out before that we would be in a similar situation.

Maldives sunset
Sunset at Rasdhoo jetty Maldives

Accommodation in Maldives

This was one of our completely booked trips. except for our last night in Huhumale we had our stays booked way in advance. Most properties are new and pretty well maintained and most of our stays were pretty comfortable. We spent around 21K for accommodation all of which included breakfast, had air-conditioning, hot shower and clean linen.

Food in Maldives

I am a vegetarian Ajay is not but he isn’t big on meat and enjoys vegetarian food a lot. This meant most of the local delicacies were out of our food choices right from roshi and mashuni in breakfast to grilled fish in dinner. Most of our breakfast as a result was bread, spreads, and fruits. Snacks were another limiting thing because you will see everyone around you eating some king of pastry, bread or fried something. If you have no problems with  animal products you will be in heaven and definitely eat cheaper than we did.


Plan your trip to Maldives

Maldive
Hulhumale
You want to visit Maldives and still have a bank balance after you come back? If you answer to above is yes and you are not filthy rich don’t dream of living at one of those water bungalows perched over open water. If you are really adamant go there for a night or two but seriously at over 400$ a night they are just not worth it. This price is not including the ~300$ sea plane transfer you will pay on the top of it all.
Since the government allowed tourism on local islands there is no need to run to resort islands to enjoy this paradise. We visited two such islands, Thoddhoo and Rasdhoo, both beautiful, laid back and thoroughly enjoyable.
Where you can go depends on two factors, time you have and money you are willing to spend. To visit some of the far flung atolls from Male you would either be hiring a private boat, paying for a domestic flight, taking a sea plane transfer or sit on long ferry rides. Chances are you would be doing more than one of these for the really far ones. If you have some moolah just take the sea plane or domestic flight; for those with shallow pockets hopping ferries is the only way.
Be prudent about your choice of Islands and spend atleast two nights in a place. Less than that and you will not get a chance to sleep in as most ferries run around 7-9 am.
Special note to those going to thoddhoo island, the night ferry runs from fish market not from the vilingli jetty.

Flights

Chances are you will be landing at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport at hulhule and then hop on to catch a ferry to take you to your actual destination. Flights to Maldives are a big expense for most and the cheapest way to get there is to visit Maldives while you are in India or Sri Lanka. If you are in South India you are in luck and chances are flights ex-Kochi will be around 10000/- (~150$) return. We used our miles and booked our ticket during a sale. Our cost for two return tickets was 6000/- (~100$).

Visa

Getting in Maldives is a breeze since it does not ask for a visa and you are just stamped in when you get there. We did not see anyone being denied and personally we were stamped in less than a minute.

Accommodation in Maldives

This can be the single biggest expense and totally depends on your comfort and taste. Simply put, if you want to keep your expenses low, select clean and cheap accommodation. Here are the options which will help you keep your expenses low and get the most out of your money.

Maldive
Maldive

Couch surfing

There are couches available mostly around Male and we could not land one for our last night in the city. One of our friends whom we hosted last year stayed with a host, so I guess either our timing was off or we were just unlucky.

AirBnb

This was the first time we used Airbnb outside India and it was not as smooth as we would have liked. We had one last stay to book and we had not heard back form the couch requests we had sent earlier. So we booked a room in Huhumale through Airbnb. Apart from it being the most expensive room on the trip it was simply disappointing. I am sure we could have had a better room booking through other sites. Still Airbnb is a good option if you need last minute bookings and with these 25$ credit you might find your prices comfortable. Important thing to remember is to contact your host before you book and make sure that your basic requirements are met.

 Cheap hotels/ Guest house

Since 2009 Maldives has caught up with the guest house culture that the rest of the world thrives on. As a result all these guest houses are in great condition. The definition of cheap is a bit different in Maldives than it would be in India or other SE Asian countries. Here the cheap starts around 3000/- and may go upto 4000/- depending on the island and your island location. I am sure that you can simply walk in and get a place to stay but we booked everything since we did not want any hassle with our visas. Also booking online ended up way cheaper.
Almost every guest house offers complimentary breakfast but if you have limited food choices like me you might want to check if they would do a stay only deal and buy your own food.
On the other hand if you are a omnivore and plan on eating dinner at the guest house itself book a half board package. We cooked or ate out almost all the nights but we came to know that others paid around 40$ a meal to the guest houses.
For us this was the best time to book through Hotels.com (and they were the cheaper ones too) since you get one free night for every 10 nights you book through them. The free night is average cost of the 10 nights and we are probably not going anywhere as expensive as Male. So if you are looking to earn a free night in a great place in India or SE Asia I suggest you book through them.

The Resorts

We thought we would stay in those swanky water bungalows for one night, looking at 500$ a night we came down a notch and decided to just stay in a regular room in the resort. The problem is even if you can find a deal on the resort like we did you will still be paying for island transfer to one of these remote islands. One of the ways to lower transfers cost is to arrange your own transport. For that choose a resort which is near a local inhabited island. Many resort tours run from local island and you can also rent a dhoni (local boat) which would definitely be cheaper. Make arrangements for pick up too, even if you end up paying 20-25$ per person each way you will be spending far less than 150$ per person each way.
Do keep in mind that it is not just the bed and transport that is expensive, every single thing is expensive when you are in the resort. From 8$ a beer to 5$ water bottles you are in for a rude shock.

 I am not trying to scare you away and to be true none of us set a foot in those big resorts let alone got a peek in those villas but we did our research and these are the reasons we skipped them. But there is something we cannot deny- they are beautiful. If you are there for a day or two, maybe on your honeymoon or maybe you have saved for this trip, don’t hesitate just book one of these. Remember to arrange your transport with a local and you will save more than 300$ per person.

 Transport in Maldives

Islands are small, like really teeny tiny small; including male. If you like walking and are not carrying bricks in your backpack you should find it easy and will probably not need any on land transport. For reference the outer periphery road of Male is less than 6km. For those who don’t want to walk there are taxis available in Male and they run on flat charge of 20MVR. In both Thoddhoo and Rasdhoo you don’t need a taxi and we did not find any.

 We returned back to Male a day before our flight back to India and decided to stay in Huhumale. when we inquired at the information counter we were told there are no taxis which take you from airport to the island instead you take the bus. These buses are of two types 1. that accept luggage and another which will not allow any luggage bigger than a small backpack. We had a small 20L backpack each and we were good to go. Ticket is fixed at 20MVR one way and buses run every 30-40 minutes.

Inter Island Transport

There are a few ways of getting form one island to another and they vary form cheap 2$ ferries to 300$ seal planes. Your choice should depend on how many days you have, your budget and more importantly where you want to go.

Government ferries

These are the slowest options of all and by that logic the cheapest. Prices start around 1 $ for airport to Male ferry and are around 3$ for Rasdhoo to Male. No ferry runs on Fridays and most ferries don’t run daily. Most ferries run from Villingli Jetty on the other end of the island. If like us you are planning to go to thoddoo and catch the night ferry then you have to head to fish market. Ferry runs everyday except Friday at midnight and charges 10$ per person. We slept on the upper deck on one of the mattresses being transported, while others took one of the mats that had been laid out. This ferry is a cargo ferry and definitely not for those who are looking for luxury though we slept like a baby being tired walking around the whole day.

If you reach male later than 3 pm chances are you will probably have to stay back the day and catch a morning ferry atleast for some of the main islands. Don’t go without researching ferry timings, you might want to book a night in Male if your ferry does not run on the day you reach or the times do not suit you.

Speed Boats

Speed boats are available for all the near by islands and are of two types, shared and chartered. Needless to say shared speed boats are quite cheap compared to a chartered one, they also have definite time of plying. If you are looking to reduce your time on the sea or you get sea sick these are the way to go. Best way to book one is through your guest house or hotel. Lowest prices we came across was 55$ one way.

Sea Planes

I have been dreaming about this since Talespin and Baloo. Even when we went to Andaman I wanted to get a ride on one of these, but they were really expensive and in Maldives one trip is more than our per person expense. If you are planning to live in a distant resort chances are you will be flying in one of these. You can book tickets online here or through your resort. There is usually a luggage limit of 20 Kgs and you are charged for any weight above this.

Domestic flights

Maldives has nine domestic airports linking Male with distant atolls there are two domestic airlines plying between these routes. Maldivian Aero and Flyme. The flights are around 150$(9500/-) return and fly multiple times daily so even if you land later than 3 pm you still have a chance to catch the flights.

Eat and Drink in Maldives

Let me just say it upfront there is no booze on regular islands. If you need or want booze head over to one of the island resorts for a day trip or head to the Hulhule Island Hotel near the airport. Some islands have a floating which is nothing but a boat which floats some distance from the islands. Your guest house would probably have excursion to these displayed somewhere around the common area. If the only reason you are not going to Maldives is because you will not find booze, you are doing it wrong.

Food is everywhere in Maldives as is the culture of it’s cafes. We were amazed to see men (yes it’s always men) sitting in these cafe’s for hours with their cup of tea and selection of maldivian snacks. These cafes are the best place to unwind after a day at the beach or just to people watch. In the smaller islands these are the only restaurants you will find. These cafe’s serve lunch and dinner too, usually a selection of fried rice and noodles. If you love fish you will be a happy camper all through. Peple here eat fish in all meals an forms, I did not find anyone serving a fish dessert but I am sure there will be atleast one.
Dairy is a luxury and that is weird especially for those going from a country like India where dairy is easily available and a big part of our daily lives. Most places use milk powder to produce your coffee but milk is available in most shops.
Fruits are in abundance and one of the islands (Thoddoo) we were on is known for it’s watermelon plantations. we were not lucky enough to find watermelons on the island but papayas were everywhere from high up on their slender trees to our breakfast plates. The only problem was we couldn’t find them in the supermarkets on the island but they were easily available on others.

If you are a vegetarian you night face a bit of a problem, especially if you don’t eat eggs like me. Make sure to clearly and repeatedly say no eggs, no meat no tuna. Tuna is used here the way spices are used in India, it’s everywhere. On the resort islands you should have no problem but it gets difficult as the island gets remote. In Male you will find quite a few options, we especially loved these
1. City Garden: food was good and portion sizes were sufficient too. They had a lot of vegetarian options and the best part it was around 150 MYR for both of us for a bowl of soup, fried noodles and garlic bread. even if you go splurging you would probably end up around 10-12$ per person with drinks(non alcoholic obviously). Another plus is it’s location, it was our choice for dinner on the first night before we caught ferry from nearby fish market and our drink stop on our way back to the airport.
2. Seahouse Brassiere: This one takes the bill with it’s awesome and well thought location. It is right opposit the villingli ferry teminal and almost every one who got off from our ferry headed straight to this cafe. The food was nice probably a bit better than City garden and again they have a few vegetarian options to choose from.

 We had read about a lot of other places but couldn’t visit them all because of out limited time in the capital city. If you do visit them or any other place we have talked about here let us know.

What to Do and See in Maldives

 The Sights

If you are big on sights you should spend a day walking around the capital island of Male. This tiny island city is busy yet relaxed at the same time and walking is a great way to get the hang of it. We spent our first and last day walking around and it was nice except for the hot sun. Most of the mosques and government run campuses required you to be modestly dressed and polite.

Don’t expect to gain entrance in a mosque wearing shorts and tank tops. Most places are closed on Fridays for sure and many even on the weekends. Make sure you check the opening times and days of the places you want to visit before planning your day in Male. We were there on weekend and could only walk around the mosque and other areas but couldn’t enter.

Snorkeling

Maldive
Thoddhoo Maldive

If there is something you should invest in before landing here then it is a pair of snorkel and mask. You will enjoy every single island much much better simply by swimming around the beaches with a mask and snorkel. I previously read that you would find them for free in most islands but we didn’t have the luck and ended up paying 5$ for and hour or so. Swimming goggles just don’t work the same way so get a set to truly enjoy the islands and the sea. For those who wouldn’t be bothered go snorkeling at least one morning, you don’t need to take a boat or anything. It’s right off the beach especially in islands like Rasdhoo.

Diving

We have dived all around India but the kind of clarity we saw in Maldives is unparalleled. Our guide still said it was not as good but we were dumbstruck. We saw eagle rays, sharks, and huge schools of fish almost as if they were suspended in space. Add to that the bioluminescence in the night, I would dive again and again here if my budget and time would permit. Maldives was our first night dive experience and we were both pretty nervous. Once we got the hang of it the silence of night sea along with the sights which looked completely different in a day dive simply captured us. Seeing fish as they are about to sleep or seeing a huge grouper is something you can’t forget with the bio luminescence and the thrill of being deep in the sea in night, it was awesome.
If you don’t have your certification Maldives is an expensive place to get it, even if the seas are ideal. I would recommend you get your certification at home and fo for a pleasure dive here. From what we found out Rasdhoo is the place to dive also with 3-4 dive schools it is cheaper than other smaller islands.

Go fishing

Big game fishing and night fishing is a big deal in Maldives. As expected we did not go fishing but most resorts and guest houses would arrange a trip if you are so interested.

Go sailing or kayaking

  Anything you can do with water there is a big chance you can do it in Maldives so sailing and kayaking are an option. We did see a lot of places offering kayaks and sailing options but did not find anyone kayaking. My explanation for that is we got up too damn late.

Go eating

On the smaller islands I don’t think it is an option but if you are in male an evening walk hoping the many cafes is a great way to experience the city on the cheap. With all the Tea you would probably drink you are bound to leave the walk more energised than when you started. Pair those cups with the wide variety of cheap snacks for a truly Maldivian way of spending time. Don’t forget to finish with some supari and paan.
Male is home to some great cooking and chances are that you would probably find your local cuisines somewhere in the tiny island town. if you are itching for some burgers or western food either choose from one of the local cafes or just hop on the ferry to the airport and fill your stomach to your heart’s content. We usually ate int eh restaurants though they don’t have many (read none) options for vegetarians, so on our way back home we stopped for a bite at burger king.

Don’t forget

Bring a sun screen from home. It doesn’t matter where you are coming from it will be definitely cheaper from what you will have to but here. Sun is really strong so get some kind of hat or umbrella as well.

Bring light clothes which cover most parts of your body basically shoulders and knees. As much as it is for saving your self from the heat and intense sun, it is a must for most of the local islands.
There is a bikini beach on most islands so please cover up everywhere else. Even if nobody says anything they do frown upon it and it always pays to be mindful and respectful of local culture.
 If you have ever been to Maldives let us know how your experiences went.

One comment on “Maldives on a budget-less than 50$ a day

  1. That was a really good and helpful post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *