How to travel Maldives on a budget?

January 28, 2024

The Maldives may be the land of exotic private islands, overwater bungalows, and five-star underwater restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a bonafide millionaire to visit for a week. It is possible to visit The Maldives on a budget, though it takes a little more planning and research.

In 2008, 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.

But remember that budget is going to be relative. What’s considered low-budget in The Maldives would still buy a moderate-to-high-end vacation in a more affordable destination like Vietnam or Indonesia. However, you can still find great rooms for under $80 a night.

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 book a cheap flight to the Maldives

Unless you happen to have your own yacht, the only way in and out of Maldives is by air. The island’s remoteness means flying to Male is never going to be cheap. Unfortunately, the average roundtrip ticket from Europe, the United States, or Australia will cost around $US 1,000 per person. And it does not depend on the season. Moreover, during the low season (May to Sep), the rates can be even higher!

You can fly to Maldives from most major hubs in the Middle East and Southeast Asia on fairly affordable, direct flights.

Flights from India can cost as little as $US 100 per person, round trip!

Around $US 150 per person from Thailand or Malaysia.

The fare from Dubai is $US 200 per person.

Sometimes, it’s really cheaper to book a flight not in advance (4-7 months), but 1-2 months only.

 

Getting around Maldives on a budget

Public ferry

You can get around the islands by taking a public ferry but check the schedules first. Ferries don’t run every day of the week, and even when they do, there may only be a couple of departures per day.

The average cost is $US 3-6 per way per person, and travel time is a min 2 hrs (depending on your island)

You’ll have plenty of time to sun yourself on the roof and keep an eye out for dolphins as the boat slowly makes its way to your island. You’ll be on a dhoni, which is a Maldivian sailing boat that can be used for many different things and is usually full of friendly people.

You will need to use the ferry system to go island hopping if you want to visit an island that is further from Malé but doesn’t want to pay for the more expensive transit choices. You might have to spend the night on an island en route to do this. However, the ferry may occasionally be canceled.

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Speedboat

The most common method of transportation in the Maldives is a speedboat. The cost ranges from $US 25 to $US 80 per way, per person, depending on which atoll or island you are traveling to. You will need to pay in cash (either Rufiyaa or USD).

Additionally, you’ll need to have your guesthouse reserve a spot for you before you arrive. You should reserve a seat because there are few seats on the boats, and they are also used by locals.

Another speedboat advantage, it runs 2-7 times per day (depending on the island).

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Domestic flight

For islands that are far from Malé and are in atolls, it is possible to fly domestically. The Maldives has 13 domestic airports spread over several atolls. Fly Me Airlines , Maldivian Airlines, and Manta Air all provide domestic flights. The starting price for a one-way ticket is $US 90 per passenger. Booking a ticket through your hotel is preferable since it is less expensive than doing it directly on the airline’s website.

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Seaplane

You can’t go directly by seaplane to the local island, as they fly to the resort only. So you need to arrange a speedboat from the seaplane platform to the local island. The starting price is around $US 280 per way, per person, plus speedboat costs to your island.

Staying in Maldives on a budget

If you’re traveling to the Maldives on a budget, consider staying on a local island in a hotel or guesthouse. Only in 2009 did the Maldives government change the regulations, allowing locals to open up independent hotels and guesthouses on some islands. Staying on a local island not only saves you money, but it also provides insights into the culture and people of the Maldives.

To make the most of your budget travel experience, split your time between islands in the same atoll that are connected by a regularly scheduled MTCC ferry.

Maafushi is the most popular island for budget travelers, but it has become more crowded in recent years. Other popular islands full of guesthouses worth considering are Dhigurah, Fulidhoo, Feridhoo, Thoddoo, Ukulhas, and Rasdhoo.

Guesthouses on these islands typically range from US$40-150  per night, depending on the inclusions and level of luxury. You won’t find hostels in the Maldives, but guesthouses offer private rooms with private bathrooms, hot water, air conditioning, Wi-Fi access, breakfast, snorkeling gear, and daily cleaning.

You can book with the options of breakfast included, half board, or even full board. Additionally, the speedboat transfer prices vary depending on the location of the island within the Maldives. The price range is $US 20-80 per way per person.

Experience the Maldives without breaking the bank by staying on a local island and immersing yourself in the local culture.

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Saving money on dining in Maldives

For budget-friendly dining options in the Maldives, consider staying at a local island guesthouse where affordable dinners are often offered for $US10 to $US15, and may even be included in your hotel rate. If you need to find your own meals, traditional Maldivian food, consisting of fish, curry, coconut, and rice, is the cheapest option.

Local restaurants offer inexpensive meals, with coffee houses serving coffee and snacks for around $US3 and sandwiches and noodles for $US 5-7. For a beachfront dining experience, dinner at a nicer restaurant is only around $US15.

Maldivian cuisine features grilled fish, sweet black tea, canned tuna with onion and lime juice, and roshi, a type of flatbread. Lunches and dinners typically include fresh fish, rice with curries, and more roshi, along with popular dishes like gulha (fried fish-filled dough balls), kuli (spicy fish cakes), and dessert treats such as bondi bai (Maldivian rice pudding).

Keep in mind that as a Muslim country, alcohol is not sold on local Maldives islands.

Saving money on activities

Staying at a guesthouse in the Maldives can offer cheaper activities, with many guesthouses located near larger resort islands, providing access to similar activities like snorkeling, dolphin-watching, fishing, and sunset views. Despite minimal information on their websites, guesthouses can arrange various activities upon request.

Don’t stay in Male (the capital) and Hulhumale for long, because there are no beaches for tourists, no sights, and many people.

Almost any of the local islands offer the following activities

Snorkeling

Snorkeling is a kind of underwater swimming that involves wearing a mask, a snorkel, and fins. This journey typically lasts between two and three hours and involves going to a few different locations along the way. You will have the opportunity to witness juvenile sharks, coral walls, and a large number of rays and fish. The fee ranges from US$40 to $70 USD per person.

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Picnic island/sand bank trip

It includes visiting the neighboring uninhabited island with/without lunch (barbecue). They usually take rice, salads, and drinks when going on such a trip. Fish is cooked right there. The trip can last half a day or the whole day. And there can also be other tourists on the island. The cost depends on how far the island is located, on average it is US$40-90 per person (for a minimum 2 people). On uninhabited islands, you are free to wear bikinis.

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Manta ray snorkeling trip

Experience the thrill of swimming with majestic manta rays on one of the exciting manta rays trips. Our expert guides will take you on a boat ride to a prime location where the mantas are known to gather, often near cleaning stations where smaller fish remove parasites from their skin. Once we spot the mantas, you can snorkel or scuba dive alongside these gentle giants as they glide effortlessly through the water. Our manta ray trips typically last 40-70 minutes, providing ample time to observe these magnificent creatures up close. Prices for the manta ray trips start at $50-70 per person (based on a minimum of 2 people).

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Snorkeling with whale sharks

Experience a truly exceptional opportunity to swim alongside the world’s largest fish, the whale sharks. These magnificent creatures can grow up to 12 meters in length, yet they pose no threat to humans since they feed on plankton. If you’re looking to spot these gentle giants in the Maldives, popular locations include Dhigurah, Dhangethi, and Maamigili. However, please note that sightings are not guaranteed and these spots can be quite crowded. Snorkeling with whale sharks typically costs between $US 75-95 per person, with a minimum booking of two people.

night-fishing

Night fishing

Night fishing trips usually begin in the late afternoon or early evening when the boat sets off from the island to a nearby fishing spot. The boat is usually equipped with fishing equipment such as fishing lines, hooks, and baits. Once the boat reaches the fishing spot, the fishing begins. Visitors will have the opportunity to catch a variety of fish such as red snapper, barracuda, jackfish, and grouper. The fish that are caught during the trip are typically grilled or cooked on board the boat, providing a delicious and authentic Maldivian seafood experience. The price range is $US 40-65 per person (for a minimum 2 people).

Island resort day visit

When you visit a resort for the day, you can enjoy various amenities such as the pool, beach, and restaurants. Additionally, the resort may offer activities like snorkeling, diving, and water sports based on their offerings. Some resorts may even provide spa treatments or other relaxation services as part of their day visit package. The cost of a day visit to a resort in the Maldives can differ depending on the selected package and the resort. It’s important to confirm with the resort beforehand to understand what is included in the day visit package and any additional costs, such as transportation to and from the resort. Typically, the cost ranges between US$95-180 per person (for a minimum of 2 people) plus transfer.

Scuba diving

Exploring the magnificent underwater world of the Maldives can only be done through diving, and a PADI certification is not mandatory for diving up to 12 meters. Before diving you are given a brief instruction, you sign the necessary documents and then perform a test 1,5-2 meters depth dive, where you’re shown the basic things that you are to know. Then you are taken to the reef, and you perform a dive together with your instructor. You stay underwater for 30-40 minutes. Visibility underwater is 15-40 meters, it depends on the season and the place of diving. The cost is US$ 70-120 per person (for a minimum 2 people).

Best Time to Visit the Maldives

Maldives is best visited between January and March, but keep in mind that prices are at their highest and discounts are scarce during this period. However, you can enjoy a rain-free vacation during this time. If you want to save on accommodation, it’s recommended to plan your trip outside the peak season, which lasts from December to March, or even until April.

On the other hand, the “low season” runs from May to October, and you can expect some rain during these months, although the weather varies between atolls. It’s also important to note that the ocean can get rough, which may result in canceled ferry or speedboat rides.

Despite the rain, guesthouse prices can drop up to 50% from their high-season rates. Although it may be cloudy and wet, you can still enjoy the warm equatorial air throughout the year. Keep in mind that July and September are typically the rainiest months, but you’ll never have to worry about the cold weather.

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Where to buy a SIM card?

To optimize your travel budget, it’s important to be aware of the potential roaming costs associated with using the internet on your phone outside of Wi-Fi hotspots. One way to save money is to purchase a local pay-as-you-go SIM card upon arrival at the airport.

In the Maldives, you can choose from two main providers, Ooredo and Dhiraguu, each offering different packages and prices to meet your specific needs. If you’re a tourist, there’s also a special package available, but it can only be purchased at the airport.

It’s essential to be mindful of the included data when selecting a package. Some providers offer free data for popular social media platforms such as Whatsapp, Viber, and Facebook. For example, if your package is 10GB, only 3GB might be available for browsing the web, while the remaining 7GB is allocated for these social networks.

If you run out of data, don’t worry! You can simply visit a local shop, add balance, and purchase another data package. So, take advantage of local SIM cards, compare packages carefully, and keep an eye on your data usage to make the most of your travel experience in Maldives.

Breakdown of costs

While some claim that it’s possible to visit the Maldives with a budget as low as $50 per day, it’s important to note that this may be a difficult feat unless you’re content with staying in one location on the island and foregoing any activities.

You need to factor in between US$90 and US$120 per day if you want to do activities such as fishing, snorkeling, or visiting sand banks; and that’s if you are traveling with someone to share the costs of accommodation. It’s not super cheap, but it still is much cheaper than the resorts.

This is a quick breakdown of expenses:

One night in a local guest house: between US$40 and US$85 per room. The price includes breakfast. For a higher fee (around US$110 per room per night) you can opt to also have dinner included.

US$10 to US$15 per meal.

Throw in the extra cash you will need for activities – prebook through your guest house and ask for the discount. Expect to pay between US$45 and US$65 for day trips to sand banks or snorkeling trips.

Ferry rides cost around US$3 or US$10 depending on the destination. NOTE: the ferry might run not daily plus the duration is 2+ hrs (depending on your island). The speedboat price ranges from US$ 25-70 per way per person.

Pick a flight that land in Male during the day, as night transfers to local islands is costly. If you can’t find a flight that lands during the day, spend a night in Male and take the speedboat the day after. It will turn out cheaper.

With these costs, a one-week holiday to the Maldives can be as cheap as US$510 ($US 250 per person if you travel as a couple), without flights. But you should consider at least $US 1,000 per couple if you want to stay in the average guest house, get a normal meal, take some activities, and travel by a speedboat to not waste time by going by slow ferry.

 

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