Finding Cheap Accommodation
The simple rule to make the Maldives affordable goes something like this: Stay in a guesthouse on a local island. The Maldives has approximately 100 inhabited islands. Maafushi, located 25 kilometres (15 miles) and a ferry or speedboat ride south of the capital Male, is the most popular. Maldivians are capitalising on more relaxed tourism laws which now allow tourists to visit inhabited local islands, instead of being confined to the ultra-expensive resorts. Visitors can save a fortune by staying at one of the growing number of guesthouses on local islands, such as Maafushi, Guraidhoo, Dhigurah or Thoddoo. But remember costs are relative. Don’t expect the same prices as South and Southeast Asia.
Finding Cheap Transport
Transport is also cheap. Local ferries run on a somewhat infrequent schedule but shouldn’t cost more than $2-4 for a three-hour journey. You will pay $0.60 for the ferry from Male Airport to Male, $3 for the ferry from Male to Maafushi, $4 for the ferry from Maafushi to Fulidhoo, and $2 for the ferry from Maafushi to Guraidhoo.
If you want to visit a resort, you’ll have to pay for a speedboat, as the local ferries don’t stop at the resort islands. These speedboats are very expensive — around $280 per person return trip for a 45-minute journey, or $200 per person return for a ten-minute journey. One possibility could be to turn up at the nearest local island, and ask around to see if a local fisherman will take you across on his boat. Avoid the seaplanes if you’re travelling on a budget — these will usually cost around $500 return for a 20-minute journey.
Finding Cheap Food
Food will set you back around $5-10 per meal, but with most guesthouses offering an enormous free breakfast. In general, the smaller the island, the fewer food options there are, and you’ll likely be eating at your guesthouse for most meals. On Fulidhoo, you may be charged $10 per dinner whether we ordered chicken fried rice, curry and rice, or a gigantic fish barbecue. There were only three restaurants on the island and they all charged the same price — for the tourists, at least.
For a busy island, such as Maafushi, there were plenty of food options. There are maybe a dozen restaurants on the island, all offering reasonably priced dinners. You will pay around $5-10 a meal for fish curry and rice, fish and chips, tuna fried rice — lots of fish-based meals!
Finding Cheap Excursions
The cheapest way to go on an excursion is to book it through your guesthouse. Don’t be afraid to shop around for prices, though! Wander into four or five guesthouses and ask for their prices before you make a decision. Also check to see what’s included in the price — some guesthouses will include lunch, water and a soft drink, some won’t include any extras.
If you decide to dive through your guesthouse or arrange it through a dive shop on a local island, you’ll be looking at paying around $100 for two dives. The cheapest option for diving in the Maldives, however, is doing a liveaboard trip. Other options for excursions include lots of snorkeling trips. If you’re lucky to be visiting during manta ray or whale shark season, you’ll be able to arrange a trip to see them. You will pay around $50 per person for a half-day snorkeling trip. It was pretty pricey but it was also the best snorkeling of your life! Amazing visibility, thousands of tropical fishes, and even adorable sea turtles swimming alongside you.
Most guesthouses will also arrange fishing trips ($50 per person), or day trips to the resorts ($50 per person plus a $30 per person entrance fee). You can also take trips to sandbanks ($25 per person) and go island hopping around the atoll ($50 per person).
Tourists travelling to the Maldives on a budget can experience five-star luxury without spending hundreds of dollars per night. While staying at the local islands, you can get a day pass to the resorts. The pass, about $100 per person on average, includes a return speedboat transfer, entrance fees and full access to the resort’s facilities. Many offer a lunch buffet and unlimited drinks, including free-flowing cocktails, wine and beer.