How to Find Your Way around Maldives When You’re Just Too Broke for the Mainstream

Travelling is addictive. It can also be quite unforgiving to your wallet and bank account, especially if you’re eager to explore as much of the world, as quickly as you can. Regardless of how luxurious or shoestring your travel budget may be, one destination that definitely should make your wish list is Maldives, an archipelago of 1,192 coral islands. If that already has you holding your breath, you’ll be delighted to know that only 200 of these islands are inhabited, and 80 are home to plush tourist resorts. The others are accessible to tourists and, apart from a few agricultural farms, are virtually untouched by human beings. For you, this translates into some of the world’s most gorgeous, unexploited beaches and an underwater world that is as colorful and fascinating as it is plentiful. The shimmering white sand is fine and powdery, cocooning your body in sun-kissed warmth, while the waters are some of the bluest you will encounter on the entire planet. Is it any surprise then that Maldives receives upwards of a million visitors every year and is home to some of the most exclusive and luxurious tourist getaways?

Maldives for Every Budget

With tourism serving as the mainstay of the domestic economy, luxury properties have developed on the island with gusto, offering deep-pocketed travelers just about every conceivable extravagance. From personal butlers to private lap pools, in room massages and pillow menus, there’s nothing your money will not buy you while you’re here. The first resorts were opened in 1973; the only way to explore the islands for the next three decades was through these luxurious, extravagant resorts. In recent years, Maldives is emerging as a popular tourist getaway for budget-conscious travelers as well. Today, backpacking travelers are welcomed to the islands with warm, sunny smiles and can look forward to an experience that will have them coming back for more, time and again.

After some initial resistance, the islands have warmed up to the idea of independent travelers who don’t necessarily isolate themselves from the local populace by hiding out in luxurious resorts. Tourists can now choose to make their own itineraries, ferry from one island to another on public boats and intermingle with the local residents. Be warned though that the locals are devout Sunni Muslims and so no alcohol, pork and recreational drugs may be consumed on the inhabited islands. The resort islands, however, are far more relaxed in terms of their outlook and almost anything is permissible here. While visiting the islands populated by locals, it is advisable to dress modestly – men are not permitted to go shirtless or wear shorts that expose the thighs, while bikinis and bathing suits for women are strictly prohibited as is see-through clothing.

Exploring Maldives

Getting in is remarkably easy. Maldives issues a free 30-day visa upon arrival provided you have a valid travel document, a return air ticket and proof of sufficient funds. You can take your pick from boats, sea planes and private yachts (if you’re feeling pricey), to convey you to the various islands. The public ferry service is cheap (USD 2-4 for a three-hour ride) but infrequent, so make sure to plan your itinerary accordingly. Semi-public and private charters are also available, but you will need to dig around a little to find out their schedule and rates. Note that the resort islands are only accessible via speedboat services, which will cost you in the vicinity of USD 200 per person. Seaplanes are even more expensive and a 20-minute journey can cost roughly USD 500.

Getting to Maldives can also be surprisingly affordable if you do your homework in advance. You must book early to make the most of seasonal discounts and offers, and also be prepared to trek around a little to find accommodation that suits your budget and travelling style. Accommodation in Maldives is of two types – ‘resort’ and the far cheaper ‘local’. The latter stems from relaxed government regulations and the enthusiasm of several local families who, recognizing the vast economic potential of tourism, have thrown their doors open to budget-conscious travellers in the form of affordable guest houses. More often than not, the women cook for the guests, while the men handle administration, cleaning and even offer private island tours.

However, cheap is a relative term in the Maldives. You will most definitely not find the ultra low-cost dorms or dingy hotels that most backpackers head to, in Southeast Asia. Several locals are also avid Couchsurfing hosts, and you may find this alternative suitable if you’re the adventurous sort. The guest houses will set you back by anywhere between USD 30-60 per night, and feature all modern comforts including air conditioning, hot showers, free breakfast, snorkeling gear, a free bottle of water, WiFi and even twice-a-day room cleaning. Airbnb is also increasingly popular with locals and you can expect to find a good deal or two on accommodation if you plan ahead.

Eating in Maldives is largely confined to these guest houses, and a hearty meal of spicy fish or chicken and rice will cost you roughly USD 10. You can also stop by the small cafes (hotaas) in the populated islands, which serve a complete meal for up to USD 2. While Male does have a decent restaurant scene, these eateries are aimed at moneyed locals and tourists, and this makes them slightly unaffordable for travelers on a shoestring budget.

Things to Do in Maldives

Budget recreation in Maldives is something of an antithesis considering that tourism in these islands was designed to cater to the needs of only the very affluent. However, with some persistence and plenty of asking around, you can find dive shops that will offer you USD 50 dives. The same amount of money could buy you a snorkeling expedition that lasts half-a-day and introduces you to some of the most beautiful aquatic life you will encounter in your entire lifetime – expect to meet thousands of tropical fish, turtles and even whale sharks while in season. Many guesthouses will also arrange fishing trips, day trips to the resorts and island-hopping for very affordable prices (roughly USD 50 per person).

For most travelers, accommodation in Maldives conjures up a mental picture of gorgeous overwater bungalows, which are often considered to be Maldivian classics. These are built on stilts and perched directly above lagoons. The beauty of these bungalows is that when the tide is high enough, you can step outside and dive right into the clear, sparkling waters. Many bungalows are also located on private beaches, adding an air of exclusive comfort and luxury to your Maldives holiday. However, these are quite expensive and are only worth splurging on if you have more than enough to go around.

Travelling to the Maldives is one of those experiences that everyone must treat themselves to, at least once in their lifetime. If you’re eager to visit the Maldives but don’t quite know where to begin, we recommend browsing through Musafir.com’s attractively-priced Maldives tour packages. Suitable for single, couples, families and large groups, these packages let you explore the very best of Maldives at prices you would have never imagined, without having to worry about whether or not you’ve done enough to get the best value for your money.