The Maldives are the perfect place for honeymoons and couples looking for a luxury island vacation. This country of 1,000 islands has everything a person could want in a tropical island — clear water, white sand beaches, palm trees, warm sunny days, and lots of great diving. It’s as close to heaven as you can get. While the Maldives have always been thought of as an expensive, honeymoon /couple place to visit, it’s actually an incredible budget traveler destination. Yeah, the resorts are expensive (even the ones on the cheaper end) but the country has opened up its tourism in recent years and now allows locals to start their own guesthouses and the ferry system is greatly improving. You can easily visit these countries on a budget and still get to experience that picture perfect beach vacation you came here for!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in the Maldives
1. Explore Male
This relatively small city is host to many interesting mosques, museums. The Hukuru Miskiiy, also known as the Old Friday Mosque, is the oldest in the country, dating back to 1656. Some other interesting places to check out are the National Art Gallery, the National Stadium, and Sultan’s Park.
2. Dive the Banana Reef
This is a protected marine area that is known internationally for its beauty and incredible diving and snorkeling. The numerous caves, overhangs, and dramatic cliff lines result in stunning photos with every shot you snap. The brilliant coral growth attracts a huge range of sea life, including grouper, barracuda, morays, jackfish, snapper, and more.
3. Visit Mahibadhoo
Mahibadhoo is clean (locals volunteer to clean the island once a week), and the buildings were more colorful, featuring a rainbow of pastel-colored structures. Though it doesn’t have a “bikini beach” (as the beaches for foreigners are called), there is good snorkeling right off shore, and it’s a launching pad for day trips to deserted atolls and quieter islands like Dhanbidhoo, Kalhaidhoo, and Isdhoo.
The food here is beyond delicious and incredibly fresh. Most of the restaurants in Male offer outdoor dining areas. Some of the more popular places to go include The Seagull Café, Symphony, Royal Garden Café, and Irudhashu Hotaa (for quick meals).
5. Do some watersports
Check out one of the many water sports available throughout the Maldives. The water here is great for a ride, whether it’s via a banana boat, parasailing, water skiing, or any other number of things. You are sure to have a thrilling time!
Other Things to See and Do
1. Skip Maafushi
2. Ride the Whale Submarine
3. Go fishing
4. Retreat to Bathala Island
5. Dive the Wreck of the Maldive Victory
6. Have a spa day
7. Explore the Fish Head
8. Go surfing
9. Shop at the STO Trade Center
10. Visit the National Museum
Accommodation – Aside from the capital, there are no “hotels” in the Maldives. The cheaper resorts usually start at around 900 MVR in the low season. At most resorts, a double room will cost at least 1,500 MVR per day. Air-conditioning and WiFi are relatively standard at most resorts, however, if you want a resort with a swimming pool, expect to pay several thousand MVR per night! However, thanks to new laws, locals can open their own guesthouses and you’ll find many islands with guesthouses. Most start around 600 MVR per night for a room with a private bathroom (and will include wifi and breakfast). Use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates.
Food – All your meals and drinks are included when you are at the resorts. On the main island of Male, you can find local markets and restaurants where meals typically cost around 80 MVR. For a nicer meal at a restaurant with table service, expect to pay around 325 MVR. If you buy your own groceries, and depending on your diet, expect to spend around 1,000 MVR per week. On the non-resort islands, expect to pay, 110-150 MVR each for most meals, 150-230 MVR for the dinner buffets you see around, and 5 MVR for a pot of tea. A bottle of water will cost between 6-12 MVR.
Transportation – Your resort takes care of all your transportation needs and can help you figure out what ferries you need to get around. Getting from the airport to Male via ferry will cost around 40 MVR per person. Public inter-island ferries cost 30-75 MVR while speedboats cost 110-310 MVR. Flights from Sri Lank are the cheapest, with tickets costing as little as 2,300 MVR, round trip. If you are flying from the United Arab Emirates, expect to pay double that.
Activities – Diving costs vary but a single-tank dive will cost around 100 MVR and a week’s worth of diving will cost around 5,250 MVR.
Suggested daily budget
770-1,075 MVR / $50-70 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying the local guesthouses, eating the local food, and using local transportation. If you plan to do a resort Maldives vacation, expect to pay at least 4,500 MVR per night at a resort!)
Money Saving Tips
- Fly from the Middle East or Asia – Even getting to the Maldives by plane can be incredibly expensive. Luckily, regional airlines like Air Asia and Sri Lankan Airlines and have begun offering cheaper airfare to get there. Be sure to try to book a flight from either Asia or the Middle East to save on your ticket price!
- Use ferries – The Maldives’ atolls are served by a series of ferries from Malé. They run on opposite days (to Maafushi on Monday, back to Malé on Tuesday) and rarely on Friday (it being the Muslim sabbath). You can jump from Malé to an atoll’s capital island then to smaller, nearby islands in the chain. The ferry is only 30-75 MVR depending on distance. Research the ferries beforehand so you know when and where you can go next. Island hopping is very difficult without planning.
- Stay with the locals – The Maldives has recently allowed locals to lodge travelers in their homes and this accommodation option is by far the cheapest. Using sites like Airbnb to find these guesthouses is a good choice. The only alternative to this option (since there are a sparse number of hostels in the area) is to spend the night at an expensive resort. Learn more about the local culture and save a ton of money by staying in guesthouses.
- There is no alcohol – As the Maldives is a Muslim country, you can’t get alcohol anywhere in the country, except on the resort islands which have a special exemption.
- Take lots of USD – Though the Maldives has its own currency (MVR), US dollars are widely accepted, and you often get a better price if you pay in USD. This varies from one restaurant or shop to another, so I carried both currencies with me and paid in whatever currency had a lower price. (Though you’re talking the difference of 50 cents, every penny counts!)
- Go on the included excursions – Many guesthouses have planned excursions that you can go on anytime you wish. Due to the private nature of staying at a guesthouse, often it will be you and your host enjoying scuba diving or snorkeling for however long you wish. It’s also a smart idea to ask around the local towns to see if they know of any special activities to do.