Budget travel in the Maldives is not very common and rightly so. If you travel on a budget the Maldives are not usually on your itinerary and people think more of a honeymoon in the Maldives than backpacking. But since we were going to be in Sri Lanka we decided to investigate our options for a backpacking in the Maldives. We quickly discovered that travelling the Maldives on a budget was definitely possible and much easier than we thought. It does, however, take some careful planning and balancing of timing to make sure you get a good deal and won’t get caught paying a whole lot extra in fees, taxes and transfers.
Bear in mind that most ‘Maldives on a budget’ articles talk about very high budgets. Anything shy of staying in a full-priced resort with private butler (from 2000 per night) is considered ‘budget’ in the Maldives. But we’re focussing on experiencing the Maldives on a backpackers budget. Our usual travel budget just €50 per day between us and while a trip to the Maldives with flights included certainly blew this budget a bit, we managed to quickly offset those costs after a couple of weeks in India.
Our budget in the Maldives ended up being €53.50 per day for both of us plus €400 for flights. We stayed one night on Hulhumale (the island by the airport) and 4 nights on Dhiffushi Island.
So here are all the tips we picked up for doing the Maldives on the cheap and saving money while enjoying these beautiful islands.
Basic facts about the Maldives
Number of islands: 1200, 26 atolls
Currency: Maldivian Rifiyaa (MVR) although USD is widely used
Language: Dhivehi which has its own script. English is widely spoken and nearly all places will have English menus.
Religion: It is compulsory for all Maldivians to be Muslim. On local islands women wear headscarves and it is often not allowed to wear bikinis on the beach.
Cheap flights to the Maldives
Although our flights were not included in our budget of €50 per day it was still important for us to find cheap flights to the Maldives. We chose to go because we were going to be in Sri Lanka, only a one hour flight away. We booked a cheap one-way flight and then an onward flight to India. If you’re travelling from further afield consider spending some time in India or Sri Lanka as well to make the trip worth it. Apply the usual techniques for finding cheap flights.
BUT don’t book your flights until you’ve read the rest of the article as timing is very important!
Budget Accommodation in the Maldives
Since 2012 it has been possible for tourists to stay on the non-resort islands of the Maldives. Unless you find some kind of free giveaway at the resorts this will be your best option for budget accommodation in the Maldives. We used a combination of our usual budget accommodation finding tricks (read them all here) to check prices across a range of sources until we found a great deal on Dhiffushi Island. We paid €140 for four nights (including all taxes) in a gorgeous en-suite room two minutes from the beach. Have a look at Ameera Maldives.
If you're into surfing or diving make sure you choose an island where these are possible like Omadhoo. If not, almost every local island has amazing beaches and access to snorkeling so you can't go wrong. I looked at the guides on Budgetmaldives.co to get an idea of what was on the island but in the end it was the price that chose our island!
*TIP* In the Maldives, there are a lot of taxes added onto everything. For accommodation you’ll pay $3 per person per night in eco-tax, an extra 12% GST and a service fee of anywhere from 5-15%! So make sure you factor these into your booking and check if they’re included or not.
Food in the Maldives
We found local restaurants in the Maldives to be reasonably affordable. We did our usual trick of buying bananas and crackers for breakfast and only eating out for lunch and dinner. A meal on our island cost around $3-5 (all prices are given in USD on the menu) plus taxes and service charge. Besides the fresh fish, the food wasn’t great so we didn’t feel we were missing much by ordering cheaper meals. There was also a local café which sold various fried snacks such as samosas for about 50c. Max’s fresh fish meal was definitely worth it and could have fed 3 people!
Budget Activities in the Maldives
Another major money-saver for us was not doing any tours or activities during our stay. Max carries a pair of goggles in his carry-on sized backpack (obviously) and just swimming around at our beach he saw plenty of fish and a baby shark! We also decided we didn’t need a candlelit dinner on a sandbank or a day out fishing. But if you want to or you’re into proper snorkelling or diving there are a few options to weigh up.
Snorkel hire – our guesthouse offered snorkel hire if yours doesn’t try asking around at some other places. Although the snorkelling may be better with a boat tour you can still see a lot in the areas around the islands.
Take a tour – Almost all guesthouses will offer tours and day trips. The ones at ours started from around $30 per person per day.
Get a resort day-pass – if there is a resort island near to your island they may offer a day pass. Although not really within a backpacker’s budget this can be really good value for money. It usually includes transfers and unlimited food, drinks and activities for the day. The ones we saw started at around $80 per person for the day.
Public Transport in the Maldives
We used the public ferry system to get around (another benefit of staying on a local island). Instead of the $300 for a private transfer we paid just $1 for the public ferry. It took us 3.5 hours but the views were great and we had good books, as always. You can find more details and timetable for the local ferries on this website.
*TIP* The ferries don’t run on Fridays! As a result we found loads of hotel deals that meant a Friday checkout. If we hadn’t checked this first we would have been paying an extra few hundred for a private transfer back to the airport.
Most ferries only go once per day so make sure they match up with your flight times! We found this to be a bit tricky and is why we recommend not booking your flights until you've matched it with an accommodation deal on days that work.
If you find budget flights to the Maldives chances are you’ll arrive late at night or leave early in the morning. This means you’ll need to spend a night in Male or Hulhumale before heading out to the local islands.
We found the accommodation cheaper on Hulhumale, the manmade island attached to the airport. The public bus to/from the airport runs all night and costs around 70c. Our accommodation was comfortable, affordable and included breakfast. Have a look for the latest prices – Koamas Lodge
Since we had to go to Male to catch our ferry in the afternoon, we decided to explore a bit. You only need a couple of hours to wander around the sights of Male so don’t bother booking any extra days here.
Is it worth visiting the Maldives on a budget?
If the Maldives is on your bucket list, you love beaches and you're going to be in Sri Lanka or India then they are definitely worth checking out. They really are stunningly beautiful. BUT I wouldn't break the bank to see the Maldives if it means doing it on a tight budget. I'm really glad we went but we could have had a relaxing time on the beaches of Sri Lanka for half the price. Maybe save the backpacking for the South East Asian islands and visit the Maldives if/when you have the money to go all out on a resort or use the money to enjoy other places for longer.