Maldives are an incredible travel destination, often associated with luxurious getaways rather than budget travels. And while Maldives won’t to be the cheapest stop off on your backpacking trip through Asia, with some research beforehand and the right amount of preparation, this honeymoon haven can easily be explored quite inexpensively! Want to know the cheapest way to Maldives? Easy, simply read on!
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The best time to visit Maldives
Maldives are a wonderful destination where the temperatures rarely drop below 23ºC, but because of the rainy season, some months are not recommended for tourist travels. The monsoon season starts in May and runs through October, with its peak around June. High season for tourists is between December and April, when the climate is most dry.
Another thing to take into consideration when visiting Maldives are religious events and festivities that follow the Islamic calendar (Maldives are the only country in the world besides Saudi Arabia with 100% muslim population). While big tourist resorts might be unaffected during the fasting month of Ramadan, travelling through Maldives on a budget means that you will have to stay and dine at more local places, where opening hours or even business operation in general might be affected during the great fast.
Budget things to do in Maldives
Many imagine a trip to the Maldives being a cavalcade of long days spent on the beach, with a drink right next to the deck chair. And of course, if you need your beach-time and relaxation, go for it. Beaches are gorgeous and free to enjoy (with absolutely magical sunsets) but do not forget that Maldives also offer other inexpensive activities.
While the islands are known for a wide range of scuba diving opportunities, renting the full equipment and paying for a diving course might not be within a backpacker’s budget. Instead, try snorkeling, as less equipment is necessary, and renting goggles and fins comes cheaper than renting full scuba diving gear with a wetsuit. If you happen to be a swimming enthusiast who travels with own goggles, use them for amateur-snorkeling! The marine life in the Maldives is very diverse and easy to spot everywhere, so even when swimming around at regular beaches, you should be able to see plenty of colorful fish and other sea creatures. If you aren’t confident going snorkeling on your own, majority of the Maldives hostels and hotels will be able to organize a snorkel trip.
Even when backpacking, you might want to bring some souvenirs back home or do some local shopping. It is also a fun way to explore the more urban side of Maldives. If you want a true Maldivian shopping experience, go to Majeedhee Magu in Malé City. Majeedhee Magu is a shopping street famous among locals and tourists. The street stalls offer a wide range of affordable souvenirs, clothes and ethnic jewelry, as well as unique Maldivian handcrafts. Many vendors will be selling food too, so you can pick up some local pickles or desserts or try the famous rihaakuru – dried and salted fish.
Budget travellers can also choose to spend just one or two days of their trip to Maldives in a resort or simply go on a day-excursion to one of the luxury retreats. Your guest house or hostel should be able to organize a trip for you. A day tour to a resort would often include a spa-treatment, maybe a nice dinner in an elegant restaurant and of course give you the opportunity to relax on a private beach. Cost of a day-visit to a Maldivian retreat would be between 60 – 120 USD. Keep in mind that even when your hostel or guest house arranges a day-trip for you, usually the transfer fares need to be paid separately, so make sure you are informed about all fees!
Places to visit in Maldives on a Budget
Exploring Malé City is a good option for backpackers and budget travellers. Except its variety of cheap eats and affordable shopping options, Malé will also give you a sneak peek into Maldivian culture. For its unique architecture and cultural significance, you should visit the Malé Friday Mosque. Also known as Hukuru Miskiy, it has been featured on the UNESCO World Heritage cultural list since 2008. Another breathtaking piece of religious architecture in Maldives is Kandhuvalu Mosque. This incredible site is located in Haa Alifu and seems to float on water. Majority of tourists will have to settle with admiring the site from the outside though, as the mosque may only be entered by Muslims.
Another place in Malé City where you can get a taste of Maldivian culture and history is the National Museum, which not only showcases the history of the country, but also has an interesting story on its own. In 2012 the museum was attacked, and parts of its pre-Islamic collection were destroyed, with significant damages on non-Islamic artifacts like Buddhist statues.
If cultural escapades aren’t your thing and you would much rather spend your time outdoors, but your budget keeps you in or close to Malé, you can always explore Sultan Park – the city’s green oasis with fountains and cute alleys perfect for a relaxed stroll.
But you probably didn’t pick Maldives as your travel destination to stay in the city! With almost 2000 islands it can be difficult to pick which one(s) to visit, but we would recommend going to Himmafushi. The island is only an hour away from Malé, and the ferry trip costs 2 USD. It is a great choice for a budget traveller who is also short on time. Himmafushi is very small, but there are a few restaurants as well as a “bikini beach” for you to enjoy (we will explain the phenomenon of “bikini beaches” further on). The island is also a great spot for diving and surfing. One thing missing on the island is an ATM though, so make sure to bring cash with you (ideally both dollars and Maldivian Rufiyaa)!
Where to stay in Maldives on a budget as a backpacker
In a place where luxury resorts pop up one right next to another, it can seem daunting to find cheap accommodation when backpacking in Maldives. We assure you that finding an inexpensive place to stay can be done easily. Before we get into types of accommodation available in Maldives, it is important to make a distinction between staying on local islands in comparison to the so-called resort islands. While the price range for a night spent on one of the local islands like Himmafushi, Gulhi or Mahibadhoo would be between 30 – 95 USD per night, checking into a hotel on one of the retreat islands can easily cost you from 300 USD per night and above. Not an option for Maldives backpacker!
When booking your accommodation do not solely look at the price, but review the accessibility of your hotel/hostel, since lower price could be determined by an unfavorable location. Some of the Maldivian islands are only accessible by seaplane which is an expensive travelling option, so make sure you don’t end up spending a fortune on the journey from the airport to your final destination. (In the next section of our Maldives travel guide we will provide you with a few hacks on how to around Maldives efficiently and inexpensively.)
When backpacking in Maldives the best accommodation option is to stay away from resorts and use the major booking websites to look for the more local guest houses instead. When staying in a guest house, you will be able to experience local, day-to-day island life, and you can ask your hosts for help to arrange snorkeling, diving or other water-sport sessions too. Hostels and some hotels can also be an inexpensive accommodation option for Maldives, however guest houses have the advantage of a more authentic living experience. One last option worth mentioning is couch surfing (both in Malé City and on the islands). It might be the right pick for you if you are travelling alone and want to connect with a local host or if you are on a really tight budget.
How to get around Maldives on a Budget
Transportation in the Maldives is relatively cheap. Your first trip will most likely be the public ferry from Malé Airport to the Ferry Terminal, which can be done for as little as 1 USD! The journey takes 15 minutes, and the ferries run every 10 – 15 minutes. Only if you land between 02:30 AM and 04:00 AM, you might have to wait for your ferry for up to 30 minutes. Local ferries are the most common way to get around between the islands, and they are the most affordable option as well (a single journey shouldn’t cost more than 2 – 4 USD). The disadvantage is the slow speed and the infrequency in the schedule (cancellations due to bad weather occur quite frequently!).
An alternative would be speedboats, which are a middle-range price option, starting at around 25 USD up to approx. 60 USD per trip. They are often available on request, and if you are travelling as a group and splitting the fare, taking a speedboat might turn out to be an affordable choice as well. Definitely stay away from seaplanes if you want to visit Maldives on a budget! Taking one could even double the cost of your whole trip, as the prices start around 250 USD per person for a one-way trip. If you have chosen a challenging location for your stay in Maldives, and can’t access it by ferry or speedboat, check domestic flights, as they will be cheaper than seaplanes (the airfares for domestic flights start from around 150 USD).
Overall guide to backpacking in the Maldives
Maldives can easily become an inexpensive tourist destination, if only you are willing to go local and low-key. Your daily food budget doesn’t have to go over 10 USD, if you choose to eat in small restaurants (you can get a Maldivian breakfast for as little as 2 USD). If you want to avoid unpleasant surprises, always remember to check whether taxes are included in the price that you see on the menu. 10% government tax and 12% local tax are usually added on top of your bill! Prepare for small surcharges when paying in US dollars too, as some sellers might round up the USD amount. We recommend exchanging a small amount of US dollars to Maldivian Rufiyaa if you want to be sure to pay the exact fares in local stores or for transportation.
In Maldives, beautiful beaches are everywhere, but this does not mean that you can carelessly put on your swimsuit and enjoy yourself wherever and however you want. When going to public beaches, make sure that you are entering one of the so-called “bikini beaches” set up for tourists. Since Maldives are a muslim country, swimsuits are banned in public areas, and that includes seasides too! Maldivian beaches aren’t solely to be enjoyed by day though! With very little pollution and clear skies (outside of the rainy season, that is), Maldivian waterfronts are the perfect spot to enjoy a beautiful sunset or admire a starry sky in the night!
While activities in Maldives are often affordable, bear in mind that transportation fees when island-hopping might become a significant add on to your overall budget. Limit your backpacking itinerary to islands in the nearest proximity of Malé city, and if there is no public ferry service to your destination, look for fellow backpackers to split the cost of a speedboat with! Tourists in Maldives are surrounded with exclusive luxury offers and it can be tempting to indulge, but balance is key. If you are planning to visit several destinations in Asia, Maldives will not be the cheapest on your list. Compared to Sri Lanka that is only 1.5 hours away by plane, Maldives do become more of a premium destination. However if you do have some extra dollars to spend, you won’t regret including the sandy Maldivian beaches into your Asian backpacking route!