Like most people we’ve heard of the Maldives and associate it with white beaches, turquoise waters and bungalows spreading out over the water like fractal art.
It was however only seven weeks into our Indian subcontinent trip that we researched the Maldives for the first time. We were in Nepal at the time and wanted to go to Sri Lanka. We read a few blogs and looked for flights and accommodation and less than a week later we landed at Velana International Airport in the Maldives for a 10-day beach holiday within our three-month backpacking trip covering India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Since we’re travelling for so long we were on a tight budget. Here’s how we managed to afford it.
Since we were already in the region and wanted to go to Sri Lanka from Nepal the incremental flight cost of going to the Maldives were only 190 USD per person. We booked only five days in advance so prices could be even lower with proper planning. Flying to the Maldives from South Africa would have cost around 970 USD depending on the season. We found the cheapest flight by doing a ‘multi-city’ itinerary with Sri Lankan airlines booking Delhi to Male via Colombo and then Male to Colombo and Colombo back to India.
The non-resort ‘local’ tourism industry was only legalised in 2009, before that foreigners were basically only allowed at resorts costing upwards of a 1000 USD per night. The first local island to start opening guest houses was Maafushi, a local island close to Male. From what we read however it is already too commercial, overcrowded and polluted. We thus decided to go the the Alif Alif atoll to the West of Male. Immigration officials sometimes ask for proof of accommodation, so we booked two guesthouses on two local islands via Airbnb. The first one, Surf Retreat on Bodufolhudhoo, we chose as it was literally the cheapest guest house in the whole of the Maldives. Only 25 USD per night. They had a big special on Airbnb just for those few nights. The other guesthouses and their regular price is usually around 50 USD per night.
We wanted to see a second island and chose Thoddoo as we read good things about it and it was a bit different from other local islands as it has a large agricultural section. Again, we sorted all listings by price and booked the cheapest guest house we found, the Beach Holiday Inn, a brand-new place with no reviews. Since we were the first people to book on Airbnb we got the booking fee off, thus only paying 30 USD per night.
Before arriving we still thought these prices to be expensive as we’ve gotten used to sub 10 USD rooms in India and Nepal. After staying at these guest houses we’ve however realised that it is very good value for money, even though we would have gladly paid half price without all the ‘extras’. Both rooms had a 42-inch satellite TV, air-conditioner, a safe, mini fridge, shower and beach towels, snorkelling gear, daily turn down service, mineral water and breakfast. To us it thus felt like resort-like service for a tenth of the price. We’re not sure if it is like this because it is what most travellers expect or because it is the only type of accommodation the locals know as they’ve only ever seen and worked at the resorts.
For the first and last night in the Maldives we stayed in Male in someone’s bachelor apartment, again the cheapest place on Airbnb. We we’re probably just lucky but we can’t imagine getting anything better at any of the three places we stayed at.
Food and Drinks
We were so afraid of high prices that we bought lots of two-minute noodles and snacks in India and brought it along to the Maldives. The two-minute noodles turned out to be overkill as we firstly didn’t have easy access to boiling water and secondly because it turns out food is not that expensive. We bought bread, peanut butter and honey in Male for about the same price as in South Africa.
On the local islands we started our days with the complimentary breakfasts and then having a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. On both Bodufolhudhoo and Thoddoo there were restaurants where we could buy meals for under 4 USD that we even shared. Dishes like tuna fish and chips, fried noodles or fried rice. Granted the food is not Michelin star quality, but again compared to what we’re used to as backpackers it was more than sufficient. Even in the local shops things cost more or less the same as in Male and abroad. Like 0.60 USD for a 500ml bottle of Coca Cola.
The Maldives is made up of some 1000 islands of which 200 is inhabited. Depending on the distance one can either fly there with a seaplane, take a speedboat or a local ferry in descending order of price and ascending order of speed. We planned on only taking the public ferries as it costs a fraction of what the speedboats charge. On our second morning we however couldn’t wait to get to the beach on the local island and couldn’t imagine sitting on a ferry for five hours while the sun was out. We thus took a scheduled speedboat for 40 USD per person from Male to Bodufolhudhoo, which only took 2 hours including stops at other islands. From Bodufolhudoo we took a speedboat again to Rasdhoo for 10 USD as there are no public ferries. From Rasdhoo to Thoddoo cost 5 USD per person. Finally, going from Thoddoo back to Male we took the midnight ferry for 10 USD per person, not only saving 25 USD per person over a speedboat, but also the cost of accommodation for the night. The ferry arrived in Male 05:00 in the morning, but we could sleep on the ferry until 06:30.
Most activities involving a private boat like snorkelling, diving, fishing and water sports start at around 40 USD. Even in the off-season and after negotiating the cheapest price we heard was 35 USD per person for a snorkelling trip. In the end we didn’t do any paid excursions as snorkelling in the house reefs and walking on the islands were spectacular enough.
The ten days in the Maldives including flights cost us a total of 437.64 USD per person. We usually measure our daily average spend by excluding the international flight. This then comes out to 25 USD per person per day, which is amazing. Our average for India was 30 USD per day. Below is a breakdown of our expenses in the Maldives calculated per person (in USD).
So there you have it. If your are already in the region and would like to experience the amazing crystal clear waters and white sand beaches you can do so without breaking the bank.