Ever thought visiting the Maldives was out of the question? I mean, those resorts… they just look incredible but paying $1000’s for a one night stay just didn’t seem feasible until one day, as I was scrolling through my Facebook, up popped a blog from Nomadic Matt about how Maldives could be done on a budget.
Somehow I remembered this post because whilst we were getting ready to go on our around the world trip with an open ended ticket, (to hopefully live the foreseeable future as digital nomads) we spent a good few weeks trying to decide where to start the trip. We wanted to go somewhere where we could just relax, almost have a holiday within the holiday, and ping, the lightbulb moment came to me as I remembered that post. Yes, the Maldives!! How cool would it be to go there now, before tourism goes mental and off the charts?
SEE HOW WE SPENT NO MORE THAN $100 A DAY EACH ISLAND HOPPING AROUND THE MALDIVES.Absolute essentials to bring to Maldives include a drone and a floatie!
So here’s the thing, it took me absolutely ages to work out a plan for Maldives. Now usually, when we travel, we just turn up and find accommodation. Not with Maldives. You have to book accommodation ahead because, well, getting to islands isn’t that easy and that’s when the local knowledge of the guest house owner will come through like a knight and shining armour and help you plan the trip. I however, wasn’t quite aware of this and did all of my own planning which is why I’m going to show you exactly how to travel around Maldives on a budget in my ultimate guide!
I did buy a lonely planet for Maldives but I didn’t actually use it once as I now rely on Trip Advisor and other blogs (like this awesome blog about Maldives )for more uptodate information. I booked all of my accommodation through airbnb and booking.com. If you’ve not booked airbnb before, use my link here to get AU$50 off! There’s no scam involved, it’s just because I’ve used them loads that others can get $50 off because of me 🙂
OK so brace yourselves, this is a long post but I think it’s the ultimate budget guide to visiting the local islands in Maldives as I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible and you’ll even get to see my itinerary, a map of the islands we visited and how much we actually spent.
Getting to Maldives is actually cheaper than you think
We managed to find flights from Sydney – Male for $350 with Scoot. I mean $350 probably wouldn’t even get you to Perth from Sydney, yet somehow we found flights to Maldives. Turns out flights from other destinations to Male can be cheap too. Just check good old skyscanner for flights.
Things to know before arriving
Drone shot of me on the perfect beach in Thoddoo
You don’t need a visa to visit Maldives under any nationalities, just make sure you don’t stay over 30 days!
This is a confusing one. Everything is priced in US$ and the local currency, Rufiyaa. It works out better value to pay in US$ but bring some local currency with you if you want to buy stuff at the local shop like drinks or ice cream. Also, there isn’t any ATMS on any of the local islands. I did however see one on Rasdhoo when we visited for the day, but that’s it, so bring US$ before you leave your country and get some local currency at the airport when you land. Most guest houses will have a credit card machine but check with your guest house before you arrive.
Expectation of the local islands
Don’t expect the local islands to be anything like a resort because they’re not. Travelling around Maldives this way allows you to go island hopping, immerse yourself in the local culture and to really get a feel of a country that is known for having the most luxurious resorts in the world. The local islands might not have the luxury of a resort but the beauty of the island will be there. The clear water as well will be out of this world!
Level of Service
As a backpacker or for someone on a budget, we specifically made sure we found the cheapest places to stay on the islands not only because we needed to but because I wanted to show everyone what Maldives is actually like on the tightest budget.
We were totally blown away by the service of the Maldivian people. From our guest houses to restaurants to boat drivers, the level of service was excellent. Not once did we carry our backpacks ourselves. If we needed something, our guesthouse host would go above and beyond to sort it out for us no matter how small an ask. As someone on a budget, I doubt you’d find anywhere else in the world with better service than in Maldives. We have those resorts to thank for that!
Honestly, Maldives has to be the safest country I’ve ever been to. The local people are incredibly friendly and the hospitality is on another level. We walked around with our expensive Canon cameras out and no one cared. When we flew our drone on all the islands, none of the locals even battered an eyelid. We got more attention at the resort from the other tourists! We also left our all of our equipment including 2 MacBook Pros in our room and they were fine. We also felt safe walking outside at night time and didn’t have any problems at all.
Most of all, no one hassled us, asked us for money or even tried to rip us off. We had a huge culture shock when we arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and greatly missed the level of service and safety in Maldives. I honestly don’t think you’ll get much better anywhere else in the world when it comes to being safe and being respected by the locals.
Mobile SIM and WifiDhiraagu phone shop at the airport
I read online to pick up a SIM from the airport which was a great idea because they actually have a really good deal for credit and data. I spent $32 for 15GB for 2 weeks. Can you believe I actually ran out of data? It was all of those insta stories I blamed it on because well, when you’re in the Maldives, you want the world to know about it! My lovely guest house owner Arif, in Fulidhoo helped me buy more data which was a mission but it cost me something like $30 for 5GB. You’ll get phone reception everywhere in Maldives, on the local ferry, on the islands, everywhere!
If you miss out on buying a SIM at the airport, there’s a Dhiraagu behind the ferry port in the centre of Male you can get one from there.
Wifi is also amazing in Maldives. It honestly kicked Australia’s butt to the curb, it was so good. But only in Hulemale and Thoddoo it was incredible.
Local Maldivian breakfast at our beautiful guest house, Thundi Guest House in Fulidhoo
There’s not a huge choice of restaurants on the local islands that we went to and you’ll pretty much be living off fish and rice everyday. The local breakfast is a mix of tuna and coconut and roshi (like roti) which is a simple but awesome dish. We also lived off Peanut bars and on some islands they had every single Magnum ice cream flavour going. Of course we tried them all!
Alcohol is banned in Maldives. If a local person is caught selling it or drinking it, they will go to prison. You on the other hand will probably be deported. But, anything goes on the resorts and you can drink there or there’s a booze boat on Maafushi Island (more on that later).
That’s right, you can visit a resort for the day and we paid $150 each which included the speedboat and entry into the resort for an all inclusive deal. This means you can experience Maldives on both sides for next to nothing and you can drink as much alcohol during the day before you get picked up and dropped back to your resort. More on this later on.
What to wearIf you’re wondering what on earth to wear on the local islands because it’s a Muslim country meaning men and women have to cover up their shoulders and above the knees, then I’ve written a guide here. I honestly didn’t see many tourists at all abide by these rules and it’s highly offensive to the local culture. I heard that women even went into the mosques with their bikinis on which is terrible. Be warned, it is very hot in Maldives but cools down in the evenings for a more manageable heat. We had aircon in every guest house we stayed in so it’s not too bad!
One thing to know is, because its a strict Muslim country it’s not like you can swim anywhere in your bikini or swimmers. You’ll need to go to a designated tourist beach known as a bikini beach to be able to sunbathe and swim as you would do normally, otherwise you’ll have to swim in your clothes on the local beaches. Make sure you check with the island you are staying on because I know Rasdhoo Island doesn’t have a tourist beach and that would suck because it’s so hot.
I really only noticed a huge influx of Italians and Russians on the last two islands I visited. When we visited Thoddoo, the locals said they had only met one other Australian before so Steve felt quite chuffed. The majority of tourists were couples or families. I rarely saw any single travellers but it doesn’t mean you can’t travel on your own at all.
Washing your clothes & bathroom habits
I was prepared to have to hand wash our clothes but there’s washing lines at most guesthouses and we were even allowed to use the guest houses washing machines!
Also, on a random note, don’t put any toilet paper down the toilets on the local islands, always use the bin provided.
Taking your shoes off
When you go into your guest house, shop or any building for that matter on the local islands, you have to remove your shoes. It soon becomes the norm and you’ll be doing it without even thinking!
Make sure you try scuba diving as Maldives has some of the best diving in the world. Check out our review here of Steve’s diving with sharks which was out of this world! Every island has different packages ranging from sandbank trips, resort trips, snorkelling, etc so there’s plenty to do in the day. At night, there’s not much going on so we just got early nights each night.
Transport Getting the local ferry was easy, cheap and a pleasant experience
This is a very tricky one because if you want to go island hopping like we did, you’ll need to plan way before you arrive in Maldives. More on this one later in the post. The local ferries and speed boats were brilliant. I’ve heard that the local ferries and speedboats sometimes don’t turn up and we experienced this when going from Ukulhas to Thoddoo so we had to pay $130 to get a private boat over to the island.
There are a few extra charges in Maldives like a tourist tax and green tax on the local islands. They are around $6 on top of your bill at your guest house, something that the government has included and can’t be avoided.
OK, so there’s a few things to know about Maldives. Still interested? Read on to see what islands we stayed on and where we also would have gone if we had more time.
In total, we spent 17 Days in Maldives.
Where to stay in Male
The reality of Hulhumale
It seems that most flights land into Male at night time meaning you’re going to have to stay the night in Male. Actually, don’t stay in Male because a) it’s absolutely boiling hot there, and b) did you know Male is the most densely populated city on earth? All tourists stay in Hulhumale, a man made island which is where the airport is based.Crazy views of high rises on the tiny island of the capital of Male
With over 150,00 people in Male, our taxi driver said that if everyone was to walk around the city, there wouldn’t be enough space in the 5.8KM2 radius. I have a feeling Thoddoo was a bigger island than Male as I timed it as 6KM when we cycled around it.
Don’t stay in Hulhumale for any longer than one night, because, well, it’s a dump although it’s where all the tourists stay. Construction is everywhere in Maldives and mostly here where new guest houses are going up by the dozen. We walked around it and all we could think of was it sort of looked like it was once a holiday destination, but has now been deserted and ruined. This is not what we hope Maldives to be like and frankly, it’s not a good first impression of the country.
Where to stay? We booked into UI Inn (for AU$45) although when we arrived, they made us go down the street and stay at another hotel. It was late, we’d been on a long flight and I didn’t actually are too much so we ended up staying at Star Shell Hotel which was pretty good.
Getting to Hulhumale is easy. You can either get the local bus which costs around $1. Once you come out of the airport, just turn left down the road opposite the water, and there’s a bus stop. It goes every 30 minutes to Hulhumale town. Or you can organise your hotel to pick you up and it costs just $10.
Or if you arrive early in the morning, you will probably be able to get onto a ferry or speedboat to the island you are visiting. For us, Maafushi was the easiest first island to visit because it was only 30 minutes away and the local speedboat cost $25 each and left the airport at 10am. You can also get the local ferry at 16:00 which won’t cost more than a couple of dollars. More on Maafushi below.
Sunset on Ukulhas Island was incredible!
There are like over 200 islands to choose from and it’s a bit of a minefield to know what’s going to be best for you. Luckily I ended up going to four islands: Maafushi (1 night), Fulidhoo (6 nights), Ukulhas (3 nights), Thoddoo (5 nights).
See below for a map of the islands we went to!
Our host on Thoddoo told me that apparently the further away from Male you go, the more beautiful the islands are. There were islands I wanted to go to but to be honest, they were so far away that you’d have to get a seaplane and they aren’t cheap. I was quoted $450 for a return seaplane ride, that’s more expensive than the flight from Sydney – Male! So I made sure I kept to local ferries and local speedboats when choosing the islands to visit.
When to visit Maldives
Visiting a sand bank near Thoddoo was simply amazing!
Just before I start, one thing I did learn was that the local islands are changing at such a huge rate because tourism is exploding. So, what might have been amazing a few years ago, might not be now or for that matter might be even better. Also, at the time of visiting in January 2018 during high season (Dec-Feb), every single island had construction going on with more and more guest houses being built. If you’re thinking of going to Maldives, get there now 🙂
I’ve also written more detailed posts about each island we visited which are linked in the sections below.
1. Maafushi – the main tourist local island
I specifically wanted to go to Maafushi first because a) it’s the local island tourist hub and b) I hadn’t read any good reviews about it and I thought if I visited it first, I wouldn’t have anywhere else to compare it to, and it would be a good insight to form my own opinion. Also, it was the easiest island to get to from Male which I stated above.
Weirdly the island also houses one of the two prisons in Maldives. This one is only for the drug addicts, yep you heard right. Maldives has a drugs problem. Weird to think alcohol is banned yet there’s a drug problem. We didn’t experience any problems on any of the islands with anyone with drugs whatsoever. You wouldn’t even know it’s a problem unless you chatted to the locals about it.
Maafushi was an island split into three sections, the local side, the tourist side and the prison. The tourist beach was jammed packed and there was building work everywhere. But Maafushi had a great holiday vibe to it. There were loads of restaurants on the beach and watersports so if you’re looking for a holiday vibe and want to be around loads of other tourists then this is a good place to base yourself. It is also a great island to experience loads of activities and best of all, you can get a great cheap deal to a resort for the day. I saw some for just $100 and we paid $150. Also remember there is a booze boat as well so if you want a drink you can just get a free transfer over to the boat.
Check out my video on Maafushi Island below
How much did we spend for one night?
$50 on accommodation incl. brekkie at Maafushi Inn
$10 on 2 coconuts (they were huge and delicious!)
$14 on two fish meals
$50 on speedboat from Hulmale
Getting to Maafushi
Local Ferry: 16:00 everyday except Fridays. Takes 1.5 hours and costs something like $2. Ask your guesthouse if they can ask the ferry to pick you up from Hulemale rather than Male ferry wharf.
Speed Boat: 10:00 everyday except Fridays. Takes 30 minutes and costs $25 per person. Ask your guesthouse to book this for you.
2. Fulidhoo Island – the ultimate castaway paradise
I absolutely loved this island for its beauty, authenticity and charm. It’s one of the smallest islands in Maldives but I just fell hard for it. We stayed at a beautiful brand new guesthouse called Thundi Guest House and it was stunning falling asleep to the waves every night. We also made friends with the local diving company and had an awesome time with them.If you’re looking for a very quiet island with a small but gorgeous little tourist beach, barely any tourists and an island so small you’ll get to know the locals quickly, then this is for you. The diving is also incredible from here as you’ll get to dive with sharks if you are Advanced certified. Be warned, there’s only two places to eat on this island so we ate at our guest house every night. Our guest house was in the middle of building a stunning rooftop restaurant when we were there, that I’m sure it will be THE go to place.
How to get there:
Ferry from Male – takes 3.5 hours every, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday and costs about $4US
Ferry from Maafushi (same one as from Male)
See here for more information about the local ferries from Male – Fulidhoo
Local Speedboat from Male – takes 1h10m and costs $50 one way. Ask your guest house to arrange for you.
Private Speedboat from Male – $200 one way. Ask your guest house to arrange for you.
How much did we spend on 6 nights in Fulidhoo?
$540 incl. brekkie ($90 a night at Thundi Guest House). Book here and make sure you use my $50 off airbnb here
$156 on dinner ($26 on dinner every night at the guest house)
$60 on ice cream and water (av. $10 a day)
$200 on Steve’s diving (inc 3 dives)
$40 on sandbank trip
3. Ukulhas – Maldives forward thinking eco friendly island
We wanted to go to Ukulhas because it’s known as the first eco friendly local island of the Maldives. You see, Maldives has a bit of a plastics problem and you might see some plastics washed up on the shore on the islands but not on Ukulhas. There’s constant reminders of keeping the island clean everywhere on the island and I especially loved the eco parks.
Ukulhas is perfect for those wanting an inbetween island. For somewhere that has a touristy vibe because there are a good few restaurants to choose from but also small enough to get a good local vibe. The beach is also beautiful here.
Our only let down was all of the other tourists were unfriendly Russians which was a shame. We did however absolutely love our accommodation called Holiday Haven and would recommend staying there in a second for the amazing hospitality and service.
How to get to Ukulhas
I found this screen shot below from another guest house site stating the ferry times:
Local speed boat from Male: Our guesthouse in Ukulhas sorted out our speed boat tickets and we paid them when we got there. After we arrived from Fulidhoo, we caught a cab for 30R around to the other port, at Ferry 6 opposite the Bank of Ceylon. The boat was an hour and a half late, something that’s apparently the norm in Maldives so we just waited with the other locals until it arrived. The speed boat cost $50 and the guys working on the boat had our names down for the boat so it was super easy.
Private speedboat from Male: I’m not too sure how much it would cost but I’m guessing it would be something like $200. Your guest house can easily arrange this for you.
How much did we spend on Ukulhas in three days?
US$278 – on accom
US$100 local speedboat to get to Ukulhas
US$300 on the resort
US$60 – on food ($20 a day)
4. Visiting a Ellaidhoo resort for the day
Whilst we were staying on Ukulhas, we decided to go and visit a resort for the day to see what it would be like in comparison to the local islands. We really loved that you can have the best of both worlds when staying on the local islands and at a fraction of the cost. We spent $150 each to get a speedboat to take us to the resort and for an all inclusive package. We stuffed our faces with the buffet lunch and drank as much alcohol as humanly possible before we had to go back to Ukulhas at the end of the day. As much as it was fab to experience a resort, I was glad we were experiencing the real Maldives.
5. Thoddoo – the fruit plantation island
We wanted to go to Thoddoo because it seemed so different to the other islands. For a start, Thoddoo wasn’t part of any of the 19 atolls in Maldives and it was an island all out on its own. We also wanted to really experience the local vibe and to see where most of the country’s fruit is grown.
The thing about Thoddoo is, like the other islands, it’s growing fast. Guesthouses has risen by 200% in the last year from 10 to 30 which is mad but it’s still pretty rustic. We went on a full board basis at Royal Stay Inn and the food was the best we had in Maldives. It’s a fifteen minute walk to the most beautiful local beach we witnessed in Maldives with a stunning beach den area jam packed with sun loungers and hammocks.
This is an island you can keep to yourself if wanted and you don’t have to mix with the locals at all if you want to spend all your time at the tourist beach.
There’s quite a few activities here too, we hired our bikes for $5 each and cycled around the island. See also did the sunrise manta ray trip and sand bank and snorkelling trips which were awesome.
This island was rustic, still had its authenticity but there seemed to be a divide between locals and tourists. Funnily enough the island was only full of Italians and Russians. We heard Steve was one of the first Australians to visit this island.
How to get there:
Local Ferry: The local ferry goes at 23:45 every night except Fridays and takes about 5 hours.
Local Speedboat: If you get the express from Male it costs $35 which leaves at 4pm everyday except Fridays. Because the ferry decided not to run on the day we had planned to arrive from Ukulhas, our amazing host from our guesthouse in Ukulhas managed to hire out the local speedboat to take us across the waters and before we knew it we had landed on a huge island thirty minutes away. It did cost us a hefty $130 thought.
Private Speedboat: I can imagine it’s around $200 for a private speedboat.
How much did we spend on 5 nights in Thoddoo?
$575 – full board accom for 5 nights
$20 – on icecream and water
$10 – renting out bikes for the day
$70 – getting the ferry back to Hulemale
Total spent on visiting four local island between two of us over 17 days which would have been cheaper if we just got local ferries and didn’t go on any excursions: US$2,523. I know that’s a lot for a budget traveller, but to be honest, when you think about it, you’d be lucky to pay for one night on a resort for that much!
Friday 5 January: 1 night in Hulhumale
Bus to Hulhumale $1
Saturday 6 January: Hulhumale – Maafushi 1 night
$10 cab back to airport, then $25 speed boat at 10am to Maafushi.
Accom: Stayed at Maafushi Inn US$50 a night
Sunday 7 January: Maafushi – Fulidhoo 6 nights
$3 local ferry from Maafushi to Fulidhoo (1.5 hours).
Accom: Stayed at Thundi Guest House for US$90 a night
Saturday 13 January: Fulidhoo – Ukulhas 3 nights
$3 local ferry from Fulidhoo to Male (3.5 hours) at 11am
$10 cab to Ferry 6 terminal to get the local speedboat to Ukulhas
$50 each for local speedboat to Ukulhas. Our guest house Holiday Haven sorted out our tickets and we just paid them at the end of our stay on Ukulhas.
Accom: We stayed at the awesome Holiday Haven (AU$116 a night)
Tuesday 16 January: Ukulhas – Thoddoo 5 nights
Local speedboat didn’t turn up
$130 on private speedboat to take us to Thoddoo (30 minutes) Our guest house again at Holiday Haven organised this for us.
Accom: Stayed at the lovely Royal Stay Inn (US$115 a night for full board)
Sunday 21 January: Thoddoo – Hulhumale 1 night
$35 7am local speedboat to Hulhumale Airport from Thoddoo (1h10m)
$10 taxi pick up from Hulhumale Airport to our guest house Koamas Lodge
Accom: Stayed at Koamas Lodge (AU$55)
Monday 22 January: Leave Maldives
$10 taxi back to the airport before our flight to Sri Lanka!
Islands we also considered
If we had more time, I would have probably visited some of the islands below Fulidhoo like Keyodoo, Thinadoo, Felidhoo. I was also really interested in the Barefoot Eco Resort but it looked like the only way to get there would be to get a seaplane as it’s in the far north of the country.
Islands like Gulhi and Guraidhoo near Maafushi are becoming really popular because of the mass tourism on Maafushi. We did consider staying on one of these islands but I’m glad we just headed straight for Fulidhoo as it was lovely and quiet there.
If you’re into surfing, there’s a famous surf spot called Coke’s at Thulusdhoo which is not too far away from Male.
OK, I think that’s it. If I’ve missed any important information off this list, let me know because I’ll update it if needed.
Hope this has helped any of you considering checking out the local islands in the Maldives because it truly is paradise!
Thanks for reading!