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The idyllic islands of the Maldives are the epitome of a dream holiday. However, this paradise on Earth also comes with a hefty price tag with some of the most luxurious hotels and private residences in the world, calling it home.
Just south of Sri Lanka, the archipelago is relatively isolated, which is perfect for travellers wanting to get away from it all — but this makes getting there quite expensive. While flights to the Maldives usually top $1,000, there are cheaper ways of getting to the island nation.
Many Asian and Southeast Asian cities offer reasonably-priced regional flights to Malé, the capital city of the Maldives. International connections to the Maldives from cities like Dubai and Bangkok, tend to be cheaper than flying from other major hubs. Budget carriers offer cheap regional flights from Colombo in Sri Lanka, which also allows you to see another country.
Traveller’s tip: A lot of search engines don’t bundle these fares, so search separately for cheaper flights on search engines like Skyscanner.
The Maldives is made up of 1,192 islands, many of which have been developed as five-star luxury resorts. These heavenly resorts offer exquisite accommodation, world-class cuisine, and deluxe amenities. For budget-conscious travellers, however, these resorts may be slightly out of reach.
However, due to recent changes in accommodation laws, more independent guesthouses on local islands have popped up all over the country. These locally-owned establishments offer a wide variety of low-cost lodging for travelers on a shoestring.
Independent guesthouses are usually based on “local” islands where Maldivians live and are a great way of experiencing Maldivian life first-hand. These lodgings are comfortable and homely and run by friendly locals who are warm and welcoming. They usually have restaurants that serve traditional Maldivian cuisine in casual and laid-back settings.
The island of Maafushi is home to a good selection of three-star guesthouses such as the Picnic Inn, the Arena Lodge Maldives, and the Whiteshell Island Hotel & Spa. Head to the cozy Thundi Guest House on Fulidhoo in the Vaavu Atoll or the friendly Ukulhas Inn in the North Ari Atoll.
If you prefer a luxury resort vibe, your best bet is to look for off-season deals. Peak tourist season in the Maldives is between December and March when prices are at their highest. While the low season tends to be rainy, most resorts often halve their prices and offer great package deals.
You can also save a great deal on the room type. Swop the expensive over-water villas for a beachfront or garden suite. They might not come with all the bells and whistles but are just as comfortable.
Traveller’s tip: Whether you are staying on a local island or at a resort, take all your plastic bottles home with you to help minimise the impact on the environment.
One of the highest costs is getting to your hotel or resort from the airport island of Hulhulé. Some of the luxury resorts offer complimentary transfers, but if you are staying at an independent guesthouse on one of the local islands, you can catch a local ferry, which runs to and from the islands from Malé.
There are two ways to get to the island of Malé, the capital city – by taxi over the new Friendship Bridge, which was completed a few years ago, or by a local water taxi, which departs from the airport every 10 to 15 minutes. Water taxis are a much cheaper option and give you a great view of Malé from the water.
There are plenty of affordable options for overnight accommodation in Malé if you are planning to explore the city before heading to your island.
Traveller’s tip: Carry some local cash for the ferries as other currencies are not accepted. Money can be changed and withdrawn at the airport.
When it comes to dining, there is a variety of options for all budgets. Resorts offer all-inclusive packages with all food and drinks covered throughout your stay, but these can be expensive. Local restaurants serve delicious traditional Maldivian cuisine at a fraction of the cost.
Independent guesthouses have restaurants serving classic Maldivian dishes, which feature plenty of fresh fish, curries, rice, and vegetables. Larger islands like Maafushi also have a handful of local restaurants that might offer greater variety. Local islands are strictly Muslim and do not serve alcohol, but the larger, luxury resorts do.
Traveller’s tip: Learn how to cook Maldivian cuisine with a local cooking class.
With balmy year-round climes and warm, gin-clear waters that teem with marine life, the Maldives is one of the best spots in the world for snorkelling and scuba diving. It is also great for surfing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, or simply lazing on the beach.
Scuba-diving excursions can be expensive but snorkelling on the local reefs is just as good, with plenty of spectacular corals and fish to be seen. Many hotels offer non-motorised water sports for free like kayaking and paddle-boarding. Local islanders love a game of beach soccer or volleyball and often welcome visitors to join their game.
The smaller islands have local operators that offer better rates for boat and scuba-diving trips or other water-based excursions.
Traveller’s tip: Take your own snorkelling gear to save on rental costs.