Dates Visited: May 18, 2015 – May 27, 2015
# of Days: 10
Average Daily Budget: USD 50.00 per person
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 15.00 Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR)
Note: US dollars were an unofficial currency in the Maldives, especially for tourists. Maldivian Rufiyaas were mostly used for small purchases, though they were handy to have on hand, especially on the local islands. For US dollars, the bills must be crisp and new. We had a hard time getting our old, wrinkled, or stained bills to be accepted (apparently the Bank of the Maldives will not accept anything except brand new bills, so local merchants are careful). No US dollar withdrawal ATMs in the Maldives, so bring all the cash you need or be prepared to pay credit card transaction fees (usually 5%).
Maldives was the best country for accommodation so far. The standards were really high and even though we stayed in local islands, all the guesthouses were lightyears ahead of hotels in other countries in the area. Below is a breakdown by island:
Hulhumale (2 nights) – Our flight arrived late at night and we had an overnight stay at the Sunrise Beach Inn (USD 50 / night). The room was really good and well equipped with a comfortable bed, AC, hot shower and decent wifi. Our host was also very friendly and caring. On our way out of the Maldives, our flight departed early in the morning and we came back to Hulhumale the night before, this time staying at the UI Inn (USD 59 / night). The only reason we changed hotels was that the rate for Sunrise Beach Inn had increased to USD 75 / night. UI Inn was a good hotel too and we even had a room with a living room. The breakfast was decent as well.
Maafushi (7 nights) – We stayed at the Ocean Vista Guesthouse in Maafushi. We still can’t believe that we were staying in the Maldives for only USD 35 a night for both of us. The guesthouse was spotlessly clean and had comfortable bed and working amenities. The staff were super friendly too! The free buffet breakfast took care of at least one meal per day. While the guesthouse wasn’t right on the beach, the 5min walk was short enough. Highly recommended!
Money Saving Tips
- Stay on a local island! Budget stays in the Maldives have been possible since the country opened its doors to private guesthouses in 2009. Before that, it was only possible to stay in the fancy and pricey resorts. Instead of paying $600/night, we paid $35. That’s a big difference.
- Visit during low season. Peak season is European vacation months (July-August in the summer, November-January in the winter). Considering the amazing weather year-round, there is no bad time to go. So low season only has the added advantage of low occupancy and cheaper room prices. If the resort islands are any indication: $600/night during low season becomes $1500/night in high season (!!!).
- Websites like Agoda and Airbnb have more local guesthouses available in local islands than other hotel booking websites.
- We were told by a local that we could have gotten even cheaper walk-in rates, especially during low season. Also, note that this tip applies to Maafushi, which has a great number of guesthouses compared to other local islands. Depending on the local island you choose, you might have to secure your room due to the limited number of beds available.
Food & Drinks
Food in most restaurant in the Maldives were pretty similar – rice, noodles, sandwiches, grilled meat and such. One local specialty we tried was known as kothu roshi, which was very similar to the Sri Lankan kottu dish. Meals in the Maldives were more expensive, usually around USD 6 per person per meal, depending on the dish. Day excursions often include lunch. With the free buffet breakfast at our guesthouse, we averaged USD 6.50 per person per day for food and drinks, only paying for dinner and occasional snacks.
Money Saving Tips
- One of the options to save money when it comes to food is to cook. There are grocery stores on the island and some guesthouses have a kitchen, so you can really reduce your food expenses.
- Go easy on the drinking – alcohol is banned on local islands and is thus expensive. Boats offshore sell drinks, free transfer to and from from the pier included.
- Take advantage of the free buffet breakfast – we mostly saved money by skipping one meal, which we didn’t feel at all considering the huge breakfast. We also had plenty of free water provided by our guesthouse.
We flew from Colombo, Sri Lanka into Male with China Eastern – our tickets cost only USD 78.90 per person. To get around the islands and in between them, we either walked or took public transportation:
Bus – The airport bus in Hulhumale was the most modern and comfortable we have ever been on. It was also super affordable at USD 1 per person. They seem to run on an hourly basis and the ride from the airport to our guesthouse took around 10min. Local bus within Hulhumale (i.e. from our guesthouse to the pier) was even cheaper and runs more often. All bus stops are along the main road in Hulhumale, or just ask locals for directions.
Ferry – We took comfortable and cheap local ferries to get from one island to another. Ferries from Hulhumale (airport island) to Malé run every 10-15min and cost USD 0.30 per person. From Malé to Maafushi, the options are quite limited and we took the only daily ferry which cost USD 1.43 per person and took about one hour and a half.
Private cars – More expensive than public buses, private cars were necessary when we couldn’t wait for bus or no buses ran the route we needed. In Male, from the Vingilili pier (to Maafushi) to the Hulhumale pier, the cab ride cost a bit more than USD 2. A private van from Hulhumale to the airport cost USD 7 for both of us.
Money Saving Tips
- Use public transportation! Cabs, speedboats or chartered flights are insanely expensive. For example, a speedboat ride from Malé to Maafushi costs around USD 250-300 versus the public ferry at less than USD 2.
- The islands are also small enough that you can walk around them. We crossed the capital Malé in under an hour, walking from one side to the other. Maafushi was even smaller and circling the island took about 15min.
- Flights out of Sri Lanka (a big hub for Maldives) booked with a non-Sri Lankan business charges a foreign transaction fee. To overcome this, we used a Sri Lankan online agent (pepmytrip.lk). It was safe, reliable and saved us USD 60 per person on the flights!
The Maldives had numerous activities and they were the culprit of our high budget average (with no regrets!):
- Scuba Diving (Maafushi) – USD 30 per tank
I went scuba diving with Shark Diving School in Maafushi. For certified divers, each dive costs USD 30 (including full equipment rental). It was by far the cheapest school on the island, as the ongoing prices were around USD 50 per tank with other diving centers. I added a waterproof camera rental at USD 10 for the entire boat trip (2 dives). In comparison, on a resort island, dives cost USD 97 per tank (3 times more!).
- Resort Island Excursion – USD 93 per person
We wanted to experience what vacationing in the Maldivian resorts are like and we went for a day trip to Andaaran Prestige Vadoo five-star resort. It was a truly relaxing day and far more affordable than any of the rooms are the hotel (they started at USD 600 / 1500 per night during low / high season). Our package included round trip transfer (USD 25 per person) from Maafushi to the resort on a speedboat, access to all resort facilities and a four course lunch (USD 68 per person paid to the resort).
- 3-Point Snorkel + Sandbank Excursion – USD 40 per person
The marine life in the Maldives was simply amazing and we went on a snorkeling trip with iCom tours to three famous points next to Maafushi. The trip also included lunch on a sandbank.
Besides the activities listed above, our guesthouse also had free snorkel gear rental and we thoroughly explored the house reef in Maafushi, where we spotted octopuses, seahorses, stingrays and dolphins!
We also had intentions of taking a scenic photo flight over the atolls for USD 100 per person; however, the weather was bad that day and we cancelled. Next time!
Money Saving Tips
- The list of activities in the Maldives can keep you busy for weeks and are quite pricey, so choose carefully which ones you want. We opted for ones with the most value, so other excursions are even pricier.
- Excursion prices tend to depend on the number of people going on the excursion, so shop around between agents and on different days to find better prices for the same excursion. For example, the price for 2 people could easily be double the price for 4 people. So schedule on a day that already has other people. If you are looking for a private excursion, remember that your boat ride might be private, but the islands and the sea are not and you might find other people snorkeling / diving with you.
We had a blast in the Maldives and now we only dream of the day that we will return to this paradise. Most importantly, we did it all on a budget! For USD 50 per person per day, we proved that the Maldives is not the splurge honeymoon destination that many people think it is. Even though budget travelers are rare in the Maldives, the future for this industry is very promising.