Few places conjure images of luxury quite like the Maldives. Crystal clear waters, private islands, and intimate bungalows over the ocean – this tropical paradise isn't even remotely on the radar of most budget travelers. So is it even possible to visit the Maldives on a budget?
Twenty years ago? Almost certainly not. But in recent years, tourism in the Maldives has exploded, and more and more budget-friendly guesthouses are popping up across the islands. Once a honeymoon-only destination, the Maldives is now attracting travelers that would normally opt for more budget friendly destinations like Bali or Thailand.
So if you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience without breaking the bank, read on for our top tips for visiting the Maldives on a budget.
The Maldives on a budget: Know before you go
Dress with respect to local customs
Because the Maldives is a Muslim nation, you need to cover up a bit more than you normally might on a tropical island. Shoulders and knees should be covered when walking around and when not on a "Bikini Beach" (more on that below). However, these rules do not apply to private resort islands.
Be prepared to go without alcohol (and pork)
Again, as a Muslim country, the sale of alcohol and pork is illegal outside of the major resorts in the Maldives. But on the bright side, think of all the money you'll save by switching to fresh fruit juices!
Budget for the Green Tax
Hotels, resorts, vessels, and guesthouses are required to charge a daily Green Tax fee to guests. The fee is $6/day for hotels, resorts, and tourist vessels. For guest houses, it's just $3/day.
The United States Dollar is legal tender
While the local currency is the Maldivian rufiyaa, you'll also want to bring plenty of USD cash before your trip. Some places will give you a better price depending on which currency you pay with, others flat out require USD. Plus, ATMs can be very difficult to come by depending on where you are.
Plan your transportation
As a series of spread-out islands, your options for getting around the Maldives are by domestic flight, speedboat, or ferry. The public ferry network is comprehensive and highly affordable but will cost you much more in terms of time. Speedboats can save you time but can cost anywhere from $25/person to $250 altogether. Atoll Transfer is a great resource for mapping your transfer routes ahead of time.
Free and cheap things to do in the Maldives
Soak up the sun on a Bikini Beach
As mentioned above, the Maldives' conservative dress code extends to the public beaches, where beachgoers are expected to remain covered up. However, most of the islands now have tourist-designated beaches, commonly referred to as Bikini Beaches, where you're free to wear your usual swimming attire. Again, if you're staying on a private island or resort in the Maldives, this almost certainly won't apply to you, as they tend to have their own private beaches – or islands, in many cases.
Not sure where to start? Here are 6 of the best bikini beaches in the Maldives.
Go snorkeling or scuba diving
Colorful fish, coral reefs, and even sea turtles – the waters of the Maldives check all the usual boxes of an awesome tropical dive spot. But the best part of diving and snorkeling in the Maldives? The fact that you can swim alongside incredible sights and creatures including manta rays, massive whale sharks, and sunken WWII tankers. Now you just have to seek out the best places to snorkel and dive in the Maldives.
Find your own sandbank
Throughout the Maldives, you'll find tons of picturesque sandbanks – stretches of unspoiled sand that are covered and revealed depending on the ocean's currents. Find a boat tour or a package that takes you out to one of these sandbanks and you'll feel like you have your own tropical island all to yourself. Some tours will even include a picnic.
Treat yourself to a resort day
Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't treat yourself!
If you need a break from the budget lifestyle – whether you want a spa day or just desire a cold adult beverage during your trip – you can actually pay for a day pass to several of the Maldives' best resorts. This isn't always possible at higher-end places such as the Four Seasons, but you'll still have plenty of options to choose from for your day of luxury.
Prices depend on the resort. Some properties in the Maldives only charge for entry + whatever you eat or drink, while others offer packages with amenities like meals included. It's probably easier to shop around online to find out which resorts offer a day pass or use this list as a place to start. Your guesthouse might also have some good suggestions.
Ask your guesthouse
Locals know best, right? If you're staying at a guest house, they'll likely offer excursions and activities for only a fraction of the cost of the uber-expensive resorts. If not, you may be able to join excursions from a nearby hotel. Just don't forget to shop around for prices before buying! Many of those pricey hotels offer excursions with equally expensive price tags.
Lounge in a hammock
It's a postcard – or Instagram, now – cliche for a reason, right?
Take a break after all those activities to just kick back and relax. There are hammocks set up at most beaches and resorts in the Maldives, so grab a book and soak up the sun!
Where to stay on a budget in the Maldives
Resorts and Guesthouses
Prior to 2009, your only option for visiting the Maldives was to spend anywhere from $350 - $900 per night to stay on one of the resort islands. But now, guest houses have been popping up across the archipelago over the years, providing budget travelers with a real chance to visit the Maldives on a budget.
If you're looking to stay in a local guesthouse in the Maldives, you can expect to pay $40 - $60 per night, depending on the time of year. This price range can get you a clean, comfortable room with standard amenities like air conditioning, a hot shower, and wifi. Most guesthouses can be booked on popular platforms like Booking.com, Agoda, and Airbnb.
Which Maldives island should you stay on?
As for which island to choose, that's completely up to you. Maafushi is the most touristy and developed of the non-resort islands. It's got plenty of restaurants and places to stay, both hotels and guest houses, along with transfer options to other islands. Just be aware that with all this development comes slightly higher prices and, at times, a crowded bikini beach. Other popular islands in the Maldives include Fulidhoo, Guraidhoo, Rasdhoo, and Thoddoo.
Cheap flights to the Maldives
Recently, Dollar Flight Club members have saved between 70-90% on cheap flights to the Maldives. On average, our members spent $675 on their tickets and saved over $800 per ticket. Here are a few samples of cheap flight deals that Dollar Flight Club members have received recently.
New York City (JFK) to Velana International Airport (MLE)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $662
Average Price: $1,425
Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Velana International Airport (MLE)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $625
Average Price: $1,500
Boston (BOS) to Velana International Airport (MLE)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $734
Average Price: $1,495
Finding cheap eats in the Maldives
If you're staying at a guesthouse in the Maldives, look for places that either include at least 1 meal daily in the price or that offer the option to pay for dinner on site.
Most locals eat at home so many of the less-traveled islands offer an extremely limited selection of restaurants. Of course, this isn't a problem in popular places like Maafushi or the resort islands.
Naturally, fish is a huge staple in the Maldives. You can expect to have many meals of fish curry and rice during your travels. For breakfast, your guesthouse will likely offer you Mas Huni, a delicious mixture of tuna onion, chilis, coconut, and lime served with a traditional flatbread called roshi.
Start planning your trip to the Maldives
Although these islands aren't the cheapest destination, it's still possible to visit the Maldives on a budget. If you're ready to visit this dream destination, be sure to save this budget travel guide, sign up to receive cheap flight deals, and start planning your trip to the Maldives today!
BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.