August 1, 2017 - Yonder
Last Updated on 10/29/2021
The Maldives isn’t your typical backpacker’s destination. Located in the Indian Ocean, the necklace-shaped string of islands is incredibly luxurious (and can be very expensive to visit). This is why, for the most part, people who travel to the Maldives do so either on their honeymoons or after they’ve retired.
But a recent change in local laws is making it easier for the average traveler to enjoy the Maldives at a more moderate cost. In 2011, the Maldivian government passed a law that allows locals to run guesthouses and turn their houses into homestays for travelers. Before, the only lodging options for tourists were luxurious resorts. Now travelers have access to accommodation options ranging from $20 a night for a bunk bed to $100 a night for a proper homestay.
This brings us to our first point of advice when it comes to traveling the Maldives:
On average, nice hotels and resorts in the Maldives cost $300 a night. And that’s during the low season—from May to November. If you’re thinking about going during the holidays, you might want to take out a loan if you’re planning on staying at a resort. Luckily, since 2011, a budget travel industry has developed in the Maldives that allows tourists to eschew resort prices. There are lots of local websites with guesthouse listings, with the most well-known being Guesthouses in Maldives. For the most part, the listings on this site are family-run businesses. The average price for a double room at a guesthouse is $75. And since the Maldives economy relies so heavily on tourism, many of the people who now run guesthouses are former employees of the islands’ larger resorts. This means that the customer service and hospitality that come with the guesthouse experience are still incredible.
AirBnb has over 300 rentals available in the Maldives as well, so be sure to check them out too – some of the listings are as low as $25 for a private room with meals included. Be aware of the cancellation policies –some can be pretty strict. We recommend insuring your Airbnb with travel insurance.
The second most expensive aspect of vacationing in the Maldives is transportation once you get there. Most of the resorts are far away from the capital of Male, which itself is on a separate island from the isolated one that travelers fly into. To cut costs when it comes to transportation, resort travelers can do two things:
If you decide to go the resort route, there are hundreds of options across the Maldives. Each one is as stunning as the next. In fact, when you do a Google search for the Maldives, most of the results are advertisements for all-inclusive packages and hotel deals. Before you book, it’s important to understand that the farther a resort is from Male, the more expensive it’ll cost to get there. Most people staying on far-away islands travel either by speedboat or seaplane to their destinations. Note a one-way trip on a seaplane can cost as much as $300. Likewise, a speedboat ticket will set you back at least $150. So, whether you choose a resort or a guesthouse, staying closer to the capital will offer more affordable transportation options and shorter travel times.
If your heart is set on staying in the more remote parts of the Maldives, taking the public ferries is a must. Using the Maldives’ network of public ferries to get where you need to go will save you a ton of money. Though obviously less convenient, ferries will only cost $1 to get from the airport island to Male, the capital. From there, the price depends on how far you’re going, but you’ll never pay more than $20. Plus, you’ll always save at least $100 by avoiding seaplanes and speedboats.
Another important note about the ferries: Not all of them run every day. You’ll need to get familiar with the schedules and plan accordingly. Don’t book your flights without first checking to see when the ferry you’d need to be on departs from Male. And even if you plan everything perfectly, things can still go wrong. Delayed or canceled flights aren’t the end of the world, but in the Maldives, every moment is precious. To that end, travel insurance is a must. Even the shortest of delays from Sri Lanka to Male could cause you to miss your ferry. This could force you to find last-minute accommodations on the island — and average hotel prices in Male are $300 to $400. To avoid these costs, you’ll want an insurance plan with travel emergency coverage and robust travel delay benefits.
Our final recommendation to travel to the Maldives on a budget is one you can feel good about:
If you’re a marine biology nerd, we can’t recommend this route enough. The Atoll Volunteers website explains everything you need to know about volunteering in the Maldives and allows you to apply for service trips directly. Excursions range from 2 to 12 weeks. Each includes lodging, food, transportation among the islands, and pre-planned activities like snorkeling, surfing – even scuba diving! A two-week trip costs $1,300, which is much less than what a trip you plan on your own would cost for the same amount of time. Plus, you’d get to feed baby sea turtles, which is what we call a win-win. If sea turtles aren’t your thing, Atoll Volunteers offers lots of other trips related to education, community development, and medicine.
That wraps up our advice on how to travel to the Maldives on a budget. Flights from New York City to the Maldives in June are as low as $650 right now, so the timing couldn’t be better for you to plan a surprisingly affordable trip to paradise!