Visiting the Maldives on a Budget

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Visiting the Maldives on a Budget

As the picture of island paradise, the Maldives have become the destination for travelers looking for the best in luxury, romance, service, and of course natural beauty.  Famous for over-the-water bungalows that go for hundreds of dollars per night and as the island paradise of the rich and famous, the Maldives can seem far out of reach for the average traveler.  If you have the money, you can’t get better than the private island resorts here but if your travel budget isn’t quite so grand, there is still hope.

Since 2009, government changes in tourism laws have opened up the islands to a small but growing budget traveler industry.  While most visitors opt for packaged stays on the private islands, independent travelers can now stay on local islands in small locally run guesthouses.  While this means saving a few good hundred dollars per night, visiting the Maldives on a budget is still something a bit off the beaten track and definitely requires some upfront research.

Getting There and Around

With the new guesthouse accommodations, the Maldives have become more approachable for the average traveler but getting to these remote Indian Ocean islands can still cost a pretty penny.  From the US or Europe, flights easily run upwards of $1,000 but if you are already making a trip to Asia, there are actually budget flight options that make doing a quick Maldives side trip a great idea.  From Sri Lanka and Malaysia, you can find budget flights as low as a $150 or so round trip.

Once you are on the islands, you will have to consider your transportation options carefully.  Luxury resorts usually arrange private speedboat transfers or inter-island flights, which usually run upwards of $100 per person.  For budget travelers, the only real option for getting to the various islands is by local ferry.  The ferry network in the Maldives is cheap and extensive, covering all the major islands.  That being said, the ferries don’t run everyday to every island and trips to the islands farther out can involve a multi day trip with stopovers on intermediate islands.  Yes, the ferries are cheap but if you don’t want to get stuck and end up paying a ridiculous price for a private speedboat transfer, plan ahead.

The Advantages & Disadvantages of Local Islands

If you want to stay budget, you have to stay local but there are a number of things to consider when choosing this type of travel in the Maldives.  Guesthouses are run independently and while most are great with air conditioning, private Western-style bathrooms, and attentive staff, there are a few growing pains in this new industry.  Do research before you go and check guest house reviews online. Another thing to consider before booking is what might be included in the per night cost of your guesthouse.  Many guesthouses include meals though if not, you can usually find options at local island cafes.

While the private island resorts in the Maldives are run as any top international resort might be, local islands follow Muslim law.  This means no alcohol and you will not be able to wear a bikini or revealing clothing while on the local islands.  Most guesthouses arrange daily excursions to nearby deserted islands where you can sunbath as you wish though and they can also often set up snorkeling, fishing, or diving trips as well.  A few guesthouses include the basic beach excursions in their price while most just offer them for a small additional fee.  Considering what the resorts charge for the same snorkeling trips, you will be saving a ton.  If you’d rather go completely independently, on many island you can also hire your own dhoni, a traditional boat, and driver who will take you to explore empty sandbars, deserted islands, or great snorkeling spots.

While your choice to stay on a local island might have been made out of necessity due to price, staying in a locally run guesthouse is a great way to see a side of the Maldives few package tourists ever visit.  The local communities are welcoming and friendly and while a beachfront bungalow does have its appeal, so does a local dinner with new local friends on one of the world’s most picturesque islands.

Photo Credit: muha… via photopin cc

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