No one needs to be convinced how amazing Maldives is. A chance to swim with whale sharks, live in an over-water villa, or enjoy a picnic on your very own island — these sound like heaven on earth experiences, that might cost you a kidney, or two.
The good news is, the point on your kidney isn’t entirely true; and the secret is in experiencing Maldives the local way. Before opening up its country to independent travellers in 2009, the only way you could see the country was with private resorts situated on islands entirely of their own. This meant you could step into the country without ever having a glimpse into the local’s everyday lives — which is a big part of what we love about travelling.
Here are 5 ways you can experience the beauty of Maldives for as low as US$1k for a 6D5N experience of a lifetime.
1. Visit Inhabited Islands
Islands like Malé — the first island you’ll see after disembarking your flight — is where the true Maldivian lives play out.
For most travellers, this island merely serves as a transit before they’re picked up by private boats or seaplanes, en route to their private island resort.
Don’t be too quick to leave. Instead, spend a few hours, or even a night to explore and get acquainted with the friendly locals. Head over to the local tea house to try some snacks or take a walk down the street of brightly painted houses and busy markets. The friendly locals will be more than happy to strike up a conversation.
Other inhabited islands worth checking out include Maafushi (some of the cheapest guesthouses can be found here), Thulusdhoo (a favourite amongst surfers), and Mahibadhoo (slightly further away from Malé but great for spotting Whale Sharks and Manta Rays)
2. Skip the expensive seaplanes and take the local ferry
A ride on a seaplane can cost as much as your accommodation! Unless it’s an experience you’re dying to check off your bucket list, save that money for other experiences and try the local ferries instead. These local ferries run 24-hours daily (except for Fridays) and usually cost between US$2 – 10.
However, if you’re planning to visit some of the less populated islands, plan your schedule well before the trip as ferries might only leave two to three times a week.
For days that public ferries don’t run, the public speed boats are fairly priced at US$20 – 50 — which is still 10 times cheaper than Seaplanes!
3. Opt for guesthouses instead of private villa resorts
Staying in an over water-villa has its obvious perks, but they’re usually located on private resorts with not much else to do; unless you fork out more for that expensive day trip out. Guesthouses on inhabited islands have grown over the last decade with some offering luxurious rooms without the luxury resort price tag.
Our stay in Noovilu Suites (a luxury guesthouse located on Mahibadhoo) for two pax cost US$150/night. This included three delicious home cooked meals, WiFi in the rooms and access to a beach just steps from the main door. Just be wary of dressing too scantily on the local beaches as its predominantly still a conservative muslim country.
Other than saving money for the more epic activities on your trip, you’re also supporting the local business owners on the islands!
4. Get tours from your accommodation host
For guesthouses on less populated islands (like Mahibadhoo), you’ll usually be assigned a host who will introduce you to the island as well as the family members who run the place. They’re also the best to ask for activities on and off the island.
You can ask to be whisked off on a speed boat to a whole island (or rather sandbank) to yourself for US$50, swim with whale sharks and manta rays US$135 or even sign up for an introductory course on diving — probably the best way to experience the Maldives.
These experiences may seem pricy but they’re a steal compared to what you can get from private island resorts.
For more populated islands like Maafushi, pop into a few adjacent guesthouses to compare the prices before confirming your tour. The prices are usually quite competitive but offer extra perks like meals and free flow soft drinks while on the tour.
5. Try local Maldavian cuisine
On Malé and Maafushi, there are tea houses and cafes that usually don’t cost more than US$5 for a decent meal. For breakfast and tea, grab some sandwiches and “short eats” for less than US$3. For lunch and dinner, it’s usually fish, curry and buttered rice. The fish is usually caught in that same morning so you can expect a fresh catch on your plate.
On the less populated islands, restaurants and cafes are non-existent since the locals don’t really eat out. Instead, your meals are included in the cost of your stay at the guesthouse. Meals here are prepared by the family and you might even be invited to eat together with the extended family. The food is simple but delicious and the family’s cook will make sure you’re well fed.
Is Maldives on your bucket list? We hope these tips have inspired you on a trip to the breath-taking Maldives. Experience local hospitality, discover the uniqueness of each island and explore the great underwater world of Maldives.