Over 1,000 islands make up the Sharia law ruled, Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives. Picture the bungalows extending over crystal blue waters and white sand beaches. While these are far out of the price range for the common traveller, here is how to do the Maldives on a budget…
Pre-2004, people traveled to the island nation and stayed on resort islands – privately owned islands with the bungalows and white sand pictured above. These resort islands were, and still are, effectively under their own law. They get to circumvent the strict Muslim laws, serving alcohol to tourists and forcing the women to cover up.
In 2004, the Maldives were hit with a massive tsunami. To help rebuild, the “local islands”, islands where ordinary Maldivians lived, were allowed to open guesthouses for tourists. These guesthouses cost a fraction of a resort island stay. Sure, you sacrifice booze and unrestricted attire, but the price is right. A night can cost as little as $50. Homecooked, freshly caught seafood will run you $5-$10 per meal, but the quality beats most resorts. Activities, including SCUBA and fishing, also cost significantly less than resort islands. Not to mention, the local islands we stayed on were far less crowded.
Still want to check out the resort islands? You can buy a day pass to visit the resorts, costing from $20-$100 per day depending how fancy the resort is.
The toughest part is choosing from the dozens of local islands to stay on.
200,000 of the roughly 400,000 Maldivians live in Male, making the tiny island one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Only a short and inexpensive boat ride from the airport, you won’t need much more than a couple hours to explore it while waiting for your next ferry.
EAT: THE CIVIL COFFEE SOCIETY, MERAKI COFFEE ROASTERS
Do: Fish Market
Fly from Male Airport. Known as “Whale Shark Island,” Maamigili harbors your best bet to see the massive creatures. The island itself has little more than a mosque and two or three restaurants serving the roughly 4,000 locals.
STAY: SHAMOON GUESTHOUSE & DIVE
EAT: MALDIVIAN BREAKFAST (TUNA, COCONUT, ONION)
DO: HOLIDAY ISLAND, SCUBA DIVE (SHAMMUN)
Ferry from Male. Guraidhoo is one of the closest islands to Male and one of the first to open guesthouses after the tsunami. Home to world renowned dive sites, find your way to the dive shop by the harbor and ask for Kuday, the pioneer of diving in the Maldives.
STAY: WIND BREEZE RESORT
DO: SCUBA DIVE (KUDAY, SALAAM)
Fly from Male Airport. Dharavandoo lays in an atoll near Hanifaru Bay, a UNESCO Heritage Site known to be home to one of the world’s most highly concentrated populations of manta rays.
STAY: HANIFARU TRANSIT INN
EAT: MINI BUNNY
DO: SCUBA DIVE (BLUEWATER)