White sandy beaches, pristine clear waters, and an unparalleled underwater world, it is no wonder that the Maldives is often referred to as paradise.
Maldives is a place that has been on my bucket list for awhile. Yet I’ve been putting it off because of how expensive I thought it was. While images of bungalows over waters immediately come to mind, the exorbitant prices resorts charge doesn’t make sense for most of us.
But on my recent trip, I realised that it doesn’t have to be. A trip to paradise can be visited on a budget. For a 2 night stay in a luxury resort like club med, you can get an equally awesome vacation over 6 days!
During our time in the Maldives, we spent a total of US$931 per pax inclusive of flights and accommodation. We had picnics on remote islands, snorkelled at beautiful reefs, and even swam with turtles and manta rays!
Path to paradise on a beach in Hulhumale
Yes it isn’t the same as staying in a luxury resort. But for most of us who don’t want to spend a few thousand on a short vacation, this is the best bet. I’ve also found it a little contrived to visit a country and be totally excluded from the local culture and population.
This isn’t just a Maldives budget guide, but also an introduction to experiencing Maldives as a traveller. Full budget breakdown at the end of the post!
To start things off, here are some of our favourite highlights:
Things to do in Maldives
Mahibadhoo (Ari Atoll Area)
(1) Picnic on a remote island
The speedboat that brought us to an uninhabited island… with absolutely no one in sight. The beach tent was a nice touch. So was the picnic prepared for us.
With thousands of islands, this is probably something you can only do easily in the Maldives. Our guides whisked us off on a speedboat and brought us to a remote island in the middle of no where. The best part is that we had the entire island to ourselves! It doesn’t get more exclusive than this.
There is a certain liberation in not having to share a beach with anyone else. Our guides even brought lunch and afternoon snacks so we can picnic in paradise. We also snorkelled in the waters around the uninhabited island.
(2) Snorkel with amazing marine life
Manta ray “flying” by. Loved these full face masks that allowed us to breathe normally while snorkelling.
From manta rays, sea turtles, fishes, to all sorts of corals, the abundance of life under the sea makes this such an exciting place to be.
Snorkelling and dive spots are everywhere, so you don’t have to look too hard.
(3) Swim with whale sharks
According to our guide, “if the weather is good, you can see whale sharks anytime.” We stayed at Mahibadhoo, an island in the Ari Atoll area, where whale shark activity is very high. In fact, many people from other areas travel all the way here to spot whale sharks.
Swimming with these gentle giants would have been a highlight. Unfortunately for us, the weather wasn’t too good on the day we were supposed to do this and we were short on time.
I’ve included the cost for this in our overall budget below though, because we would have done this had the weather been better.
(4) Unwind in paradise
Trying acro yoga while chilling at the beach Walking towards the beach on the inhabited island of Mahibadhoo. Workshop on the left, and kite surfer out in the ocean.
Coming from a city like Singapore where most of us are overworked, it was nice being in an environment where life is slower.
Something you’ll notice is that there are many “swings” hanging on random trees near the beaches! These are called undholi, which are basically some kind of hammock and chair combination that the Maldivians love.
Relaxing on the undholi chairs.
It might seem odd, but it’s very comfortable and cooling. The gentle rocking motion is surprisingly calming too. What a way to enjoy life.
I also love how you can find the locals improvising these with anything they can find. Using pipes, wooden sticks, or whatever they can find.
(5) Stay in a local luxury guesthouse
Modern, spacious, and well decorated. Felt more like a nice chalet instead of a guesthouse.
One of the things we wanted was to experience local Maldivian life. At the same time, we wanted something somewhat luxurious but still budget friendly. In the end we got the best of both worlds by booking a luxury guesthouse called Noovilu Suites!
At US$150 a night with 3 meals for 2pax, we found this a bargain. There was even a house reef and free rental of snorkelling gear for the guests. We also had a local host, who showed us what life is like in the Maldives while making sure everything was well taken care of.
With our friendly host Hamdhoon. From left to right: Fried brinjal, fish dhal, roasted vegetables
The meals were exceptionally good too! While you won’t find an international buffet here, you’ll find homely meals. Feel free to make simple requests too!
(See also: The Maldives Luxury Guesthouse Experience)
(6) Try local cuisine
A typical local Maldivian teahouse. The food kind of reminds us of malay/indian cuisine.
Every time we visit a new place, this is something we look forward to. While international cuisine may be familiar, I find that in order to really know a country, you need to try the local cuisine.
Whenever we were on an inhabited island, we made it a point to visit the local teahouses. More on this in a section below!
(7) Explore the capital
Fisherman coming back from their hunt. Fishing is the second largest industry in Maldives after Tourism. Fishmongers deboning tuna at the local fish market.
Maldives is more than a resort place and it would really be a waste if the only things you got out of visiting the country happened within the walls of your fancy resort.
The locals are really friendly, speak english, and helpful when you needed directions.
Football – one of the most popular sports in Maldives
If possible, do spend at least half a day in Malé in-between transits. If you are travelling independently like us, you’ll definitely have time due to the ferry schedule. Just walk around aimlessly, watching life go by!
Maldives Budget Guide Tips
Luxury budget accommodation in Maldives
Loved the revolving door at the entrance of our luxury guesthouse. Another lovely design touch.
This is probably the best tip for independent travellers.
While images of bungalows over waters at a resort immediately come to mind when one talks about Maldives, there are other value for money options too. Unless you are having your honeymoon, I see no reason to splurge a few thousand dollars when that money can be put to better use.
Thankfully, since the government allowed inhabited islands (islands with locals instead of resort islands for tourists) to build hotels and guesthouses for tourists a few years ago, things have changed a lot.
Shared dining area for family and guests. Was intrigued by the sand as this was on the second floor!
The only thing is that because you are on an inhabited island, you will not be able to find alcohol because the Maldivians are strict muslims. Only in the resorts can you find a watering hole, which is why some people take day trips to enjoy the facilities at the resorts. You’ll also have to dress modestly, which means no bikini’s until you are away from the main island on a day trip. There are however some islands like Maafushi that have tourist beaches.
(See also: The Maldives Luxury Guesthouse Experience)
Eating local in Maldives
Another benefit of staying in a local island, is that you get to taste real Maldivian cuisine. Tea houses are very popular in the Maldives, and is a place where the locals to chill, grab some snacks and have coffee/tea. The snacks are called “short eats”, and are typically sweet or savoury pastries in bite-sized portions.
Some Maldivian short eats.
When we were in Malé, we visited different tea houses all the time. Even though we often have no idea what to order, the friendly staff will usually pick a couple of random treats for us! It’s really cheap too. Coffee/Tea typically only cost MVR 8 (US$0.50).
Since the Maldives is surrounded by the sea, it’s also natural that seafood, in particular Tuna, makes up a big part of the diet. The dishes also have a strong indian influence, and are often spicy and savoury.
Pro-tip: The Maldivians really love their sugar, so ask for coffee/tea without sugar if you don’t like it sweet.
Do note that the crowds in tea houses are typically local males, so don’t be too surprised. There’s no worry of safety for foreign women though, the Maldives is a very safe country for tourists.
Getting around Maldives
Short of taking private planes and speedboats that cost as much as a resort stay in the Maldives, the most cost effective way is to take the public ferries and speedboats. While it definitely isn’t as fast, the cost savings and acceptable travel time makes it worth it.
For example, instead of taking a 1hr flight to Ari Atoll (area with highest chance of seeing whale sharks) that cost $110++ one way, we took a 4.5hrs ferry for MVR53 or US$3.5.
The only thing though, is that you really need to plan in advance because of the fixed ferry schedules. You can find a rough schedule here. For public ferries, you can easily buy the ticket on the spot. For public speedboats, I’ll suggest getting your accommodation operator to reserve a slot for you.
Pro-tip: For those who get seasick easily, I’ll highly suggest you take some pills or munchies along for the ferry rides. The seas can get pretty rough and parts of the journey can feel like being on a roller coaster! No but seriously, even taking flights can induce seasickness because of the winds and size of the small sea planes.
Travel in groups of ideally 4 (minimally 2)
While in Maldives, we found that it’s most cost efficient to travel in groups of 4 so you can better split the prices of tours and boat. Quite a number of smaller operators require a minimum number to make their trip profitable, so if you’re 2, you probably have to pay a little more. Having a group of 4 also means you have the flexibility of arranging something immediately instead of waiting for other strangers to join you.
Pro-tip: Make friends if you are only travelling as a pair or alone! The travellers in guesthouses are usually more relaxed so it shouldn’t be awkward.
Bring everything you need
From beach gear, sunblock, aloe vera gels, to essential travel items, bring them all from home unless you want to pay overpriced prices. Resorts definitely charge a lot, but it can be surprisingly expensive in some of the inhabited islands outside Malé as well because the locals don’t need them.
Flights from Singapore to Maldives
If you prefer to keep your budget low and spend it more on experiences in Maldives instead, flying budget from Singapore to Malé via Tigerair is probably your option. Our all in return flights cost us only S$360 with in-flight meals and seat selection!
Pro-tip: There’s a 25% discount if you pre-book your inflight meals during the flight purchase online.
Our favourite taste of home on Tigerair – Nasi Lemak!
A quick search will show you that it generally has the lowest lead-in fares in the market. The best part is that it flies directly there in 4.5hrs, so no time consuming transfers that don’t make sense.
Malé is also one of those special Tigerair destinations that allows you to go direct-to-gate if you only have carry-on baggage. Simply do a web or mobile app check in, and show your e-boarding pass (or printed if you really want) at the departure gates. Super hassle free!
Maldives Budget Breakdown (per pax)
All prices listed here inclusive of tax. Often the prices advertised online excludes govt tax so just buffer in a little extra.
- Tiger Airways Return flights from Singapore to Malé all in (with meal, seat selection, booking fee, no check-in) – S$359.77 per pax
The room costs were divided by 2 because there were 2 of us.
- Airbnb at Hulhumale – S$60 x 1night / 2pax = S$30
- Noovilu Suites Luxury Guesthouse (full boarding including 3 meals) – US$150 x 4 nights / 2pax = US$300
Total Accommodation – US$300 + S$30 per pax
- Island Hopping Snorkelling – US$50
- Whale Shark Swimming Day Trip – US$135 (can be cheaper in a larger group, we included this even though we didn’t do it as it was planned)
- Day excursion to uninhabited island with lunch + afternoon snack – US$75
Total Activities – US$260 per pax
- Day 1 Teahouse Supper at Hulhumalé – MVR 21
- Day 6 Random Restaurant Brunch – MVR 42.5
- Day 6 Random Restaurant – MVR 90
- Random snacks & water – MVR 103
Total Food – MVR 256.50 per pax
- Public Shuttle Bus from Intl. Airport to Hulhumalé – MVR 20
- Public Ferry from Hulhumalé to Malé – MVR 20
- Public Ferry from Malé to Mahibadhoo – MVR 53
- Public Speedboat from Mahibadhoo to Malé – US$ 25
- Public Ferry from Malé to Intl. Airport – MVR 20
Total Transport – MVR 113 + US$ 25 per pax
- 3GB Mobile Data + Call – US$16.5 per pax
GRAND TOTAL PER PAX – US$920.60 or S$1,242.81 (assuming 1US$ = MVR15.5, 1US$ = S$1.35)
Hope you enjoyed this guide. You don’t have to break the bank in order to visit paradise as long as you follow some of these tips. In fact it can be even cheaper if you choose to stay at lower end guesthouses. Time to plan your trip to the Maldives!