Budget travelling to the Maldives? It’s officially here.

When I heard you could cross over to the Maldives on a low cost flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka (where i’m currently based) I was super keen to give it a whirl. Having already taken myself to the teardrop island in the Indian ocean for 5 months to escape the British winter whilst working on a project, I was until then happy enough to spend my time discovering Sri Lanka. But a 4-day side trip to the Maldives when my friend Ray came over to visit, became a surprising tick against the popular honeymooners destination box. Would we ever go to the Maldives any other time? We decided that it was pretty unlikely. And given that most holidays in the Maldives are going to set you back some fairly big wedge (as Ray would say) then it pretty much felt rude not to. When I told my best friend I was going to the Maldives her reply was “what are you now, made of money?!”

If I told you, that you can go to the Maldives for less than £350.00 all in, you would probably book yourself to go there too.

So let me tell you how we did it. 

First off, I was already in Asia. I know this is cheating somewhat, but if you want to go to the Maldives and do it on a budget, then just get yourself a £300-400 flight to Sri Lanka. Then we’re all working from the same book. You can even then spend some time in Sri Lanka! Which is a massive winner. Sri Lanka is awesome. But that’s another post, for another time.

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Back to the Maldives. We went in March, and the flight cost £90.00 return from Colombo to Male with China Eastern Air. You can also get across via Emirates & Sri Lankan Airways for under £150 return. China Eastern was the lowest flight price we found and as we were flexible with the dates we were able to pick the cheapest seats via Skyscanner.

When you arrive in the Maldives, you instantly feel the wealth that’s been invested here. I’ve been to over 50 countries, including small islands such as Gili Trewangan in Lombok and Isle Grande in Brazil, and i’m still continuously surprised by what I find, expectations often never met by the reality. In this case, I didn’t anticipate walking out of the arrivals hall at the airport to a docking yard full of yachts and speedboats. Each boat was branded with a 5* hotel brand, and it seemed like it was the only way to get around. Especially since the airport itself isn’t in Male. Male is on another separate island, it’s the commercial and financial centre of the Maldives and is about 30mins away by Ferry.

As we’d come in late late at night we chose to stay close to the airport then catch our ferry out the next day to Maafushi. Maafushi is an island popular with Chinese & Russian tourists, plus Europeans who travel more in groups or as solo travellers. Like all Maldevian islands it’s alcohol-free throughout the island due to it being a muslim country, but unlike many other Maldevian islands which are inhabited and not just “resort islands” there are two reasons why people like to head to Maafushi:

  1. It has a bikini beach (this means you can sunbathe and swim the way you are used to)
  2. There is a floating bar (this means you can drink alcohol on your holiday, the way you are used to)

Ok so back to heading there. This next bit is important as it wasn’t very clear how to get to Maafushi and different people offered different advice.

We stayed the first night in the Maldives at the UI Inn on Hulumale island, which is adjacent to the airport. We were actually put in a hotel around the corner, no explanation for why but one can only assume for overspill. Both hotels seemed quite new, the pretty standard, generic, $60 a night type of place that’s to be fair instantly forgettable but not offensive and comfortable enough.  We crossed paths with a young french guy who was solo travelling and had booked 7 nights at the UI Inn thinking he was in Male, and hadn’t realised he wasn’t and had discovered that it’s pretty much a building site next to the airport. He was trying to get out to the islands and cancel his booking. We felt sorry for him because it was definitely not somewhere you want to spend more than one night. I felt like I might have been on the outskirts of Dubai.

When we left the next morning from Hulumale Ferry terminal, we were prepared for a few hours of traversing our way to Maafushi island. On Male, we took a taxi to the other side of the island to Filli Gili Ferry terminal where we were going to catch one of the twice daily Ferry’s to Maafushi. It would cost $3 and would take 90minutes. Upon arrival at 1.15pm it turned out that a speedboat was going to Maafushi at 1.30pm which would take 30mins and cost $20 each. We opted for the fastest, most convenient route. And I’d recommend this to anyone reading who is going to Maldives! They’ll tell you that speedboat is expensive as you have to hire it yourself, but I don’t think its true – there are definitely 3 speedboats a day, one at 9.15am, one at 1.30pm and one at 5pm from Filli Gilli ferry terminal. You can even go direct from the airport at 9am to Maafushi.

In Maafushi we stayed at Maafushi Village. Don’t be misled. It’s not a village. It’s a relatively newly built place (like most on the island), its pretty cosy set up and again like most places on the island you are greeted by undercover seating areas in white sand garden, with reception desk and then you have motel stye rooms downstairs and upstairs. The rooms are clean, spacious, modern, have TVs with cable channels and decent A/C. For £35 a night you definitely cannot complain but this isn’t paradise its pretty basic but functional and extremely unoffensive. The wifi worked well enough for me to watch Netflix sporadically one day in bed when i’d seen a bit too much sun.

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What does one do in the Maldives on a budget?

We went to Adaaran Vaddoo, a resort island around 20 minutes away by speedboat. This is your one blow out experience which is a must. For $100 you get entry onto the island, you get access to all the resorts facilities, including an amazing buffet lunch and a free bar from 10am-5pm. There was a fish feeding thing at 5.30 where we fed baby sharks, sting rays and other huge fish and we saw the sunset from their terrace with a Bloody Mary (which we paid an extra $10 each for, but it was worth it). I rented a snorkle and mask for $5 and saw clown fish, angel fish, parrot fish and tonnes of other water wildlife – it was pretty spectacular! We worked out that to get our money’s worth we had to drink 10 drinks from the open bar before it closes at 5pm. I had two beers and a gin & tonic, then fell asleep on the beach and got sunburnt.

That night I went back to the village and checked the resort out on booking.com. For that very night that we were there they were charging between £400-£800 per night. Then I felt like we got our money’s worth.

Another day you can spend getting to know the pace of the island. It’s so small you can walk around it in around 30minutes, there is a prison at one end and a construction site at the other. The bikini beach will entertain you for half a day or so, and for those looking for more excitement there are snorkelling trips, picnic island trips, plenty of diving and other watersports. We were invited one night to watch a crab race in the square.

Other than that Maafushi was pretty slow on the ‘things to do’. You have to create your own fun here. We did this by imagining all the sordid goings on that must take place on the island away from prying eyes. The ‘floating bar’ – a huge yacht in the bay, was a good location for the setting of a criminal underworld movie that we wrote an imaginary script for.

And what does one eat in Maafushi?

We had been spoiled in Sri Lanka, having come from Unawatuna where we ate the best seafood every single day so it was going to be hard to come even close to that. And it didn’t. In fact, we ended up going for the cheapest buffets we could find most of the time – Maafushi is expensive! Most things are priced in US dollars, and most menus or buffets can range from $90 per person down to $12. We caught one at the right time in the evening and the maitre’d offered it to us for $8 per person. There was a small hotel that did $6 p/p. We generally ate so well in the evening that we didn’t need breakfast the next morning which saved an additional $3 or $4.

There is one bank on the island so if you run out of cash its not the end of the world, but definitely take a good few hundred dollars of US currency, as well as the local Ruffia’s (MKR) which you can draw out at the airport. Usually you get a better deal if you pay in local currency.

Breakdown:

Return Flights – £90

Accommodation – £35 per night x 3 nights

Resort Island trip “all inclusive” – £80

1.5L Water bottles – 50p from Shrimp corner shop (8 MKR each) – you’ll need lots of these!

BBQ Dinner Buffet – between £6-£10 per person depending on where you go

Dinner at airport – £10-£15 each

Speedboat transfers – $20.00 each way per person