Sitting at the corner of a wooden bench humming to the tunes of my favorite band The XX, I sense the boat propelling each time a wave kicks in. We were in the middle of Indian Ocean on our way from Male airport to a little island called Fulidhoo. Our ultimate aim to visit Maldives was to explore the island country on a budget, while experiencing the local side of it. We didn’t want to spend big bucks in Maldives and not able to travel for the rest of the year. Like many, I read plenty of budget friendly guides to Maldives, that were quite helpful.
A few days ago, my friend was talking about her luxurious honeymoon trip to the Maldives that she took 2 years ago. As much as the trip gave her some of the best memories of her life, it was the only trip she had taken. When I asked her the reason, she spoke about the $5,000 spent for a four-day trip to Maldives. That is way too expensive for a resort stay including food. Considering each resort has its own island, you’ll barely be able to interact with Maldivian locals. Plus, there is nothing much to do unless you spend a few extra bucks on water sports.
We spent less than $350 USD for a four day trip without relying on holiday packages or fancy private tours. It’s not very costly for visiting the Maldives from India. A couple can expect to pay less than INR 35,000 including flight tickets, provided they cut down on expensive accommodation and food.
Here are few recommendations for those who are planning to visit Maldives on the cheap while looking to experience the island like a local.
Take the Public Ferry for Cheap
Maldives International Airport is on Hulhule Island near capital island Male. The only way to get to other islands from Hulhule is on a ferry. The ferry to Male costs about $1. It took us about 20 minutes to reach Male from where we took a taxi to the main ferry station to get to Fulidhoo. There are no information boards to show the timings or boat numbers to each island, so it is best to ask the information centre for more details. Public ferry prices start from $3 providing access to other islands, whereas speedboats and sea planes can easily go up to $300.
Stay in a Local Island
We stayed in Fulidhoo. Although Fulidhoo has limited things to see, it’s still a great place to learn about Maldivian people and understand their daily chores.
Visitors wary about the best islands to vacation in the Maldives, but in a country island that is home to 26 Vaavu atolls and 1000+ islands, you’re gifted with numerous options. It doesn’t matter which island you choose to go, you might end up seeing a different part of Maldives that not many travelers get to see.
All resorts privately own their island. While other inhabited islands are yet to be discovered, some of them have no permanent settlements. A few islands erode away due to rising seas.
I didn’t know what to expect from Fulidhoo. Would the island be too conservative to hang out or was it going to be crowded with tourists? Were we spending too much for flight tickets to go all the way to simply stay in a less-known island that even the locals may not have heard of?
The first stop was Maafushi. For a split second, I did wish it was my final stop. Maafushi looked lovely.
As our boat approached the shore in Fulidhoo, I was positive that we’d make good use of the beach for the next 4 days – the island was better than what I had expected.
Choose an Affordable Guesthouse
Though I would have loved to experience the luxurious bungalows built over water, I’d prefer if it was cheaper (I’m a dreamer). Resort stays are not less than $400 USD a night.
In 2009, the government allowed locals to start their own guesthouses, giving travelers more options to travel on a budget. One of the best ways to find these guesthouses or local accommodations is to search for them on Airbnb and Booking.com, where room rates can be found for as little as $40 a night.
On the first and last day of our trip, we stayed in Askani Villa in Hulhumale. It’s a boutique bungalow located just few minutes from the beach.
As a manmade island, Hulhumale was created in 2004 by taking a shallow lagoon and dumping sand and concrete to create a new piece of land. So if you’re staying in Hulhumale, remember to marvel at this full-fledged town built with also the intention of helping locals suffering from high rental prices and crowded living conditions.
In Fulidhoo, we stayed at Thundi guesthouse. We couldn’t have asked for more with the minimal budget we ticked off Maldives. We paid a room rate of $44 USD per night. We had private access to the beach through a large garden area with hammocks and benches to laze around. Though the weather was not favorable, I enjoyed the simplicity of the ambiance.
Every evening we walked to this beautiful beach, jut few seconds from our little guesthouse. One of the evening, we got to witness a lovely Maldivian wedding. We spent about 4 hours at the beach watching the varying colors in the sky as the sun went below the horizon.
Read: Travel Guide to Goa – a beach destination
Eat Inexpensive Food
There are very limited restaurants in all Maldivian islands. The resorts have an on-site restaurant, and most local guesthouses provide meals at a reasonable rate. Our guesthouse was charging us less than $7 per meal, but we also tried some Maldivian local food at a tiny restaurant located a minute away.
A delicious plate of Kothu Roshi costs about $3 per person ( I wish I asked the recipe). The meal was so worth that I ordered the same dish for the next 2 days. Kothu Roshi is a Sri Lankan dish famous among the Maldivian locals.
Our lunch at the guesthouse was nothing less. Mohammed served us some fresh fish curry and buttered rice with some fresh watermelons and mangoes after food.
A typical Maldivian cuisine of canned tuna and insanely soft flat bread called Roshi.
Excursions at Bargain Price
Since we had already done some major scuba diving in Thailand just few months ago, we decided to stick to a laid-back vacation.
Some guesthouses like The Amazing Noovilu on Ari Atoll can help you with water adventures like Snorkeling, on shore fishing, manta watching, and whale shark watching.
The beach at Dusit Thani Maldives in Baa Atoll is known for the presence of bioluminescent plankton, which means the beach glows in the dark at certain times of the year. I wasn’t aware of this place until a few days after my trip.
Second to the only country with a 100 percent Muslim population, Maldives has strict restrictions during the holy month of Ramadan. You’ll not be allowed to eat or drink during this time.
Women are not allowed to wear revealing clothes unless in resort premises. At Fulidhoo, I was free to wear shorts and cropped top only at the Bikini Beach.
Look out for dolphins in the most unexpected times. I saw plenty of them dancing to glory, in the boat ride from Fulidhoo to Hulhumale.
I would visit all the historical places, hike the trails, drive through dangerous roads, and eat local cuisines, because as a storyteller I’d like to tell the difference in each step I take on different lands. Visiting Maldives was an eye opener as it made me realise that you don’t always have to do something spectacular to get a feel of the destination. Some places just teach you the ‘art of doing nothing’.
How often do you travel? Do you prefer to have one big vacation over a year or spend less to be able to trace more? Share your comments below.