Ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to go to the Maldives. But a cheap holiday to the Maldives is like an impossibility.
You’d see it advertised every time you’d walk into a travel agent. White sandy beaches, beautiful resorts, and the chance to snorkel in some of the best reefs in the world?
Yes frikken please.
I actually laughed when my wife told me Bangkok Airways were doing a sale. Cheap holidays to the Maldives? Pfft.
In my head I almost dismissed it immediately because it’s crazy expensive to go there, right? But I was curious. So I did a little digging.
You get a few hits when you search for “cheap holidays to the Maldives,” but one of the best is Lauren’s visit to Leprosy Island.
Hang on. What she’s talking about is Maafushi.
A “local island” where they don’t have an underwater nightclub or a thousand dollar a night room rate. There are actually affordable places in the Maldives. Not many. But between Maafushi, Fulidhoo and Guraidhoo you’ve got a few choices for budget accommodation. My cheap holiday to the Maldives was looking like a reality.
About 2 minutes later I’d booked the flights. Seven nights in the Maldives, flying out of Bangkok for a pocket-robbing $178 return. I love promotional fares.
Now I lucked out here, but as I did some more digging I discovered things in the islands shut down on Fridays. Like, proper closed. Like, no normal businesses are open. Like Sunday afternoons in a small-town back in the eighties. If you’re OK paying a couple of hundred dollars to charter a private speed boat you’ll be fine.
But that’s not me.
My advice? Fly in on a Thursday and spend Friday on the beach.
As we were staying seven nights, it seemed logical to stay on a single island. That way, we wouldn’t be trying to coordinate ferry after ferry. I’m practical like that. Or lazy. One of them. So we chose Maafushi. In hindsight, a change would have been a good thing and Guraidhoo wasn’t far at all. Next time.
Next came hotels, and like always I turned to Agoda. My goal was always a cheap holiday to the Maldives, and it seemed like Holiday Lodge Maafushi fit the bill for affordable accommodation. $50 a night, with breakfast included. We loved it. They had us in a separate building that felt more like an AirBnB, with three rooms, a shared kitchen and lounge. When we got rained out on a couple of days during the trip, this space was perfect to catch up on Westworld. Oh and work. But mostly Westworld.
Arriving in the Maldives went like this
Exit the airport and head right, then grab a ferry transfer ticket to Male. $2 gets you a 15-minute boat transfer to the capital.
Wave down a taxi and tell him you want to go to the Maafushi Ferry Terminal. It’s on the total opposite side of the island, which is about 10 minutes away. We paid $2 again, a godsend as it had just started bucketing with rain.
The final leg was the ferry to Maafushi. Another $2 each and 2 hours later and we’re walking onto the shores of our first local island.
Just like every ferry terminal I’ve ever been to, there was a bunch of agents ready to pick up all the tourists. Well except for ours. They forgot to come get us. But as our hotel was only about 800 meters from where we landed, a quick phone call and ours turned up rather fast.
Welcome to Maafushi
Being brutally honest, the islands you see on Maldives postcards are not Maafushi. There’s a little “bikini beach” for swimming at the top of the island. A handful of tourist-style restaurants, shops and hotels, and not a whole lot else.
But I loved it.
The locals are friendly and the whole place has a family feel. Considering it takes about 20 minutes to walk around the entire island I can see why. There’s kids with crazy hair playing soccer, and everyone gives you a smile and a hello.
There’s lots of little convenience stores for soda, pringles, and all your other supplies. Oh and the little bakery by the football field does great pizza. The only thing you won’t find is alcohol. It’s a strict Muslim country and the only place you can get hammered is on one of the resort islands. They do have a pretty tasty non-alcoholic beer though.
At the far end of the island is the prison. Walking around the back-end of it all you can already see how much has changed. Everywhere you turn there’s construction and development. In a few year’s it’s going to be a very different place.
Come on holidays to the Maldives now, before the floods of tourists turn little gems like Maafushi into every other tropical island you’ve ever been to. Seriously.
We spent the majority of our time hanging around this island. Reading and soaking up the sun on the beach, swimming around in the bay, and just properly unwinding. But it does get boring, especially when the whole island has pretty much shut down by 9:30pm.
So it was time to get off.
There’s probably 5 or 6 tour companies scattered around the island. I was surprised though. They’re all basically reselling the packages from the guys at iCom tours, so ask around. Some of the hotels marked up the prices far more than others.
Here’s what we did:
Snorkelling day trip from Maafushi
$35 per person
So this was a “half day” tour that ran from 10am-3pm. They give you everything you need, and you jump on a speedboat to take you out to the reefs.
First stop was Banana Reef, a known hot-spot for Manta Rays, according to our guides. We came across two in about 15 to 20 meters of water. This was apparently a bad day, because often you’ll get six or seven playing around in the shallows. No matter, I was having an absolute ball.
We’re then whisked off to the sand bank. Imagine where the guys on Dual Survival get stranded, and you’re probably pretty close. It’s just a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by sparkling blue water, and not a whole lot else. This was our lunch break.
The last two dives were at Turtle Reef and Biyaadhoo Reef. Again, a bunch of beautiful fish and corals, but the turtles were the most fun. We found three, and spent about a half hour diving down around them. It was absolutely surreal.
One day on Fihalhohi Island Resort
$80 per person
This was one of the cheaper day trips you could do from Maafushi. But as they were meant to have one of the best house reefs it seemed like a no-brainer. The island is rather big, with a mix of normal hotel rooms and those stunning villa’s perched out over the reef.
The snorkeling here was what really stood out. We followed a big octopus as he danced around changing colors, and there was a ton of corals and fish. Over lunch you get a massive buffet, which was one best meals I had during the whole trip.
The water rooms were spectacular. We got some of my favorite pictures from the trip at this resort. You could walk right around the deck and get a feel for what it’d be like to stay there.
On downsides I’d say it was a little too crowded, and there was no swimming pool. But considering rooms here are just a couple of hundred dollars a night, it’s not surprising its busy. It’s one of the cheapest resort islands you can stay on so.
Just be prepared. I got the feeling we weren’t totally welcomed when we came. Small things like not being able to use the hotel towels. Or the day beds. Or the WiFi. It was almost a joke by the end of the day, but we still had a great time. The beaches were perfect, and the reef was worth it.
One day on Adaaran Prestige Vadoo
$100 per person
Everyone had told us how great this resort was, and it definitely lived up to our expectations. You arrive and head on a tour through the grounds, and have just enough time for a swim before the bar opens. They’ve got a fully-stocked tiki-style bar that’s free-flow all day.
The swimming pool was the highlight, and it seemed like we were some of the only people on the island. There must have been only 20 water rooms, and about 25 people visiting for the day. With everything included, you can imagine how good it would be to stay there. Sorry Maafushi. It’s also why the prices start at $650 a night. Yikes.
We settled on a spot near the watersports center and went snorkelling out to the edge of the reef. It’s got a sheer drop down to a sandbank about 30 meters below. There were a couple of big moray eels hanging about in a cave, an eagle ray who cruised past, and a whole bunch of fish. But it wasn’t as beautiful as some of the other spots we’d dived. The glorious thing about this hotel was definitely the pool and the sandy beaches. Oh and the big tropical storm rolling in. Luckily it didn’t rain.
By the time lunch rolled around we definitely rolled up to the buffet. It was setup on our own little spot by the beach. It was a nice way to separate the day trippers from the normal guests. And still give everyone a five-star experience.
The afternoon we explored the rest of the island. It’s not overly big, but we did manage to spot a little tree-house you could sit up in and get away from it all. Oh and just before we had to leave they did their daily shark feeding. Seven black tip reef sharks fighting over chunks of fish. It was awesome, especially as we were on a walkway right above them all.
The only real downside was that we weren’t here for longer. Seriously. Oh and you couldn’t walk out to the water rooms like you could on Fihalhohi. They block it off so their guests aren’t flooded with all the day trippers taking pictures. Makes sense.
All up, I’d definitely come back to Vadhoo. It was the highlight of our entire trip.
That was the extent of what we did, but you could also do:
- Centara Ras Fushi for $120 per person
- Adaaran Club Rannalhi for $35 per person
- Anantara Dhigu from $17 per person
- Rihiveli Beach from $35 per person
- Biyadhoo Island from $15 per person
- Holiday Inn Kandooma from $17 per person
These range from full-on five-star luxury to getting an almost deserted island experience. It’s really up to you how much you want to do and what you want to see.
Budgets for a cheap holiday to the Maldives
Now the last thing, the budget.
For the two of us to spend 7 days in paradise we spent $1257. Total.
It really was a cheap holiday to the Maldives. I still can’t believe it was this affordable.
Hotels and flights took up the lion’s share of our costs, and then it was tours and food. We could have spent more if we visited more islands, but we were pretty content to chill on Maafushi.
It was also good because we got rained out for a couple of days. It wouldn’t have been nice trying to force ourselves to enjoy terrible weather at a nice hotel. And definitely not worth the price.
Having a buffet breakfast helped as it meant we just ate a light lunch before hitting up one of the hotels for dinner. They all have a version of the same thing, all-you-can-eat for $10 a head, or similarly priced a la carte. Though do go exploring. Back from the beach there’s a handful of little food joints, so follow the locals. We found a ripper of a place with Maldivian-style fried rice that was like $3.50 a plate. Yes please.
All up, I had a great holiday. I fell in love with the beauty of the islands, and I absolutely love the fact you can do a cheap holiday to the Maldives.
TL:DR: Go to the Maldives. It’s worth it.
Would I go back? In a heartbeat! Just get me another sale flight and I’ll book it now.
Would I do anything differently? Nope. Well except maybe crossing over to Guraidhoo for the last few nights. I loved Vadoo but the price tag to stay in these big resorts is just ridiculous, and Maafushi was a bit lacking for seven straight nights.
What did you like about the Maldives?
Are you planning a trip there?
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