How To Travel The Maldives With $60 A Day Or Less

I’m a backpacker at heart, and I want to go everywhere in the world. I’ve seen the Maldives and its over-water bungalows in books and websites, and to me, it always seemed like an unreachable destination with a backpacker’s budget. That was until a few months ago when I took the challenge to prove wrong that general notion. I wanted to visit the Maldives, and I wanted to do it as a backpacker.

Changes in government and the way tourism is done in the country have allowed for a small but growing budget travel industry to emerge. Since 2009, locals can open their houses to foreigners and operate small accommodations in inhabited islands – where tourism was formerly prohibited.

At Kuda Bandos in Maldives

But, was my trip as cheap as I hoped it would be? Honestly, no, but I did it much cheaper than the average tourist who visits the Maldives. I did it with an average budget of $60 per day, and while it was higher than my typical $40 a day backpacking budget, what I got from this trip was well worth more than $60 a day.

So, without much further ado, I’ll dig in on how I traveled the Maldives on a backpacker’s budget.

Getting to the Maldives

The only way to get to the Maldives is by flying to Male, the capital. Now, this is usually quite expensive, especially if you fly from Europe or the Americas. On the other hand, if you’re in Asia, jumping to the Maldives will prove to be much cheaper, and in some cases, very very cheap.

If you’re not in Asia, my recommendation is to travel to the Maldives as an add-on to another destination like Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Dubai, or India, among others. This way, you would travel to that first destination, spend time there, and have a separate round-trip airfare to go to the Maldives.

SriLankan Airlines Maldives

In my case, I flew from Bangkok with SriLankan Airlines for $320 round-trip. Not bad considering I also spent time in Sri Lanka! I also know that FlyDubai, Emirates, and Malaysia Airlines fly cheaply to Male.  AirAsia used to fly with really cheap airfares, but they recently canceled this route.

Just check on Kayak, Skyscanner, and Momondo, among others, search engines to compare these airfares.

How to Find Cheap Accommodation in the Maldives

I’ll start by saying that my trip didn’t include me staying at a resort. While they represent the iconic Maldives, they are too expensive for backpackers. Instead, I booked a budget hotel at HotelsCombined. The one I stayed in is called Transit Beach View Hotel (Update: It seems to have closed permanently, but you can see more hotel options in Hulhumale here), and it is right in front of the beach in Hulhumale. Staying in Hulhumale (the island where the airport is) is cheaper than staying in Male, and I think it is better since Male has no beaches. But, you can easily cross from one island to the other with ferries.

There is also the option of using Airbnb, where you can find even cheaper options to stay not only in Hulhumale and Male but also in several islands in the Maldives. Expect the typical budget price not to be under $25 a night; but if you’re two, you can split that! If you’re going to islands that are far from Male Atoll, there is the possibility to find even cheaper accommodation.  Another site where you can sometimes find deals on certain guesthouses is Guesthouses in Maldives. These tend to be a bit on the upper scale, so they might not fit on a backpacker’s budget, but take a look anyway in case they have an excellent deal.

Note: With this link, you get $40 off on your first reservation with Airbnb. Get your credit here.

An even cheaper option is using Couchsurfing, which is free! While I would recommend trying it, I have to say that searching for a couch in the Maldives proved to be frustrating for me. Most couchsurfers in the Maldives are actually hotel or guesthouse owners looking to promote their accommodation. Only a few are “real” couchsurfers willing to give a hand to a fellow traveler. So, if you go this way, start sending your request, at least, three weeks ahead of time. I didn’t have luck, but I know it is possible to couchsurf in several islands.

Just to consider: Most flights arrive late to Male, so if you’re planning on staying at other islands, you’ll still probably need to stay the first night in Male or Hulhumale since long-distance ferries don’t travel at night; neither do flights nor speedboats.

Maldives

Cheap Food

If you go for local food, which is mostly made out of seafood, you will have no trouble finding a local restaurant in the city. This is the cheapest option, and a meal will cost you around MVR 50 (about $3.50). Other than grilled fish, typical Maldivian cuisine includes tuna with onion and lime juice, sweet and thick milk tea, and flatbread called Roshi – similar to Indian roti.

If you’re not into seafood, like me, you can still find decent meals with curry, chicken, or other meats that will be just a few more dollars more expensive (ranging between $5 to $10). Now, if you go for western food, that’s where you’ll be paying over $10 per meal.

If you’re on a guesthouse in one of the inhabited islands outside of Male Atoll, it is possible that the islands might not have any restaurants, so in that case, your guesthouse will include meals in its daily rate.

What to Do

As I wrote in my previous post, the Maldives is well known for its beaches and diving, but there’s also a bit of history in the capital. While Male can be seen in a day, I recommend staying in Male for two days to get used to the vibe and to familiarize yourself with how to move around the Maldives and what to do there.

Spend some time walking around Male. See the few sights it has and enjoy the lifestyle. From Male, take a ferry to Villingilli to see the village and the beach; or if you’re planning on going to further islands in other atolls, you can also take a ferry from Male (more into that soon).

Snorkeling in the Maldives

Visit Kuda Bandos, also known as Picnic Island, for a full day of watersports and activities. Make sure you go from Sunday to Thursday, as it is exclusive to locals on Friday and Saturday. There you can snorkel, dive, Jet Ski, banana boat, swim on the beach, suntan, and do other water sports. Usually, the boat to Kuda Bandos costs $30 round-trip, but if you get a package through your guesthouse, you can combine a few activities with the transportation for a decent price (from $50 for a few activities to $130 for a full day).

Tip: Make sure the weather will be nice the day you go to Kuda Bandos, as everything there is outdoors, and activities can be canceled last minute due to inclement weather.

diving in Maldives

Now, diving… the cheapest dives I found were with Dive Club Maldives, for $108 for two dives ($70 for one dive). They are located in Hulhumale, but if you go to other atolls, you can find even cheaper dives there too. And the dives? Spectacular and otherworldly! Totally worth it!!!

Maldives diver

Diving in Maldives
Selfie!

If you’re into surfing, you can go to Rasdhoo and Shiny Beach. Also, Maafushi island has excellent beaches… a paradise just two hours away from Male by ferry! There are many guesthouses there, so you can stay for the night.

I also recommend reading this blog. A local runs it, and he has some pretty good information on local events and “how-to” in the Maldives.

Getting Around the Islands

In the Maldives, you can reach any inhabited island with a ferry, or a few ferries. They have a really good and reliable ferry system, and it is cheap. The ferry between Male and Hulhumale costs MVR 5.50 (about $0.36) and takes only 20 minutes. The ferries to further islands range from $3 to $20 each way and can take up to several hours. Except during prayer times, which happens five times a day, ferries are always running and mostly on schedule.

Male, Maldives
Male, as seen from the ferry.

One thing to have in mind is that not all ferries run every day (especially the ferries to islands far from Male), so you should check their schedule on the official MTCC website (ferry company) to know how you’ll move around and if you need to make connections between islands. Alternatively, this other site has all the ferry schedules, in addition to speedboats and seaplanes.

When you arrive at the airport, if you’re staying in Hulhumale, your accommodation will probably have a shuttle (some of them free), if not, you can take the airport bus (MVR 8 or about $0.52) that goes all around Hulhumale. It is not that big of an island, so you can walk pretty much anywhere. Same thing applies to Male.

Now, while these are not budget options, if you want to go quickly to islands far from Male, you can either fly with the seaplanes or take a speedboat. These options, though, can cost way over $200 each way.

Things to Consider

Be very respectful to locals, they are very friendly and welcoming but this is an Islamic country, so there are some limitations we must adhere to. It is imperative that you know that alcohol and pork are forbidden. The only places you can drink alcohol are either in the airport hotel, in one of the resort islands, or on a “booze cruise”. Outside of that, it is illegal. And, don’t even try to bring them into the country, as your bags are x-rayed upon entry.

No Bikini in Maldives

If you want to go to any public beach, bear in mind that women can’t wear a bikini. You must dress modestly at all times. So, no bikinis or other forms of swimwear, no see-thru clothing and shoulders and knees should be covered at all times. Instead, if you want to wear a bikini, you should go to Picnic Island, a resort, or any uninhabited island. If you want to go to a resort without staying there for the night, several resorts offer day passes for as low as $50 (some of them including transportation). There you can enjoy the beach, suntan, drink alcohol, and see the famous over-water bungalows! You can coordinate this with your guesthouse or any tourist shop.

Over water bungles in Maldives
Over-water Bungalows seen from my diving boat

Finally, when you exchange money, don’t throw away the exchange receipt. It is the only way you will be able to change your money back to USD or other currency. Not even an ATM withdrawal receipt works. I never recommend exchanging money at the airport, but in Maldives, this is the best choice (to start) if you want to be able to exchange back to your leftover currency when you leave the country.

So, is it worth visiting the Maldives outside of the famous over-water bungalows?

Sure thing!! Budget tourism in the Maldives is just in its initial stages and not too many foreigners are venturing out of the resorts. So, for a while, you can enjoy certain islands just by yourself or explore the town with you just being the only foreigner! Think of this; I was the only foreigner in most ferries I took!

As you can see, Maldives is not as exclusive or as expensive as it seems to be; especially if you do your proper research, planning, and are willing to go very local… which in my opinion, makes it even better!

How to Travel The Maldives With $60 a Day or Less

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80 thoughts on “How To Travel The Maldives With $60 A Day Or Less”

  1. Great post! I don’t have any immediate plans to visit the Maldives but it’s on my list. I always had the idea that it was really expensive but I’m glad to read that you can travel here on a moderate budget. Looks beautiful!

    1. Thanks, Samantha! Yes, that’s the general consensus on how the Maldives is, and while it can be expensive, it is also possible to do it relatively cheap.

  2. Great, and timely, post … I’m going in November! The tip on staying in Hulhumale is really helpful as my plane lands around midnight so I wasn’t sure where to stay.

    I might add for those who want a good deal on a Maldives experience that GAdventures has a very reasonable small boat dhoni cruise available (https://www.gadventures.com/trips/maldives-dhoni-cruise/) … 7 days for $1699. This is 1 of 3 reasons I’m going in November (the others are diving, and go before the islands sink due to global warming).

    I’m going to have about 3 days before I meet up with the cruise so I would like to get in a few days diving in beforehand. Can you recommend any dive operators (other than the above) on nearby islands? All the liveaboards are 7 days so that wouldn’t work out. Ideally, operators in the northern islands as my cruise is around the southern islands.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Marshall – Sorry for the late reply.
      The only dive operator I can recommend is the one I used, based in Hulhumale. It is Dive Club Maldives and I linked to them on this post. You can do 2 dives in one day with them (or one) or plan some kind of short trip if you like.

      Cheers!

    1. Yes, there are! To be honest they are not as apparent as in many other places, and that’s why the beaches predominate, but if you’re keen in getting to know a bit of the history, you’ll certainly find it in Male.

  3. Thank goodness that budget options have been permitted in the Maldives … maybe now I can finally partake of this amazing island without breaking the bank!

  4. Wow, white sand beach again, I always love to travel in Maldives and to stay on that awesome beach.
    I’m not a very good swimmer, so I guess I will skip the diving activities next time when I get there.

  5. Hi,

    I just got back from the Maldives in November and here is some additional information …

    – if you don’t have local currency, the ferry to/from Male/Hulhumale will accept $1 USD as payment. About triple the regular rate but for me it was far more convenient as this was a quick side trip before heading to the other islands.
    – USD are readily accepted, and preferred, throughout the Maldives
    – if you’re staying on Hulhumale, bring mosquito repellent!
    – Hulhumale is a relatively small island, there are few stand alone dining options available so be prepared to eat in your small hotel. Dinemore is a popular restaurant option and it is very good. As far as I know, there are no entertainment options available.
    – I also dove with Dive Club Maldives and they were very good. If you’re planning on diving more than 1 day, email them and they will give you a better rate. You can also get your Advance Certification at a really good price (around $150) as an add-on.
    – MANTAS! Dive Club Maldives will take you to dive with mantas (check with them first on their itinerary). It’s only a short ride away from their shop and it was spectacular. Watch the videos at http://youtu.be/6RVAyS8c7es
    – if you’re snorkeling, I do recommend that you bring your own fins and mask as the communal ones are generally beat up http://youtu.be/qThH9zc4k88
    – visit the Fisherman’s Market on Male
    – the airport has no wifi, but there are computers available for you to log into the internet
    – importing of alcohol is not recommended as all bags are scanned – albeit not thoroughly 😉

  6. Hey man, great post. I’m going to Sri Lanka this month and saw a flight to Maldives for £70 so I’m thinking about it. Did you find the beaches in Maldives were better than Sri Lanka or not? Thanks!

    1. Hi Justin –

      Sorry for the late reply. I loved the beaches in Maldives, but, you have to go to other islands to get to see the pretty ones as the ones in Male and Hulhumale are not that good.

      Sri Lanka still has beautiful beaches, but they are different.

  7. Hey Norbert, great post. Im coming to Maldives on 26 August and i just found your post, so helpful. Just one thing that im so confused. There is a guy on Airbnb offer a 4day3nights package including : airport pickup, free breakfast, resort day trip, full day trip in picnic island, snokerling trip and a BBQ dinner plus 3 nights stay . Sound terriffic with a cost of 250$/pax. Could you give me an advice about it, please. The price seems to be ok but Im not sure that i would like to stay in Hulhumale, we just only have 4 nights in Maldives.

        1. Yeah! Did it! And I believe these days it should be easier to achieve that daily budget since there are more budget friendly accommodation now. Things get more expensive if you plan to travel to farther atolls, which I didn’t.

          1. Hi
            Travelling to the Maldives in a few days and will definently be doing it on a budget with my husband. we are coming form Dubai. Is the US dollar the only currency accepted and did you make any purchase in the local currency?
            Your holiday looked amazing by the way.

  8. Hi there,
    I just wanted to send my kudos.
    Great site, great attitude and great tips.
    I have been to 75+ countries as well for work and pleasure and don’t ever see a point where I will want to stop exploring – the world is a facinating place.
    Your post on Maldives was particulary exciting for me, as I am planning a combined India / Maldvies trip and the idea of being able to make this more affordable and experience it in a local – cultural way is ideal.
    Thanks again,
    Brooks

    1. Thanks, Brooks! Always great to hear from other world travelers! Yes, Maldives can be done with a moderate budget. You just have to know where to look. Hope all is well!

  9. I was not aware this was an Islamic country. You mentioned not to wear swimwear, keep shoulders and knees covered. Are bathing suits only allowed at resorts? Everywhere else you swim in clothes?

    1. Well, for me alcohol doesn’t make or break a destination. It is the unique ness of the plae that makes it worth visiting. Dubai has its unique characteristics worth seeing, and so does Maldives.

  10. Cool post! Can’t believe I just saw this now! I’m flying to Maldives in a couple days!
    I also tried looking for a Couchsurfer and while there was one legitimate member, some reached out to me to offer guesthouses. I’m taking the offer to stay in local island Naifaru, but will stay the first night in the same Transit View Hotel.

    I want to dive! Will probably do that before i leave! Cheers!

    – @bringpam

  11. Great post, I changed my travel plan from sri lanka to Maldives local island because of you !!

    I have simple question after I got enough information regarding ferry schedule.

    Is 30 minutes enough time in Villingili Ferry Terminal to pick up male-maafushi ferry after my arrival from rasdhoo-male ferry.??

    Best Regards
    Ahmet Mutluhan

  12. Wow! Very well said. I hope to visit Maldives this year with my friends.
    So excited now that i have an overview travelling on budget in Maldives islands. Thank u

    1. Hi, I’m a timeshare holder. I can get a cheap deal for resort at medthufushi island resort, maldives. Are you interested?

  13. Maldives is really worth visiting! I was there for 5 days, with my boyfriend. The only thing I regret was not seeing the glowing planktons. I didn’t know Maafushi Island has it!

  14. Hello! Thank you for an interesting post. Is it possible to use tent? For example in inhabited islands? Is it prohibited? Then your accomodation can be 0 usd per day.

  15. Abdul Salaam Mohamed

    I am from the Maldives. if anyone is interested in staying at a local island, you are welcome to stay in my home. I mean with no charges for room of any government taxes. I am inviting to stay as my family quest

    1. Hiyo Abdul, I and my friend are going to Maldives on 10Oct. Wondering if we can stay in your home??
      My Skype id: ACattrall
      Many Thanks. 🙂 🙂

    2. Abdul, thank you for offering your place. It is people like you, who give a helping hand, the ones who make traveling experiences much more meaningful and interesting.

    3. Hello, Adul!
      I’m planning to go to Maldives in December. I just wonder which local island do you live?

      Thank you in advance! ^^

    4. Hey Abdul,

      Great that you are willing to help, I was planning to come to Maldives at some point so doing a bit of research at this stage. I would like to know best way to get from MALE to Rangali Island.

      Thanks in advance.

  16. Wow thanks for the post, now I want to read all your posts. Also thought Maldives would never be ticked off my bucket list, I am from SA, so far away. Just realized I am an Island girl. So my question is: is there lots of seaweed in the water? Can you actually swim in the sea or must you snorkel or dive where you go further out? Definitely want to visit Maldives next year.

    1. I’m now I’m Maldives, so far I haven’t seen any seaweed in the water. You can swim in the local islands. And of course do the snorkeling. The water is super clean and clear. I saw lots of fish, like nemo and dory, haha…

    2. I didn’t see any seaweed either. Have in mind that this could change depending on the season, but from my experience in March/April, and from ACattrall’s experience now in October, we could say the no-seaweed window is pretty optimistic. You can swim in the water (in bathing suit) in beaches where it is allowed for tourists (all resort beaches and some islands).

  17. Iam travelling to Maledives with my friend in the beginning of December 2016 for 1 week (maybe 4.-9.12.2016).

    My dream is snorkel with whalesharks, so could somebody recommend what would be the best islands (or near that place) to stay with low budget where we can have whaleshark snorkeling tour? Local island would be ok. Maybe we would like to visit 2 islands, just relax on the beach, snorkel and hope visiting some resort and floting bar.
    My email [email protected]

  18. Hi,

    I have experienced scuba diving at other places also, but the experience in Maldives is amazing and unforgettable. I got the chance to see Tiger Shark over here.

    But yes, the price is quite high.

  19. Hi Norbert,

    I am visiting Maldives by myself from 3rd to 7th Feb, i will be staying 1 night in Hulhumale and 3 nights in Maafushi. Could you please give me some suggestions on what should i do. I love photography and really love to explore some islands/ resort islands but do not really know where to start/ to visit… much appreciated. Joey

    1. Hey Joey – Sorry I didn’t see this before but we already discussed briefly over Facebook on what you could do. Again, try contacting the local blogger as he might have a lot of good information for you. Cheers!

    1. Hi Ahmed –

      Definitely! Your blog was a good source when I was looking for info and planning my trip, so it’s worth referencing to. Keep it going!

      Cheers!
      Norbert

  20. This is a very informative post. We are planning to visit Maldives in July, would it be an apt month. Also, can you suggest some must see sightseeing options and the respective cost, accompanied by sightseeing tour operators

  21. Beautiful and inspiring article about Maldives budget traveling. This post will be helpful for travelers who looking for a budget beach travel. And I would like to invite you to Sri Lanka for another beach trip where travel budget on the rise. Cheers.

  22. Thanks for the info!! Do you think it would be possible to spend a few nights sleeping in a hammock on the beaches to really shoestring it? I can afford to go but my only real concern is getting stung with these accom prices. Also how long would you recommend somebody to visit for who has no time restraints other than not wanting to spend too much, but wanting to see at least a few beautiful islands and spend a couple of days in male. I was thinking 10 days is good??Thnaks 🙂

    1. Hi Olly –

      Regarding the hammock, I really don’t know. Have in mind this is not a backpacker destination. In addition, it is a conservative country, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you found a reliable source telling saying you can.

      On the amount of time… yeah, maybe 10 days to two weeks could do. Have in mind that if you want to do it cheaply, you should rely on the ferries, which are slow and will consume some of your time there.

      Cheers!

  23. Great article especially for backpackers. Not everyone has a budget more than $500 per day. If you are coming back to Maldives again, we would love to invite you to stay at our guesthouse at Sea Retreats. We also have a dive center on the same island(Thulusdhoo). We made sure that our rates are convenient for backpackers.

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