Sandy white beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters with an abundance of sea life beneath and nothing to do but sipping on drinks beneath palm trees… The Maldives sound like paradise. But they also sound like luxurious 5-star resorts with the price tag to match.
I’m a university student, and not in a subject that is renowned for its high salaries – and neither is yoga teaching. I didn’t for the life of me think I’d get to see the Maldives in the next ten years. Yet, by chance, that’s just where I ended up. And I paid less than 500€ for just over a week – including flights. And I want to share how.
Where to go
The Maldives are an archipelago of around 1.200 islands, but only 300 of those are inhabited.
Now, 100 of these belong to resorts. Those are not where you want to be heading. Instead, choose one of the 5 local islands that now harbour guest houses. One of these is Rasdhoo, a tiny island 72km from the capital, located just a few miles off the famous Ari Atoll. You can walk from any point on the coast of the island to the exact opposite coast in less than ten minutes – Rasdhoo is less than a square mile in size.
There’s beautiful beaches and only a handful of cars. I never even wore shoes while we were there, since it’s all sandy pathways anyway.
While we were there we saw maybe 10 other tourists. Staying on a local island gives you an opportunity to experience the more natural, local part of the country instead of an anything-goes 5 star resort that could theoretically be anywhere. Be aware that it is a Muslim country though, and therefore some modesty is required in dress and manner.
We stayed at the Rasdhoo Holiday Home, and while it wasn’t a 5 star resort, it’s more than we could have wished for. Our modern ensuite-room was spacious and clean, and every morning we had breakfast in a small garden terrace in the sand. Since it was low season, we even had most of the guesthouse to ourselves – though even in high season it’s only four rooms. The staff was very friendly and welcoming and open to share about Maldivian culture. All this for less than 30€ a night for two people. Keep in mind that the prices advertised on Booking.com are always excluding green tax (6€ per person per night), a service fee and another 12% tax.
Now, depending on where you’re located, this will vary in price.
I was already in Asia when I booked my flights to Malé, the capital of the Maldives. From Bangkok I found several flights with AirAsia for less than 100€. Granted, you have to pay extra to take luggage. But you don’t really need much other than beachwear and some cover-ups, so you might be fine with only a carry-on.
Now, I know not everyone lives in Asia. Which is why Skyscanner is your friend, as are Kayak and Fly Almost Free. Use these websites to scour for the cheapest dates to fly on in a month and to set up alerts for error fares or price drops. This is how I managed to find a flight from Bangkok to Berlin for 180€ ($200) on EuroWings.
It pays to be flexible. It’s also definitely worth it to take a flight to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or anywhere you can find for cheap, spend a night in a flashy airport hotel for 11€ and fly out the next morning with a local airline.
You can reach Rasdhoo in 4 hours via local ferry from Malé for $3 per person or you can take a $40 speedboat – or splurge on a water plane for a couple of hundred dollars, but that’s not really budget anymore, is it?
What to do
The Maldivian holiday life centres around the ocean. There’s any and all water sports activities from kite surfing to jetskiing. You can sit on a sandbank and marvel at the fact that the postcard locations actually exist. And of course you can explore the vast, magical world that lies beneath the crystal clear surface.
Your guesthouse will likely offer tours for each of these activities. If you’re like us, and used to exploring all by yourself, there’s a new experience coming for you. Unfortunately, there’s just no way to wing it in the Maldives. But if you’re lucky or in low season, prepare to be on a tour all by yourself. My partner and I had a boat all to ourselves for four days of underwater fun – and paid approximately 130€ per person. We saw sharks, huge schools of fish, turtles, rays and yes, even the majestic manta ray.
Booking several trips in advance and some friendly haggling is the way to go here. If activities aren’t your cup of tea, just lounge at the beach, watch the puppy-sized bats nibble on fruits or grab a mask and explore some of the house reef near the beach.
What to eat
Now, this is where it gets a bit tricky, mostly due to our dietary restrictions. You can’t really grow much food in the arid soil of the Maldives, so most things are imported and therefore a little pricy. So naturally, much of the cuisine centres around what the Maldivians have always had access to: sea food. Great for some, not so great for vegans – which we are. While breakfast was stellar – local flatbread with Maldivian veggies and beans – we had limited choices when it came to dinner and lunch. However, fruit is exceptionally cheap, as are oats and peanut butter, and veggie fried rice and ramen are easy to be found.
How much you spend on food depends on your diet and whether you want to eat out for every single meal. There are several restaurants on Rasdhoo, but beware – we are not talking about state-of-the-art culinary experiences here. If you’re not vegan, go wild. You’ll be eating all the fresh fish you could wish for, for only a couple of bucks.
The hard numbers
Talking about it is one thing, but I know you’re here for the hard numbers, so here goes.
Food 50 to 90€
TOTAL 460 to 500€
There you have it. The Maldives, for less than 500€ a head. Making this trip work, living comfortably, was hugely empowering for me. If you can travel to the Maldives on a budget, no place is off limits. Go out and make your dream location work for you.
PS: I’d love to hear about your experiences and questions. Comment down below!