Hire a local photographer. Available In 100+ countries.

Understanding the Maldives

Beaches are what tourists come to the Maldives for, but you need to ask yourself what type of beach holiday you want to enjoy here. As far as cost is concerned, there are two ways of doing this: budget and luxury.

Olhuveli Island
Olhuveli Island

For me to explain that better, I need to tell you more about the islands. Located southwest of India and Sri Lanka, the Maldives is a tropical country, made up of 26 coral atolls that fragmented into 1,192 islands, only 200+ of which are inhabited. Tourism powers its economy. In fact, 80+ of the inhabited islands are exclusive luxury resorts, designed to attract tourists.

Where to Stay in the Maldives

So basically, there are two types of islands here: private and public. The public islands, also called “local islands”, are those inhabited, meaning there are locals living there. This also means that there are establishments available to everyone such as grocery stores, tour agencies, shops, etc. The private islands are usually occupied by luxury resorts, most of which are open only to their guests and staff. Some of these private islands are open to non-guests who are staying elsewhere but on a day tour. (Will discuss this later.)

Hulhumale
Hulhumale is a local island. Photo by Antoinette Jadaone

One of the key differences between the local and private islands other than the cost is that most restrictions do not apply to the latter.

STAYING AT A PRIVATE ISLAND RESORT

If you’re after luxury and privacy and you don’t mind spending much on this trip, you might want to consider staying at an exclusive resort. This is a good option for honeymooners and those on romantic getaways.

Exclusive resorts come in all forms, too. Some charge thousands of dollars per night (the likes of Four Seasons). But those in the lower end of the spectrum are slightly more affordable. For example, Fihalhohi Island Resort Island Resort and Olhuveli Beach and Spa Resort offer beach rooms for only 200 USD (low season) and 300 USD (peak season).

Iconic water bungalows
Iconic water bungalows

Most exclusive resorts have two major types of accommodations: beach/land rooms and overwater bungalows (water villas). Of course, staying at a water bungalow looks tempting, but they are usually the priciest rooms. Those on the beach are much cheaper.

If online users are to be believed, here are the 6 best resorts that are on the lower end of the budget spectrum.

But before you book, here are a few notes to consider:

  • Don’t take published rates at face value. Most do not include service charges, GST, and other taxes, a total of 23% of the published rates. AIRPORT TRANSFER isn’t included either!
  • Check the airport transfers arrangement. For some resorts like Olhuveli, booking airport transfers with them is mandatory. At Olhuveli, transfers are via a speedboat, which costs 210 USD roundtrip per person. (That’s still low compared to other resorts requiring seaplane transfers at 500 USD.) But not all resorts are like that. With Fihalhohi, transfers can be arranged elsewhere, which means cheaper options.
  • Consider your meal options. Being in a private island means your only food source is the resort’s free breakfast, restaurants, and in-room dining service. Expect them to be overpriced, too. Rooms may be booked full-board, half-board, and bed-and-breakfast.
  • Consider your tour options, too. Being at an exclusive resort means you can only hire them for your touring needs, and their tour rates are much higher than those outside.

STAYING IN A LOCAL ISLAND

But if you’re budget conscious, it’s best to stay in one of the local beaches or in areas near Male, the capital, and just go island-hopping from there. The public beaches here are gorgeous, too! And staying here means you have access to more restaurants and accommodations. There are guesthouses and lodges that offer rooms for as low as 30 USD in these areas.

UI Inn in Hulhumale
UI Inn in Hulhumale

The best part is, from these beaches, you can hire a boat or a speedboat to visit other islands on a day tour, even some of those that are considered private and exclusive.

Here are some provincial inhabited islands that are popular among tourists:

  • Maafushi in South Male Atoll. This has become a tourism hub over the past years
  • Thulusdhoo in Kaafu Atoll
  • Fulidhoo in Vaavu Atoll
  • Guraidhoo in Thaa Atoll
  • Hulhumale. If you’re looking for accommodations near the airport (just 10 minutes away). I stayed at UI Inn (UI Hotel) in Hulhumale on my first night (around 40 USD per night) because my flight arrived late in the evening. Some hotels offer island hopping and diving tours and watersport activities, but there’s not much action here, to be honest.

But before you book, here are a few notes to consider:

  • Don’t take published rates at face value. Most do not include service charges, GST, and other taxes, a total of 23% of the published rates. AIRPORT TRANSFER isn’t included either!
  • Check the airport transfers arrangement. For some resorts like Olhuveli, booking airport transfers with them is mandatory. At Olhuveli, transfers are via a speedboat, which costs 210 USD roundtrip per person. (That’s still low compared to other resorts requiring seaplane transfers at 500 USD.) But not all resorts are like that. With Fihalhohi, transfers can be arranged elsewhere, which means cheaper options.
  • Consider your meal options. Being in a private island means your only food source is the resort’s free breakfast, restaurants, and in-room dining service. Expect them to be overpriced, too. Rooms may be booked full-board, half-board, and bed-and-breakfast.
  • Consider your tour options, too. Being at an exclusive resort means you can only hire them for your touring needs, and their tour rates are much higher than those outside.

STAYING IN A LOCAL ISLAND

But if you’re budget conscious, it’s best to stay in one of the local beaches or in areas near Male, the capital, and just go island-hopping from there. The public beaches here are gorgeous, too! And staying here means you have access to more restaurants and accommodations. There are guesthouses and lodges that offer rooms for as low as 30 USD in these areas.

UI Inn in Hulhumale
UI Inn in Hulhumale

The best part is, from these beaches, you can hire a boat or a speedboat to visit other islands on a day tour, even some of those that are considered private and exclusive.

Here are some provincial inhabited islands that are popular among tourists:

  • Maafushi in South Male Atoll. This has become a tourism hub over the past years
  • Thulusdhoo in Kaafu Atoll
  • Fulidhoo in Vaavu Atoll
  • Guraidhoo in Thaa Atoll
  • Hulhumale. If you’re looking for accommodations near the airport (just 10 minutes away). I stayed at UI Inn (UI Hotel) in Hulhumale on my first night (around 40 USD per night) because my flight arrived late in the evening. Some hotels offer island hopping and diving tours and watersport activities, but there’s not much action here, to be honest.

Best Time to Visit the Maldives

December to April is considered “high season,” with the December-February period being its peak. This period is when the most favorable weather happens. Expectedly, it is also during this time that most tourists flock the islands. The downside: higher prices of accommodations, transfers, and tours, especially during Christmas and New Year.

Hulhumale Beach
Hulhumale is a local island

May to November is considered “low season” — rates are at their lowest — but storms are likely. For some reason, the prices rise again in August, most likely because of European summer break.

How to Get to the Maldives

Malé International Airport (formally known as Ibrahim Nasir International Airport) on Hulhulé Island is the primary gateway to the Maldives. It is connected to a number of airports by several commercial airlines. But if you’re coming from Southeast Asia, you can connect in the following cities through these low-cost carriers:

  • Singapore – Scoot
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – AirAsia

You may also connect in Colombo, Sri Lanka, via Sri Lankan Air.

Abu Dhabi, UAE – Etihad Airways
Bangalore, India – Air India
Bangkok, Thailand – Bangkok Airways, Maldivian, Mega Maldives
Beijing, China – Beijing Capital Airlines, Mega Maldives,
Changsha, China – Maldivian
Chengdu, China – Maldivian, Sichuan Airlines
Chennai, India – Air India, Maldivian
Chongqing, China – Maldivian
Colombo, Sri Lanka – China Eastern Airlines, Emirates, flydubai, Korean Air, Sri Lankan Airlines, Mihin Lanka
Dhaka, Bangladesh – Maldivian
Doha, Qatar – Qatar Airways
Dubai, UAE – Emirates, flydubai
Frankfurt, Germany – Condor
Fuzhou, China – Maldivian
Guangzhou, China – China Southern Airlines
Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific, Mega Maldives
Istanbul – Turkish Airlines
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – Mega Maldives
Kochi, India – SpiceJet
Koror, Palau – Mega Maldives
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – AirAsia, Mega Maldives
Kunming, China – China Eastern Airlines
London, UK – British Airways
Macau – Mega Maldives
Moscow, Russia – Aeroflot
Nanjing, China – Maldivian
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Saudia1
Seoul-Incheon – Korean Air
Shanghai-Pudong – Mega Maldives, Shanghai Airlines
Singapore – SilkAir, Singapore Airlines, Scoot
Thiruvananthapuram, India – Air India, Maldivian
Tokyo, Japan – Mega Maldives
Wuhan, China – Maldivian
Xi’an – Maldivian

How to Get to your Resort or Hotel from Male Airport

  • Airport to Private Resort. If you’re staying at a private island resort, check if you are required to book airport transfers with them. If not, good for you, you can find cheaper alternatives especially if you will be staying at a local beach first.
  • Airport to Hulhumale. You may travel by bus, which runs from 6am-2:30am except on Fridays (no bus all day) and Saturdays (no bus from 12:00-13:00). Fare is 20 MVR (1.3 USD). You can also take an airport shuttle to your hotel in Hulhumale, which costs USD7.5.
  • Airport to Male. Go to the dock near the domestic terminal. There’s a ferry going to Male every 10-15 minutes. Fare is around 10 MVR.
  • Airport to Maafushi. Make your way to Male (see instructions above). From the Male Port you may choose to take another ferry (Fare 3.25 MVR) or take a taxi (25 MVR) to Vilingili Port. From Vilingili, board the ferry to Maafushi (22 MVR) which leaves at 3pm daily (except Friday). There’s another ferry that operates on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday and leaves Male at 10am. (53 MVR, 3.5 USD)
  • Airport to Thulusdhoo. Go to Male (see instructions above) then take a taxi to MarryBrown Restaurant. Opposite the restaurant, you will find Tharika-2, a ferry that will take you straight to Thulusdhoo Island (32 MVR). The ferry leaves Male at 3:30pm on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Thursday; 2pm on Tuesday; and 10pm on Friday.

Things to Do in the Maldives

Beach activities mostly. And the rates vary widely depending on where you would book it with. Tours offered by private resorts are a gazillion times more expensive than those you can book in a public beach like Maafushi.

Olhuveli Beach and Spa Resort
Olhuveli Beach and Spa Resort. Photo by Antoinette Jadaone.
  • Go island-hopping. This is what they usually call a “full-day excursion”, and this usually includes transportation and lunch. In Maafushi, you can find day tours for as low as 50 USD and if you’re keen on checking out just one island, you can find tours for 30 USD. In Olhuveli, a private island, a similar tour costs 170 USD + taxes. But here’s a trick: find other travelers and form a group. Rent a boat and divide the cost among yourselves. That would make it a lot cheaper.
  • Visit an exclusive resort. Some private resorts are open to day trippers, but they charge an entrance fee (+ taxes). Others bundle lunch with the entrance fees. The great thing about visiting these resorts is that there are only a few tourists and it gives you a closer look at the signature water bungalows. You may rent a speedboat to get here. Rates vary depending on which island you’re visiting. But to give you an idea, in Maafushi, you can find speedboat services to Fihalhohi for 250 USD per boat, others charge 65-75 USD per head.
  • Go diving. In Maafushi, rates play within the 50 to 70 USD range. You can find some that go much lower. The Maldives is a diving paradise especially during manta ray and whale shark seasons.
  • Go snorkeling. If you don’t know how to dive, you can still witness the vibrant marine life of the Maldives. Many of the islands, even the private ones, lie close to snorkeling-friendly reefs and you can see them for FREE. We were just swimming not very far from the shore when we saw a juvenile black-tip shark and a giant sea turtle. You can visit richer and farther sites, too. Most guesthouses and resorts offer half-day snorkeling tours for as low as 50 USD.
  • Go on a fishing trip. Fishing tours are becoming more popular. Usually at 50 USD in local islands (USD 65+++ in Olhuveli).

Whatever tour you’re booking, make sure you come on time because you will be joining other tourists. You don’t want to be the cause of delay.

You may also visit other local islands from Maafushi by ferry: Fulidhoo (4 USD), Guraidhoo (2 USD). Just be extra careful trying to figure out the schedules. They can be very confusing at times.