When we bring up the Maldives on a budget as a holiday destination, those words don’t seem to belong together.
In fact, they are perceived as expensive with their luxurious resorts with overwater villas and it doesn’t have to be. While we can usually cover the cost of the stay of Marriott’s overwater villas with rewards points, we still have to pay for the expensive seaplane transfer and/or the pricey food and drinks on the site. Although that can also be done with travel rewards points, you can apply on any travel purchases, it’s still a hefty bill.
A shoestring trip is definitely doable as there are tons of local guesthouses, free things to do and independent operators.
The best islands for a Maldives on a budget trip
There are over a thousand islands grouped together in clusters or atolls. Thankfully, there are plenty of choices for a Maldives on a budget holiday.
Other than not breaking the bank, this way of exploring the Maldives will allow you to interact more closely with the locals and have a more authentic experience of the Maldivian culture.
How to choose your island?
In order to pull off the Maldives on a budget trip, you should aim for those that are easily accessible by public ferries and speedboats from Male thus avoiding expensive seaplanes. There are three kinds of islands in the Maldives:
- private islands
- inhabited islands
- uninhabited islands
Obviously, to travel on a budget, you’ll have to avoid the private islands that are often quite secluded from local life; while it feels like being in paradise on your own little island, you are confined to the properties’ restaurants and tour operators.
The majority of the local inhabited islands in the archipelago harbour local life which centres around Muslim culture. Therefore, you will have limited choices for a designated ‘’bikini beach‘’; while the water is as pristine as everywhere else, you might have to swim fully clothed. Most guest houses will be able to help you navigate through them on the island.
Also, you’ll have to abstain from alcohol during your stay on local islands.
As there’s over a thousand islands, it’s impossible to talk about all of them. Here are the standouts for a Maldives on a budget trip.
Maafushi is the main island that comes to mind when you think about the Maldives on a budget trip. The island is just 27 kilometres from Malé so it’s very easily accessible. There’s a prison located on the island, but you won’t notice it as tourism is concentrated on the other side.
A lot of tour operators are based on the island and they offer a variety of excursions such as whale shark spotting and scuba diving trips. You won’t find any shortage of hotels or guesthouses either; pretty much everyone who lives on Maafushi works in tourism.
The bikini beach is a bit small and can be overcrowded even during the off season. Therefore, I won’t recommend coming to Maafushi if your intention is to lay all day on the white sand. Also, the house reef isn’t in good shape due to mass tourism.
What is interesting about Maafushi are the snorkelling sites nearby as they are blooming with marine life and beautiful coral gardens. You’ll have to check with your guesthouse or a tour company as you need to book a group tour.
Also, there’s a lot of watersports available on Maafushi such as water skiing, jet skiing, windsurfing, kite surfing, parasailing, etc. as well as a huge playground for kids.
Maafushi is a perfect base for exploring the Maldives on a budget.
Fulidhoo is known for its authenticity, beauty, charm and local vibe. The island is easily incorporated in an itinerary with Maafushi by public ferry and public speedboats.
The rates of scuba diving and snorkelling are on the cheaper side here making it a prime choice for a Maldives on a budget trip.
Wildlife is diverse and amazing over here: hammerheads, manta rays, dolphins and whale sharks! The visibility is pretty great all year round so you can’t really go wrong with Fulidhoo if you want to explore the seabed.
The beach is amazing and the turquoise water is spectacular; there’s a spot where sting rays hang out by the shore!
Rasdhoo is a very nice island for a Maldives on a budget trip as it caters to most types of travellers. It is situated about 60 kilometres west of Malé.
There are affordable guesthouses, restaurants and stores along with some dive shops to keep you busy.
The vibe on Rasdhoo is definitely an island one so you should expect ‘’ slow ‘’.
In terms of bikini beach, there’s a small one (about 100 metres in length) with a lovely house reef just a bit off shore which is perfect for some snorkelling. Be wary of the low tide and coral though; you should wear special water shoes to avoid injuries if you are walking.
The house reef is more lively on the outer side, but be careful of currents which are constantly changing being easy to swim on one day to impossible on another.
Rasdhoo is famous for black and white tip reef sharks along with the reef regulars (parrot fish, barracudas, batfish, etc.). If you want to get a good taste of marine life in the Maldives on a budget, this is a good one.
Nearby, there are also a few uninhabited islands and sandbanks that are beautiful for a day trip either to wander around paradise or to snorkel or dive.
This one is also easy to incorporate on a Maldives on a budget trip as there’s a public ferry connecting it with Rasdhoo. You’ll have to plan accordingly though as it doesn’t operate every day of the week.
The 1-kilometre long bikini beach is great on Ukulhas so this is where you should aim if you want to sunbathe. Indeed, there are a lot of trees for shade, sunbeds and umbrellas which are perfect for a day at the beach.
For families, especially those with younger children, Ukulhas is perfect because hotels and guesthouses are not that far from the beach.
The reef is also pretty great for snorkelling with lots of life such as stingrays, manta rays, turtles and huge schools of fishes although the coral might be dead or unhealthy.
Unlike other islands, it’s fairly easy to organize a private candlelight dinner on the beach on a sandbank. Your hotel can help you with that and the cost starts around $125 US for two.
Thoddoo is also a good option for a Maldives on a budget trip.
There’s a lot of agriculture on Thoddoo so you can expect a lot of fresh fruits. In fact, they often export their sweet watermelons and juicy papayas to other islands!
There are two splendid and clean beaches on Thoddoo and you can reach them while passing through farms on a bicycle! This is actually a very nice way to explore this island; you can usually rent them from your accommodation.
There’s a small reef near the bikini beach but the current can be quite strong so don’t swim alone.
There’s a manta ray station near Thoddoo which is a good place to see them as they usually prefer deeper waters and stronger currents.
When is the best time to visit the Maldives?
The high season (dry season) in the Maldives runs from November and April. Therefore, for a Maldives on a budget trip, it’s best to aim for October or May to get the best of both worlds in the shoulder months; a bit cheaper but not too wet either.
We were in the Maldives during the last two weeks of October and we had about 5 days with brief showers (mostly early morning and during the late afternoon).
Are credit cards accepted on local islands in the Maldives?
Most guesthouses and tour operators will accept credit cards, but it is always better to carry some cash around. This is especially true if the island is more remote.
We mostly had to bring out the cash for taxis and ice cream shops.
Unlike the resort islands where everything is quoted in US dollars, you’ll pay with either the local currency or dollars. In fact, we could have paid with US dollars all the way but the exchange rate was not always in our favor so we were glad to have some rufiyaa (the local currency).
I’d recommend getting your rufiyaa at an ATM while in Malé or Hulhumale to get the best exchange rate. Alternatively, foreign exchange kiosks aren’t so bad either. Also, I’d carry a bit of US dollars in cash just in case I’d run out of local currency in a place where there’s no working ATM.
How to get to the Maldives on a budget?
According to Google Flights, airfare to Malé can easily reach $2,000 per person for a round trip. Is this a result of Revenge Travel? Maybe. But whatever the reason, that’s the cost to fly to the Maldives now.
Thankfully, there are great options with Aeroplan points!
You can fly to Male for 70,000 points on a one way from Canada which is the fixed price on a partner airline under the Air Canada Aeroplan award chart from the North American zone to the Atlantic zone.
However, there is a nice trick here; if you input Singapore as your destination and Male as your stopover point, you can visit both the Maldives on a budget and Singapore for only 65,000 points! Singapore is also doable on a shoestring and a gateway to a whole lot of budget-friendly destinations such as Thailand or Bali.
Singapore is located in the Pacific zone; therefore, if we are flying from Eastern Canada, we move on to a cheaper mileage bracket in the North American-Pacific chart and make use of that amazing 5000 points stopover option. The best thing is that you can book all of this online yourself!
GCMap is a great tool to plan cheaper routings.
Here’s the award price from Montreal:
And here’s the same routing trick from Toronto:
Air Canada partner airlines can be tricky to juggle with as availability isn’t always there. You can use a tool such as ExpertFlyer to monitor award space and be alerted when it opens up.
So for only 130,000 Aeroplan points, you can fly round-trip to the Maldives and to South-East Asia. While that amount still might seem high, Aeroplan points are quite easy to accumulate with the many credit card sign-up bonuses offered in Canada; a card or two will do the trick.
My favourite cards are the American Express® Aeroplan®* Reserve Card and the Platinum Card® because they require no minimal income and have plenty of amazing travel perks in addition to their bonuses.
They do have high annual fees, but think of them as the cost of your airfare; you are, in a way, buying the points to make your trip. When viewing the fees with that perspective, $599 is quite fitting for a plane ticket to the Maldives on a budget as compared to our $2,000 + prices found on Google Flights earlier!
Also, award flights in the Aeroplan program for infants (below the age of two) are fixed to 2500 points per direction which is a steal whether you fly economy or in a premium cabin (should you want to have a family holiday).
How to get around the local islands in the Maldives?
From the airport
You’ll be landing at the international airport located on Hulhumale Island. The first step is to get to the capital island of Malé which you can do with a ferry boat ride; the ferry terminal is on the left side of the airport. This will take about 10 minutes and set you back 30 rufiyaa ($3).
This ferry unfortunately takes you far from the local island public ferry terminal, so you’ll have to fork out 85 rufiyaa ($7) for a taxi (especially if you have lots of luggage). Alternatively, you can walk between the airport terminal and the public ferry terminal in about an hour.
Alternatively, to save on time, you can also take a $25 US speedboat directly to Maafushi (and back) from the airport. This is also something to consider as accommodation on Malé or Hulhumale is more expensive than on a local island such as Maafushi.
The Villingili ferry terminal is where most of the boats leave for local islands. While some timetables can be found online, they are not always reliable so it’s best to ask the ticket office directly in Malé.
Once you’re there, it’s best to plan out your Maldives on a budget trip. This is especially crucial if you are visiting more than one island; some routes require backtracking to Malé while some islands are linked.
Prices for public ferries can be as cheap as 5 rufiyaa which is about 50 cents. On the flip side, they can be incredibly slow compared to speedboats.
From Malé to Maafushi, we paid $5 US per person for the 90-minute trip on the local ferry.
The speedboats cost between $25 US and $125 US per person depending on the destination. While that is significantly more expensive than public ferries, it might be worth it to avoid losing precious vacay time. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons for your situation.
To get back to Malé after our Maldives on a budget trip, we took a speedboat because the public ferry did not match our schedule at all. The 30-minute journey set us back $25 US per person.
You can also ask your accommodation if they offer a pick-up service by private speedboats and compare prices; it is sometimes included in your package so it’s best to check. How pleasant would it be if it was complementary?
Where to stay in the Maldives on a budget?
On local islands mentioned in this article, you’ll have plenty of options between hotels and guesthouses. While they may not be as cheap as some real backpacking destinations such as Thailand or Bali, you will get your money’s worth with a superior quality and standard.
Most of these accommodations can be booked on Booking.com or on AirBnB. Therefore, you can easily use reward points such as HSBC Rewards to cover those costs.
In addition, by using a card such as HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®, you are avoiding a foreign exchange fee that most other cards pass on to you. Also, the welcome bonus for that card is actually enough for a week of lodging in the Maldives on a budget trip! Talk about a triple win!
Most places offer food as well and it’s almost always better to eat where you stay (and pass off those costs on your hotel bill in order to use points). In fact, restaurants can be limited in some places so it’s best to have a wander around town and look at your options before declining the food plan at your accommodation.
HSBC Rewards points are quite simple to use; you can simply book whatever place you like and take care of redeeming points for your stay when you get back home. They’re my favourite for budget travel as they allow me to plan whatever I see fit without being restricted.
Some activities can even be covered with points as well such as scuba diving (if the operator is listed as a travel agency).
How to get to a resort island in the Maldives on a budget?
While this article centres around visiting the Maldives on a budget, there’s a way to incorporate a little day trip to a resort island without going broke. You know, just to get that little taste of Maldivian luxury and to be pampered a bit!
The day trip experience
I previously mentioned that Maafushi is a good island as a base for exploring the Maldives. Well, from there, you can also easily book a day trip that includes boat transfers, entrance fees, resort amenities as well as food and drinks between $100 US to $200 US per person.
Check out the activities you can do on your local island first so you don’t pay for something you could have done cheaper elsewhere.
The full overnight experience
Alternatively, if you do want to experience the lavish side of the Maldives on a budget without (or in addition to) going to local islands, you can do so by racking up Marriott Bonvoy points since it’s easy to do so. The welcome bonus from each Bonvoy co-branded cards (Marriott Bonvoy® American Express®* Card & Marriott Bonvoy® Business American Express®* Card) can cover 2 nights.
Technically, the cheapest resort to get to is the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa because they offer a complimentary speedboat transfer while the others require boarding a seaplane and the rate (either with cash or points) is lower than their sister properties in the Maldives. The Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa also offers overwater villas that are quite nice if that is the experience you seek.
You can also use your annual free night award certificate from either cards and top it up with points for an amazing value since the redemption is worth far more than the annual fee you pay to earn the free night award certificate.
Indeed, rates start around $250 US per night while the Marriott Bonvoy® American Express®* Card has a 120$ fee.
This hotel is also in a perfect location to book-end your trip as it is close to the airport; this will be a nice way to relax before the journey home, especially if you’ve got a early flight out.
Then there’s also the issue of pricey meals, but at the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, half board and full-board plans are available at $98 US and $148 US respectively (per person, per day).
The HSBC World Elite® Mastercard® is again quite useful as the welcome bonus is enough to cover a few days of food here. Should you have a status with Marriott, you can save even more as breakfast is usually one of your welcome gift choices.
Marriott has quite a few amazing properties in the archipelago, 7 to be exact, which we reviewed here:
What activities can you do in the Maldives on a budget?
Bikini beaches are free as well as snorkelling that can be done offshore (bring your own snorkel and mask).
The price for scuba diving in the Maldives is pretty standard though with each dive (tank) costing about $40 US to $60 US.
Dolphins can be spotted while walking on the beach so there’s no incentive to book a tour for that; ask your host for the best spots around the island!
As for exploring the islands, they can often be done on foot, so no expenses to be had there!
You can also book a handful of excursions at a very reasonable price on local islands.
The tour operator we chose on Maafushi was Travel Scape Maldives; the reason we went with them was because they are a local operator who went out with small groups of 10 at the most with 3 local guides. We did not want to go with a major company because they took up to 35 people on their excursions.
Our cost and use of reward points
To sum up, here is the rundown of our 4 nights/5 days Maldives on a budget trip in Canadian dollars. We were a party of 2 adults and 1 child and chose Maafushi and Fulidhoo; excursions for our toddler was free, but we did opt for a bigger hotel room and ordered more food for him.
We could have gone more frugal and brought it down to less than $50 per person per day, but we just followed our heart’s desires without looking at cost so much.
|Activities and excursions||$136.11|
Everything was paid with the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard® with the exception of the cash expenses. Upon our return home, I applied 135,000 HSBC Reward Points for a $675 statement credit.
If you don’t have that card yet, you should know that’s about what you get as a sign-up bonus!
A trip to the Maldives on the budget can be done if you are open-minded; it’s not just filled with expensive resorts. Then again, even if you wanted to stay in an overwater villa in the Maldives and call it a budget trip, you can do so with the magic of points!
Why visit the Maldives while you can go gallivant somewhere else that is also a budget destination? The marine life is quite incredible, the scenery is majestic and the sunsets are beautiful. In addition, for me personally, it was a way to stay in an overwater villa without going broke.
So there you have it, a real local inexpensive option and how to stay in a deluxe property without breaking the bank for your Maldives on a budget holiday.
My family and I wandered around the Maldives both on a budget and deluxe style; a trip made possible with the use of many reward points program. I documented my adventure with stories. To follow me on Instagram, it’s this way: wanderingaline