Less than ten years ago, the Maldivian islands were only visited for luxury vacation. While the Maldives has over 200 inhabited islands, foreigners were only allowed on the resort islands, not the local islands where the Maldivians lived. No accommodation was available or legal on local islands, so if you wanted to visit, you had to stay at a fancy resort. Since resort prices don’t go much lower than about US$200-300 per person per night, this country hadn’t been pegged on the budget backpacking route.
Until, that is, the government got smart and allowed locals to open up their own low-cost guesthouses in 2009. Now, in 2017, the Maldives even has their very first hostel!
While guesthouse prices are more like Europe (rather than SE Asia), it is possible to keep a low budget. If you are staying long-term in one place, say a week or more, it’s best to go in-person to different guesthouses and ask what kind of a deal they can work out for you.
From my research, typically the lowest price available for a room for two people is US$40. But this of course depends on whether you go at the height of the season or not. Either way, there’s a ton of investment going into putting up new guesthouses. And with more choice, you’ll have more power to negotiate.
My mom, sister and I were staying at least a couple of weeks on the Fulidhoo island (in the Vaavu/Felidhoo Atoll.) Here’s the story behind the great deal we got:
Although we still hadn’t made up our minds which island we were going to, my mom, Grace and I were sitting on the ferry, on our way somewhere. A friend of ours started talking to a local on the boat. That local man was a politician on the Fulidhoo island. He called up a friend of his who owned a guesthouse. He was able to get the price to $35/night plus 10% tax for the three of us, with breakfast. Just a couple minutes after he had gotten the deal for us, the ferry arrived at Fulidhoo and we got off! The guesthouse was brand new and nice. We found that our guesthouse was even $35 on agoda.com, but for two people and not including a slue of fees and taxes.
We became friends with a lady who had been visiting the Maldives since 2010. She told us that when looking to book a place online, that $35 price we saw for our guesthouse on agoda can change to over $100 if it’s close to full occupancy for the night. So you’ve got to check everyday! Most guesthouses only have 3 or 4 rooms, although that will soon change as they are now building them larger. There are new guesthouses being built on just about every island. — They are building like crazy!
It also helps to pay in cash with US dollars. The local currency, rufiyaa, cannot be exchanged into any other currency outside of the Maldives. So if locals want to leave the country, but only have rufiyaa, they must lose some of it in conversion fees at a bank. You can negotiate for a discount if you pay in dollars.
This deal at Eveyia Guesthouse makes my $30/day budget possible as it worked out to only $13/day each between the three of us. The guesthouse also included breakfast in the price. The breakfast wasn’t big, but it included tuna, beans or an egg, which are good sources of protein to start the day with.
What could wreck your budget is the food. Eating meals at our guesthouse, as most tourists on this island do, would cost us US$8 per person, per meal. That’s an awful lot!
On the island Felidhoo, we were served meals of rice and chicken for 50 rufiyaa (~$3.25). For every meal, they had the same menu: chicken or tuna with rice or noodles. After only about four meals or chicken and rice, I have to say it got pretty boring. It was possible to get pizza or spaghetti there, but you have to order ahead (order in the morning for dinner for example.)
We hit up the island store and got some peanut butter (that was made in the USA!), bananas, milk, and cereal.
Fishing is also a huge part of the lifestyle here. Huge tuna, red snapper, and other fish unknown to me, were laid out by the pier to be sold. If you find a grill or someone to cook it for you, buying a fish is for meals is an awesome option. A little lime and salt, and you’re good! We had some incredible tasting fish in the Maldives. And unlike in most of South East Asia, the water here seems much cleaner and incredibly alive.
For snorkelling, guesthouses rent masks out for about $5 per day. Snorkelling gear was also available at the dive shop for $23, which is pretty outrageous. If you can, buy the gear somewhere cheaper and bring it with you. When we asked, scuba diving was quoted as $72 for one dive.
If you are coming to the Maldives, you can absolutely have a great time without throwing your budget out. Bring a bathing suit and any food you might especially want while you’re here. And get ready to be blown away by all the beauty!
You can read my next post here to learn about the local islands we visited, and each of their pros and cons. 🙂