Maldives on a Budget – A brief guide
Doing a budget trip to Maldives is getting more and more popular these days. Simply because a majority of travellers cannot afford the post-card perfect holidays advertised online and on magazines. The overwater villas are just a dream for many, including the marginally rich tourists. But getting to the Maldives and experiencing the turquoise waters cannot be off the bucket list. As a matter of fact, budget tour related guides have cropped up in the past few years so this blog may not be a new kind. I myself browsed some of these before taking off to the paradise. What I found lacking was a step-by-step guide to making your way to your destination and arranging day trips which will give you a taste of luxury and immense opportunities for Instagram-worthy photographs. Information on certain things like boat transfers, timings, etc. somehow were not conclusive anywhere. So, what I have here are some useful tips I have collected during my journey and stay there which should give you a smoother time in one of the most coveted island chains in the tourist map.
Making your way to Male
Some of the budget airlines flying to Maldives:
From South Asia – Spicejet, Indigo Airlines (connections from India)
From South-east Asia – Flyscoot, Air Asia, Malindo Air (connections from Singapore & Malaysia)
Choosing a ‘budget’ island
As a budget traveller you may not be staying in a resort island as even the cheapest ones may cost you at least about 300 US dollars per night. I have heard about some resorts offering a little less than that but going by the description of facilities and pictures I was a bit skeptical about a true resort experience. That’s why I chose to stay on a popular inhabited island called Maafushi, a 45-minute speedboat drive from the Male airport. The speedboat agencies tell you on their websites it takes only half an hour, but the actual duration of our trip was 45 minutes. Currently there are 3 operators doing shuttle service between Male Airport and Maafushi and all three of them have only 3 trips a day each. So that’s something to think about before booking your flight. Here are the timings of the three operators –
iCom Tours – Male Airport – Maafushi (7.00 am, 11.00 am, 1.30 pm, 6.00 pm)
Maafushi – Male Airport (8.00 am, 12.00 noon, 3.00 pm)
Arena Hotel- Male Airport – Maafushi (8.00 am, 12 noon, 3.00 pm)
Maafushi – Male Airport ( 9.00 am, 11.30 am, 3 pm)
Maafushi Tours- I am not providing the times here as I found them to be a bit regular in operating services.
Please check the all the companies’ websites to get updates on timings. There might be annual changes.
iCom Tours is probably the most reliable when it comes to booking transfers and day trips from Maafushi and you can do all these on their website using credit card. They are also prompt at replying your messages. Arena Hotel focuses on transferring their guests, however, anyone may hop on to their boat (as we did on our way to Maafushi) as long as seats are available. But they hardly reply your messages if you try to book a transfer. Maafushi tours never replied to my messages so I cannot comment further on their quality of service. So, which one to choose to make your way to Maafushi? If you only have about an hour’s wait after landing in Male, I suggest booking through iCom. In my case, the flight landed at 1.30 pm and the immediate available iCom Tour shuttle was at 6 pm. So my better choice was the 3 pm Arena shuttle which I couldn’t book in advance. I contacted my hotel manager (Royal Inn) who advised me not to book iCom as he assured me I will be able to find another transfer well before 6 pm. I have always been a pre-booking traveller,but this time I lent my ears to a confident-sounding housekeeper. Soon after having our passports stamped we walked into the arrival lounge and within minutes we came across a white uniform clad, bearded agent holding a placard which said ‘Arena Hotel Maafushi Speedboat’. The deal was struck. We were asked to wait till 3. However, our trip was delayed by another hour as the agent was waiting for a couple whose flight got delayed. Another possibility to take note of. What if you are forced to wait for 2 hours or more than that? Leave your luggage at the luggage storage at the arrival lounge and get to Hulhumale island, a man-made island, 20 minutes drive from the airport. Check out some of the local restaurants and get initiated to some Maldivian cuisines here itself. And if you still have time, there are good beaches here as well. The capital of Male is a 15 minute ferry ride from the airport. Tickets to Male can be bought at a counter in the arrival lounge and it costs only USD 2 one way. Ferries leave every 15 minutes. Spending some time in the capital can also be a good option while waiting for your transfer. I have heard that a new bridge connecting the airport to Male has been opened.
Introduction to Maafushi
Maafushi is a small island with a population of about a few hundred people. It lies 26 km south of the capital, Male. Over the past few years it has emerged as a choice for many budget travellers. Maafushi has about a dozen hotels and some homestays which will make sure you can stay comfortably without breaking the banks. Being a very small island, all major hotels are located on the beach side so you don’t need to hunt for a beach view one. It’s a vertically shaped island and you can walk from north to south in about 20 minutes. Do not expect a paradisiacal atmosphere here as it is far away from the kinds of resort islands. New hotels are sprouting up here and there. Constructions are going on at different parts of the island and at times, metallic sounds may annoy you a bit, but will certainly not ruin your time on the island.
What to do on Maafushi
Spending your time at the beach, enjoying water sports and just sauntering along lazily are the best bets here. Come night, there are several options for trying different cuisines in some popular restaurants. The most popular beach is on the north side, just in front of Kaani Grand Seaview Hotel. This is a very small stretch of white sand called the Bikini Beach. This is the only beach (or place in the whole island) where you can show off your sexy and gaudy bikinis as the other parts are purely Islamic in culture and do not attempt going skimpy there. The Bikini Beach is also covered with a barrier to hide it from the public eyes. Reach here early ( at least before 10 am) to get a beach chair, or a comfortable place on the sand if you miss out on the former.
A little away from the Bikini beach, toward the south there is another beach, but as dress code is applicable here, you wouldn’t want to swim here. Tourists normally spend time sitting on the sand here having picnic. The same goes on the beach on the north-east of the island.
Water sports like snorkelling, scuba diving, jet ski can easily be arranged by your hotel or homestay. Some hotels have their own equipment and in case they don’t have them, they will arrange the facilities with another hotel. Or, you can book all these activities with iCom, either online or directly from their office, which is located right in front of the harbour from where you embark and disembark from your speedboat. iCom Tours have a number of activities such as sandbank visit and picnic, swimming with manta rays, coral diving, resort island visits apart from snorkelling and scuba diving.
Resort Island Visit
We arranged for a resort island visit from our hotel and the boat transfer was arranged through iCom.
Some resorts do allow day time visits and the guests may spend a whole day at the resort, enjoying some of the facilities there. This is an excellent opportunity to get a peek into the luxury life we often savour through vicarious travelling. The boat transfer at 8 am in the morning from Maafushi and depending on the island you visit it might take half an hour to one and half our to reach the destination. We chose Adaaran Club Rannalhi, an hour’s boat ride from Maafushi. Upon arrival we were greeted by the receptionists who briefed us on the package while serving us welcome drinks. We then made the payments in the office adjacent to the reception area. Basically, you can go all over the island as a visitor except on the bridges connecting the overwater villas. But no one would mind if you step on to it for a moment and take a quick round of selfies and get out of there. The island resort has 2 restaurants and a cafe near the reception. The cafe serves selected free flow drinks (including beer) and snacks throughout the day until 4 pm.
The buffet lunch was quite sumptuous with Western, Indian, Chinese, Italian in addition to local cuisines. This is served in the main restaurant which is quite spacious and has a variety of seating arrangements to match your needs of comfort. What really impressed me was a host of dessert selection – cakes, fruits and ice cream.
Payment at the resort – USD 70/person (includes welcome drink, free-flow drinks and snacks from 10 am till 4 pm, lunch and beach towels)
Boat transfers – USD 30/person
The price of a resort island visit varies depending on the resort. There are pricier and cheaper ones than the one we visited. iCom tours and the other major hotels have a list with description of the resorts.