Maldives on a Budget, Travel in Group
Never I had imagined that I would be visiting a world’s paradise sooner. Paradise they say but a destination that wasn’t part of my travel plans before. It wasn’t even my dream destination but it is almost every people around the globe dreaming to visit to.
Maldives and on a budget doesn’t seem to sound accordingly with each other. A place they say where only rich and famous can get to. But that was years ago until the country of Maldives started the possibility for locals to open guesthouses, as a result of promoting local tourism and providing affordable alternative to private resorts.
From the time the country opened its door to backpackers and budget travellers, Maldives has become closer to reality to visit on a shoestring. With proper planning, extensive research and great companions, it doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank now to visit the tropical paradise. This is true when my group and I able to experience the country few months ago by spending only about $600 (PHP 27,000) per person for 6 days, not including airfare.
AirAsia Flight from Kuala Lumpur to Male
There are several airlines that flies to Maldives from different countries in Europe, Middle East, Indian sub continent and Asia. The cheapest flight comes from Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
We were so lucky that we were able to score a cheap flight via AirAsia X from Kuala Lumpur to Male. It was a great deal, which let us booked a roundtrip premium seat ticket for about $2 per person. No second thoughts, we booked right away. Cheap flights, eh.
Flight to Male takes about 4 to 5 hours. Maldives follow the UTC/GMT +5 hours timezone. It has 3 (or 4) hours time difference from Malaysia thus even we departed from Kuala Lumpur at around 11:00 AM, it was just around 12:00 PM when we landed in Male international airport, Ibrahim Nasim International Airport.
Arriving in Male
A thirty day free visa is issued on arrival for all nationalities when entering Maldives. It is said that one must present enough funds to cover the expenses for duration of the stay in Maldives (US$100 + $50 dollars per day) or a confirmation of reservation in a resort or a hotel but this doesn’t seem needed when we entered the country. Passing through the immigration during our visit was a breeze as I had only presented my passport then voila, the officer issued me a visa on arrival without asking any documents.
The port outside the international airport was already a sight to behold. The clear water was so tempting that we would like to jump and take a swim. Would that urge be even possible to do in the port? But certainly, that port area outside the terminal building was so far the clearest and cleanest that I’ve seen in my life. If only Manila Bay could be like that!
At the port area there are already water taxis that can take you to Male, the capital city of Maldives.
Stay Local – Staying at Local Islands
One factor that can really affect one’s travel budget is choosing the place to stay. Since Maldives opened up local guesthouses for tourists to stay in, visiting the country isn’t costly anymore. One can now get an accommodation per night for as low as $45 (PHP 2,000) per room.
We stayed in two local islands, namely; Maafushi Island and Hulhumale Island. The former is a 2 hours ferry away while the latter is a 15 minutes taxicab away from Male airport. That is one of the benefits of staying in local islands, there are public transportations that can take you to the islands. But please bear in mind that it comes in schedule.
Maldives is an Islamic republic. If you choose to stay in local islands, be aware of the things to do and not to do. Some of these things are pork products are not allowed to be brought in to the country, no alcoholic drinks allowed, no nudity in the beach and in any public area. But most private resorts allow alcoholic drinks.
The Local Island of Maafushi (Kaafu Atoll)
Maafushi island is one of the inhabited islands of Kaafu Atoll. It is located 26.65 km south of Male. When the government allowed the opening of guesthouses in local islands, this was the first one to secure an investment in local tourism accommodation. There are now more than 20 guesthouses here. These guesthouses also offer various excursions and activities like snorkelling, fishing, water sports and picnic island excursions.
To reach Maafushi island, one can take a ferryboat or a speedboat. Travel by speedboat takes about 30 minutes while ferry boat takes about 2 hours. Ferryboat costs $3 per person and is available from Male. The ferry boat from Male to Maafushi island leaves at 2:30 PM daily except Friday. The ferry from Maafushi to Male leaves at 7:30 AM daily except Friday. Apparently, public ferries aren’t operational during Friday for the entire country.
We were picked by our hotel representative at the port when we arrived in the island. There’s no need for vehicles or what so ever to get to the hotel because it was just a few walks away. Our pieces of baggage were carried using a human pulled carts, how nice.
We spent four days in the island doing several activities like scuba diving, snorkelling, picnic island excursion and a tour around the locality. Catching the sunset was also nice but I was so tired after doing the full day activities that I just wanted to stay on my bed afterwards.
But one time after getting back from our picnic island excursion, I asked two of my friends to wander around the island as it’ll be our last chance to explore the locality of Maafushi. We went to the back of the island. The beach at the back of the island is for locals. There’s a wide unpaved road where we saw locals work, walk around, play and hang out. The road also leads to the jailhouse of Maldives. But don’t be alarmed, Maafushi is a safe and secured place.
We also went to the alleys to see the residential areas. Just like any normal community, the island also has hospital, school, sports field, police stations and food shops. There are also convenience stores that sell food and drinks at affordable price. There are also numerous restaurants in the area. You can pay local currency or US dollars.
One Night at Hulhumale Island
Hulhumale is a reclaimed island located in the south of North Male Atoll in Maldives. It is an artificial island reclaimed to establish a new long mass needed to meet the demand of existing and future housing, industrial and commercial development.
The island also has its own beach. I wasn’t able to experience it but by the looks of it, the water was crystal clear and the sand was white and soft.
Shuttle bus is the most popular mean of public transportation around the island.
We stayed at Airport Comfort Inn, which is part of the company of UI Hotels.
The hotel is strategically located near the beach and bus station. There are also restaurants and convenience stores nearby. The Hulhumale port is also nearby the hotel, which is about 10 minutes walk or about 5 minutes shuttle bus ride.
We booked several rooms in the hotel via online. We occupied the rooms with two to three persons (by placing an extra bed to save on expenses). A room per night costs around $85 (PHP 3,700). The hotel room comes with a double bed, a private bathroom and air-conditioning. There’s also a TV and a fridge. Free breakfast is also provided. The hotel has a free WiFi but only accessible in the lobby.
The main reason why we stayed here is because of its proximity to the airport but after discovering more of the island, we found more reasons to stay here longer. It has its own beach, the neighbourhood was great, and it’s surrounded by other several private islands where tourists can spend excursions.
To get discounts, book your stay through this link.
Walking Around Male at Night
It was already nighttime when we visited the city proper of Male. One of my friends, Suzette, who was with me during the tour has a friend residing in the capital city. We met her friend up for dinner and had a quick walk to explore the city.
Meals in a usual restaurant in Male costs around $10 (PHP 450).
Too bad it was already dark when we saw the city. This is where we also bought some souvenir items and memorabilia. A normal Maldives shirt costs about $10 (after bargaining).
Travel in Group
What really helped us to save a lot from spending too much on this trip is because we were in a group. I traveled to Maldives together with 12 people. People from different places and set of friends.
At first I thought traveling with a large group could be stressing but it turned out to be the other side. It was a pleasant experience. Each of us saved a lot from spending too much on activities, excursions and transportation. Like when renting a speed boat which normally costs $200 regardless of how many passengers there is as long as it won’t overload, we ended up sharing about $9 each for our transportation back to the airport. When if you’re a couple or a family, you still need to pay the whole amount that I think is very expensive especially when you’re on a budget.
Another benefit is we were also able to spend a night in a private resort on a lower price by turning our rooms into triple room, placing extra bed for extra guest. A standard room can have a maximum of three occupants.
Before, I thought Maldives is just a destination for couples. Well, that didn’t change but I must say that this beautiful paradise is also a great destination for families and friends. Traveling with group of friends on this tropical paradise turned out to be the best getaway that I had.
Maldives and a destination on a budget can now sound together in some ways. It just have to come in proper planning and right timing. Ask your friends, maybe they have the same dream destination as yours. Next thing you’ll know you and your friends are on your way to your dream destination.Republic of Maldives
Department of Immigration and Emigration
First Floor, Velaanage
Ameer Ahmed Magu, Male
Tel: (960)333 0444, (960)333 0430
Maldives MTCC Transport
H. Sawmill, Filigas Magu
Male’ Republic of Maldives
Tel: (960) 332 0045
Airport Comfort Inn
Lot 10787 Unigas Magu Hulhumale’
Male City, Maldives
Tel: (960) 779 2522