Maldives on a budget: the ultimate travel itinerary + tips

by suitcasestoriesbe
Maldives Sandbank

Did you know that it’s possible to travel the Maldives on a budget? Honestly, we never believed it before, but in our Maldives travel itinerary, we will explain to you that it’s possible! It’s no longer an exclusive slice of paradise reserved for the rich and famous… After our 3-week trip through Sri Lanka, we planned to go for only a few days but ended up staying for one month. And although it’s not as cheap as other destinations in Southeast Asia, we were able to travel the Maldives on a budget. We had the most amazing time, did so many things, and went even to a luxury resort for a day. The Maldives has everything you wish for: Breathtaking views, amazing beaches, friendly locals, lovely ocean to swim in, and lots of great things to do. There are simply not enough adjectives to describe this unique island country in the middle of the Indian Ocean. IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL!

Are you ready to know more about how traveling the Maldives on a budget? Here’s our Maldives ultimate travel itinerary with all the places we’ve visited, recommendations on things to do and tips to get around. Hopefully, this information can help you create your own dream trip too.

Maldives ultimate travel itinerary: before you read on

Good to know before you read on, is that the islands of the Maldives can be split into two distinct categories. You have the local islands, basically where the locals live, and the resort islands which are home to the luxury island resorts. With the recent opening of private guesthouses on local islands, staying in the Maldives has become so much cheaper and that’s exactly how we did it.

As we stayed in the Maldives for one month, we listed down all the different local islands we’ve visited with each time the number of days we recommend staying there. (instead of creating a day-to-day route) We also included recommendations on where to stay, the best things to do, our favorite places to eat, and money-saving tips on how to get around. And to help you visualize we’ve put it on a map as well. The route can be perfectly done in 2-3 weeks, but even if you only want to go for a few days or visit 1 to 2 islands, this itinerary can be used very easily as a guide for putting together your own trip.

Tip: if you are traveling solo or would like to join an organized trip, definitely check this website. They have really great sailing cruises along all the beautiful islands. Super cool!

Maldives on a budget travel itinerary

Malé/Hulhumalé

When you travel to the Maldives, chances are very high that you will fly to Malé, which is also the capital of the Maldives. (search for cheap flights to The Maldives here) With its international airport and ferry terminal, it’s the main hub to discover all the different islands. Depending on when you arrive and if you still have a connection speedboat or flight the same day, you stay here for a maximum of 1 night. We stayed in Hulhumalé, which is the neighbor island of Malé and connected by a bridge. Here you find the most hotels, bars, and restaurants and you can easily get there by taxi, bus or boat. (only 20 minutes from the airport)

Recommended stay

  • 1 night (depending on your arrival time and if you can make it catching the ferry or speedboat to another island)

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Relax at bikini beach
  • Visit the Grand Friday Mosque in Malé (visiting hours between 9 am – 5 pm, and outside of prayer times)

Where to eat

  • Shell Beans (beachside restaurant in Hulhumalé, great breakfast options, healthy juices en vegan options)

How to get in Malé/Hulhumalé

  • All international flights arrive at Malé International Airport, which is an island of its own. To Malé and Hulhumalé you can easily take a taxi ($10 which we booked through our hotel), bus, speedboat or the public airport ferry. The ferry leaves every 10 minutes or when it gets full. Prices are around MVR 15 per person ($1) and the pier is located just outside the airport nearby the ferry ticket counter ( max 15-minute ride) Check the routes and schedule here.

Maldives utltimate travel itinerary resort island

Maafushi

Maafushi is one of the largest and most popular local islands in the Maldives, however, it’s not overcrowded yet. The island is located in the Kaafu Atoll and just a 30-minute speedboat ride away from Malé. (which makes it also one of the easiest islands to travel to) Maafushi was the first local island to build guesthouses and welcome tourists in 2010. It has everything from a beautiful bikini beach, budget-friendly guesthouses to trendy restaurants, and a wide variety of activities. Last but not least, as Maafushi has a larger number of tour operators and guesthouses, you can book amazing day trips at more cheaper prices than on other islands. If you only have a couple of days in the Maldives and want to make the most out of it, definitely consider going to Maafushi!

Recommended stay

  • 4-5 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Relax and swim at bikini beach
  • Visit the beautiful beaches of Gulhi Island for a day
  • Snorkel with dolphins and nurse sharks (check the snorkel packages of Icom Tours)
  • Go diving with Maafushi Dive and see sharks, eagle rays, schools of fish and many more
  • Visit a luxury resort island for a day (we booked the trip via our hotel and went to Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, $105 per person including buffet lunch, unlimited drinks + alcohol, towels and uses of their sunbeds and facilities for the day)
  • The Maldives is a Muslim country, meaning that alcohol has been banned. But if you really want to drink alcohol, you can take the speedboat to the ‘floating bar‘ located only 3 minutes from the island. It’s kind of a secret place where you can buy and drink alcohol.
  • Saving the best for last… Visit an idyllic sandbank, which is a very tiny sandy island surrounded by amazing crystal blue water in the middle of the ocean. Must do!

Where to eat

  • Liyela Retreat (amazing sunset views from their rooftop terrace restaurant, amazing menu with healthy food options)

How to get in Maafushi

  • From the airport, you can take the public ferry or speedboat directly to Maafushi. (We recommend the speedboats from iCom Tours which costs $20 per person. The first speedboat leaves from the airport/Maafushi at 9.15 AM and the last at 10 PM, from Maafushi/airport the first at 8 AM and the last at 8 PM. Book your tickets or check availability online via www.icomtours.com)

Rasdhoo

Rasdhoo is a small island located in the North Ari Atoll and surrounded by amazing coral reefs. There is a  beautiful sandbar opposite the island, which is only a 5-minute boat ride away. The local people are super friendly, the public bikini beach is great and you have some nice restaurants to have lunch or dinner. Besides, you can do a lot of activities such as dolphin watching, sandbank trips and snorkeling with manta rays. As an atoll capital, it has also a hospital, and ATM, some supermarkets and souvenir shops. Finally, you’ll find 5 diving schools on this island, which makes it a popular spot among divers. But even if you don’t go diving, you won’t get bored as there are so many activities you can do. It’s our favorite local island in the Maldives and gives you a true paradise feeling!

Recommended stay

  • 4-5 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Relax at bikini beach
  • Dive with hammerhead sharks and manta rays ( we booked our dives with PADI dive center Rasdhoo Dive Lodge, which was really great, $75 per person/per dive incl gear)
  • Take a boat to the beautiful sandbar opposite the island and relax at the huge white-sandy beach or swim in the stunning natural pool (unforgettable!)
  • Snorkel with manta rays, stingrays and sea turtles (around $55 per person incl gear)
  • Spot dolphins on a relaxing sunset cruise
  • Visit a private luxury resort for a day (around $200 per person including buffet lunch, unlimited drinks + alcohol, towels and uses of their sunbeds and pool for the day – depending on which luxury resort you want to visit)
  • Are you celebrating something special? Consider a private night at the sandbank. Couldn’t be more romantic, right?

Tip: if you stay at White Coral Rasdhoo and tell Hussain, Uneyy or Abdulla that you know us, and you get some extra discounts! They are amazing guys and good friends of ours and can arrange almost any of the above excursions for you. We can’t recommend them enough!

Where to eat

  • Lemon Drop (nice local food at cheap prices, relaxed rooftop terrace)
  • Palm Shadow (cozy small restaurant, serves great food both international as Maldivian at cheap prices)
  • ICOCO (part of Rasdhoo Dive Lodge with a beautiful in-house garden, serves delicious food, excellent service and you get free juices and fruits when ordering a dish)
  • Café Olé (great hangout spot to have a juice, coffee or just to read a book, has Wifi)

How to get in Rashdoo

  • By public ferry (leaves every day except on Friday at Vilingili Ferry Terminal, 53 MVR or 3.5$ per person one way) or by speed boat (35$ per person one way) Check the routes and schedule here.

Mathiveri

Mathiveri is another beautiful island in the North Ari Atoll, which is about a 45-minute speedboat ride from Rashdoo. The islands itself is super relaxed, next to 3 other people we were the only tourists on the island. It has a few guesthouses, 3 restaurants, and a beautiful powdery white bikini beach. There is a stunning sandbank opposite the beach where you can swim to. It’s also a great place to snorkel with sharks/stingrays and at the nearby shipwreck.

Recommended stay

  • 2-3 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Go on a snorkeling trip to the nearby shipwreck or get the chance to swim with sharks and stingrays (tip: contact our friend Captal Xa, who runs a travel agency Let’s Go Excursions in Mathiveri. If you tell him you know us he can arrange extra discounts!)
  • Visit the nearby sandbank (you can swim to it yourself)
  • Relax at bikini beach

Where to eat

  • Café Palato (a small local restaurant with great local food at cheap prices, the carrot juice, and vegetable curry are so yummy)

How to get in Mathiveri

  • From Rasdhoo, by public ferry (daily at 13:00 except on Tuesday and Friday, 3$ per person one way) or by speed boat (two times daily – at 11:45 & 17:30, 15$ per person one way) Check the routes and schedule here.

Thoddoo

Let’s start by saying that Thoddoo is a big island compared to the other islands Rasdhoo or Mathiveri. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful piece of paradise famous for its long white sandy beach and fruit plantations. Thoddoo is known as the largest producer оf watermelon, fruits, and vegetables іn the whole Maldives. So if you’re a fruit lover, this is the place you need to visit! The island has a small population which makes it super quiet and peaceful. You can easily reach Thoddoo by speedboat from Rasdhoo, which is only a 30-minute ride or directly from Malé. (in 1h15 minutes)

Recommended stay

  • 2 – 3 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Rent a bicycle and explore the island 
  • Relax at bikini Beach
  • Take a tour around the island and visit the fruit and vegetable farms

Where to eat

How to get in Thoddoo

  • First, go back to Rasdhoo, then take the public ferry (daily at 13:00 except on Tuesday and Friday, 3$ per person one way) or speed boat (two times daily – at 11:45 & 17:30, 15$ per person one way) Check the routes and schedule here.

Fulidhoo

Fulidhoo is the most northern island in the Vaavu Atoll and a true little gem. The Vaavu Atoll is renowned for its high populations of sharks and manta rays, which makes this island one of the best places to go diving. But even if you’re not into diving, it’s worth a visit. Fulidhoo is a beautiful small island with only 200 local residents, some shops and two restaurants. The beach is stunning, there are no cars and the atmosphere is super relaxed.

Recommended stay

  • 2 – 3 days

Where to stay

Things to do

  • Dive with nurse sharks (the PADI 5* Fulidhoo Dive is the best dive center on the island)
  • Relax at beautiful bikini beach (our most favorite beach of all the bikini beaches we did)
  • Stroll around this small island and enjoy stunning sunsets
  • Watch the stingrays around the jetty in the morning

Where to eat

  • Café de Orzo (a local cozy spot with delicious veggie curries)

How to get in Fulidhoo

  • From Malé, there are public ferries on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 10:00, 4$ per person, one way and take about 3,5 hours. Check the routes and schedule here.
  • Speedboats run almost daily and cost about 40-50$, one way, per person. Most guesthouses can help you to arrange tickets.

Optional: staying on a resort island

If you don’t mind spending a bit more on your trip to experience that real Maldivian feeling, then definitely stay a night or two in an exclusive luxury resort. Perfect for couples, honeymooners or just anyone who likes a romantic getaway. Of course, you have to keep in mind that there are many different types of luxury resorts in the Maldives to stay at. Some charge thousands of dollars per night, especially if you stay in an overwater bungalow (like the Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas). While others are more affordable (around $200 per night) if you stay in a beach villa. (like the Kandima Maldives) Check more beautiful resorts we really like in this article too.

Another budget option is to visit one of those luxury resorts on a day trip like we did. We booked a trip to Adaaran Prestige Vadoo via our hotel in Maafushi and paid $105 per person including buffet lunch, afternoon snacks, unlimited drinks + alcohol, towels and uses of their sunbeds and pool for the day. It’s still expensive, but way cheaper than staying there for $500 per night.

Now you’ve read our article about the Maldives on a budget: the ultimate travel itinerary + tips, you might be ready to go. Following websites can help you plan the perfect trip:

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