Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is the only airport in Maldives offering international flights, so this is where everyone coming into the country will arrive. Luxury resort guests would be met by their resorts’ representatives who would then whisk them away to their resorts on private boats or seaplanes. For budget travellers, Malé and Hulhumalé are the places to be.
The airport itself is located on Hulhumalé Island. If you’re staying here, you can take a public bus from the airport to the town for 3 MVR. Alternatively, a ride on a cab would cost you around 25 MVR plus 5 MVR for baggage handling.
If your accommodation is in Malé, you have to take a public ferry, which runs every 10 minutes at a cost of 10 MVR per person. Arriving at the capital’s Airport Ferry Terminal, you have two options: you can either take a cab, which has a flat rate of 25 MVR; or if you’re feeling fit, you can walk to your destination if you’re not encumbered by luggage and your accommodation is close to the ferry terminal.
Hulhumalé is an artificial island with a long stretch of white sandy beach. More budget lodging options can be found here. Getting around is also a breeze with the public bus. (See routes here). Although artificial, the beach here is pretty and makes a good venue for various water sports. If you just want to spend your day lazing on the beach, book your lodging here.
Malé, on the other hand, has numerous shops and restaurants, as well as ferry terminals which connect you to other islands. It has one small artificial beach with no water sports, but it’s the place to be if you want ease of travel and the convenience of a city.
A room in a guesthouse in inhabited islands such as Hulhumalé and Maafushi costs around 50 USD per night, and they are normally well-equipped with hot showers, cable TV, and free breakfast. Sometimes, walk-ins during the low season get even cheaper prices, if you’re willing to take that risk.
It is easy to go from Malé to other islands on boats run by Maldives Transport and Contracting Company at the Vilingilli Ferry Terminal. (See complete routes and schedules here). For example, the ferry from Malé to Vilingilli (very local feel with villages and natural beaches) costs 3.25 MVR, while Malé to Gulhi and Maafushi (definitely the most famous public island) is 22 MVR. Public transport is inexpensive here, so your only homework is to match the schedule.
If you miss the public boat, you can rent a privately owned boat for around 20 USD. Note that there are no ferry services on Friday.
If you’re not the type to just sit around and do nothing on the beach, you might want to go for excursions. These can be arranged via tour agents or guesthouses. It should cost around 50 USD for a sandbank trip, a fishing trip or a snorkelling trip. A diving trip would cost around 100 USD. It is advisable to approach several guesthouses to find the right excursion for you.
If you want to impress your friends and family back home with pictures of you lounging around in a fancy five-star Maldivian resort, you can arrange for a day visit to do just that. This would set you back around 100-200 USD, and usually includes ferry transfer and buffet lunch. For example, a day trip to the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru costs 140-180 USD, while Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa charges 90-130 USD.
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The funny thing with Maldives is that you don’t really see local food in proper restaurants. Indian and Thai restaurants are aplenty, burger and pizza parlours are everywhere, but you are pressed for luck if you’re looking for a Maldivian restaurant. Most cafes and restaurants around Malé and Hulhumalé serve Western food that would set you back at least 10 USD per meal. In case you miss Thai food, a meal at a proper Thai restaurant would cost you 15 USD. Indonesian bami goreng (fried noodle) and nasi goreng (fried rice) are considered local food and at around 3 USD, are amongst the best options for budget travellers.
If you really want to eat like a local, follow the throngs of workers on their lunch break to Malé’s dock area. Here you can find kothu roshi, a localised Sri Lankan dish of chopped flat bread mixed with meat and vegetables curry, which costs around 5 USD. In most inhabited islands, it’s easy to find local eateries where you choose your own side dishes of mostly local curries and steamed rice. A plate of steamed rice, fish curry, and vegetables would set you back around 7 USD. In the morning, try to find mas huni among the selection. This dish of chopped tuna and grated coconut is a quintessentially Maldivian flavour and normally only served for breakfast.
This is an approximation of budget for one day for one person. You can save more if you’re sharing the costs with a friend!
- 50 USD for accommodation (includes breakfast)
- 3 USD for transportation (bus, ferry, taxi if you’re feeling lazy)
- 5 USD for lunch
- 5 USD for dinner
- 5 USD for others (snacks, hanging out at a café, etc)
- Avoid peak seasons, which revolve around European summer vacation (July-August) and winter vacation (November-January).
- For extra savings, do your own grocery shopping and cook in your guesthouse’s kitchen. Stocking up on cup noodles also works.
- When renting privately owned boats, remember that more people means less cost. So go and make new friends!
- Most of the larger establishments accept USD (in good condition), but do prepare smaller bills in MVR to pay for the bus, ferry, and other small expenses.
- As Maldives is an Islamic country, there are several things that are not permitted on the islands, including pornographic materials, dogs, pork, and alcohol. Resorts are allowed to sell alcoholic drinks within their premises, but budget guesthouses don’t have that luxury.
- Bikinis are only allowed at a few allocated spots, such as the Tourist Beach of Maafushi. Outside these areas, women should dress modestly.
- Have some extra money for souvenirs? Shops around the islands sell keyrings and fridge magnets for 3-5 USD and T-shirts for around 10 USD. If you insist on having “authentic” souvenirs, be aware that most things are imported from somewhere else anyways. “Maldivian” tea? From Sri Lanka. “Maldivian” chocolate? Probably from Malaysia.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies direct to Malé, Maldives from Kuala Lumpur. For flight info and lowest fares, visit airasia.com.