Don’t cross bucket-list destinations off just because they’re costly.
When I set out for my round-the-world trip, I made a list of places I definitely wanted to see, places I could possibly sneak in, and places that would be slightly impossible (due to location or cost) but if I could find a way, I’d make it work. The Maldives was on that last list; all I knew about this nation was that it has pretty beaches and it’s expensive, but I desperately wanted to see it.
One night at a resort in the Maldives (aka the perfect blue waters with white contrasted sand photos that take over your Instagram feed) can range anywhere from $300-$1000. I simply did not have that kind of money, so I had accepted I would, unfortunately, skip visiting this country.
That all changed when someone told me about a local island called Maafushi. There is only one international airport in the Maldives, and from there, you have to transfer to whichever island you’re staying on. Zoom in on Google Maps and you will see that the islands are all fairly spread out. When you stay at a resort, you often are stuck paying an extra flight fee for a sea plane. That flight alone costs something like $800 roundtrip per person. Maafushi is a $20 speedboat ride away from the airport.
I looked on booking.com and to my surprise, there were hotels in Maafushi as low as $40/night. While this was far above my backpacking budget of $10/night, it was a lot cheaper than the $900/night at Sovena Fushi. I had to think honestly for a minute; would it be worth it? Wasn’t the whole point of visiting the Maldives to feel luxurious? I wanted those over-the-water bungalows, or the slides that lead you right into the Indian Ocean, or maybe even a chance to visit an underwater restaurant. But then I remembered, from my experience, these overly glamorized visuals we see on the internet seldom live up to their hype. While everyone is different, I tend to enjoy my trips more when I get a feel for the local life. I booked a room for four nights at Reyva Inn for $41/night. This cost included my breakfast, unlimited filter water, and coffee (the three most important things, to be honest).
When I arrived to The Maldives, I went to the information counter at the airport to book my speed boat and twenty minutes later, I was headed to Maafushi. I landed late (10PM) so it was a little creepy to be on a dark boat for thirty minutes, but the experience was exhilarating in its own right.
Reyva Inn was all I needed! For the low cost, I had a king-sized bed, a lovely garden to hang out in with a swing, free breakfast, coffee, and water, and strong air conditioning (a MUST when visiting The Maldives).
Maafushi is tiny and you can walk the entire island in about thirty minutes or less. My first day there, I walked around, picked up garbage (my heart broke upon discovering how much trash has washed upon Maafushi), and sat on a swing by Bikini Beach. It certainly felt like the wonderful Maldives vacation I had been dreaming of, even without my over-the-water bungalow. Note that because The Maldives is a 100% Muslim nation (it is mandated by law that citizens practice Islam there), no restaurants on the local island sell alcohol. In Maafushi, there is a party boat available if you feel the urge to drink (a ten-minute speed boat ride away).
I found an amazing restaurant owned by a lovely woman named Suzy. The restaurant was called Suzy’s Café Quench. For prices that simply could not be beat, the options ranged everything from local Maldivian fish curries to cheeseburgers, all for under $5. The food and hospitality were amazing that I ended up going back several times, whether for meals, coffee, or fresh passion fruit juice.
The following day, I went scuba diving. Most dive shops will give you the option of one, two, or three dives. Since I am on a tight budget, I opted to do only one. One dive cost $40 with Maafushi Dive Shop. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t love scuba diving in The Maldives! I saw two lobsters and an eel, which was enough to make it worth it, but the visibility was low the day I went. I imagine it’s better on another day and I just got unlucky. After scuba diving, I caught the sunset and went back to Suzy’s Café. I was there during Ramadan, a month long fast in the Islamic calendar, so going out to a restaurant at night was an experience in itself. I sat with some of the Muslim community as they feasted for their meal after sundown.
My last day in The Maldives, I took a half-day snorkeling tour, and I can’t recommend it enough (you can book one when you’re there from several tour agencies). It only cost $25. We visited some coral reef where we saw tons of beautiful fish and coral, we stopped by turtle reef where I saw tons of turtles, we saw dolphin pods jumping through the water (I even saw one do a flip!), and we ended the day on a sand bank where lunch was included.
Other options for tours/excursions in Maafushi include swimming with whale sharks, parasailing, and swimming with nurse sharks. You also have the option to do a $70 day tour to visit one of the resorts, so you can still experience the luxury of staying at one without breaking the bank.
In total, I spent about $300 for four nights in The Maldives, not including flights (I was coming from Taiwan and headed to India, so my flights were much cheaper than flights would be from, let’s say, the US). With that low cost, I certainly felt like I got much more of an authentic experience than I would’ve had I stayed at a resort. I can tell you that the local men and women of the Maldives go above and beyond to give you the best hospitality imaginable, and everyone I met was genuinely kind and sparked up a conversation quickly. I never felt unsafe, even walking alone at night (perhaps because I was there during Ramadan, nighttime was livelier than usual).
Don’t cross bucket-list destinations off just because they’re costly; there’s almost always a way around it.
Kaitlyn spent four days in the Maldives.