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Maldives Local Islands: ULTIMATE Money-Saving Travel Guide (2024)

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Looking for how to travel the Maldives local islands cheap AF while still having a blast?

Hold on to your pants, because the Maldives budget travel tips I’m about to share will show you how to visit these magnificent islands for less than you ever thought possible.

We spent a whopping 30 DAYS traveling the Maldives, including epic excursions, insanely beautiful beach days, and eating out for every single meal. 

How much do you think we spent?

I bet it’s WAY less than you think.

Pulling this off requires careful planning. And making small mistakes can potentially balloon your expenses, so grab your notebook.

To see exactly how much we spent in each budget category (and get a better idea of what our experience was like), check out this video:

Maldives local islands: Important things to know

Ok, so there are 1,192 islands in the Maldives. Many of these are private resort islands, many are uninhabited, and about 200 are inhabited by locals.

The thing is, up until around 15 years ago, tourists were only allowed to stay in resorts, which meant they could basically charge whatever they wanted.

Local islands weren’t allowed to host tourists because the government didn’t want tourists to bring their vices into the isolated Muslim communities. 

Nowadays, tourists are finally allowed on local islands, and guesthouses are still spouting up all over the place (expect a lot of construction).

Not only are many of these guesthouses cheaper than any hotel you could ever find in the US, but many also have REALLY impressive service. 

hotel room with balcony

That’s because lots of the people running the guesthouses were originally trained in 5-star resorts. 

I’ll link to all places we stayed below in case you wanna follow in our footsteps.

Hotels we stayed at on each Maldives local island we visited:
⭐️ Gulhi Highly recommended.

⭐️ Maafushi. Highly recommended (although the ocean view was blocked by construction when we visited).

⭐️ Fulidhoo. Very nice room and location, but service not as impressive as other guesthouses we visited. Still recommended because of the location and room.

⭐️ Omadhoo. Highly recommended.

⭐️ Dhigurah. Cheap option, but basic and far from bikini beach. If we went back, we’d try this one (TME Retreats Dhigurah) instead.

⭐️ Malé: Acceptable for one night, but if we went back, we’d stay in this one in Hulhumalé. They also have a delicious restaurant.

So, the first piece of the budget puzzle is to stick to these local guesthouses for most or all of your trip. 

I say MOST because you’re traveling a looong way to get here. And if your budget allows, you may want to splurge on a resorts, even if it’s just for a night or two. I’ll show you how resorts differ from local islands and how to save some money on them in a bit.

local beach maldives
One of the beautiful beaches on the Maldives local islands.

If you decide to use different guesthouses than the ones listed above, here’s a quick tip…

If you’re using Booking.com like we do, don’t trust the hotel’s location on the Booking.com map. Instead, pull up Google Maps to see where the hotel is located.

We found several occasions where the Booking map showed a hotel was right on the beachfront, but in Google Maps it was in the center of the island (and vice versa).

Most of these islands are pretty tiny and you’re never more than a 2-minute walk from the water. But it’s still nice to know if the beach is on your doorstep or not.

Out of the islands we visited, the only one where I’d pay super close attention to location is Dhigurah. I recommend choosing a hotel close to bikini beach (you can see it on Google Maps). The guest houses at the northern tip of the island will take about 15 minutes to walk to the beach.

Maldives transportation tips

boat in maldives

Working out cheap transportation from island to island might be the trickiest piece of the puzzle. 

The modes of transportation are:

  • Expensive option: private speedboats and seaplanes which can cost several hundred dollars per person. 
  • Medium option: shared speedboats, which for our destinations were $30 to $50 per person.
  • Budget option: public ferries that run between the local islands, which usually cost us $1 to $3 depending on the distance. 

The problem is that the ferries are tricky to plan because of the schedules. 

Not every ferry travels between every island every day, and the official timetable is kinda confusing.

I mixed up the days of departure and days of arrival for one of our ferries, which forced us to take a shared speedboat. So our $5 ride ended up being a $100 ride. 

To avoid these mix-ups, I recommend simply reaching out to your hotels before you book and asking them about the ferry timetables. That way you know you’ll have an affordable ride BEFORE you lock in your accommodation dates. 

If no public ferries are available on the day you need them, your next best option is the shared speedboat. 

But before you go with the shared speedboat, first check to see if there are any tours that stop on the island you want to go to. 

You might find that taking a tour costs about the same as a shared speedboat, but the tour gives you the opportunity to see some awesome stuff along the way. 

For example, if you want to go to the island of Fulidhoo (one of the islands we stayed at), you could take a tour to swim with nurse sharks and turtles that stops for lunch on Fulidhoo, then just leave the tour there. 

selfie with sharks

Lastly, if you’re short on time, the shared speedboats are much faster than the public ferries. So they may be worth it in some cases.

If you only have a day or two on each island, it wouldn’t make sense to waste all your precious beach time sitting on a ferry.

How to save money on Maldives tours and excursions

The next way to cut costs is to plan your excursions strategically.

If you’re going to multiple islands, you’ll realize that you can do many of the same tours from different islands. 

But the prices are not the same. 

For example, you can do that nurse shark, turtle, and snorkeling tour from Maafushi, the most touristic island – and it’ll be a full-day tour that costs roughly $70 per person.

Or you can do the exact same tour from Fulidhoo with WAY less people (or even by yourself) and it’ll be a half-day tour that costs around $45, depending on where you book.

swimming with sharks tour maldives

The reason is that the nurse shark spot is way closer to Fulidhoo than it is to Maafushi. 

So the people from Maafushi not only pay more, but they also waste more of their day in the boat going to and from the place. (Unless you’re using the tour as your mode of transport from Maafushi to Fulidhoo, like I explained above).

If you’re on a short trip and have no other options, this is perfectly fine. 

But if you plan on hopping to different islands, it’s worth planning out which of the islands you want to go to are closest to the tours you want to do. 

manta ray picture

Also, some islands price the tours based on how many people go. For example, groups of 6+ are the cheapest, groups of 2-4 are a little more expensive, and groups of 2 are the most expensive.

If you’re traveling in low season, which we’ll talk about in a sec, it may be worth trying to find friends to join you or asking your guesthouse to help you form a group with other hotels. 

This assumes that you actually want other people in your group.

You might prefer to pay a little extra to go alone. Our private trip alone to sharks, turtles, and sandbank ended up pretty epic. 

couple lying on sand

Budget tips for Maldives food

Saving on food is simple. 

If you eat local dishes at local restaurants on local islands, you can pay as little as $3 to $4 per meal. 

local dish in maldives

For Western dishes like pizza, subs, and spaghetti, you’ll pay double.

You’ll also find more touristic restaurants that run $6 to $12 for most dishes. 

Many guesthouses have their own restaurants as well. Some charge similar to local prices, others charge closer to tourist prices.

The tricky part is that a lot of these guesthouse restaurants don’t show up on Google Maps and don’t really advertise to the public. So you might have to do some asking around.

local restaurant menu

Restaurant prices can also vary based on whether the 18% tax and 10% service charge is included in the menu price, or if they’re added afterward. 

If your budget is EXTRA tight, you could buy groceries in Malé and find guesthouses with a kitchen to cook your own meals.

But seeing as though you can get a local dish at a local restaurant for as little as $3 to $4, the couple bucks you save might not be worth the extra hassle. 

You could also do careful research and choose guesthouses that offer buffet breakfasts, eat a big breakfast, then skip lunch.

local-breakfast-in-maldives

We didn’t do this because food didn’t seem too expensive to begin with (and I get grouchy if I miss meals).

Internet on the local islands of the Maldives

Next, if you want to stay connected to the internet for some reason — whether that be for work, social media, or whatever — I highly recommend getting a data plan on your phone. 

person working with laptop at the beach
Jk I didn’t actually work here, just making fun of nomad influencers

Wifi was intermittent in every place we stayed during our 30 days. Sometimes it’d work, other times…nothing.

These days I normally always use travel eSIMs, but I tried using Airalo while in the Maldives and they let me down. I bought two 30GB plans and both of them stopped working after 20GB.

That said, they did refund me for the missing 10GB. So if you’re ok with 20GB and messaging their customer service when it eventually stops working, this isn’t a bad option. The data worked well for us.

My other go-to recommendation is Holafly, but in the Maldives, their plans were pricier.

Side note: I’ve tested the crap out of different eSIMs (like, for over a year in 15+ countries). So if you’re wondering which to choose for your next trip, check out my full Holafly review and Airalo review.

Lastly, you could always just pick up a SIM at the airport when you arrive.

I didn’t test this, but this will definitely be your best value option. I’m not sure if they have options for less than 30 days though.

person using phone in maldives

All the plans I found seem to be larger data plans for longer periods of time, like 14 to 30 days. So if you’re just on a short vacation, these aren’t as cheap as many other countries (but certainly cheaper than roaming on your home plan).

If you want to save money, you can rely on the internet in your guesthouse and accommodation, but just know there will be times it’s not working.

That might not be a bad thing if your goal is to disconnect!

The cheapest time to travel to the Maldives

The time of year that you visit will have a huge impact on the price of your trip. 

One guesthouse owner said that prices in high season are often double the prices during low season.

We visited in September. And during my research, this seemed like the perfect time to visit. 

person lying at the beach with hat

I read blog posts of other travelers who visited in September and had all sunny days. And since high season doesn’t start until October, prices are still low. 

Well, we had a different experience.

Lots and lots of rain. 

person with umbrella at the rainy beach

We did have amazing days, but I’d say half were rainy or cloudy. 

Some of the locals explained that they have always been able to predict the weather fairly accurately. June and July always rained. And after that, it was nice again.

But in the past couple years, climate change has caused the weather to go haywire, and now it’s much harder to predict.

So if you’re doing research about the weather and reading info that’s a few years old, things are different now.

If you’re working remotely and traveling slowly like we were, this isn’t a huge deal.

The bad weather days gave us an excuse to get ahead with work so we could enjoy the good weather days more. 

local bikini beach maldives

How to find cheap flights to the Maldives

Depending on where you’re coming from, flights to the Maldives can be pricey. 

We paid $180 each for our one-way flight to the Maldives. But that’s because we were already traveling in Sri Lanka, and we decided to tack on the Maldives to our trip at the last second. 

If you’re from the US, I recommend doing some travel hacking (using points/miles) to get over to a country that has direct flights to Male, like these places:

screenshot showing direct flights to Male in the Maldives

Then from there, buy a flight to Male. 

If you want a better explanation of how points/miles work, check out this video that shows how I flew from the US to Europe for $5.

Staying safe in the Maldives

We felt extremely safe on all the islands we visited.

If you wear inappropriate clothing, you may get some unfriendly stares (so don’t wear inappropriate clothing!). But other than that, it is a safe and friendly environment.

no bikii sign

I suspect this has to do with the conservative culture. With strong faith, no alcohol, and conservative dress, there seems to be very few vices on the islands.

That said, as with any type of travel, there are still plenty of risks.

You could eat bad food, get injured during a snorkeling tour, cut your feet on sharp coral, or even have a run-in with a shark.

The remoteness of these islands means if something serious happens, you’ll have to be emergency transferred to an island with an appropriate hospital, which probably won’t be cheap.

Long story short, it’s a good idea to have travel insurance coverage.

Here is the insurance I use (which has paid for two of my surgeries abroad).

You can sign up for your trip dates below in like two minutes.

Should you splurge on a resort?

We loved getting our fill of local life, especially playing with the kids.

playing with local people

But there are some restrictions on the local islands that you don’t have at the resorts.

Some cons to traveling the local islands in the Maldives include:

  • No alcohol allowed.
  • Need to keep shoulders and knees covered unless on a designated bikini beach.
  • Pesky mosquitoes.
  • Lots of trash, construction, and rubble.

We were curious how resort life compared to local life, and NOOE Maldives Kunaavashi graciously invited us to come check out their private island.

Here’s a quick comparison to help you decide if you want to splurge on an overwater bungalow for a couple nights so you can check it off your bucket list. 

couple with over water bungalow background

Unlike the local islands, at resorts like NOOE you’re allowed to drink alcohol, wear whatever you want, and you’d have a hard time finding a piece of trash or even a misplaced leaf on the entire island.

It’s as close to perfect as you can imagine.

There is also somehow zero mosquitoes, which I was actually really grateful for after getting attacked on the islands.

Another thing I found ironic was it was actually easier to learn about the local culture talking with staff at NOOE than it was traveling on the local islands themselves.

interacting with staff at the hotel

On the local islands, you can SEE the local culture, but it was harder to find people to chat with and dig deeper. 

At NOOE everyone felt like a friend and one guy explained the entire history of how the Maldives became an Islamic nation. It’s an interesting story – look it up!

Apart from that, you obviously have epic accommodations that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. 

couple with over water bungalow in the background

And here’s a budget tip for visiting these types of resorts. 

I can’t guarantee it’ll work for every resort, but it’s worth investigating. 

So, public ferries do not go to resort islands. That means getting from the Malé airport to a resort usually requires a speedboat or seaplane, which can run you several hundred dollars per person. 

One trick is to take the public ferry to the local island that is closest to the resort, which should cost a few bucks.

You can explore the island for a couple days if you want, then find a way from the local island to the resort. 

This could end up saving you $500+.

Again, your success may vary with this trick. I’d recommend sending a message to all the guesthouses on the local island to ask them if it’s possible and how much it’d cost. 

If you have room in your budget, splurging for a couple nights in an overwater bungalow is definitely an unforgettable bucket list experience.

If you wanna check out NOOE, you can get a 10% room discount by booking through reservation@laviehotels.com and including the code UNTETHERED in your email.

Lastly, if you want to see exactly what our 30-day vacation looked like and how much we spent, check out our Maldives budget travel tips video at the top of this article.

Hope you found this helpful! Happy island hopping!

Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Going Cheap Flights Newsletter - Get flight deals from your airport up to 90% off sent straight to your inbox.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).

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