We were traveling in India for almost a month and were to fly to Sri Lanka in about a week. How far is Sri Lanka? This question made us check the map once again, and wait, who would think that the Maldives is 1,5 hours from Sri Lanka? People pay incredible amounts of money just to get to the Maldives, and here we are, surprised by the cheap price of the tickets. White beaches, bungalows standing in a row above blue and clear water – this image of Maldives (I am almost sure that the Bounty ad was filmed there) was the last straw. The 70$ flight ticket to the 3-day paradise in the Maldives was bought. I wish we had done more research, it would save us time, money and my nerves.
How to get to the Maldives
I was very naive to think that the paradise would start once we land in Male – the doors of the airport would open and we would find ourselves near the bounty beach. First, the airport is very small and old, at least it looks like it. Got acquainted with the main engineer of the new airport, it is going to open in 2022, that’s when he told us to come back and see how the island airport should look like. Judging by the sketches that he showed, it is going to be really epic, but I doubt I will ever see it in real life. We arrived at night and could not go to one of the countless islands straight away, so we had to stay overnight on the airport island, which is connected to Male, the capital of Maldives, either by boat or by the Chinese bridge (that’s exactly the name of the bridge as the Chinese invest a lot in the Maldives and even build several neighbourhoods there). We slept on the airport island and in the morning, before taking a boat to another island, went to the beach, which turned out to be extremely dirty. By the way, in Male, there are no beaches at all, but it is not a big problem as no-one stays in Male, the Maldives paradise as we all know it starts when you reach one of more than 1000 islands.
Accessibility and boats
As I mentioned before, Maldives has more than 1000 islands. There are three ways to reach the islands: first, if you book a stay in an expensive resort, you don’t need to worry about anything as you will get your transfer straight from the airport. Second, if you are traveling on a budget, you can take a public ferry to an island of your choice. Be aware though that there are only 2 public boats per day, they are extremely cheap but it will take ages to reach your island. Let’s say, you want to go to Maafushi, the island that we chose. It will take you 40 minutes to get there by speedboat, alternatively, 3-4 hours if you go by public boat. The third and the most optimal option is the speedboat. Take into consideration that one ticket to an island located 40min from the capital will roughly cost you 25$ one way, the further away from the island, the more expensive the boat.
If you arrive in the Maldives and want to reach one of the islands on your own, make sure you check the timetable in advance, as you have to, first, get to the ferry station on the airport island, second, take a 20min ferry to Male, third, take a taxi in Male to the ferry station where you will finally take your speedboat. Public ferries don’t work on Fridays as the Maldives is a Muslim country.
The majority of the Maldivian population (90%) is Muslim, which is relevant for travelers for 2 reasons. The first reason is extremely important for budget travelers: women are not allowed to wear a bikini unless it is a bikini beach or a private beach. As the islands are generally small, there is usually no more than one bikini beach, which automatically becomes the local center for all people from the island. Did you imagine yourself in the role of Robinson Cruzo on a deserted island, lying under a palm, drinking a coconut, swimming alone in the clear water and being forgotten by the whole world? Don’t worry, it will not happen in the Maldives as you will be surrounded by the same dreamers on a public beach. The population density there will surely be higher than on the whole island.
Secondly, the public ferries don’t work on Fridays because Friday is the most important day for Muslims to attend mosques. So make sure you plan your trip in advance, “go with the flow“ attitude will not help you.
The cheap flight tickets gave us hope that the Maldives is open for budget travelers. However, we blindly lied to ourselves as even the speedboat per 1 person would already cost you 50$. Those bungalows that we all image once we think about the Maldives would cost you 300$ per night, the more or less decent options start from 50$ per night. Don’t forget to add 22% of tax, which is not included in the original price. High prices are partially explained by the fact that the Maldives imports everything except for fish. So, for the price of a standard room in the Maldives, we could get a luxurious villa in India or Sri Lanka.
The island that looked close to what we expected to experience in the Maldives was located more than 6hours by ferry, so we had to reconsider our choice and go to Maafushi. Even though Maafushi is considered to be a lively, more party-like island, whereas I really wanted my peace to recover from vipassana course in Sri Lanka that I just finished, there was a small local island 10 minutes by boat, where we went the next day. A lot of travelers choose Maafushi for more or less reasonable prices and good choice of restaurants and cafes. However, one fun fact about this island might turn you away: who would think that there is a prison located on this island? As the island is not very big, the prison takes quite a lot of its territory, and some hotels are its immediate neighbors. People pay ridiculous amounts of money to come to the Maldives, whereas some political prisoners get it for free when they are sent to this prison.
By the way, if you are not traveling in a couple, you will highly likely feel uncomfortable as almost all tourists who come here are couples: Instagram couples, Chinese couples (as I mentioned before, China has close relations to the Maldives) or old couples.
The Maldives has white sand, blue water, coconuts, and palms, that’s fairly true. But the Maldives is not the only place you can find it. Great image of Maldives that marketers smartly created makes people want to come to this paradise, couples celebrate their honeymoons. It is truly a wonderful place if the resort holiday is what you are looking for. But the Maldives on a budget? Honestly, I doubt.