How to Visit The Maldives on a Budget

Sunset on Kuramathi Beach

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

The Maldives may be the land of exotic private islands, overwater bungalows, and five-star underwater restaurants, but that doesn't mean you have to be a bonafide millionaire to visit for a week. It is possible to visit The Maldives on a budget, though it takes a little more planning and research. But remember that budget is going to be relative. What's considered low-budget in The Maldives would still buy a moderate-to-high-end vacation in a more affordable destination like Vietnam or Indonesia. However, you can still find great rooms for under $80 a night.

Located in the Indian Ocean, just to the south of India, your most expensive cost to visit will likely be your flight. If you're visiting from the United States, it'll take you at least 19 hours to get there, and as much as double that if you're flying from a small West Coast city (and that's without taking into account time zones.) One of the reasons The Maldives is so expensive is that people usually stay for a while to justify the long flight.

However, if you're willing to travel midweek and visit outside of the high season (so avoiding December through March), you'll likely be able to find flights from New York starting under $800 round-trip. Hotels are much cheaper between July and October, which is the Maldives monsoon season. Room rates can be less than a third of the cost of the same room during the high season.

When booking, know that many small businesses may not have websites. Booking via third-party operators is very common in The Maldives, as is booking through Facebook.

Below are a few more strategies for saving some dough on your Maldives getaway.

How to Save Money on Lodging

Aside from your flight, your hotel or resort will certainly be the most expensive line item of your vacation. While The Maldives used to be primarily only luxury resorts, in recent years, guesthouses have roomed. Guesthouses can be two-, three- or four-star level rooms on local islands or may be one or two bungalow-style rooms run by a nearby family. They may have restaurants and bars, or they may include a home-cooked dinner each night. They're always more affordable than larger resorts.

If you're trying to spend under $100 a night on lodging, you'll be able to do it at a guest house. Try Azoush Tourist Guest House in the Baa Atoll, with basic but clean rooms and a very short walk to a white-sand beach. Rooms start at $70 for double occupancy with breakfast included, and full-board packages are also available. You could also try the Kuri Inn in the South Ari Atoll, where rooms start at $60 per night, also with breakfast. Evening meals are communal style and cooked in the family kitchen. Be sure to check for small guesthouses on Airbnb, like the colorful Beach Villa Ukulhas, starting at under $70 a night.

If you're dedicated to staying at a resort, pass on the overwater bungalows and private pools (and luxury glamping bubbles.) Because nearly all resorts are on tiny private islands, you'll always be within walking distance of a beach. Basic rooms at Sun Island Resort (which has a restaurant, bar, and spa) start under $140 when you book in advance online. At Kuramathi Maldives, you'll save over $200 if you book a beach villa rather than an over-the-water one ($295 versus $510).

How to Save Money on Dining

The bad news is that budget-conscious travelers probably will have to skip the luxurious underwater restaurants. But the good news is that Maldivian cuisine is seafood-heavy and fresh as can be, so even "budget" restaurants are delicious.

If you're staying at a resort, it'll likely be beneficial to book an all-inclusive package. The Maldives has a "one island, one resort" mentality, so it's next to impossible to have dinner outside your resort. All-inclusive packages will ultimately be cheaper in the long run. For example, at Robinson Club Noonu, packages for a room for two for a week start at about $2,200—less than $160 per person per day for lodging and all your food and drinks. And that includes alcoholic drinks. If you're not keen on full board, many resorts have different levels of all-inclusive, so you can save money if you don't add in alcohol or are fine visiting buffets the whole time rather than a la carte restaurants.

You could also stop by the duty-free shops when you arrive to buy snacks and drinks or stop by island food markets to pick up fresh fruit, juices, seafood, and snacks priced for locals. If you stay at a resort on the island of Malé or Hulhumalé, such as Centara Ras Fushi Resort & Spa Maldives, you'll be able to walk or take a taxi to local markets and restaurants, where it'll be possible to eat for under $10 a person.

How to Save Money on Transportation

Seaplanes can be fun, but they're also quite expensive (and loud, but that's another story.) You can save money on your Maldives vacation if you book hotels accessed via speedboats instead. All international travelers will arrive at Velana International Airport on Male, so choose a hotel in a nearby island chain like the Male Atoll, the South Male Atoll, the Ari Atoll, or the Felidhoo Atoll. Every hotel website should tell you if it's possible to reach via speedboat and will usually list a rate (around $50 per person is average.)

If $50 is too steep, choose a resort accessible via the country's local ferry system. Taking a local ferry is a fun experience (unless you overpacked). Ferries usually cost no more than $2-$5 per person. You'll find a handful of guesthouses on islands serviced by the ferry (Try Plumeria Maldives or Rip Tide Vacation Inn), but you may have to take a local speedboat to reach most resorts. Your resort may be able to arrange an affordable connecter.

How to Save Money on Activities

Another reason to stay at a guesthouse? The activities are often far cheaper. Most guesthouses can arrange activities even if they don't have much information listed on their websites. Many guesthouses are near larger resort islands, so you'll have access to the same snorkeling, dolphin-watching, fishing, and sunset views. Message your guesthouse in advance to ask for prices for excursions.

Planning a dive trip? The most affordable option for you may not be staying on land at all. Liveaboard trips in The Maldives can reach remote dive sites and often include stops at beaches for an afternoon or visits to resorts for happy hour, so you'll still get some of the island experience. The Amba is one of the cheapest and starts around $1,200 per person for eight-day trips, including diving and meals. Dives at a resort can cost $100 per more per tank.

You can also find free options for things to do on the larger islands. Visit public beaches like the postcard-perfect Bikini Beach on Maafushi Island, visit national parks, or bring your own mask and snorkel and explore the underwater world just offshore. Activities like kayaking and paddle boarding are usually included if you're staying at a resort, as is borrowing snorkel gear. Some resorts are generous with their all-inclusive packages, like Komandoo Maldives, which include free windsurfing lessons, a sunset sail, a spa treatment, and even a one-hour "introduction to scuba" dive in their basic package.