A trip to the Maldives does not necessarily have to cost an arm and a leg. Maybe just an arm OR a leg.
There is a way to experience the best the Maldives have to offer without breaking the bank. In fact, the flights cost less than to Paris or Barcelona. But before we get to how, let’s first talk about why.
The short of it is, the Maldives are really as stunning as they look in photos. The waters are indeed Gatorade-blue and crystal-clear, the sand is super fine and powdery white. Filters are totally unnecessary.
You don’t even have to travel to the expensive resorts to get a taste of what it has to offer. Travelers get stunning views of the gorgeous Maldivian waters as their planes make the descent to Malè International Airport, the main gateway to the country, which sits practically by its lonesome on a tiny island called Hulhulè. The Maldives magic literally starts in the air.
It continues at the jetty and ferry port outside the airport. The waters are so clean you just might be tempted to dive right in even without changing into your bikini first. (I don’t know, though, if swimming is allowed.)
Hulhulè is connected to another reclaimed island called Hulhumalè which offers the nearest accommodations to the airport. Travelers may opt to stay in any of the islands’ low-rise budget hotels as base for their entire stay from where they can take island-hopping tours to surrounding islands.
As these islands are where the locals live, staying there gives you a precious glimpse of the Maldivian life and culture.
Another option is the country’s capital city of Malè, which is only a short boat ride away. The island, about a fourth of the size of Manila, is very congested. In fact, it’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world and is bursting at the seams as a commercial and business district. It might not feel like much of a holiday even though it is surrounded by the cleanest, clearest, most litter-free emerald waters around a city so jam packed.
With a land area of a little over 11 square kilometers, Malè is one of the largest among the country’s 1,192 islands.
Islands in the Maldives average only one to two square kilometers in area, and more than 80% rise less than one meter above sea level. As a result, the Maldives are in danger of being submerged due to rising sea levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that, at current rates, sea-level rise would be high enough to make the Maldives uninhabitable by 2100. That’s another reason to visit.
Maldives like a local
The magic really continues to the islands. And contrary to common notion, the Maldives are not all high-end resorts. There are what’s referred to as local islands that have basic accommodations much like the ones in any beach destination in the Philippines.
Rates, naturally, are a miniscule fraction of those in exclusive resorts. Sure, you miss out on magazine-worthy luxuries and ‘Grammable amenities but you get something far more enriching.
As these islands are where the locals live, staying there gives you a precious glimpse of the Maldivian life and culture. You’ll see children merrily making their way to school, women in their traditional Muslim garb chatting among themselves, and men going about their everyday activities.
You may even make friends with the friendly locals.
You won’t lack for picture-perfect sceneries, either. They’re just not the ones typically associated with Maldives, like an idyllic hammock on a sandbar, gorgeous villas on stilts over azure waters, well-combed shores in hues of pink or orange at dusk.
Instead, you’ll get vibrant snaps of very colorful Maldivian houses, epic pics of raw, unkempt empty beaches with wild greenery, and soulful images of locals enjoying their days with big, warm smiles on their faces.
It’s the heart of the country that’s rarely on display in magazines and you get to see it up close and experience it for yourself. That’s one of the deeper joys of traveling and in Maldives, you only get it if you expand your horizon beyond the posh resorts and know where to look. One such island is Thulusdoo.
That said, there are ways of experiencing luxurious Maldives without necessarily emptying your wallet. There are exclusive resorts that offer Day Tour Passes for a tiny fraction of a full stay. These typically include buffet lunch and unlimited use of the resort’s common areas and amenities including the pool and main beachfront. Needless to say, you can take an unlimited number of selfies of videos for your socials throughout your limited stay on the island. One such island is Club Med Kani.
If you have a bit more budget available, you can opt to check in for a night or two. That will give you full access to all the resort’s amenities and offerings to take all the photos and videos you want. But you’d have to make the reservation well in advance of your trip to make sure you get a room. You might not get so lucky if you walk in on a whim especially during peak season.
Whether you opt to stay on a local island and take a day trip or an overnighter, or two overnighters, in a nearby exclusive island or vice versa, the key is to do your research to find such islands that are close to each other to minimize your travel time and maximize your enjoyment. This is the ultimate way to get the best of what Maldives has to offer — both the dreamy largely known and the lovely little seen — without breaking the bank.
Sample itinerary and costs
Now for the math.
Maldives on the cheapest budget for a 4D/3N stay in October 2023 for one person can look something like this:
P30,000 return fare (Manila-Maldives-Manila)
P8,000 3D/2N in a local island such as Thulusdoo (or Hulhumalè)
P8,000 for a Day Pass in a high-end resort island such as Club Med Kani
P4,000 for meals, island tours, and other expensesThat’s a total of P50,000. Whether that’s an arm or a leg, or an arm and a leg, depends on the traveler.