The Maldives are always associated with two things: incredibly beautiful beaches and expensive luxury. One point is true, the other one… not necessarily. 😉
In this post I will explain how you can get a low-moderate budget trip to the Maldives and still have an amazing time. Actually, an even better time over those tourists who book one resort and then are stuck on that one island for 10+ days.
Day 0: Overnight flight into Male
Day 1: Arrival and transfer to Huraa Island
Day 2: Snorkling, Boating & Shark Fishing
Day 3: Diving Trip & making new friends
Day 4: Banyan Tree Resort
Day 5: Dhiffushi Resort, Heavy Rain & a local Festival
Day 6: Kurumba Resort & Overnight Return
Trip date: 11/2015
Trip duration: 6 days (on the ground, without travel time)
Vacation days required: 4 (Departure Friday night, Return Sunday morning, and one holiday in between)
Cost rating: moderate (~180€/day)
The Maldives are not one location. In fact there are over 26 different atolls and over a thousand islands located south-west of India. About a fifth of the islands are inhabited and some are designated as tourist islands. Before 2012, the local islands were blocked off from international tourists and no hotels were allowed. This regulation has been changed (technically since 2009) and that is the main reason why we finally travelled to the Maldives and why it can be done comparably cheap. Roughly, the islands can be grouped into the northern atolls, the central atolls (including Male the capital) and southern atolls around the Huvadu atoll. You will find literally hundreds of guides to the different resorts and islands on google and each will say something different. It depends what you want, but I will explain that later.
We had chosen one of the local islands as our homebase, so after arriving in Male, we took the ferry across to Huraa island. Popular local islands with tourists are Huraa, Maafushi, Gulhi, Dhiffushi,… but there are lots more. We had chosen Huraa, because it was our first time in the Maldives and we wanted to see as much as we could, so we chose the central atoll and an island close to many different resorts in that atoll circle. Huraa is located centrally and speedboat rides are fast to get around. By Seaplane is also common, but they are expensive and prolong travel times significantly, espescially to the more remote islands (flight into male, transfer, wait, seaplane, wait, speedboat). But it’s really cool to fly in one and you should try at least once! Our first day was mainly about exploring the local island, ridding us of the jetlag, and checking with the local dive center for their tours. And course meeting some locals 😉
Of course you can’t expect the same level of cleanliness from the local island as you would get in the resort islands. So once you leave the main roads and beaches, it looks a bit run-down, but honstly: Look behind the white walls of your resort and it’s the same. And the views and waters are not different:
Right after a late breakfast we started the second day with a snorkling tour and asked our guesthouse to take us out to snorkling spots by boat. The reefs around the islands are all unique and you have dozens of choices.
We did this for most of the day, and in addition tried some kayaking (regular and stand-up) around the island(s). For the evening, we asked some local fishermen to takes us out for ocean night fishing. The guys – especially the old captain – were really cool and we actually talked more than we fished.
The waters are so rich – you throw the hook out and 10 seconds later you have the first one biting! Of course I did not catch any big fish or even any sharks (not even sure that’s allowed) but I caught our evening dinner. Thankfully the guesthouse chef prepared it for us, he was a really great cook.
The bad news is that we found bed bugs in our hotel room! This theoretically *can* happen even in the best of resorts but of course chances are higher in local guesthouses. We quickly moved rooms and protected our stuff. You need to make sure the bugs either had no chance of getting to your stuff, or boil it all in hot water, or put it into plastic bags and let it lie in the hot sun or freeze them. All works. Bed Bugs are no big deal, but make sure you do not bring them home!
But the sunset view made up for most of it:
In the morning, we took the diving center boat out for an an open water dive. There are many beautiful reefs just a short ride out, circling the uninhabited islands. We went with Scuba Divine and both guides as well as gear and boat were excellent.
These were the views we could enjoy from the boat:
Another nearby resort:
The two morning dives were amazing and coming back, we met a really great German couple who were also staying in the guesthouse. We spent all afternoon with them (and actually most of the rest of the vacation). Nothing makes a holiday more memorable than the new people you meet on the road.
And – of course – time for another sunset. This for me is the most beautiful moment of the day, when the sun touches the horizon. I must have taken a million pictures in hundreds of places, but nothing quite catches the mood of that moment.
Today we implemented my “resort hopping master plan”. I had convinced our two new friends to join us and called the Headmaster of the Banyan Tree Resort. He agreed to let us into the resort on a “day pass”, which essentially means you have to leave after sundown, but can otherwise use all the facilities. This costs between 50-100USD per Person. (normal overnight fee for the Banyan is 500+). The deal is great and the speedboat ride to and fro is cheap and another experience not to miss. The resort island is very remote and you will not see another soul in any direction. I think pictures say more than a 1000 words – so this is the Banyan Tree Resort:
You can do lots of different activities (on all the resort) islands) as long as they have something to do with water. 😉 The Banyan Tree Resort has their own house reef, which is mind-blowing and the most beautiful of all the reefs I saw during our trip. I even bumped into a shark, but I think he was mostly annoyed by me rather than actually aggressive. 😉
Since it was my first time recording unterwater, I botched the videos of the deep dive. But here are two examples of our snorkling tour on that day and the day before, to give you an impression of the gigantic amount of fish you can see. I had to hold my breath for a really long time to takes this, so I hope you like it:
I am particularly fond of this second video – as no feeling is as good as being in love…
And, finally, another sunset view enjoyed over a cocktails and in great company at the Banyan Tree. We are actually still friends with the couple and have met them on another 4 vacations – we never once have met in Germany… Life is crazy.
The ride back at high speeds and in utter darkness is an adventure. The guys are navigating with Google Maps! Everyone who has done that before, knows that the GPS can easily be off by a few dozen meters. When I asked the guys, why they navigate like this, he replied: Because of the shallow reefs and sandbanks… 😀 So – yes – there are safer things to do in life, but few match the great experience of speeding across open waters, in between the atolls, and under a crystal clear sky full of stars.
Since the resort plan was a great success, we continued this on day 5 and this time we had chosen the Cinnamon Dhonveli resort.
This was also our only day of bad weather and heavy rain. But to be honest, there are worse things than relaxing in a resort, SPAing extensively, or getting some cocktails and listening to the rain while reading a book.
After returning to the island, we were in for another surprise. There was a local holiday festival on the island and the weather had improved so we joined the celebrations.
The last day of our Maldives trip, but due to the overnight return, we still had the full day. I called another resort – this time close to Malé – and we spent the day in the Kurumba resort. It is one of the older resorts, and not so remote, but the reef and waters are still very nice.
And then it was time to depart after watching another, final, and perfect sunset.
- Bring an unterwater camera! This is the no.1 recommendation I can give. You must take pictures and videos of the reefs and the underwater worlds.
- Otherwise it is sunsets, sunsets and even more sunsets and the many beautiful beaches.
- Choose which area you want to stay (northern, central or southern atolls) and then look at the different resorts around and try to find a centrally located local island
- Not all resorts accept day visitors – call or email in advance to ask for the possibility and the prices.
- Speedboats are one option (medium price) seaplanes another (high price) and the local ferry connections are a third and the cheapest. The ferries connect all the local islands, but they only go at specific times during the day. Check in advance if you want to go for the more remote resorts as as speed boat ride from the nearest island is the best way forward.
- Check the weather, the different “dry” seasons still can have a lot of rainy days and then you are stuck.
- Mosquitos! Bring DEET.
- Stay away from Male! The city is awful and there are lots of political instabilities in the very poor Maldives that lead to many protests and other incidents such as bombings. You are perfectly safe on the other resort islands and the local islands. But stay away from Male.
- The Maldives are a Muslim country and very conservative. This does not matter on the resort islands but on the local islands you should dress and behave appropriately. The same applies for alcohol on the local islands.
- The guesthouses have a very varied quality, read reviews and check well.
- You can’t drink the tap water.