Despite being so close to us, the Maldives has always been seen as an exotic, far away destination frequented by celebrities and the uber-rich from Madonna to Kate Middleton. In reality, it's a massive tourist destination with options ranging from guest houses and surf hostels to lush private islands. And you can do it for pretty dang cheap.
- At around Rs. 30,000 for a round trip, flights are cheaper than flying to any of our other neighbours (except maybe Chennai at around Rs. 25,000). They're also cheaper than flying within Sri Lanka.
- It takes less time to get there from your home in Colombo to your hotel room in Maldives than it does to drive to Arugambay.
- It's unbelievably, breathtakingly gorgeous. Serene, piercing blue as far as the eye can see – few places in the world are this secluded, romantic, and generally perfect.
- The marine life is spectacular. The Maldivian Govt and people have been incredibly proactive in protecting their reefs, wildlife, and ecology. The diving and snorkelling here is stunning and so easily accessible!
- You can stay at a gorgeous resort for as low as Rs. 25,000 or a cheap surf hostel/ guest house on a local island for as low as Rs. 3000, and the level of tourism/hospitality is superb.
What You Need To Know
- The Maldives is a collection of 1200 islands, around 100 of which are tourist developments. Each hotel or resort is its own island, so you need to be quite sure about what sort of vibe, price point, and activities you're keen on before you go, as travelling to other islands is often not an option unless you're willing to shell out or you're staying at multiple locations. So you'll most likely just be accessing the (admittedly massive) resources at your own resort as you can't pop over to another island for a meal or walk.
- If you're staying at a resort, you won't need to convert your money into the local currency (rufiyaa), everything can be charged to your room and card.
- I'd recommend 2 nights at one resort. It's amazing for that time, and slightly boring beyond that unless you're heavily into diving or water sports.
- Each resort is generally a full-service experience. You'll find multiple bars, restaurants, cuisines, and activities from gyms to watersports. Snorkelling, diving, visits to local islands and sandbanks are easily available activities (which you may have to pay extra for). We recommend you try some of the delicious local fish-based cuisine (pictured above) while you're there!
- Some islands have all-inclusive packages, with alcohol and meals. This is generally your cheapest option as a meal is generally upwards of $30 and a cocktail upwards of $15.
- While there's no real "off season", there's a patch from around May to August where there are fewer tourists and the chance of the occasional drizzle. Rooms are relatively cheaper during this period, and your experience is almost exactly the same!
Watch out for these!
- You need to check whether your hotel sorts out speed boat or sea plane transfer from the airport island to your resort island. Some hotels may charge this as an additional fee.
- Try not to land at night, as island transfers may not always be available after sunset and you'll be forced to spend a night in Male.
- You can't bring alcohol into the Maldives as a tourist, not even if it's a birthday bottle of champers.
- The capital, Male, isn't really meant for tourists. You'll be abjectly uncomfortable if you're not dressed very decently, and the dining scene isn't vast. There's also no alcohol served in the capital.
- The local islands do have guesthouses on them, but again you may find the locals a bit uncomfortable or unused to your presence so be respectful.
- This may seem obvious, but you should really pack your swimmers, sunscreen, medicines, and whatever else you may need. Once you're on your island, you're at the mercy of the hotel shop and its prices (I once saw sunscreen at $45). You can't blame them, virtually everything barring fish and coconuts is imported!
- Taxes are steep. Whatever you buy or consume is liable to almost 15-20% taxes (just like Sri Lanka).
- Flights are about an hour and 10 minutes from BIA.
- If you're keen to travel on the cheap, put an alert on Skyscanner or Expedia to ensure you get the best deals for a direct flight. As a rule of thumb, look for flights at least 2 months in advance for the best deals. I once got a flight for as low as Rs. 18,500 round-trip (although this was in 2015 on China Eastern). Now flights are closer to Rs. 30,000 on economy. I wouldn't really bother flying Business Class to the Maldives from Colombo, because it's such a short flight.
- Try not to sleep through the flight, the views are incredible, especially as you start flying over the Maldivian archipelago and come down for a tricky landing on the airport island.
- Once you land, just go through immigration, where you have to hand over your passport and a little immigration form available there. There's a hall beyond that with stalls from each hotel/hotel group. Find your stall to get your transfer arranged. If you're unlucky and they're waiting for other flights, this wait could be upto an hour.
Hotels & Hostels
Total luxury resorts – These resorts are unbeatably plush, provide absolute seclusion, and will cost you upwards of about $1500 a night (it can go up to about $19,000 a night). Check this list for the top 8 priciest spots and to find out which celebs stayed there! Pictured above is dining at the Conrad.
Luxury resorts – These spots are splurges, for big birthdays or honeymoons at about $400 to $600 a night. Check out the Telegraph's guide for a full list. The photo above is from a Shangri-La's villa.
Mid-range resorts – If you're planning a little getaway with your family or partner over a long weekend, these are probably your best bet. Opt for spots like Olhuveli Resort & Spa or Cinnamon's Chaaya Reef at about $200 upwards. The photo here is from our stay at Olhuveli last month.
Budget hotels – Granted, these aren't particularly pretty or luxurious, but they're great if you want basic amenities and service but don't mind being located on Male, Hulumale or a local island. This list has some great options going from about $40 upwards.
Hostels & guesthouses – If you're young, broke, or just in town for the surfing, beaches, and marine life without the frills, a guest house is your best bet. Check out the options on Booking.com or TripAdvisor for more, starting at about $25 for dorms.
YAMU used to just be a food site based in Colombo, but as we've expanded, we want to make sure we answer all your questions on food, travel, and life – including how to travel to neighbouring spots like India, visa-free countries for Sri Lankan citizens, and more. This is part of our travel series.