For the longest time, Maldives was nothing more than an impressive honeymoon destination only accessible to someone with deep pockets. That changed since 2009 when the locals opened up their islands to the travelers, and as a result budget travelers to Maldives have been on a rise. Having said that, Maldives is definitely not a cheap destination. However, with diligent planning, it is possible to do Maldives on a budget. The most popular of the local islands in Maldives, Maafushi is a peaceful yet happening island. Occupying 1275 meters in length and 265 meters in width, it is one of the inhabited islands of Kaafu Atoll and largest of the local islands.
It is easy to orient yourself when on the island. The North beach is usually reserved for watersports; bikini beach occupying a small portion of it. You can see many hotels, water sports centers along the beach. The south beach is more of a local beach and usually empty. Around 1500 people live on this island, and yet it somehow doesn’t feel overcrowded.
What to do
My primary agenda for the trip was to get certified as a PADI open water diver. But just after I landed on Maafushi, with the number of water activities around, I came to realize that apart from having a rich marine ecosystem for diving, Maafushi has a thriving water sports culture too. From parasailing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, kneeboarding, windsurfing, flyboarding, and so on, I was spoilt for choices. All of these activities costs around $50 – $100.
With white sands and clear turquoise blue waters, Maldives is home to the most stunning beaches I ever have set my eyes on. Yet, the best part about Maldives is underwater. Especially noteworthy for the big fishes like manta rays, eagle rays, turtles, grey tip sharks, whitetip sharks, whale sharks and so on.
If you like to venture out on your own, borrow a kayak or snorkeling mask at the hotel or one of the water sports centers and head out into the ocean. While snorkeling on the south beach, you can find small Grey tip or white tip sharks, if lucky, right by the shore. Also, south beach is much better because of the unending panoramic views it offers. You can even try out paddleboarding on calm water days.
Apart from the plethora of watersports that you can do at Maafushi, there are plenty of cool day trips from Maafushi too.
Day trips from Maafushi
- When in Maldives, go diving. The best dive site in Maldives in Kadooma Thila where you can find white tip sharks, grey tip sharks, turtles and eagle rays gliding around, an abundance of tiny colorful fishes around vibrant corals. If you fancy seeing manta rays, head to Manta point where you have higher chances of spotting one. Also, Kuda Giri dive site is a shipwreck dive where you spot the wreck from 18m to 30m. Cost – $65 per dive. If you would like to take your scuba diving skills to a next level, get certified as a PADI Open Water Scuba Diver.
- There are snorkeling trips every day to Nemo Reef, Palm reef, Turtle reef and shark points for $25. Also, you can snorkel up close and personal with the whale sharks(which grows up to 80m in length) depending on the season(usually between May and December). These are massive, magnificent creatures, divers around the world are always in search of, so don’t miss out on this one if you have the chance! Mostly found in Baa and Ari Atolls.
- Dolphin cruise – Want to have fun with the dolphins? Book a day trip from Maafushi on a dolphin cruise. Cost – $50
- Night fishing – If you fancy having a BBQ dinner from fresh exploits right out of the ocean, go fishing. It starts at 5.30 PM and goes on for about three hours. Venture deep into the ocean, hook a bait(tuna, mostly) to your fishing line, and start fishing. Not for the impatient souls, though. You are warned! Cost – $25.
- Sandbank trip – Especially great for a photography session! Cost – $50.
- Resort Island tour – Overwater villas and resort islands is what comes to everyone’s mind and is synonymous with Maldives. Instead of staying in the resort islands which costs a bomb( Starting at around $500 per night for the cheapest ones), you can do a resort island tour island. They usually serve free buffet and unlimited drinks as part of the package. Cost – Around $100.
Check out your hotel concierge for these activities. They can help to arrange it for you.
Where to eat
Given that most of the food items including chicken, rice, milk, and so on are imported from India or SriLanka and transported through ferries to different islands, food is generally on the expensive side over here. Usually, the hotel provides complimentary breakfast. On an average, a meal costs about $8 – $15.
Cost saving tip: You can save money on food by having either lunch or dinner at the restaurants. Carry some food items from home or buy bread and fruits from the shops and fix a meal for yourself.
Try out the famous Maldivian dish – Tuna kothu roshi over here.
Disclaimer: Since it is an island, it is obvious to expect fresh seafood like tuna, squids or prawns over here. Nonetheless, most of the food is transported from Male and stored in the freezer. So, it might not be as fresh as you think!
Arena Beach Restaurant – Arguably, one of the best restaurants on the island. They have a wide range of menu options available, looks yummy and tastes yummy too!
Crystal Sands – For Indians looking for comfort food, you can find many Indian dishes like Dal Fry, Chicken biryani over here.
Harbour Cafe – Started in 2016, Harbour cafe is one of the top-rated and new cafes in Maafushi and is quite budget friendly.
Nora Mamma Mia – If you are craving for pizzas, check out this place for ample of pizza choices.
Accessing internet shouldn’t be a problem. Most of the hotels, restaurants or dive centers have password protected wifi. They are happy to provide you with wifi when you are using their services. However, connectivity can be weak at times. If you are looking for a reliable internet connection, there are data plans starting at 99MVR($6.5). Buy data plans at the airport from the 2 network operators available at Maldives – Dhiraagu or Ooredoo.
The local currency is Maldivian Rufiyaa(MVR) which is only available in Maldives. And, the accepted mode of transactions all over Maldives is USD/MVR. Make sure you carry enough USD since most of the places don’t accept credit cards. You might receive change back in MVR at times. If you receive change in USD, make sure to check that the notes received are new ones. Most of the places don’t accept old notes. Check US currency notes in circulation for reference. Also, keep in mind to spend an excess of MVR before you return since MVR is a non-convertible currency.
Since it is a conservative Muslim country, the local islands are very particular about swimwear. Anyhow, a designated area in the north of the island called bikini beach allows beachgoers to clad in skimpy swimwear(bikinis for women and topless for men). It is illegal to clad skimpy swimwear in public and in other parts of the island.
If you are one of those people who love to head to a gym on their vacations even if it means a remote island, I have good news for you. None of the hotels in Maafushi offers gym facilities. However, you can avail gym facilities at a local gym called FitPro starting at $5 a day during happy hours(6:00 AM – 11:00 AM). Or, $10 per day during the rest of the day or $25 per week.
Only resort islands serve alcohol and they have absolutely no restrictions. All local islands prohibit alcohol. Be that as it may, you can still head to the floating bar over the sea which is a free ferry away from Maafushi island. The entry to the floating bar is also free but alcohol is quite expensive over there. A can of beer is about $5. Alternatively, you can also head out on a day tour to resort islands which offers unlimited drinks.
Maafushi is quite safe for solo travelers. The locals are honest and eager to help whenever they can. There isn’t much to do in the night though except lying by the beach under the blanket of stars. Most of the shops close at 10 PM. The restaurants are open until 12 PM, but they generally take their last orders by 9.30 – 10 PM.
Souvenirs are quite pricey over here. A fridge magnet costs $3. Typical touristy T-shirt – $10. True to being a beach destination, expect to find a variety of accessories and show items made of pearls and corals.
High season is usually between December and March. Monsoon runs from May to October where there isn’t much to do except scuba dive. Fringe months like October and November are usually a great time to visit since the prices are not as expensive as high season and yet you can enjoy Maldives in good weather and at the same time have access to all the cool water activities.
Maldives is no more just a honeymoon destination. It is possible to do Maldives solo on a decent budget especially if you stay in the local islands. Maafushi island would be the obvious choice since it has tons of activities and also you can find a lot of travelers around to mingle with. If you are looking for someplace secluded, you can head out to Gulhi island or Guraidhoo island which is about 10 minutes away from Maafushi. It can still get quite pricey for solo travelers with regards to stay, food and water activities. Some hotels do offer slashed room rates for solo travelers, but it is not usually the norm.
Velana International Airport, also known as Malé International Airport, is the only international airport in Maldives. You can access the remote islands of Maldives by air through seaplanes from the airport.
It is hassle-free to obtain a tourist visa to the Maldives. A 30-day free Visa on Arrival is issued for all nationalities provided that you possess a valid passport with at least 6 months validity. A valid ticket to continue the journey out of Maldives. Sufficient funds to cover the expenses for the duration of the stay in Maldives. (US$100 + $50 dollars per day) or a confirmation of reservation in a resort or a hotel. Generally, you can literally breeze through immigration with a stamp on your passport. But carry the necessary documents just to be on the safer side.
Getting to Maafushi
Since Maldives is an archipelago of over thousand coral islands, getting around the islands is a challenge and can be quite expensive if not planned properly. Maafushi is just 27 km away from Male and takes about 30 – 90 mins depending on the mode of transportation.
From the airport, take a ferry or a speedboat from airport ferry terminal to Male. Ferries operate every 10 – 15 mins from the airport. You can find it close to the domestic terminal and costs about $1 by ferry(10 minutes). Once you disembark in Male, take a taxi to Jetty 1 or “Maafushi ferry” which costs about $2(10 minutes). There is a public ferry service which departs from Jetty 1 at 2.30PM every day(except Fridays) and takes about 90 minutes.
There are scheduled transfers every day from the airport or Male to Maafushi. Check with your hotel to see if they have any speedboats scheduled three days prior to your arrival. If they don’t have one available, you can check at Arena beach hotel, Kaani or Sting Ray hotels which usually have regular speedboat transfers. Alternatively, check out iCom Tours for airport/Male speedboat transfers. Costs about $20-$25 per person and takes about 30 mins – 1 hour. For hassle-free transfer, it is better to opt for speedboat transfers directly from the airport.
Private transfers by speedboat are available at any time. Check with your hotel and they can arrange it for you. Costs about $150/$175 for a 10-seater speedboat for Maafushi and takes about half an hour.
Travel Tip – It is better not to land in Maldives on a Friday since it is a holiday and no ferries are operational on that day and might end up paying a hefty fare for private transfers.
Where to stay
There is a wide range of hotels in Maafushi for different budget types.
Triton beach hotel and spa
One of the top-rated hotels in Maafushi. It costs about $75 dollars a night for a double or twin sharing room. If you are traveling solo, they offer double rooms for $50 per night. I stayed here for 5 nights and I have no qualms about my stay here. The staff is friendly and will help you out whenever possible. It is just one minute away from the beach. It is a great place for solo travelers and best value for money. Book your stay here.
Hotel tip – Make sure you go to the terrace for panoramic views of the beach. You don’t wanna miss it!
One of the top-rated and budget-friendly guest houses in Maafushi. It also hosts a private beach area. Book your stay here.
Arena beach hotel
Walk along the coastline of North bikini beach, and you will find Arena beach hotel welcoming you. Best bet if you are looking for beach view rooms. Also, has one of the top-rated restaurants in Maafushi. Book your stay here.
Kaani Beach Hotel
It is a minute stroll away to the beach. The floating bar mentioned before belongs to Kaani Hotels. Book your stay here.
Select rooms come with a balcony offering sea views. It is 1 minute away from the beach and it houses an in-house restaurant which serves good quality food. Book your stay here.
If you fancy spending your beach vacation lazing by the beach and doing absolutely nothing, then you can check out other local islands around Maafushi. Guraidhoo and Gulhi islands are just around 6 km away from Maafushi. However, the prices are more expensive than Maafushi island as you will have very few stays to choose from. On the plus side, you will probably have the beach all to yourself!
So, when are you heading to the Maldives? If you have been to the Maldives already, what has your experience been like? Let me know in the comments below.
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