How to Visit the Maldives Without Spending a Lot of Money

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on January 23, 2023.

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If you are looking to visit the Maldives, odds are good one of your first concerns will be with regards to the price. There is no way around it, the Maldives is an expensive destination.

But while this country is among the more expensive places we've ever visited, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that you can still visit this one somewhat cheaply. But unlike other destinations, if you want to visit the Maldives without spending a lot of money, you will need to make some concessions based on what your experience will be like, and it may not be in ways you expect. 

In this article, we're going to discuss the minimum spending you'll likely see when visiting the Maldives within the topics of accommodations, food, transportation, and attractions.

At the end of each section, we're also going to provide rough total estimates for an example scenario of 10 nights at local islands (for two) and a second option for replacing three of those with a budget-friendly resort to highlight some of the pricing variations you may likely see in the country. 

The Most Expensive Item in the Maldives – Hotels

Spa bungalows at the Conrad Rangali

Before writing this, I had to stop and ask myself if Maldives hotels really are the most expensive item. I questioned this as you could just as easily top out on transportation or activities depending on your itinerary and travel goals.

In the end, I settled on hotels for the most expensive classification for this series if only because the sky is the limit on what you can spend. The cheapest resorts start at $100-$150 per night, but generally speaking most are $250 per night or more for base rooms before tax (and $1,000+ per night for overwater bungalows- thankfully we paid on points for ours). There is no use of the word cheap that involves staying at a resort in the Maldives, but thankfully there is an alternative option to consider.

For those who want to go absolutely bare-bones in terms of spending, then sticking to basic guesthouses on local islands is for you.

Seena Inn Hotel Room

These are not resorts. These are islands that local Maldivians live on, and a few have opened up over the years with limited infrastructure for tourists. These may have just one bikini beach, have limited food options, and have no alcohol due to the Maldives being a Muslim country.

The trade-off you get at a local island is seeing what Maldivian life is like, enjoying islands at a slower, more relaxing pace, and of course, saving money. Here, hotels can run anywhere from $60-$100 per night and often have cheaper ancillary costs for transportation, activities, and food- but we'll touch more on those later.

The catch-22 with the Maldives is that the stereotypical experience you may be looking for is almost certainly a resort. Crystal clear water, overwater bungalows, white-sand beaches, and the resort experience is integral to what most people consider to be “Maldives”. But if you must shave off costs, you're looking at a local island. We did both and are glad we did, but we are also the first to admit that those who only do local islands will be missing out.

As such, if you are looking to spend ten days in the Maldives, we recommend at least spending a couple of nights at a budget-friendly resort if you can justify the price. So if you pick two local islands for seven nights, and a resort for three, your average spending can be managed with a bit of planning.

Total cost: $750-$1,000. The lower end of this cost would be for those who exclusively do local islands for about ten nights, while the higher-end would account for three nights at a budget-friendly resort. But if you went full-on opulent, you could also spend $10,000+ without much effort. 

  • Some guesthouses on local islands also offer day trips to resorts which could also be an option; however, we have to admit that the best experience would be with an overnight stay.


Clear Water at Conrad Rangali

Transportation costs in the Maldives will vary considerably for any given itinerary. As resorts tend to be the sole occupants of their respective islands, and local islands maybe have less than a dozen guesthouses, your choice of accommodations is going to be inherently linked to your transportation costs.

To put things in perspective, the Maldives is made up of over 1,000 islands (about 300 occupied by locals or resorts) and stretches a distance of about 500 miles north to south with Male located near the geographical center. Couple this with the numerous options for travel, including government ferries, speedboats, domestic flights, and seaplanes, and the logistics of planning it all while being budget-minded can be downright dizzying. 

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As such, throwing out blanket costs here on what to expect is almost impossible. But to try and approximate things, we're going to first assume your trip will only be visiting the atolls closest to Male. This will knock off some domestic flights and daisy-chained ferries from contention outright and save on both time and cost.

Dive boat dhoni

So, let's say you're sticking to the atolls near Male for this analysis. A multi-stop government ferry may cost just about $10 round trip to visit some of the closest local islands, whereas a direct speedboat could be about $80 round-trip. A 15-minute private speedboat operated by a resort can run $150 (or more, or less). And a 30-minute seaplane for us to get to Rangali was $600 each just as a single data point for conversation's sake. 

While private transfers managed by hotels can be, well, whatever they want to charge you, we can take a broader look at government ferries and non-hotel branded speedboats that go to local islands as these prices tend to be much more standardized.

No matter how we look at it, government ferries will be the cheapest option to get around the Maldives. These boats often just run a few dollars but often take several hours, make several stops in a single journey, and also only run select days of the week. To complement this, speedboat companies also exist that provide more frequent (and often direct) routes to islands but are often five to ten times more expensive. 

Fulidhoo Island (not bikini beach)

Our trip to Fulidhoo is a great example. A government ferry only runs three days a week and stops in Maafushi on the way. This costs just about $4 each way per person and takes about 3 1/2 hours. Dreamspeed, a private speedboat company, offers twice daily ferries direct to Fulidhoo (excluding Fridays) for a cost of $40 each way. 

Is it worth the extra 2 1/2 hours on the government ferry to save $36 per person? That is up to you. But for us, the logistics of dealing with the government ferries in terms of timing, schedule, and availability was not fun to plan around and we opted to just pay for the speedboat prices, plan on not traveling on Fridays, and be done with it.

The further you travel away from Male, the more this becomes harder to plan around, and unfortunately this is about as detailed as we can get in this assessment.

Total: $50-$500 for two. The low end would be for those who exclusively hit local islands and use government ferries, while also sticking to atolls close to Male to minimize distance covered. The high end would be for our fictitious scenario of doing two local islands plus a reasonable ferry cost from a private resort. But, like hotels, the sky really is the limit as one seaplane or outrageous hotel ferry cost could cause this to skyrocket. Doing your research here is critical.


Maldivian breakfast of tuna, coconut, and chili with roti and egg

Much like everything else in the Maldives, food prices have a big disparity between local islands and resorts.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there is little, if any, farming in the Maldives. Apart from seafood and some fruit most everything else is imported and the costs are elevated accordingly. For the cheapest meals, odds are good you're going to be eating a lot of fish- something we were quite okay with. Meats and other proteins were few and far between (and likewise pork and alcohol is impossible to find outside of resorts due to the country's religion). 

Maldivian dinner

For those who visit local islands, expect basic Maldivian seafood dishes to run under $10 per person with fairly large portions. The biggest meal we had was a five plate set menu at our hotel on Fulidhoo (Seena Inn), which was just $15 in total but big enough for the two of us. It wasn't anything crazy elaborate but offered multiple kinds of fish, rice, curry, and fruit at the end and was almost too large for the two of us to finish.

Beyond set dishes, water and sodas at convenience stores run about $1, snacks are also quite cheap, and you can get by on $15-$20 per person, per day and likely have some leftover (this is assisted by the fact that many local guesthouses offer free breakfast with rather large portions).

Breakfast at the Conrad Rangali

On resort islands, well, you'll be lucky to get a single plate of food for $30 and the portions could also be quite small. We had entrees run up to $60 each (plus 22% for tax and tip), water was upwards of $15 per bottle, buffets ran nearly $100 per person, and overall we leveraged our food and drink freebies hard thanks to our Hilton status at both properties to really get our costs down. As such, guests going to resorts should likely budget $75 to $125 per person, per day for food all before factoring in any alcohol or splurges, and even here this may be a conservative estimate as, again, resorts have you isolated and can charge whatever they want.

Total: $300-$750. The low-end would be for two visitors exclusively staying at local islands for 10 days, and the higher-end would be for our fictitious scenario of three nights being at a budget resort assuming food prices comparable to our experience.


Snorkeling in the Maldives

While you could show up to an island in the Maldives, not do a single paid activity, and likely have a great time, we have to admit that you probably need to do a few activities or day trips- especially on local islands where your beach options may be much more limited.

Common excursions we've seen included short snorkel trips to a nearby house reef, longer half-day snorkel trips to popular reefs, sunset cruises, dolphin viewings, sandbar excursions (sometimes lumped in with snorkel or dive trips), scuba diving, traditional fishing, day trips to resorts, and more. After our experience, we would highly recommend considering snorkel and diving trips at a minimum if the noted viewing opportunities strike your fancy (noting that most coral in the Maldives is, sadly, bleached and animal viewing can never be guaranteed). 

On local islands, we found that a basic one-hour snorkel trip to the house reef could be as low as $30 per person but a half-day tour to multiple snorkel spots could be $50 or more. Similar pricing runs for sunset cruises, dolphin viewing, and the like, but a good rule of thumb is the further out you have to go the more expensive it'll be- so this could vary from island to island and daily weather conditions/tides.

Nurse Shark Snorkeling Near Fulidhoo

Diving, on the other hand, had pricing that was inline with most dive shops around the world. Two dives on Fulidhoo ran about $140 with all equipment included. I did four dives in total, and it was the highlight of my stay on that island- so if you are a diver be prepared to do a few.

On a resort, you'll want to double or triple the prices for most outings. A snorkel trip we went on at SAII Lagoon was about $125 per person, a fishing trip was about $100, and a whale shark outing at the Conrad Rangali was $150 inclusive of a $50 discount for booking early. Ouch. The only one here that we'd do again was the whale shark outing if only because the resort sponsored tour was our only chance to see them.

This is one of the main reasons why I was hesitant on saying that hotels will be your most expensive purchase because if you do a number of activities you can run up a serious bill relatively fast (but, since these are indeed optional, it is on you). Still, we recommend at least doing one snorkel trip on every local island as hanging out on one bikini beach and snorkeling the island reef with hotel supplied gear only keeps its appeal for so long.

Total: $300-$600. The lower end cost would be for roughly three snorkel trips for two on local islands, while the higher-end would be for one premium excursion on a resort island baked in as well (such as our whale shark outing). Divers will need to add in extra accordingly.

The Maldives is Expensive – Even When Going Cheaply

Happy Hour at the Conrad Rangali

Overall, the Maldives is expensive. Very expensive. In fact, we spent more here than any other island we've been to in the Indian Ocean, and our costs would've still been fairly high had we only done local islands.

Based on the above assessment, your baseline spending for a 10-night trip for two is likely around the following (excluding international airfare):

  • Hotels: $750-$1,000
  • Transportation: $50-$500
  • Food: $300-$750
  • Activities: $300-$600
  • Total: $1,400-$2,850
    • This equates to about $140 to $285 per day for two.

It should be no surprise that swapping out a local island for a resort will cause your spending to skyrocket, and even in being on the thrifty end you should reasonably expect about $1,000 more in spending for replacing three nights on a local island with a cheap resort.

Therein lies the problem with visiting the Maldives. Balancing budget-friendly local islands with the idyllic resort experience will cause your bill to rise quickly. But as this is a country where you will get more out of your experience based on what you put into it, the additional spending is something we highly recommend considering.

Local islands are, without a doubt, stunning and very reasonably priced. But tourism is still in its infancy and is not what you'd expect from that view of the Maldives you are picturing. You could just as easily visit any other local island chain in the world and have a great time with many of the same experiences. 

This is not a knock on the country in the slightest, but more a means to try and manage expectations from the view of Maldives you may have in your head versus what you may end up getting. We all think resorts when hearing the word Maldives, and if you decide to go to one here, well, you need to be prepared to pay up. 

But we have to say, if you can justify the splurge, it sure is worth it!

Have you been to the Maldives before? How did your spending compare? Comment below to share!

About Jeremy

Jeremy from Living the Dream

About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.

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