I’m fairly confident the Maldives is a destination on every traveler’s bucket list. With crystal clear waters and an abundance of sea life, visitors are drawn here to explore the underwater world. This tiny country, spread out over about 2,000 islands is synonymous with relaxation.
What you may not know is that the Maldives is absolutely a destination that travelers of all budgets can visit! For my first trip to the Maldives I combined budget friendly accommodation with a luxury resort to make this stay an affordable dream destination!
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Day 1: Arriving in the Maldives
When checking into your flight for the Maldives try your best to choose a window seat because as you descend through the cloud cover the many groupings of islands that make up the Maldives’ atolls can be seen down below.
Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is located on the island Hulhumalé which is adjacent to the capital island of Malé. After passport control and luggage pick-up, a representative (verify with your booking) from each resort or guesthouse will be waiting outside. They will make sure to lead you where you need to go. Visitors who are staying at the resorts will be wisked away to either the seaplane terminal or the private speedboats. These are located directly outside of the terminal and will take them to there respective resorts.
As an affordable alternative, I chose to start my trip by spending three nights at one of the highly reviewed guesthouses on a local island. There are many options for local guesthouses, ranging in prices of $50-$150 a night. Some of these will also include breakfast, half board or full board. This is a great alternative to the outrageously expensive resorts, especially if you are on a budget.
Once you arrive at the airport you will either take a ferry or bus from Hulhumale to the nearby capital island Male to catch your speedboat or ferry to your end destination. Most likely your guesthouse will arrange all the details and communicate the plan to you prior to your arrival.
Once you arrive to your island you will be warmly greeted by your guesthouse staff and many of the friendly locals.
Tips Before Visiting the Local Islands
- The Maldives is a Muslim country with rather conservative dress and appearance rules. Although the rules are relaxed for tourists, the females will be expected to wear at least a t-shirt and shorts on local guesthouse islands. The guests can wear bikinis and swim gear when they’re out on a boat away from the locals, at a designated bikini beach, or at a resort.
- No alcohol is allowed on the local islands so if you want to relax with a drink, a resort is the place for you.
A quick stroll though the tiny island’s sandy, unpaved streets and you will be led to your cozy guesthouse room. After settling in, take some time wandering around the island to get acquainted.
Day 2: Snorkeling and Relaxing on a Private Island
The night prior you will likely discuss with the team at your guesthouse some of your must-sees while in the Maldives. The top of most visitors bucket-list is swimming with a Whale Shark. And therefore, they will make sure to include that excursion somewhere in your itinerary. Of course, most of the days activities will be dependent on the weather so be flexible.
One of my favorite day excursions is a visit to a private island. There are many deserted islands located just a short distance from most of the local islands so definitely add this to your itinerary. “Picnic Island”, with its one standing palm tree, white sandy beach and colorful coral reefs is picture perfect.
Spend the day alternating between relaxing on the beach, frolicking in the shallow waters or snorkelling in the sea with the colorful underwater world. You will see all types of sea life, from the sweet Angel fish and funny-nosed Unicorn fish to sleepy Sea Turtles and pacing Reef Sharks.
Make sure to pack a GoPro or similar underwater camera that can take both video and photos. I am currently using the GoPro 6 and the Leica XU underwater camera.
Day 3: Snorkeling off the Beaches of Mahibadhoo and Reef Hopping
The island of Mahibadhoo is surrounded by a flourishing coral reef. Spend your morning relaxing in the shade or discovering the colorful world below the waters surface.
After hanging out on Mahibadhoo for the morning, head out for some reef hopping in the afternoon.
Directly off the sandbar we snorkelled around some more of the most magnificent reefs in the world.
After dinner you can head back out to the beach to do some night snorkelling! Night snorkelling is a must-do. The reef is a different experience at night. While holding very bright flashlights made for underwater use, you will swim follow-the-leader style along the pitch black reef.
Day 4: Swim with a Whale Shark and Arrive at Lily Beach Resort & Spa
Leaving the guesthouse early is vital to arriving before many of the larger, resort boats. Your guide will tell you to when to jump into the water. Your only instructions will be to swim fast enough to keep up with the whale shark so he doesn’t out-swim you.
Spanning some 25-40 feet and swimming gracefully through the ocean, its no wonder whale shark is known as a gentle giant.
The wonderful thing about doing excursions with the local guesthouses is that there is no time schedule and they will stay out on the water as long as the group wants.
After lunch I departed the local island and made my way to the neighboring island of Huvahandhoo. This is the island that is home to Lily Beach Resort and Spa where I would be spending my last two nights in the Maldives in an over-the-water bungalow.
The best decision I made was to spend the majority of my time on a local island for adventure and then enjoy a little bit of luxury before I had to head home.
The over-the-water bungalow is the epitome of luxury and there’s no better place to experience this than in the Maldives.
I’d always dreamed of staying in one of these extravagant bungalows but knew that they came with a hefty price tag (all-inclusive resorts can cost anywhere between $700-$2000 a night). By spending three of my five nights at the less expensive guesthouse, I felt more comfortable about shelling out the big-money to stay at Lily Beach Resort.
At Lily Beach there are no dress codes, alcohol is not prohibited and is an all-inclusive resort.
The reef that surrounds the resort was accessible via steps leading down from the poolside of my bungalow. Early in the day when the tide is high it offers more fantastic snorkelling. In fact, my room had a glass floor near the entrance where you could watch fish and tiny sharks swim buy. Along with the infinity pool and a glass of chilled white wine, it was a little piece of pampered paradise.
Sunsets in the Maldives are breathtaking, pink skies turn to fiery orange before melting into a deep blue. Fruit bats fly overhead, their silhouettes gliding across the glowing moon.
The resort buffets are exceptional as expected. The food variations are great with many different options and a theme for each evening.
After dinner every night at nine o’clock there is a shark and stingray feeding at the entrance of the resort next to the pier. Watch as the stingrays, sharks and Jackfish go coconuts for some delicious chum-bucket fish food!
Day 5: Stand Up Paddle Board & Snorkeling Off Your Over-the-Water Bungalow
All non-motorized water sports are included in the Lily Beach all-inclusive price. So definitely take advantage by snagging some snorkelling gear or try stand up paddle boarding and much more.
Day 6: Departing The Maldives
Lily Beach will give you a reporting time to the front desk with ample time to get you on the sea plane. This will fly you back to the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport with time to spare before your international connection. The sea plane is a tiny pontoon plane that seats around fifteen. Try and get a window seat! It’s a nice experience and the entire short journey back to the airport offers spectacular views of the many ringed atolls along the way.
If your dream is to stay in an over-the-water hut in paradise, Lily Beach or one of the other resorts will not disappoint. If you’d rather forego the resort experience and pack your week with adventure and activities, then save the money and just stay at one of the local guesthouses. Either way, you will NOT regret it.
Tips for Visiting the Maldives
- First and foremost ensure you have at least two (maybe more) blank pages in your passport. If not, you could be turned away from the Maldives upon arrival
- The Maldives is a Muslim country with rather conservative dress and appearance rules. Although the rules are relaxed for tourists, the females will be expected to wear at least a t-shirt and shorts on local guesthouse islands. The guests can wear bikinis and swim gear when they’re out on a boat away from the locals or at a resort.
- There isn’t any alcohol on the local islands. So if you want to relax with a drink, a resort is the place for you.
- The locals deal in cash. There was an ATM at the airport and on the local island where our guesthouse was located.
- Due to its proximity to the Equator, the Maldives has a consistently warm temperature year round. There are two distinct seasons: wet season and dry season. Dry season typically runs from December until April. This is when the Maldives experiences the highest amount of sunshine and lack of rain. The wet season is from May until November when the Maldives will be cloudier and have a higher chance of rainfall.