The Maldives is an ocean lover’s paradise and a destination that many people dream of visiting one day. However, planning a Maldives vacation isn’t always as easy as booking accommodation and showing up. Since the Maldives is an island nation, traveling around takes a bit of strategy and you’ll want to have most of your trip pre-planned before you arrive in paradise.
Having been to the Maldives almost a dozen times, I’ve put together this thorough and information packed guide to help you plan your trip to the islands.
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Where is Maldives Located?
The Maldives is a small island nation located southwest of Sri Lanka in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The country is made up of around 1,200 islands and 26 atolls. Within the Maldives there are 200 inhabited or local islands and currently 154 private resort islands. In addition to that there are many deserted islands that are used for day trips to relax and enjoy! Use the Maldives map below to discover all the islands and find out exactly where the Maldives is located!
1. Book Your Flights and Accommodation Early
Booking your flights early to save money is imperative for many destinations around the world and is especially true for a Maldives vacation. You’ll want to check for flights at least 6 months in advance using an incognito or private browser window. If you have a VPN or IP blocker on your computer set it to a lower income country. Often times the flight prices will be a little bit cheaper by utilizing that method.
In regards to your accommodation you’ll want to keep your eyes out for package rates, holiday specials or any discounts that guesthouses or resorts may be offering. Many resorts or guesthouses will offer additional nights free or an upgrade to food & drink packages!
You never know what discounts you may find once you start doing your research. Finding deals on accommodation and flights will mean that you can spend more money on excursions during your Maldives vacation.
Getting a Visa to Visit the Maldives
Most visitors are given a free 30 day entry into the Maldives with proof of accommodation reservation and a departure flight. You will be given a disembarkation card on your flight so fill it out while on the plane to save time in the immigration line.
It is always best to check prior to booking your flights to confirm what the visa entry requirements are for your country of origin just in case.
2. Use Local Transportation Options to Travel Around during Your Maldives Vacation
The Maldives is an island nation meaning there are no roads or bridges to connect the different islands. This means that there are only two ways to travel within the Maldives, by boat or airplane.
Travel Maldives by Public Speedboat and Ferry
The most common mode of transportation for budget travelers is to take a local speedboat or ferry. The cost ranges from $20-45 USD one way depending on which atoll or island you are traveling to. You will need to pay in cash (either rufiyya which is the local currency or USD) once you are on the boat.
It is extremely important to have your guesthouse or travel agency reserve your seat prior to your arrival. Tickets to the public speedboats or ferries are not available for purchase at the airport. Additionally, you will not be allowed on the boat if you don’t have a reservation. The boats have limited seats available and are also used by locals so you’ll want to make sure confirm your reservation.
Most of the public speedboats will leave on Male directly in front of the Bank of Ceylon. However, double check the departure location with your guesthouse and be sure to get on the correct boat. Also, make sure that your luggage gets placed on the right boat and put luggage tags with all your hotel information on it.
TIP: If you are planning to do any island hopping in the Maldives you will want to check all of the departure ferry times for your destination. Many of the islands do not transfer between each other and you would need to return back to Malé, the capital island to catch your boat. Meaning, if you arrive in Malé after the ferry or speedboat you want to take departs then you will be stuck staying in Malé overnight.
Taking the Local Ferry in the Maldives
The local ferries are significantly less expensive than the public speedboats, however they will take much longer to reach your final destination. There are also overnight ferries available which are surprisingly not a bad option if you are on a tight budget. They overnight ferries provide small mattress pads and pillows and you can sleep on the top deck. The overnight ferry from Mahibadhoo costs 100 MVR ($6.45 USD) and takes 4 hours to reach Malé, Maldives.
Most of the local ferries depart out of the Villingili Ferry Terminal and do not run on Friday. Therefore if you arrive on a Friday you will need to either take the public speedboat or stay overnight on Male or Hulhumale
Good to Know: Sometimes the speedboat transfers have been cancelled due to bad weather especially during the rainy season. Make sure to have a back up plan just in case and know that you may have to stay the night on Hulhumale.
Travel Around the Maldives With Domestic Flights
For islands that are located in atolls far from Malé there is the option of flying domestically. There are a 13 domestic airports located within the Maldives. You can fly domestically with Fly Me Airlines (http://www.flyme.mv), Maldivian Airlines (https://maldivian.aero) and Manta Air (https://mantaair.mv).
As of summer 2020, the airport on Maamagili Island in the South Ari Atoll will also be an international airport.
Note: If you are staying at a resort you will either take a private speedboat or a chartered seaplane directly from the Male airport to your resort. This will be organized through your resort. However, there will be an additional cost for these services, dependent on the distance from Malé to the Maldives resort. Typically these services can cost an additional $100-$800 per person round-trip.
3. Arrive Early in the Day to Catch the Public Speedboat or Ferry
If you don’t want to stay overnight on either Hulhumale or Male you will need to find an international flight that arrives to the Maldives early in the day. Many of the public boats only run during the day, usually in the morning or early afternoon. They also typically run only once or twice per day. Before booking your international flight you’ll want to contact your guesthouse and confirm the transfer times.
If you are planning to take a public speedboat or ferry you should contact your guesthouse to see if they have a representative who can meet you at the airport. The airport is located on the island of Hulhumale and the public ferries and speedboats are located on Male. You can take either a ferry or a taxi from Hulhumale island to Male island to reach the jetty.
If there is not someone who can meet you then the easiest option will be to take a taxi to get to the jetty. Check with your hotel to find out which jetty your boat is leaving from and tell the taxi driver. Many of the public boats leave from the jetty in front of the Bank of Ceylon but not all of them so check beforehand. The cost for a taxi from the airport to the Male jetty should cost 100 MVR ($6.50 USD).
Stay Overnight on Hulhumale (Airport Island) if Necessary
If you are unable to get a flight that arrives before the speedboat or ferry departure then your best option is to stay one night in Hulhumale. This is the airport island and is much quieter than the capital of Malé. You can find reasonably priced hotel rooms overlooking the ocean for around $55-75 a night with breakfast included.
From the airport you can take a taxi for 100 MVR ($6.50 USD) to anywhere on Hulhumale. There is also a public bus available which departs outside of the airport. The bus stops are walking distance to many of the local guesthouses and you can ask the bus driver or ticket collector which stop you should get off at. The bus tickets cost 20 MVR ($1.30 USD).
4. Stay Close to Malé, Maldives: The Capital Island
The best way to save money during your Maldives vacation is to stay on a local island that is within 2-3 hours by public speedboat to Malé or Hulhumale. This will result in lower transportation costs for reaching the island where you’ve booked your accommodation.
5. Stay in a Local Guesthouse for Your Maldives Vacation
If you are visiting the Maldives on a budget than your best option will be to find accommodation at a locally run guesthouse on an inhabited island. With 200 local islands to choose from, it can be difficult to decide where to stay during your Maldives vacation.
Before choosing the island or guesthouse you’ll want to consider a few things such as what you want to see & do, duration of your stay and budget.
The most popular atolls for budget travelers are the Ari Atolls (North & South), Malé Atoll and Vaavu Atoll.
Below are some of the most popular islands within each of those Atolls:
- South Ari Atoll: Mahibadhoo, Omadhoo, Dhangethi & Digurah
- North Ari Atoll ( Alif Alif Atoll): Rasdhoo & Thoddoo
- Vaavu Atoll: Fulidhoo
- Malé Atoll: Thulusdhoo, Gulhi, Guraidhoo & Maafushi
All of the atolls in the Maldives offer similar, as well as unique opportunities for sea life sightings. The whale shark is a year round visitor to the South Ari Atoll and can be found outside of Maamigili Island. Therefore, day excursions from the islands in the South Ari Atoll will be less expensive than from the other atolls.
The South Ari Atoll is also where large groups of manta rays migrate through during the season. So if those two sightings are at the top of your bucket list then I suggest staying in that atoll.
Meanwhile, you can see large groups of nurse sharks outside the Alimatha Resort island in the Vaavu atoll. If you are a scuba diver you might be interested in diving with tiger and thresher sharks near Fuvahmulah or hammerheads near Rasdhoo or Fuvahmulah.
Local Guesthouse Prices and Fees
On each of the islands you will be able to find guesthouses ranging in price from $50-$150 USD a night. These prices will vary based off of what is included in your stay or how luxurious the guesthouse is. You can book with the options of breakfast included, half board or even full board.
Also, check to see if the mandatory 12% government tax is included in the booking price or not. Additionally there will be a Green Tax or tourist tax that is mandated by the government. This fee is $6 USD per person per day for tourists staying at resorts & liveaboards and $3 USD for those staying at local guesthouses.
Additionally, the speedboat transfer prices will vary depending on the location of the island within the Maldives. To get to islands like Mahibadhoo, Omadhoo, Guilhi and Maafushi the price will be $25 USD or 400 MVR for one way. Whereas it can cost $45-50 USD one way to get to Dhigurah and Dhangethi.
Healthcare on the Local Islands in the Maldives
All of the local islands are equipped with a medical clinic and small pharmacy. The capital islands in the atoll have a larger hospital and well stocked pharmacies. In Mahibadhoo, there is a hospital and three pharmacies.
If you need to go to the hospital for simple procedures the cost is very inexpensive and you won’t need to use any medical insurance. However, if an accident happens and you need extensive medical care you probably want to have insurance to be safe. You can check rates and coverage with an insurance company called Safety Wing which offers plans as low as $37 USD for four weeks.
When I contracted Dengue Fever in 2018 I needed to get blood work every day while on the island of Mahibadhoo. The daily blood work only cost me a few dollars and I received the results in a matter of hours.
Additionally, I have purchased medications many times at the local pharmacies and you do not need a prescription. Plus the prices for medications is significantly cheaper than in the US even with insurance. The pharmacy carries medications to treat travelers diarrhea, giardiasis, seasickness and more.
6. Enjoy Your Maldives Vacation in the Low or Shoulder Season
The climate in the Maldives is sunny and warm year round. The temperatures consistently hover around 85°F during the day and the mid-70’s at night.
However, there are two distinct seasons in the Maldives. They are the wet, monsoon season and the dry season. November through March is considered dry season and is the best time to go to the Maldives.
That also means that prices will undoubtably we higher during the peak season. It is also not a guarantee that you will won’t encounter rain on your trip as the Maldives weather can change quickly.
May through September is the wet season, when the Maldives experiences the most amount of rainfall. The amount of rain can vary from a one hour daily thunderstorm to non-stop rain for days. The weather predictions are typically based off of Malé and are not accurate for many of the other islands.
For instance, it might be raining in Malé when you arrive but once you reach your destination the sun may be shining. I’ve personally traveled around the Maldives during rainy season and have experienced both the daily thunderstorm as well as the non-stop rain for days.
The best time to go on your Maldives vacation if you are trying to save some money is during the shoulder season. The months of April and October offer visitors a higher chance of daily sunshine with cheaper prices.
7. Book Your Excursions Through a Local Maldives Guesthouse
The Maldives has so much more to offer than just soft, sandy beaches and crystal clear water. There is so much to do and explore amongst these islands that you’ll never get bored.
Excursions are the best way to incorporate some adventure into your Maldives vacation. The cost will be cheaper booking through a local guesthouse rather than a resort. Of course the prices will vary depending on which island you are staying on and how long it takes to reach the excursion point.
These are just a few of my top recommendations for excursions that you can do in the Maldives.
- Scuba diving which is available for certified and non-certified divers. You can also get certified while you are in the Maldives
- Spend a full day relaxing on an uninhabited, private island
- Go snorkel hopping to different reefs to see different species of marine life and if you’re lucky you’ll swim with sea turtles
- Chill out and watch sunset on a sand bank in the middle of the ocean during low tide
- Go on a dolphin watching sunset cruise
- Visit a nearby luxury resort for the day and enjoy some drinks by the pool
- Snorkel or scuba dive with the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark
- Swim side by side with manta rays during the right season
- See unique marine life while night snorkeling including the bioluminescent plankton
8. Eat the Local Food on Your Maldives Vacation
Try and eat your meals at one of the local restaurants or cafes on the island where you are staying. Many of the guesthouses offer breakfast included or either half or full board. Your best option to save money will be to have breakfast at your guesthouse but lunch or dinner elsewhere as the guesthouses will probably charge more.
Typically meals in the Maldives cost around $4-10 USD per plate. The Maldives cuisine is very fish based and they use a lot of curries. Most meals are serviced with a side of rice or roshi. My favorite Maldivian breakfast is mashuni. It is a dish made up of canned tuna, fresh shredded coconut, lime and chopped onion which is mixed together and served with hot roshi.
9. Visit a Maldives Resort on a Day Trip
If you are staying in the Maldives on a budget at one of the local islands be aware that there is absolutely no alcohol allowed. If you are wanting to enjoy some cocktails or a glass of wine on your holiday then you might want to visit a resort for the day! Your guesthouse can arrange a day pass for you to go and enjoy the luxuries of a private resort without the expensive room costs.
Most of the day passes allow visitors to enjoy the facilities including the pools, beach, bar and spa. If you’d like to enjoy any of the spa services I would recommend booking prior to your day trip.
You will have to pay a fee for the day pass and some of them may or may not include any meals or drinks. The price will vary depending on which resort you go to and you’ll want to organize your transfers through your guesthouse.
10. Stay in a Maldives All Inclusive Resort
For your Maldives vacation you may be interested in staying in a private, luxury resort. Currently there are over 150 resorts in the Maldives, all of which are located on their own private islands. If saving money while staying at a resort is a priority then I suggest you look for one that offers an all inclusive package.
An all inclusive resort package will be a set price but will include all meals and alcoholic beverages that you consume during your stay. Be aware that individual meals can cost upwards of $20 per person which could add up very quickly. Therefore the all inclusive package deals are usually a pretty good option.
I’ve personally stayed at Lily Beach Resort & Spa in the South Ari Atoll for two nights in an over the water bungalow. The cost for two people per night with the all inclusive package was $1,450 USD per night back in 2016.
Many of the private resorts will offer free usage of non-motorized water sports. You will have to pay for jet skis, scuba diving and some of the other activities.
11. Get a Local SIM Card in the Maldives
The best way to stay connected during your Maldives vacation is to purchase a local SIM card once you arrive. Keep in mind that if your phone is unlocked you will not be able to use this option. Many US phones are not unlocked if you are on a payment plan with your cell phone provider so check before leaving home.
The local internet and phone providers in the Maldives are either Ooredo and Dhiraagu. They have different packages and prices available depending on your needs. There is a tourist package offered which can only be purchased at the airport.
If you get a SIM on the local island then you can just purchase a plan depending on the amount of GB’s you want. Data in the Maldives is a bit more expensive than other destinations around Asia.
However, the wifi isn’t always that strong at the guesthouses so you may want to purchase a small amount of GB in case of an emergency. The wifi is more reliable at the resorts so if you are staying there it may not be necessary to purchase a SIM card.
12. Get Enough Cash Before Arriving to a Maldives Local Island
The local currency in the Maldives is called rufiyya (MVR). The current exchange rate is $1 USD = 15.40 MVR or €1 = 16.84 MVR.
Many of the guesthouses, restaurants and shops on the local islands will take USD. However, the prices will be slightly higher than if you were to pay in the local currency of rufiyaa.
The majority of the local islands do not have an ATM so you will need to take out enough cash in Malé to bring with you for the duration of your stay or bring USD with you from home. There are many banks and ATM’s available on Malé, including a few at the airport. However, many foreign banks have a limit to how much you can withdraw in a day. Therefore it is important to ask your guesthouse if there is an ATM or if they take credit card payment. There is usually a 3% bank fee if you pay for your stay with a credit card.
Good to Know: The local shops and restaurants will most likely not use credit cards and will only accept cash.
All of the capital islands and a few of the other islands within each atoll have a small bank and an ATM. Mahibadhoo is the captial island in the South Ari Atoll and they have one ATM where you can withdraw rufiyya only. USD can only be withdrawn at some of the banks in Malé, Maldives.
If you are staying at a private resort for your Maldives vacation all charges will be added to your final bill. Upon check in you will give the reception your credit card information and they will use that when you check out to pay for your stay.
13. What is the National Language of the Maldives?
The national language of the Maldives is called Dhivehi but english is widely spoken. The locals are very friendly and helpful so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
14. Religion in the Maldives and How to Be Respectful
The Maldives is an Islamic nation. This means that there is no alcohol, pork products and other things allowed into the country.
Since the Maldives is a Muslim country it is also very important to be respectful of their culture. This means that when you arrive at the airport and exit into the country please be dressed appropriately by not wearing revealing clothing until you get to your resort. When you arrive in Malé you are still on a local, inhabited island and it is disrespectful to show a ton of skin.
If you are staying at a resort you are free to wear whatever you please as these are privately owned islands. However, if you are staying at a local guesthouse on an inhabited island you will need to continue being respectful of their religion and culture by following an appropriate dress code while walking around the island.
On most of the local islands there is a designated “bikini beach” area which is blocked off to the locals where visitors are free to wear their bathing suits and beach wear.
Please to DO NOT leave this area without covering up as it is disrespectful to the locals and their religion. Additionally, if you plan to snorkel and enter from bikini beach but exit at another location it is necessary to be covered up in that case. Just remain respectful at all times as you are a visitor in their country.
15. What to Pack for Your Maldives Vacation
These are some of the top things that you’ll want to pack for your trip to the Maldives! This is not a complete packing list but just some major items you won’t want to forget!
- Sunscreen SPF 50 or higher, don’t underestimate how strong the sun is in the Maldives. Please use ONLY REEF SAFE SUNSCREEN in the Maldives. There are many brands available but my favorite is Sun Bum. I also discovered a new brand while in Bali called Sensatia and their sunscreens are made with zinc oxide. Their surf naked sunscreen is my favorite and is very thick making it perfect for surfing, snorkeling and spending many hours in the sun. Reef safe sunscreens will not have the ingredient Oxybenzone so check for that on your sunscreen bottle.
- Reef safe leave in conditioner for your hair because the salt water will make it so dry and brittle. I use personally use the brands Gnarly Head and Stream2Sea and will put the conditioner in my hair prior to entering the water.
- Aloe Vera cream for the inevitable sunburn despite using SPF. If you don’t want to bring too many liquids you can purchase some at the pharmacies on the islands.
- Mosquito/ Insect Repellent: This is an absolute MUST. Again, you can easily purchase this at any of the local shops on the island and it is very effective. It does contain DEET which I would recommend using. I understand that DEET isn’t good for you but in 2018 I tried using an all natural mosquito repellent with essential oils and got eaten alive by mosquitos. I then contracted Dengue Fever and was very sick for 6 days. Dengue Fever is a mosquito borne virus which gives you a high fever, rash and extreme body pain for a week or more. There is no vaccination or cure and if you contract it again by a different strain it can be life threatening.
- Pack any medications that you regularly take plus some extra cold or stomach medications. Most of the islands have a small pharmacy where you can pick up additional medications should you need them.
- Flip flops or sandals will be the only shoe you’ll need while in the Maldives
- Don’t forget your swim wear including a rash guard which is a long or short sleeve swimming shirt
- Pack and wear lightweight clothing with breathable fabrics. You’re better off leaving jeans or thick materials at home
- For the females, you can wear thick strapped tank tops but short sleeve tops are preferred
- Bring a hat & sunglasses with a strap to prevent it from flying off while on a boat. Polarized sunglasses are the best to help with the reflection of the water. My favorite polarized sunglasses are Maho Shades. They have many flattering styles with lightweight frames at an affordable price. Use ‘TRAVELED’ for 20% off any pair.
- Pack a pair of leggings that you can swim in for snorkeling so you don’t burn the back of your legs. My go-to pair are ones from Wisefool. They are made from recycled plastic, have gorgeous ocean prints and are also perfect for yoga!
- Be sure to pack a few universal adaptors for your electronics. Also note that they use 220 voltage in the Maldives so check your appliances. If they are 110 volts then you will either need to leave them at home or get a converter.
If you liked this blog post or have any questions please leave a comment below! You can also always send me a message via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @thisworldtraveled!
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