I know what you’re thinking. How can a trip to one of the Maldives, one of the most beautiful places in the world be budget friendly?
I promise you– it’s possible.
The Maldives is any ocean lover’s dream destination. Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is made up of almost 1,200 islands. These small islands are grouped into 26 ring-shaped atolls.
Each island is made up of white sandy beaches leading into crystal clear lagoons. These oceans contain some of the most colorful sea life you’ll ever see. Out of the 1,200 islands, 200 of them are inhabited and about 80 are resort islands.
I’ve been to the Maldives on many occasions and continue to return often. During one of my visits I stayed for two months.
Each time I’ve stayed in the South Ari Atoll, which is one of the largest Atolls in the Maldives. It consists of 105 islands divided up into Northern and Southern sections.
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Quick Facts About the Maldives
Number of Islands: There are 1,192 islands in the Maldives. 200 inhabited (local islands) and 97 resort islands. Each resort is located on its own private island.
Number of Atolls: 26
Population: 436,330 as of 2020
Currency: Rufiyaa (MVR) 1 Maldivian Rufiyaa = $ USD
Language: Dhivehi (Maldives in Dhivehi is ދިވެހިރާއްޖެ)
Visas and Passport Control
For most countries, the Maldives gives a free visa on arrival. You will need to fill out a landing form which will be given to you on the plane. There will be questions such as where are you staying, reason for visiting, how many days and so on.
The immigration process is very easy but the line can sometimes be long. Be sure to fill out your card on the plane and hurry to get to the front of the line. Once you’ve gotten your stamp, you’ll put your hand carry luggage through the x-ray machine and exit to go to baggage claim.
TIP: When booking your flight be sure to check the speedboat schedules to know when the boat leaves to go to the island you are staying on. Give yourself a few hours from landing time to speedboat departure time so that you don’t miss your boat transfer.
When to Go to the Maldives
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 when the Maldives experiences the highest amount of sunshine and lack of rain. The wet season is from May until November when the Maldives is cloudier and has a higher chance of rainfall.
The weather can be quite finicky. It may be raining on one island but sunny on another one nearby. Also, don’t bother checking your weather app. If two months in the Maldives taught me anything, it’s that the weather predictions are almost always wrong.
Where to Stay in The Maldives
Less than a decade ago the Maldivian government relaxed its rules on tourism and began allowing those living on the inhabited islands to open their own guesthouses. This was a huge success for the locals, as many of them were already working at resorts but had aspirations to one day own their own businesses in tourism.
With the restrictions lifted, their dreams came to life and many Maldivian’s began opening guesthouses. Slowly, at first on the larger islands with easy access from the capital Male, the tourism industry boomed. Finally, on the local, smaller islands tourism has taken hold and we lucky visitors now have many options.
One of those island options is Mahibadhoo.
Mahibadhoo is the capital island of the South Ari Atoll. Located 42 nautical miles southwest of Male this small island is only 1 mile in circumference but packs a powerful tourism punch.
Upon arrival into Mahibadhoo’s new harbour you will be greeted with the picturesque, postcard worthy views of the traditional Maldivian wooden boats, known as Dhoni, anchored in the crystal clear waters.
The charming island is surrounded by a turquoise lagoon, flourishing coral reefs and an abundance of incredible sea life which is only a snorkel and a few fins away.
Currently there are many guesthouses on Mahibadhoo, a number that will likely increase in the upcoming years.
There are a few highly rated guesthouses on the island at different price points. Some of them are K Villas Guesthouse, Liberty Guesthouse and Sundive Lodge. A few of these guesthouses also offer diving excursions which you can still book even if you are staying at another guesthouse.
How to Get to The Local Islands in the Maldives
Once you arrive at the Male (MLE) airport you will need to take a public ferry from the island of Hulumale, where the airport is actually located, to the capital city of Male. As of 2019 there is now a bridge that connects Hulhumale to Male. Therefore you can take a taxi for around $5 USD (100 MVR) to get to the Male speedboat terminal.
Upon arrival on Hulumale, most of the guesthouses will have a representative there waiting for you at the airport exit and will travel with you on the ferry to make sure you get to the Male seaport and board the correct boat.
The public ferry runs frequently, takes about 10 minutes and costs 15 rufiyaa (about $1).
Once you arrive in Male, your guide will take you to either the public ferry or the public speedboat. Depending on your arrival time and your budget you can either take the ferry or the speedboat to Mahibadhoo.
The public ferry is very inexpensive but takes just over 4 hours to get there. Whereas the public speedboat takes 1.5 hours (weather permitting) and costs $25 per person one way. You can pay for the speedboat in US dollars or rufiyaa once on the boat. The speedboat is quite popular with both tourists and locals. Therefore, it is best to have your guesthouse reserve a seat for you prior to your arrival.
1. The Speedboat Schedule for Mahibadhoo
The public speedboat from Mahibadhoo to Male and back is operated by HMHI Travels or Myna Express. The price per person is the same for boat companies. This speedboat will also stop on the island of Meedho and Omadhoo.
Male to Mahibadhoo schedule is as follows:
The public speedboat runs Sunday through Thursday at 4:00 pm; Friday 9:00 am; Saturday 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.
The public ferry runs on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 8:30 am. There is also a night ferry that runs at 6:00 pm on Wednesday and Saturday. This is convenient if your flight arrives after 4:00 pm.
Mahibadhoo to Male schedule:
The same public speedboat runs every day at 7:00 am with an extra time at 10:00 am on Thursday and Saturday.
The Public Ferry is Tuesday and Sunday at 10:30 am or overnight on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:30 am.
2. Taking the Speedboat to Other Local Islands
There are many different speedboats that go to different local islands within the Maldives. It is always best to check with your guesthouse to know the time schedule. Based on which island you are staying at there are also a few domestic airports located around the Maldives.
Keep in Mind: Depending on weather the speedboats will sometimes be cancelled. So prepare for that and have a back up plan if you aren’t able to travel on your designated day.
The Speedboat to Gulhi & Maafushi
The speedboat companies to go to Gulhi and Maafushi is called Maasfushi Tours or Go Maafushi. These boats go multiple times a day making it a bit more convenient for travelers with varying flight arrival times.
The cost is $20-25 USD per person per way and takes about 20-30 minutes
The Speedboat to Dhigurah & Dhangethi
The speedboat company is called Endheri Express. The journey from Male takes about 1.5 hours.
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Excursions in The Maldives on a Budget
Regardless of whether you are in the Maldives on a budget or not you should make sure to participate in the many different excursions. Luckily, if you are staying at a local guesthouse the price for these daily activities will also cost less.
Below are just a few of my favorite ones that are offered through the guesthouses. The prices will vary depending on which island you are staying on and how long it takes to reach the excursion point.
1. Swimming with a Whale Shark
One of the true highlights of the Maldives is the opportunity to swim with a Whale Shark in its natural environment. Year round in the South Ari Atoll, these gentle giants can be found swimming against the current feeding on plankton.
To reach the whale shark point near the island of Mamagilli you will take a scenic 45 minute speedboat ride from Mahibadhoo, passing by many beautiful sandbanks and resorts. You’ll pass by patches where the deep blue ocean turns to turquoise and you can see the shallow depths below. Keep your eye out for flying fish, leaping manta rays and (if you’re lucky) pods of dolphins along the way.
With no real schedule, the guesthouses are able to be flexible with time. They prefer to head out early before the resort boats get there to give you optimal opportunities to swim with the whale shark. You’re also likely to be one of the last boats to leave. This is just another added bonus of staying with the smaller guesthouses.
While swimming with a whale shark isn’t always a guarantee, your chances are pretty high in the South Ari Atoll. I’ve been lucky and have swam with them on every occasion I’ve gone out. They will also communicate with their friends from both the guesthouses and resorts to confirm sightings from the day or days prior.
2. Snorkeling the Different Reefs
Snorkeling in the Maldives is truly an indescribable and exciting experience because you never know what you will see each day.
Every time we lowered our mask and snorkel covered faces into the Indian Ocean we would become face to face with some of the most colorful and curious marine life that live in the South Ari Atoll.
With such a large array of reef inhabitants, including tropical fish, stingrays, sea turtles, sharks and coral, its no wonder the Maldives is known for some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world.
The water clarity is incredible and on most days you can see up to 30 meters deep just from snorkeling at the surface. There are few dangers to snorkeling and diving in the Maldives, but always be sure to check with your guide about any potentially threatening sea life– like the stone fish, lion fish, and fire coral, just to name a few.
3. Swimming with Manta Rays
During the Manta season, which runs from the end of May through December, these graceful creatures glide through the Maldivian waters just a short 15 minute speedboat ride from Mahibadhoo. These curious and playful filter feeders are the largest in the ray family. They are En Madi in the Maldivian language.
Unlike the Stingray, the Manta Ray does not have a venomous spine and is, therefore, not dangerous to swimmers or divers. The Manta tends to swim in an oval-like pattern while feeding so all you have to do is move slowly in the water while they glide past you.
4. Spend the Day at a Private Island
Only second to swimming with a whale shark, a day visit to a private island is one of my favorite excursions in the Maldives. Could there be anything better than escaping to your own deserted island for an entire day?
With no one else in sight besides the group you arrived with, you will spend the day doing what ever you’d like.
Want to go snorkeling?
Want to take a leisurely stroll around the island?
Want to take a nap in the shade?
We won’t judge.
5. Octopus Hunting
These sneaky, camouflaging eight-legged cephalopods can be–very carefully–spotted all over the coral reefs. It is quite a thrill to watch the Maldivian’s catch an octopus that will ultimately end up on your dinner plate!
Many of my days were spent snorkeling the reefs and assisting in the octopus catching. It is a unique experience to allow the arms of an octopus to suction and release on your skin–a sensation that feels like velcro. By the end of my time in the Maldives I was removing the organs and skinning the octopus myself.
6. Night Snorkeling
The underwater world looks completely different when lit up only by the narrow beam of your flashlights glow. There is something thrilling and dangerous but also magical and relaxing about not knowing what you will see. The sea creatures look different at night–the skin of the cuttlefish is irridescent, the lion fish come out to play and the bioluminescent plankton is the real show stealer.
Plankton reacts to tension or stress by emitting light from their cells, which to us, appears blue. We not only saw the blue sparks lights up as the waves crashed from the shore but during night snorkeling when we all shut off our flashlights, waved our hands arounds and watched as the ocean around us flickered blue.
The Local People and Religion in The Maldives
The island of Mahibadhoo has a population of just over 2000 very friendly and welcoming people.
1. Life on the Local Island in the Maldives
The pace of life is slower here and many people enjoy spending time with family and friends while lounging in one of the many jolie’s dotted around the island. You can find these handmade chairs almost anywhere on the island. However, my favorite spot was swinging under the shade of the large Banyon tree right next to the lagoon.
It is easily the best location on the island to watch the sunset as you sway in sync with the sounds of the crashing waves.
On the island there are many local shops, cafes and restaurants. Most of the guesthouses will over a full board option and the food is delicious. However, should you like to experience meals outside of the guesthouse, there are quite a few options around.
As it is the capital island in the atoll, it is also well-equipped with basic services like a hospital, banking facilities, ATM, phone shops and convenience stores. While the Maldivian Rufiyaa is their national currency, US dollars are generally accepted on the island as well.
Note: Many of the other islands do not have an ATM so be sure to check before you go. You might need to get money out at the ATM in Male. Ask your guesthouse and they will be able to let you know if there is an ATM. Also, most shops and restaurants only accept cash and no credit cards or debit cards.
Exploring the charm of the inhabited island and interacting with the locals is all part of the experience so take a stroll and say hello.
When you aren’t out on an excursion, take the time to enjoy those softer moments and let your mind relax. You’ll be happy you did.
2. The Religion and Respecting the Culture
The Maldives is a Muslim country with rather conservative dress and appearance rules. Although the rules are slightly relaxed for tourists, the females will be expected to wear at least a t-shirt and shorts on local guesthouse islands. I wore mostly lightweight fabrics and longer shorts because it is very hot and humid. The guests can wear bikinis and swim gear when they’re out on a boat away from the locals or at a resort.
Now, more and more islands are creating what is called “bikini beach.” This is a designated area where tourists can go and sunbathe in their bikinis. 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.
During my stay in the Maldives I snorkeled a lot on the house reef. With respect to the locals, I would wear either my short sleeved or long sleeved rash guard and a pair of loose fitting swimming or athletic shorts.
Also, keep in mind that alcohol is strictly forbidden on all local islands in the Maldives. Therefore, it is not available on Mahibadhoo. It is also not allowed to bring your own alcohol into the Maldives so be sure not to pack any in your luggage.
Learn Some Dhivehi
Dhivehi is the national language of the Maldives. Many of the younger generation, as well as those working with tourists, know and understand English. However, it is still fun to learn a few words or phrases.
Baajja veri hendhuneh- Good Morning
Baajja veri haveereh- Good Evening
Haaalu kihineh?- How are you?
Varah rangalhu, shukkriyyaa- Very well, thank you
Keekuranii?- What are you doing?
Kon thaaku dhanii?- Where are you going?
Mi reethi- This is beautiful
Shukriyyaa- Thank you
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WHAT CAMERA GEAR DO I USE?
- Main Camera: Sony A7III
- Wide angle lens: Sony G Master 16-35mm f/2.8
- Zoom lens: Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
- Secondary Camera: Canon 6D Mark II
- Canon wide angle lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L
- Underwater camera: Leica X-U
- Camera with gimbal: DJI Osmo Pocket & Underwater Housing
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro
- Camera Bag: Polar Pro Drone Trekker
- External Hard Drive: LaCie 1 TB rugged mini external hard drive