The Maldives needs no introduction as the ultimate bucket-list destination for any beach lover. With its calm turquoise waters, vibrant coral reefs, and ultra-swanky water villas, this island nation is basically what dreams are made of.
If you’ve written off the Maldives as something that’s beyond your reach, this article may change your mind.
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Can You Visit the Maldives on a Budget?
The Maldives is often associated with luxury travel. And that makes total sense, because most of the resorts and over-water villas being advertised can cost up to USD 5,000 per night (and that’s not including taxes)!
But this doesn’t mean there’s no hope at all for backpackers or budget travelers like myself.
While previously tourists were only allowed on expensive private islands, in 2008 the Maldivian government changed the laws and opened up the local islands for tourism.
What this means is that now you can stay at budget guesthouses for as low as USD 30 and get a decent room with free breakfast and all the basic amenities. Most of the guesthouses also offer diving and snorkeling trips at reasonable prices.
Needless to say, this was excellent news to me. So, when I found a good deal on Air Asia, my travel partner and I quickly grabbed the chance. Our choice of island was Maafushi.
Overview of Maafushi Island
Maafushi is an inhabited island located in the Kaafu Atoll, 26 kilometres south of the country’s capital, Male.
In 2004, it was severely damaged by the Indian Ocean tsunami, which affected over 100,000 out of the 300,000 Maldives’ population. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies funded the rebuilding of homes for those who lost theirs during the disaster.
When the country opened the local islands for tourism in 2008, Maafushi was the first local island to build guesthouses exclusively for travelers. In 2017, it had over 70 guesthouses, making it the island with the most number of guesthouses in the country and the second most visited after Male.
Apart from being a holiday destination in itself, Maafushi is also regularly visited by tourists from neighboring resort islands who come on island-hopping trips.
Best Time to Go to Maafushi Island
It’s pretty hard to predict the weather in the Maldives, as each island has its own climate, and the more remote the island is, the more different it is from the rest of the country.
However, since Maafushi is close enough to the capital, it follows the general Maldives’ climate:
(December – March)
During this time, the country enjoys little rainfall and low humidity, with temperatures around 29°C – 31°C (84°F – 86°F), which is why it is visitors’ favorite time to go. But going in the peak season also means that you’ll be dealing with more crowds, and prices can increase dramatically.
(May – October)
Rain frequently occurs during this monsoon season, although temperatures remain almost the same. The wettest month in the Maldives is September.
We visited in October and the skies were cloudy most days, and the winds were strong. It rained a few times during our stay, but we still got the chance to swim, snorkel, kayak, and cycle around the island. Since it was a low season, there were not many people around.
(April & November)
These two months are the transitional periods between the two seasons and are known for clear water, making them the perfect months for diving or snorkeling. Prices are still low around this time, so if you’d like to visit the Maldives on a budget, you might want to consider visiting during the shoulder season.
How to Go to Maafushi Island
From Velana Airport to Male
There is no direct transfer from Velana International Airport to Maafushi Island; you first need to go to the capital island Male. At the exit of the airport building, you will see a ticket counter with a sign saying “Ferry to Male”.
The ferry service to Male is every 10 – 30 minutes, costing MVR 10 (between 6 a.m. and midnight) and MVR 20 per person (between midnight and 6 a.m.). The journey takes around 15 minutes.
Every passenger is allowed up to 3 pieces of luggage for free. Any extra will be charged at MVR 10 per piece.
Want a quicker option? For MVR 20, you can get to Male in only 4 minutes on a speedboat. Ticket counter is also available at the airport.
Check the Male Airport website for the latest fare and schedule updates.
From Male to Maafushi
From the ferry drop-off point, take a taxi to Vilingili Ferry Terminal, which is on the other side of Male. The taxi fare should be around MVR 30 – 40 per ride, with an additional charge of MVR 5 for big luggage.
Once you reach the terminal, you have three options to get to Maafushi:
1. By Local Ferry
This is the cheapest option to get to Maafushi Island, but it’s also the slowest, taking about 1.5 hours. Ferry tickets are not available online, so you’ll have to purchase it directly at the counter for $3.
Once the scheduled ferry is ready, proceed to the ferryboat, but before you board, check with the boat crew that the boat is going to Maafushi. Most guesthouses will send someone to greet you at the jetty once you arrive on Maafushi.
You can refer to the ferry schedule here, but please confirm with your guesthouse in case there are any changes.
Take note that there is no local ferry to or from Maafushi Island on Fridays. If you’re traveling on a Friday, your only option is to take a speedboat.
2. By Local Speedboat
Going by local speedboat is certainly not the cheapest option, but it’s a good alternative if the public ferry doesn’t fit your travel schedule. The ride costs $20 – $25 per person based on the time of the day, and takes about 45 minutes.
You can either arrange with your guesthouse to book the speedboat for you, or make the booking yourself with speedboat companies like Icom Tours. Schedules can also be found on their website.
3. By Private Speedboat
Through the same companies, you can also book a private speedboat transfer. This is a good option if you’re traveling in a big group or if you want to depart at your own preferred time. The journey will take 25 minutes and costs around $150.
Getting Around Maafushi Island
Despite being one of the biggest inhabited islands in the Maldives, Maafushi is actually only 1.2 kilometres long and 265 metres wide.
There are no cars allowed on the island, so your only options are walking and riding a bike/motorbike. Even on foot, you can pretty much explore the entire island in an hour or less.
Bicycles are available for hire at a few of the rental shops. I didn’t see any motorbikes for rent, but I’m pretty sure it can be arranged if necessary.
Bicycles too mainstream for you? Ask your guesthouse if you could borrow one of these 😉
Things to Do on Maafushi Island
1. Swimming and Sunbathing on the Bikini Beach
Most people who go to the Maldives love the beach, so that should definitely be on the forefront of your itinerary.
However, you should be aware that the Maldives is a Muslim country, and therefore, a certain dress code applies. Bikinis are only allowed in designated areas, and on Maafushi island, the bikini beach is right across Arena Beach Hotel.
Here, you can swim, sunbathe, or chill on the deck chairs in your swimsuit. Just make sure that you properly cover up beyond this area.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t swim in other parts of the island — you can, but you’ll have to do it fully clothed. This is not a strange thing to do in a Muslim country, you’ll see the locals do it too.
2. Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Snorkeling and scuba diving are two of the most popular things to do in the Maldives, which is no surprise, considering that the country has the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, with 250 species of corals and over 1000 species of marine life.
Our hotel provided free snorkels for guests, but since the waves and winds were too strong, we didn’t dare venture too far from shore.
You can also go on snorkeling trips (check with your hotel or other travel agents on the island). The prices typically range from $15 to $30, depending on how many places you want to visit. There are a few reefs off the island where you’ll have a high chance of spotting turtles.
If you’re a certified diver, you can do a single dive for around $40. Otherwise, the Discover Scuba Dive program for non-divers start at $75. It’s also possible to get your certification here.
3. Doing Other Water Sports
If snorkeling is a little too vanilla for you, there are a ton of other water activities you can do, including jetskiing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, flyboarding, parasailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
Just ask your hotel or any of the rental shops on the island, and they should be able to arrange something for you. Some of them provide lessons as well.
We did some kayaking along the shore. I was initially hoping to circumnavigate the island because that was what the rental shop owner said we could do when he was trying to get us to rent his kayak.
However, when we were all geared up and ready to paddle, he backtracked and said the waves were too strong and we had to stay within his sight.
4. Exploring the Island
One of the greatest advantages of going to a local island instead of a private one is that you get to experience the local culture.
On the private islands, you are pretty much closed off from the locals. The only people you interact with are the resort staff members, some of whom may actually be foreign workers.
On Maafushi island, you get to witness the local lifestyle in practice as the people go about their day — shopping for groceries, playing football on the beach, gossiping on the sidewalks.
Another highlight is the Maafushi Prison, which is one of the two prisons in the country. Once a clothing factory, it was converted into a prison about a decade ago to house the drug abusers in the country.
But don’t let this scare you. The prison doesn’t make Maafushi any less safe to travel in.
Due to the disagreeable weather (and our limited budget), we didn’t go on any excursion from Maafushi. If the weather and money god are kinder to you during your visit, here are some other things you can do:
5. Visiting Resort Islands
Maafushi is not that remote — it’s surrounded by quite a few resort islands, some of which are open for day trippers.
On a day tour to these exclusive islands, you’ll get to swim in the ocean, walk around the overwater villas, and eat at the restaurants/bars. Some may even allow you to use their amenities — like the swimming pool, etc — for a fee.
So, if you crave a taste of luxury without the premium price tag, you can go on a resort day tour for around $90 to $150 per person. Still not cheap by my standard, but much more affordable than paying for the real thing.
Among the resort islands you can visit from Maafushi are:
6. Sandbank Trips
Another instaworthy day tour you can do from Maafushi is a trip to a sandbank. Also called ‘picnic islands’, sandbanks are transitory deposits of sand that create shallow areas in the sea — like tiny islands.
So, what do you do on a sandbank? Have a picnic, swim, sunbathe, snap loads of pictures, watch sunset, have a candlelight dinner under the stars — anything you like. It’s your own private island!
Some sandbank tours even allow you to camp overnight. Tents, water closets, and other basic necessities will be provided.
7. Dolphin Watching
The Maldives is home to thousands of dolphins and the easiest way to see them is on a dolphin-watching cruise. Always eager to please, these playful and sociable creatures like to put on a good show, especially if you clap and cheer them on.
Some tours combine dolphin watching with other activities, such as snorkeling and resort visit.
Great news for avid anglers — fishing is a popular activity on Maafushi. You can go on a half-day or full-day fishing trip, finished off with a BBQ dinner on the beach, using your fresh catch.
9. Chilling Out on the Floating Bar
As the Maldives is a Muslim country, alcohol is not allowed anywhere on the local islands, so you’re not going to find any on Maafushi.
However, one of the hotels has found a way around this, so they’ve set up the Kaani Floating Bar, which is essentially a bar and restaurant on a yacht anchored at sea. A free dingy transfer will take you out to the yacht, where you can enjoy a cocktail or a meal on the outdoor deck.
How Many Days Do You Need on Maafushi Island?
In my opinion, how long you should spend on Maafushi Island really depends on how much you love beaches and water sports. And how much your budget is, of course.
If you don’t mind sunbathing all day every day or if you’re going to do all the tours and excursions, then you should stay here for as long as your budget allows.
Otherwise, then 2 – 3 days should be more than enough to explore all of Maafushi before you move on to another island (for more sunbathing and water activities) or go home.
As for me — who is not so much into beaches or water sports — 3 days was a little too long.
How Much to Budget for Maafushi Island
If you stick to the cheaper hotels and restaurants and do only cheap or low-cost activities, you can get by on Maafushi Island with as little as USD 50 per day.
As with any other destination, your biggest expense will be your accommodation. The cheapest guesthouse on Maafushi Island should cost you around USD 30 per night. If you have a travel partner to split this cost with, obviously you can save even more. Currently, there has yet to be any dormitory or single room to cater to solo budget travelers.
As for food, local meals are only about USD 5, while Western-style meals can be double or triple that.
Apart from room and meals, you also have to factor in some other expenses like ferry fares and activities. To recap, the local ferry fare from Male costs USD 2 and the snorkeling trips will typically set you back around USD 30.
Where to Stay on Maafushi Island
On our trip, we stayed at Chutty Maldives, but they’re no longer listed on the booking app. I’m not sure if they’re closed temporarily due to the pandemic, or if they went out of business.
According to Booking.com, there are now about 38 hotels and guesthouses on Maafushi (there may be more that are not listed on the app).
Here are some of the top-rated ones:
Sunrise Beach, Maafushi – 200 m from Bikini Beach and features a restaurant, shared lounge, and garden. Ironing service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying are available. From USD 40 for a Standard Double Room with breakfast.
Stingray Beach Inn – With only 10 rooms, Stingray is a cozy boutique hotel where each guest will get special attention. As a bonus, you also get to use the amenities (pool, jacuzzi, restaurant) at their sister hotel, Triton Beach, for free. From USD 60 for a Standard Double Room with Garden View. Including breakfast.
Arena Beach Hotel – One of the newest hotels, Arena is located right in front of the Bikini Beach. Features elegantly-furnished rooms, a rooftop pool, sun lounges, and an in-house restaurant. From USD 85 for a Standard Room, with breakfast.
Apart from those, the Kaani hotel chain also has four hotels here on Maafushi:
All of them boast high ratings from previous guests. Rates range from USD 85 to USD 300 per night.
Additional Info on Maafushi Island
- The Maldives is an Islamic state, operating under the sharia law. Visitors are not allowed to bring into the country items that are deemed contrary to Islam, including pork or products containing pork, alcohol, bibles, and religious idols.
- Friday is a holy day and rest day for Muslims. So, local ferries in the Maldives don’t run on Fridays, and shops will be closed.
- On other days, shops open from around 9 a.m. till 10 p.m. They may close several times a day for 15 – 20 minutes for prayer breaks.
- All tourists have to pay a $6 green tax per person per night if you’re staying in a big hotel/resort (or $3 if it’s a small guesthouse with fewer than 50 rooms), on top of 8% GST for the room and 10% service charge. These will usually have to be paid in cash, preferably in USD.
- USD is accepted (and preferred) for bigger transactions like hotel bills, speedboat fares, and tours. In local restaurants, shops, and ferries, everything has to be paid in MVR (rufiyaa).
- There’s an ATM on Maafushi, but it charges a steep fee on foreign cards (approximately MVR 100, or USD 6.50).
- Avoid withdrawing too much rufiyaa, because you will have a hard time exchanging it to other currencies if you have a lot left at the end of your trip.
What to Wear on Maafushi
By now, I’m sure you’re aware that bathing suits and bikinis are a strict no-no outside of the Bikini Beach. And ladies, don’t even dream about going topless — it’s illegal and could land you in jail.
But what can you wear in other parts of the island? Do you have to cover everything up? According to a notice posted at our hotel, acceptable clothing on Maafushi includes:
- Other casual clothes
So, it’s not as strict as some other Muslim countries. The only other thing that’s not allowed is anything transparent / see-through. To be safe, keep it modest, so you won’t attract unwanted attention or inadvertently offend anyone.
This dress code does not apply when you go on an excursion away from Maafushi, such as a snorkeling trip or a visit to a resort island. As long as you’re not on a local island, where locals actually live, you can wear anything you like.
Final Thoughts on Maafushi Island
Maafushi is the perfect destination to choose if you’re looking for a convenient, budget-friendly local island that has a lot to offer. Still not convinced? Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Maafushi.
Now is an especially good time to go if you can travel. Before the pandemic hit, Maafushi was already well on its way to become a major tourist spot in the Maldives. When Covid happened, everything must have halted, but in a few years, when tourism is back in full force, Maafushi may no longer be the quiet island that it is now or once was.
So, grab the opportunity while you can!
Have you been to the Maldives? Which island did you go to? Share your experience in the comment section below.