I’ve always had the perception that the Maldives was mostly for those with tons of money to burn. While I do enjoy luxury travel, the jaw dropping price tags of some of the big, fancy resorts in the Maldives is kinda where I draw the line. What if I told you there was another way? A cheaper way?
Ahem, allow me to introduce you to the secret sauce of Maldives budget travel: guesthouses.
For the longest time, you really only had one main option when it came to staying in the Maldives. You had to book a resort. About 7 years ago however, the government started allowing local Maldivians to open their own guesthouses, and I’ll list out all the pros and cons to this below.
Watch the Video to See My Guesthouse Experience:
GUEST HOUSES VS. RESORTS
The Maldives is a country made up of roughly 1,200 islands. Of those islands, only about 100 of them are private islands occupied by resorts, whereas approximately 200 of them are inhabited islands—meaning locals live and work there. The inhabited islands are where you’ll find the guesthouses. Here are some of the main differences between these private resorts and local guesthouses.
1. Cost of transportation
When you fly to the Maldives, you’ll need to then travel again either by air or sea to reach whichever island your accommodations are on. This can get quite expensive if you choose to stay at a resort.
Resort: Transportation to a resort can cost anywhere from $200-$400 USD per person, depending on where it’s located. If it’s relatively close to the airport, the resort will probably transport you to their island via speedboat and might be in the $200 price range. If the resort is far away, you’ll have to fly there by seaplane or domestic flight. That can be closer to $400. While these modes of transportation are pricier, they are also easier since the resort arranges everything for you.
Guest House: Transportation to locally inhabited islands where guesthouses are located is much cheaper. We traveled by public speedboat for $25 per person, but there’s also the option to travel by public ferry for about $5-$10 per person. The speedboat is obviously faster though, so the extra $15 per person was worth it for us. While it’s possible to visit many local islands by public ferry, you’ll need to check with your guesthouse about whether or not the public speed boat option is available for that particular island.
2. Cost of accommodation
Resort: When you start to look at prices for resorts in the Maldives, your head may start hurting a bit. Your dream hotel is likely to be hella high-priced. I got my feelings hurt a couple times. The ‘budget’ resorts start around $200 per night. The really nice ones start at about $700. If your dream is to stay in an overwater bungalow, get ready to shell out some major bread.
Though FYI, while they look pretty in pictures, second time visitors often choose to stay in an oceanside or beach villa instead after learning some of the downsides to staying in an overwater bungalow the first time around. Read my last post about our relaxing stay in an ocean villa that offered way more privacy than an overwater bungalow.
Guest House: Staying in a guesthouse is much more budget-friendly. You can find some good ones between $50-$150 per night. We stayed in a luxury guesthouse called Noovilu Suites, which we found and booked on Airbnb. Our host Mazin was excellent – he arranged our transportation, activities, and made sure we ate quite well.
Food is much cheaper on local islands in comparison to the expensive resort restaurants. Activities will be more affordable as well – just be sure to ask about pricing ahead of time. Mazin arranged a fun day of swimming with mantas, a picnic on a deserted island, guided snorkeling, and jet skiing.
3. Supporting the Local Economy
Before guesthouses became available, tourism was restricted to resorts built on uninhabited private islands. Guests stay at the resorts and don’t typically leave, which means tourist dollars stay at the resorts. Since the resorts are managed mostly by foreign multinationals, very little is contributed to the local economy.
The opening of guesthouses means the locals now have more opportunities to benefit from the tourism industry. Additionally, you get to actually experience local life when you stay at a guesthouse versus staying on a resort the entire time.
The Maldives is a Muslim country, which means there are certain customs that must be respected when staying on local islands. Some of these you may find limiting for your vacation. For example, alcohol is banned and women should avoid walking around in bathing suits in some places. Our host was always available to advise me on when to dress conservatively and when it wasn’t necessary. I had no issues wearing my bathing suit during water activities–I mostly covered my arms when I was walking the streets out in public.
The resorts are a different story. They are pretty much allowed to exist in their own little bubbles where these rules don’t need to be followed. You’ll have no problem getting booze or rocking a bikini on a resort.
EXPERIENCE THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
I ended up experiencing a little bit of everything in the Maldives. I stayed in an amazing, yet expensive luxury private island resort (see my previous post), a budget-friendly guesthouse on a local island (watch my vlog to see what it was like), and an awesome mid-range resort (next post).
So if you don’t want to stay in a guesthouse the whole time, you can stay in one for half your trip to save some money and then stay in a resort for the other half of your trip. Or if you’d rather stay in a guesthouse the entire time, check to see if your guesthouse offers day trips to nearby resorts. That way you can go visit a resort to at least see what it’s like (or to just drink some alcohol).