I know what you're thinking "This is a budget travel website you pecker, we don't have that kind of money", and you'd be right to think that; pre-2009.
Tourism in the maldives only started in 1972, but for nearly 40 years it was confined to specific islands that had been developed into luxury resorts that take up a whole island. But in 2009 the then President, changed the law to allow tourism on the local islands. Since then, guest houses have been popping up all over the shop, some of them offering double rooms for less than a bunk in an 8 bed dorm in London! Said president is currently in prison on Maafushi Island for corruption...
We spent 6 days, 5 nights there at the end of October 2015 and spent $381 on accommodation, food, drink, excursions and ferries, for both of us! I shit you not, the Maldives are cheap as chips. Well compared to London at least.
The Maldives is an archipelago made up of 1,920 small islands and a handful of these are served by a local ferry network. Before you go you need to know which island or islands you want t visit because ferries to these islands tend to only run once, sometimes twice, a day but generally not every day. Certainly not Fridays as it is an Islamic country and Friday is their day of rest, so make sure your flights don't arrive or depart then or you'll be forced to spend a night in the capital city, Male, and you really don't want that! If Maafushi is where you want to start, here's a ferry schedule. If you wanted to go elsewhere, the same site also has all the ferry schedules but make sure you know the names of the islands you want to visit first, because it's a pretty complicated network of ferries!
On the local islands, this tends to come in the form of guesthouses. Almost all of the guesthouses are run by people who used to work in the various resorts. As a result, expect great service. As with everywhere you can find places for all budgets, we stayed in two places, one was $110 for three nights and the other was $110 for two nights. There wasn't much difference in standard, one was just right on the beach. We found them both through booking.com and that seemed to be the standard out there. If we just went to a guest house and asked what their rate was we would be directed to booking.com to find the prices. Just search the island's name on the website and it'll bring up a list of hotels and it'll bring up a list of the guesthouses available. Standard.
Maafushi is where we stayed and it has the most guesthouses out there. Other islands have only one or two places and only a couple of restaurants so bear that in mind if you're planning on staying on other islands for a while. Yes it means less tourists, but it also means less competition which means higher prices.
As mentioned earlier, the Maldives is a Muslim nation and this does come with some draw backs. Namely there's no alcohol! Yes folks its a dry country and it's illegal to bring it into the country (as is porn, the bible and even dogs make it onto the illegal list) and bags do get x-rayed after you collect your luggage and if they find your stash it'll be confiscated and destroyed.
Having said that, there is a boat moored off Maafushi that is basically a floating bar! We were going to go but then found out the prices; $6-10 for a beer and $30-50 for a bottle wine, plus 22% in taxes. We figured a few dry days wouldn't kill us.
Another biggy is that women need to be covered up. Yes girls that means you need to wear a burka when you go swimming. No sun tanning for you! Not really, its not that bad. Carly genuinely thought that would be the case and didn't want to go at first.
Apart from on resort islands, bikinis are only allowed on certain local islands, but only on what is known as Bikini Beach or on a private beach that's owned by a guesthouse. Generally they will have a barrier of some form to keep you and your obscene, flesh bearing outfits hidden from the locals. So make sure the island you want to visit does have something available, or you'll find yourself swimming in shorts and a T-shirt, basically standard beach attire for gingers.
There are two currencies accepted in the Maldives, the Maldivian Rufiyaa and the good old $US. Things like hotels and excursions will need to be paid for in dollars so make sure you bring enough to last. Also, they do not accept old notes!!!! Any notes printed before roughly 2000 are useless, the Maldivian Bank does not accept them so neither will any supplier, we didn't know this and as a result, about a quarter of our funds fell into the useless category.
The Rufiyaa is generally used for things like the ferry and for food and water, but there are no ATMs! Its a non exchangeable currency which means you can't buy it or sell it in your home country. Make sure you withdraw enough at the airport as there is something stupid like five ATMs in the whole country, one for each of the main atolls. Below is a menu from a restaurant by the beach to give you an idea of prices and how much you might need.
Price from October 2015. $1=15MVR £1=23MVR
By far your biggest expense is going to be for the various activities which, unless you're into lying on the beach doing nothing for a week, you're going to be doing them. As the service in the guest houses came from the staff's experience working in the resorts, so did the prices for excursions. The staff obviously cottoned onto the fact that people will pay $250 for a quick jolly on a jetski, and so the price has stuck too. People are saving a chunk nowadays on accommodation so they are happily blowing that saving on water sports and activities. Russians mainly.
We did a 5hr snorkelling trip which went to two reefs and a sand bank for $35 each with iCom tours and it was amazing, well worth it. Even got a turtle selfie. Another good one was snorkelling with sharks. Felt a bit surreal to be chasing after a shark and having them all round you, a situation you paid for at that (don't worry, there hasn't been a shark attack there since the 70s). That was $20pp for a couple of hours.
Here are some price 'menus' for excursions on Maafushi to help you with budgeting. You will definitely want to plan a few off island excursions into your budget.
The cheapest way to get there is to add it on to a trip to India or Sri Lanka, we got our flights the week before we went for £113 return from Sri Lanka. If you're going to go though, do it soon because the development of the islands is increasing every year to accommodate this new tourism gold mine, which in turn will mean more tourists on these already small islands filling up the small strips of bikini beaches.
Peak season starts at the beginning of November and almost on the dot on the 1st, the number of people on the beach doubled when we were there.
I'm sure there are some culture addicts out there who are thinking about going to a local island that doesn't have any tourists and getting to know the locals. I'd say don't. The islands that don't have guest houses have chosen amongst their community not to bring in tourists, and personally I feel that's a decision that should be respected. Even on Maafushi, the island that caters the most to tourists, we got a distinct feeling from the lack of returned smiles, that the older generation and the more devout Muslims, didn't appreciate the presence of tourists. They much prefer to sit in hammocks on their smartphones watching cat videos on YouTube.
All in all, it's an amazing and insanely beautiful place that is definitely worth a visit, especially since you don't have to break the bank to go there. I'm sure we'll be returning in the future.