The Maldives was once an expensive travel destination reserved for those who could afford to spend thousands on resort fees. However, a booming guest house industry has made travel affordable for the budget-conscious.
About 350 miles south-southwest from the Indian mainland is the island nation of the Maldives. In fact, the Republic of Maldives extends across 510 miles from north to south and 80 miles from east to west. With a population under half a million, this archipelago offers a rich immersion into both native cultures and natural wonders.
Although a good exchange rate makes this a budget-friendly excursion from the start, that’s not the only thing you have to look forward to. Read on for five budget-friendly things to do in the Maldives.
Travel to the Maldives
Historically, the Maldive Islands have been a critical stop for travelers crossing the Indian Ocean. To this day, getting around the Maldives is done mostly by boat; public and private ferry companies shuttle passengers between each of the islands, as do seaplanes and domestic flights. Keep in mind that airplane travel will cost more.
However, Velana International Airport handles transportation from all over the world. After you land, seaplanes and ships can extend your travel from a coral atoll or to islands across the chain.
Budget-Friendly Activities in the Maldives
Although traveling to and staying at resorts in the Maldives can cost a pretty penny, this list of activities will provide you with some entertaining ways to save change while exploring the Maldives. Additionally, the Maldives has recently had an explosion of “guest houses,” which are homestyle lodgings that offer inexpensive stays to help you avoid the high cost of resorts.
Roam the City
Despite the small population of this island nation, the Maldives has several dense urban environments to explore. These cities offer the best sort of budget-friendly things to do: the free kind! The first (and most populous) city is Malé, the political capital of the Maldives. Here, you can spend some time strolling through Sultan Park, visiting the colorful and bustling Main Market, or watching the boats on the waterfront esplanade.
Are you looking to get out of the city bustle? Visiting Maafushi Town gives you an opportunity to dive into the natural beauty of the Maldives. Start by taking a relaxing day at Bikini Beach. The Maldives is an Islamic country, so showing skin is a no-go. However, restrictions are lifted on Bikini Beach. So, get your tan going while on white sand and turquoise waters. Cities like Malé are a great launch point for inexpensive excursions. The average snorkeling trip runs about $8.
Explore the Maldives Nature Parks
If you like the opportunities to sunbathe in Maafushi Town, you’ll love what the National Parks of the Maldives has to offer. As tourism grows, managing its impact on the fragile ecosystem has become imperative. The Maldivian push to protect unspoiled tracts of land offers green travelers unique opportunities to see the Maldives in a responsible way. In particular, the Parks of the Maldives focus on ecotourism: activities that leave the natural world un-impacted.
One way that the Maldives is making eco-tourism accessible for visitors is through new National Nature Parks. These parks highlight the beaches and microflora for which the country is best known for.
At Addu Nature Park, visitors can bicycle through wetland paths, canoe through mangrove forests, and dive until their heart’s content. In Fuvahmulah Nature Park, a boardwalk extends into the depths of the Bandaara Kilhi wetlands, fully exposing visitors to the biome of the Maldives. Staying near the parks is around $80 a night–far cheaper than a night at a resort. Other fun (and free) things to do in the Maldives include sand banking: an exploration of the various sandbanks which rise and fall around coral atolls.
Experience Art & History
When the call of the city sounds over the water and you return to the urban bustle, there is plenty of Maldivian culture still to explore. Similar to other Muslim countries, beautiful mosques in Malé offer architectural sights to see. What might be most impressive is how such a compact city can exist on a ring of land in the middle of the ocean.
The Coral Stone Mosques, crafted out of sea coral, show the resourcefulness of this indigenous island nation. The golden-domed Grand Friday Mosque suggests how Maldivian culture continued to pursue their religion after exposure to the classical world. Best of all, checking out the architecture–pulled from Indian, Arabic, and Sri Lankan influence–is totally free.
Once you’ve admired the native’s craftsmanship, visit the National Museum and Art Gallery to learn the culture of those builders. The National Museum of the Maldives houses more than just historical artifacts, like old weaponry. There are exhibits of the natural world as well, such as skeletons of the uber-rare Longmans Beak Whale. Around $3 gets you into the National Museum.
Listen to Music
Music in the Maldives is an immersive experience, albeit in two totally different ways. One common style of music to hear is the sound of Boduberu. This is the classic cultural music of the island nation. West African nations, like present-day Somalia, were heavily influential to boduberu. In boduberu, group singers exchange lyrical calls in Hindi, Arabic, or Javee while pursuing the rhythm of the drums. You can listen to this music all over the streets and islands of the Maldives. Or, attend an in-concert experience at the Olympus Theater.
Outside the cultural circumstance of boduberu, revelers can enjoy a different style of jams: electronic dance music. There is a thriving nightlife in the Maldives. However, a majority of the clubs are associated with resorts. Fortunately, several resorts and clubs offer entrance to outside guests. One example is the underwater dance club Subsix on Dhaalu Atoll, where $70 gets two people in the door and on the floor.
Eat Your Way Through the Maldive’s Cuisine
Eating in the Maldives is an experience like no other. Despite being on Indian Ocean trade routes, Maldivian cuisine is built heavily around the staples that are found on or around the island such as coconuts, fish, and peppers. So too is rice, squid, and unleavened bread. The average cost for a meal in the Maldives is only around $5, as long as you’re getting it outside of a resort.
Some of the best food will be found on the street, in seaside restaurants, and cafes. Dishes like mas huni and roshi (tuna, onion, coconut, and chili) is served with unleavened bread. For a bit more spice, look for fihunu mas: a whole grilled fish. If you’ve got a sweet-tooth, bondi bai (rice pudding) or zileybee (colored coils of sugared, fried batter) will satisfy just fine. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, look for a menu offering miruhulee boava (octopus tentacles).