Going to the Maldives has always been on my list of tropical must see destinations. I knew that it would be expensive to visit, but I didn’t realize exactly how expensive it could get. Fortunately, I was able to figure out an affordable way to travel the Maldives!
Here’s a cost breakdown of what you can expect to pay to travel Maldives (and how to not pay it!).
Round trip flights can run on average from $600-1200/person. If you find a deal for ~$600, that’s a great price. We paid $517/person for a direct flight between Milan and Malé. Downside is that we had to take a 3hr train to Milan (~$70/person RT from Lausanne + Milan to airport transport). Upside is we explored Milan!
ACCOMMODATIONS, FOOD, ENTERTAINMENT
In Maldives, you have the choice to either stay on a local island or a resort island (you can also stay on a liveaboard, but I won’t be covering Maldive liveaboards in this post). Each resort has their own private island (one resort per island!!!). If you want to stay in an overwater bungalow, the price per night starts at around $500 for the absolute cheapest one I could find, while average prices are actually $1,000+. In addition, resort islands require resort offered island transportation, which can run between $250-500/person each way. We decided that we didn’t want to spend this, so we chose to stay on local Maldivian islands (Fulidhoo, Maafushi, and Hulhumale). These islands are significantly cheaper. Throughout our trip, we paid between $50-85/per night for a double room (Maafushi being the cheapest island). The other benefit of living on the local island is having the choice of “eating what the locals eat”. On a resort island, you need to eat resort food. Local island amenities and excursions are also cheaper than the resorts. Only downside of staying on a local island is that there is no alcohol anywhere, and you need to respect the rules for attire at the beach (it’s a Muslim country after all!).
If you fly into Malé, you’ll need to take a boat transfer, unless you are planning to take a seaplane to one of the resort islands. The budget way is to take the public Ferry, for example from Malé to Fulidhoo is $4/person one-way (3.5hrs). We opted for speedboats, which cost $40/person for the exact same trip (~1hr). The ferry and speedboats are only available for those transfering to one of the local islands. If you want to go to a resort island, you must use resort transportation (resort speedboat or seaplane). Be sure to check the ferry and speedboat days and times, as it’s different depending on where you’re departing from.
In total for our trip 9-day trip to Maldives (including an overnight in Milan), we spent less than $2,200. This is including all flights, trains, boats, hotels, and food for two people.
What the price doesn’t include is scuba diving. Overall, the scuba pricing is okay. It’s the cheapest on the larger islands, like Maafushi. But we can get more into scuba later in this post… Let’s just dive right into the trip!
Our trip began on Saturday, January 18, 2020. Not so bright, but definitely early in the morning, 4AM kinda early. We boarded our train at 6:18AM from Lausanne Gare to Milano Centrale.
When we arrived in Milan, it was almost 10AM. We needed to kill roughly 9 hours in Milan before heading to the airport. Inside of the train station, we found a shop to store our backpacks at for the day. And then we were off!
Actually, we didn’t really have any plans for the day. Just a vague idea that we wanted to eat something delicious. Because it was January, it was a bit cold walking around outside aimlessly. While walking, we came across Prepositurale Basilica of St. Mary of Lourdes. It was mildly interesting.
The first thing we knew to do was to go to Erick’s favorite spot for some breakfast ice cream at Venchi. Then we got some cannolis. For lunch, we were a bit indecisive, so we found ourselves at Bokok. It’s an upscale dim sum restaurant. After lunch we went to Foodie for some boba drinks.
Our wandering feet led us through street markets, bookshops, crowded intersections, and eventually at Duomo di Milano. This is actually our second time in Milan, so second time in this square. It’s quite breathtaking still.
To the left of the church, near the entrance to the galleria, we found ourselves at Terrazza Aperol. This is quite a fabulous bar, with a wait staff that makes you feel like you’re not worthy of their service. Our timing was bad, because I think they gave away their last table when we arrived. We ended up ordering drinks directly at the bar and had to fight against the overcrowding non-paying customers who just wanted to snap photos of our Aperols.
With some booze in our systems, we did a little window shopping (mostly watching other people shop).
Finally we arrived at the only place that I kinda thought of visiting this day, Santuario di San Bernadino alle Ossa. A 13th-century Catholic church with an ossuary containing decorative walls of human skulls and bones. An impressive sight, especially if you try counting the number of skulls. Just don’t be creepy and finger the eye sockets.
Beginning to feel the fatigue from walking around all day in Milan, our bodies were stuck between being not so hungry, but also just wanting to sit somewhere. We tried to look for some restaurants to “rest” and eat at, but the ones that we wanted to go to didn’t open until later. So we just gave up and made our way towards the station to retrieve our backpacks. We did however pick up a $7 bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, woah!
Once we got our bags, we needed to figure out where to catch the bus to the airport. It wasn’t so hard, but the train station is big. The buses are lined on the outside of the station (left side when facing the front of the station). You can ignore the people selling tickets from the tables on the sidewalks, and just walk up to the first bus in line and pay there. The price might be cheaper and you’ll be guaranteed to get the next departing bus.
Fast forward, we arrived at the airport and hoped on our 9:40PM red eye flight to Maldives. When I woke up, we were flying above all of the atolls. What a beautiful view, and all included in the international flight ticket. No seaplane needed!
By the time we landed in Malé, it was around 11AM. Exiting the airport was quite uncomplicated. It was amazing to see all the tourists flooding out and all knowing exactly where to go, unlike us who had to figure out our own transportation.
The airport is right next to the water. Because we needed to take a short ferry ride to get to the city, we started our search for where to buy tickets by the boat docks. Apparently the ticket booth for the ferry moved locations, so none of the workers were able to give us the right directions. We were sent left, right, left, and back and forth all over again. I was feeling hot and annoyed, but at least we finally found the ferry tickets and were able to board!
The ferry boat to Malé city was a short 10-15 minute ride. When we arrived, we walked down towards the speedboat dock area. Along the way, we stopped by a restaurant, City Garden. The food turned out to be good! We didn’t even have to Google for it! And they even exchanged money at the restaurant.
Next we headed towards Sultan Park to try and find a nice shady spot to sit. The park opening time wasn’t until 4PM though, the same time as our speedboat departure. With not much else to do, we sat outside of Masjid Al-Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Arzam.
By the time it was just before 4PM, we walked towards Jetty Number 1 to make sure that we didn’t miss our speedboat. Turns out, we were waiting in the wrong spot. It’s a good thing that I was paranoid and started running around, asking random boats if they knew where we were supposed to go.
Everyone else was already seated on the speedboat. I bet they were upset having to wait for us. We paid for our the speedboat directly to the captain on the boat. The boat ride was about a 1 hour 10 minute to Fulidhoo. You can easily arrange speedboat reservations through your accommodations.
Fulidhoo island is located in the Vaavu Atoll, and is the northernmost inhabited island. The size of the island is roughly 700m long and 200m wide, surrounded by white sand and gorgeous shades of blue. This remote island community has their own fresh water and local vegetation, and offers a glimpse into authentic Maldivian life and culture.
This is the most quiet and relaxed island that I’ve ever stayed at. It feels like a non-commercialized island, where I am a guest who is allowed to be apart of it. That’s kind of how it should be.
The dock that we arrived on looked like this, which was amusing. Mind the gap, for reals. And to get off of the dock, there was a single plank that one needed to carefully walk across to get to the beach.
Waiting for us on the beach was our Island Break hotel host. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, I found this hotel to be comfortable and affordable. The bathroom shower design could have been improved, and the room cleaner, but overall it was good for the price. Breakfast is also included every morning.
After our welcome drink, signing some paperwork, and putting all of our belongings away in the room, we headed out to explore Fulidhoo island. The first thing that I noticed was the amount of crabs along the beach. Wow! I’ve never seen so many. At first they shocked me because they were unexpected. Like giant spiders quickly scurrying across the sand into a holes. Sort of gross if you think about it too much.
On Fulidhoo island, there were a few of these signages to remind the visiting guests that they are not allowed to wear swim attire on the island. To be accomodating, there is a tourist beach on the far end of the island where guests are allowed to wear swimsuits.
We continued along the beach looking at various crabs and hermit crabs. Later on I met with the dive shop that I would be taking my PADI Rescue dive course with, Fulidhoo Dive.
For dinner, we ate at our hotel. The food was fresh and delicious.
The next morning, our day started around 8AM. We both chose to have the Maldivian breakfast. I miss this food, it’s really simple but tasty. For today, the plan was for Erick to work remotely while I would go to my class.
This is the path I took to get to my class everyday. It’s a nice short 5 minute walk that I would take barefoot. I mean, it’s an island! Why do I need to wear shoes?
Here’s where I’m going to start to mush together a few of the days, because it’s quite hard to tell them apart when you’re living on an island. I pretty much took my Rescue course the entire time that I was on Fulidhoo.
We took our Emergency First Response course on the first day, practicing different hands on situations and taking turns. Then we did several days of in water skills and scenarios. There were also various tests in between. Our teacher was tough on us and made us repeat exercises 2-3 times if it wasn’t done well.
Funny enough, the other two students taking the same course as me were also from Switzerland! Anyways, we all got our Rescue Diver certification in the end. The Rescue Diver course was one of the most rewarding courses that I’ve taken, and I would highly recommend it! The only thing I wouldn’t recommend is wearing a shortie wetsuit and NOT wearing sunscreen. Oh jeez, if I could show you my suntan afterwards.
On one of the days, I had a free late afternoon from learning, so that meant beach time! Erick and I made a sand arena and collected all of the hermits we could find and put them in there so they could battle to the death. There wasn’t much battling or death, though.
Look at this beach. It’s like one of those dating sites for retired divorcees commercials that you see on TV in the US.
I can’t get over the layers of blue in the water. The only thing you can’t tell from looking at these photos is how hot it is. Let me tell you, it’s hot. Burning, peeling, skin kind of hot.
On another day, we did some diving. It must not have been very impressive or memorable, because I don’t remember this morning dive trip.
We often ate at our hotel. There are other restaurants on the island, but we didn’t quite find them until later on.
By now, we only explored half of Fulidhoo island (the side with the dock and tourist beach). So we began to look around on the other side. Turns out, there were a lot more hidden away hotels towards the back side. And if you walk further towards the center, that’s where all the locals live!
There were also these super huge trees that went up very high. Yea… My photo cuts the trees off, but just use your imagination and triple the height of the photo in your mind. That’s how tall they were.
The best sunset that I’ve ever seen in my entire life is this one on Fulidhoo in Maldives. I’m happy I was able to catch it on camera! I can’t believe that I missed the last few days of sunsets, what was I doing? Sleeping?
Here’s what the sunset looked like and how it transformed over time. When I first got to the beach, I thought that I had just missed the sunset since it was already getting dark. But then the sky transformed into a soft pink. Like a bucket of spilt water, the pink spread away from the sunset and overhead backwards. Suddenly, the clouds became illuminated with shades of dancing hues — pinks, yellows, peaches, deep oranges. What a sight.
For dinner, we tried a new restaurant. It’s one of the few local restaurants on the island. The food was good and I watched whatever local horror movie that the restaurant had on TV. This place was super casual. I felt like I was at my grandma’s old place in China.
We also got some late night snacks from a convenient store. Sometimes we can’t tell when the store is open though, because we always seem to want to go in at the wrong time. But this time it was open! We got some instant noodles that I would eat later in the trip, some ice cream, and oreos lookalike.
On our last day, we discovered the food at Luau Beach Inn. It’s very good, but of course a bit more on the pricier side. The worker there at the time was a girl from Taiwan (the only other person on the island who looked like us)! She was really nice and interesting to speak with. We liked the food so much, that we made plans to come back again for dinner.
Besides more course completion, we took another walk around the last part of Fulidhoo island that we didn’t venture. This area had a lot of concrete rubble, and crabs living in them. It wasn’t as pretty of a view, but you can tell that the island is trying to develop for tourism.
Towards the late afternoon, we set off on the Alimantha night dive. This is the one where there are dozens of schooling nurse sharks. At the end of this blog post, you can watch my scuba video (sorry for the low quality).
On the way back from the night dive, Erick and I sat on the top level of the boat to watch the sunset. The ride was a bit rocky, in fact I even slid on my butt all the way across the floor to the other side!
And here we are back at Luau Beach Inn for dinner. For this special menu item, we had to request it in advance. Well worth it, especially if you get a little tired with the rest of the food on the island.
Oh, I should mention that I kind of messed up a little on my planning. I tend to do this every now and then, where I flip numbers and dates and any sort of information that usually comes in pairs. That’s what I did with our transportation. On Thursday, we were supposed to transfer to Maafushi island by speedboat, but I had flipped the to/from days for when boats are available. We tried and tried to find a way to get to Maafushi island, but the struggle was real!
When all hope felt lost, I contacted our accommodations in Maafushi. There weren’t any boats, but the hotel owner would try to find an excursion boat that we could hitch a ride from. Awesome enough, an excursion boat was found!
The excursion boat came to Fulidhoo the next day, just to pick us up. It was a bit awkward being the only ones getting on the boat, and all the passengers staring at you, like “wait, this wasn’t on the itinerary”. They had to make room for us to sit, too. While we were on the boat, we thought that we would be heading directly to Maafushi, because everyone looked like they had already “finished” the excursion. Many were either sleeping, sea sick, or wet and wrapped in a towel; all of them looked exhausted.
Our Maafushi accommodation failed to mention that we would be joining the excursion, not just hitching a ride with them. It’s really the best thing that could have happened. We were taken to a beautiful sandbank, given an umbrella on the beach, and served lunch — spicy garlic parmesan pasta and tuna! Then we had time to walk around, swim, and play in the water.
Later the boat took us to a snorkeling site. I was just happy to get in the water again, so I jumped right in. There wasn’t a whole lot to see though.
Before arriving at Maafushi, we stopped at another local island, just for exploring. This island had souvenir shops, unlike Fulidhoo. Also there were some people trying to sell us things or get us to talk to them. Nevertheless, it was still an interesting island to walk around, especially seeing the contrast between local islands.
We didn’t arrive in Maafushi until evening. When we got off the excursion boat, the captain even forgot to ask us for the money. We had to remember for him and he laughed. He only asked us to pay the same amount that we would have paid for a speedboat transfer. That means we basically got hooked up with a free day trip and transportation all-in-one. I’m thankful everything worked out for the better.
Waiting for us at the dock was our host from the Maafushi hotel, WhiteShell Island Hotel & Spa. He had a wheelbarrow for our luggage, but we only brought backpacks.
The check-in process was similar to Fulidhoo, with welcome drinks and paperwork. Our room here was a lot more spacious and clean in comparison to Fulidhoo, and cheaper, too. We spent a good hour rinsing our dive gear and leaving it out to dry. By the time we were ready to head out, it was night time.
Maafushi island is part of the Kaafu Atoll, and is famous for the Maafushi Prison. It’s roughly at the halfway point between Malé and Fulidhoo. This local island is known to be budget friendly, while catering to many dining and activity options for tourists. But if you’re looking for beaches, Fulidhoo is the better option. In terms of scuba diving, I preferred the sea life abundance of Maafushi!
There were many genres of food, and we take every meal seriously. This tends to result in us having to hunt down for the best option to appease our stomachs. Today, it seemed like the winner was Summer Kitchen and Bakery, this tourist trap looking restaurant. To our surprise, the (Chinese) food was super good and authentic!
On Maafushi island, we only had one-full day. We spent it diving with Maafushi Dive & Water Sports. I was happy with this dive shop and would definitely dive with them again in the future. Their dive briefings where clear and they worked in a very professional manner.
Post dive, we washed up at our hotel and cleaned all of our dive gear again. It was time for me to eat that cup of noodles in bed while watching some Chinese drama that I found on the local TV.
Later in the day, we ate at Pizza & Pasta Mamma Mia. Both of us got our own pizzas and lassis. It’s not the best pizza, but it does the job. I got the tandoori chicken pizza (not hot cheetos, lol).
The rest of the evening was spent walking around the island. We checked out Arena Beach and walked around the island to No Bikini Beach to look at the sunset. The later is the nicer of the two beaches. We also walked around the inner part of the island, which makes it easy to forget that you’re on an island because of the city like feel and scooters zooming around. On Maafushi, you can feel the faster pace way of life on the island, opposite of Fulidhoo.
While wandering, we happened across Maldive Seafood Restaurant. It’s not marked on google maps, so I can’t link it, but this asian food really hit the spot.
On the morning of our departure day from Maafushi, we headed to the iCom Tours office to purchase return tickets to Malé. Their credit card machine was down (actually the entire island’s power went out), so we waited at Palm Cafe. There were two parrots that flew down from the palm trees onto the chair next to our table, one blue and the other red. Such beautiful birds.
Erick ordered two drinks and I got some Sri Lankan beef curry for breakfast. We almost missed our boat because we weren’t able to pay for our tab. Of course, the power was out on the island, so that meant that also this restaurant’s ability to pay with credit card was also affected.
Fortunately, we completed the transaction in time and made it to our boat. It was crowded with everyone pushing their way onto the boat to get a good seat. We managed to at least get one!
Back at Malé, a driver from our next accomodation was ready to pick us up and take us to h78 hotel, located in Hulhumale. This was by far the fanciest and most expensive of the hotels that we stayed at in Maldives, costing $95 for one night! But we welcomed the change. Often times when I travel, I like to mix around hotel qualities and comfort, in order to have a more budget friendly travel.
What’s convenient about h78 is that they offer breakfast and free transportation to/from Malé or the airport. Makes our lives just a little easier.
This is the view from our hotel room. Literally right across the street from us was the beach. But of course, this was a local beach, so same as everywhere else, no swimwear allowed. Out of all the beaches that we went to, this was the most local as it got. Not a single tourist anywhere that we went. We really stood out!
Walking along the beach, we made our way as far down as we could. Then we checked out some of the local shops and a market. We also sat at Hulhumale Central Park. An excellent park to people watch at.
Dinner time, we ate at Tandoori Flames Hulhumale. The food was excellent, and very filling. Of course we couldn’t do very much else after eating so much, so we did what we do best. Go to sleep.
On our last day in Maldives, we had breakfast at our hotel and the driver took us to the airport. It was around this time that the news of COVID-19 was starting to make its way around the world. You can tell because all the asians at the airport were wearing masks.
The flight back to Milan was overall unmemorable, except for the young woman behind me who insisted on placing her foot on my armrest.
We arrived quite late in Milan (because of a flight change), and had to spend the night. I booked a hotel close to the train station so that we wouldn’t have to travel far in the morning to catch the train. For the most part, we rested in our hotel room. There was a Japanese restaurant that we found next to the station that I’d recommend if you want something easy and you’re hungry, Ristorante Sagami. It’s a Japanese ran restaurant, serving affordable food from Nagoya.
Anyways, the next day we boarded the train back to Lausanne, Switzerland. I think our luck may have been left behind in the Maldives, because our train broke down twice. The second time, it stopped, we were trapped inside for a couple of hours. It started to get really uncomfortable in the train because there was no power, and people began breaking open the train doors to try and escape. Eventually, it was decided that we all needed to get off the train and walk to the station. Never thought something like this would happen! But I guess there’s a first for everything. What should have been a simple train ride back home turned into a full day journey. I’m glad it’s all over now.
Overall, I’m super pleased with how our trip to the Maldives turned out. I believe that staying on the different local islands was the right thing to do. The only thing that I would do differently is to extend my trip!! Or maybe I could consider a liveaboard the next time.
Hope you enjoyed my Maldives blog post and learned a thing or two to help you plan your own trip in the future. Have you been to the Maldives before? What does your perfect trip look like?
Enjoy my Maldives scuba diving video compilation. Promise that I’ll have better quality footage in the future (I sold my GoPro Hero 3!).
See you in the next post.