Sunday, March 12, 2017

Maldives on a Budget: A Travel Guide


Only a true blue beach-lover would understand how possible it is to spend a day doing nothing but just frolic on the sand while listening to chill music with cocktails on one hand or read a good book in one sitting, for the whole day, under the intense heat of the sun. And that’s what we did on our Maldives trip. And you could do that on the most coveted island in the world, yes, backpacking the Maldives is possible. I did it, and of course, you could too.

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I am a certified beach addict. I could spend an entire day doing nothing, as long as my feet are buried into the sand with background music coming from the soft waves from the sea. I could care less if I have nth layers of tan and if my hair is always frizzy; my skin and my hair actually love saltwater. Moving on, me and my buddy’s Beach Hop Asia 2016 summer backpacking trip included the Maldives. We had eight days to explore it and we meticulously planned everything so as to save bucks and time. After exploring MalaysiaThailand and Sri Lanka, we took a one-hour flight from Colombo then arrived in Male for the next leg of our beach adventure.

So here’s a rough guide on achieving paradise without pawning two months’ worth of your salary, or your car, or your precious engagement ring bling.


HOW LONG SHOULD I STAY IN THE MALDIVES

This is basically the most important part of planning your trip. So consider everything carefully as this will totally be the determining factor of all the subsequent decisions you’ll make.

Geographically, the Maldives is a country consists of 1,190 coral islands that is grouped into a double chain of 26 atolls (a string of closely spaced small coral islands) spread over 90,000 square kilometers in Indian Ocean. Whew! The point is, if you plan on staying on local islands plus island resorts then you need a week to do so. But if you just want to go straight to the island resorts and skip the local islands, then a quick four-day trip will do (a decision that you would probably regret for the rest of your life. Haha).

A week would be enough if you’re really pressed with time but a month would be cool if you’re the adventurous type of hopping on to different atolls and immerse to the Maldivian way of life by staying on local islands.

Maldives Travel Guide
Rainy Male City

HOW TO GET THERE

There are numerous ways to get to Male (the capital of Maldives) via direct flights from different key Asian hubs. I heard that flights from Singapore are the cheapest but if you’re coming from Manila, AirAsia has direct flights daily from Kuala Lumpur to Male. You just have to secure a Manila to Kuala Lumpur flight alongside the other flight to guarantee a smooth trip. Make sure to subscribe to their latest promos to get good deals on flights.

As for me and my buddy, we came from Colombo in Sri Lanka which is just an hour away via plane to Male (capital city of Maldives). We got a promo fare for PhP6,000 (US$120) for a roundtrip ticket per person via Mihin Lanka (low-cost airline of the flag carrier, SriLankan Airlines).

Maldives Travel Guide
Ferry terminal at Male International Airport

TRAVEL VISA

No pre-arrival visa is required when you come to the Maldives. All nationalities are allowed to enter the country and stay for thirty days without securing any visa, including the Philippines, as long as you follow the requirements; valid passport (6 months validity) with Machine Readable Zone (MRZ), valid ticket for journey out of the Maldives, and enough funds to cover daily expenses (US$100 + US$50 per day) OR a confirmation of reservation in any Tourist Resort or Hotel.

Please note that the decision to grant entry to the Republic of Maldives lies at the discretion of the immigration and not a right of every tourist. Should you wish to extend your stay, you may do so by applying for extension at the head office of the Maldives Immigration. They will re-assess your financial capability for the stay period of the extension. 

We didn’t have any problems when we went to the immigration officer assigned to us. The lady just asked me for the duration of the trip, who I’m with and the resort or local island we’re staying at and the cutest visa sticker was attached to my passport instantly.

Maldives Travel Guide
Cutest visa sticker ever!

WHERE TO STAY

It was not until 2009 when the government allowed the locals to operate their own guesthouses on local islands. This paved way for budget-conscious travelers to enjoy the Maldives without breaking the bank on those island resorts that would probably cost you around US$150 per night for two persons (cheapest room rate for island resorts in Maldives that I found online). I heard that a night on one of the most expensive island resorts could go as high as US$2,000 per night.

Staying on a local island has its pros and cons. You get to stay on an inexpensive guesthouse but have to respect the norms on proper attire. You can have a nice view of the sea but can only swim with your swimsuits on a designated private beach. You do not have the luxuries of resort life but gets to experience firsthand the Maldivian way of life.

Maafushi Island (one-hour away from Male via ferry) is the common local island that is frequented by most backpackers. Accommodations here could go as low as PhP1,300 (US$26) per night for a private AC room for 2 persons; definitely a lot cheaper compared to some beach resorts in the Philippines.

Maldives Travel Guide
Our lovely chill backyard at Whale Shark Inn
In our case, we researched and found a great deal at Whale Shark Inn on the local island of Maamigili (7 hours away by ferry from Male) for US$150 each person for five days including breakfast, ferry tickets, private AC room and four sea excursions. Quite a great deal right?

The busy areas of Male and Hulhumale do have cheap accommodations too but don’t have a nice view of the Maldives that you see on postcards. You may opt to stay on those places and just do some sea excursions every day but you wouldn’t get to see the locals’ way of life that you’d experience when you stay on a local island.

Remember that tourist tax is added on top of everything so make sure that you have leeway on your budget.

Maldives Travel Guide
Hello, neighbors!
Maldives Travel Guide
Soccer is a popular sport in Maldives.
Photo taken from our local island, Maamigili.
Maldives Travel Guide
You wouldn't experience the hospitality of Maldivians if you aren't staying on a local island.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

A public ferry known as dhoni provides the main transportation to go around the different 26 atolls in the Maldives. Ferry routes, schedules and fares are organized and usually on time (weather-permitting). I found a useful site that features almost everything that you need to know on Maldives boat transfer and public transportation here.

As for me and my buddies, we stayed overnight on the reclaimed island of Hulhumale (where Male International Airport is) and hopped on a cab the next day to go to the Hulhumale Port then boarded a ferry going to Male North Harbour. From there, we took a cab going to Petrol Jetty where our dhoni going to Maamigili Island was docked.

Hopping on to different islands using public ferries is quite cheap but takes so much time especially when you go to the farther atolls. For faster transfers to the islands, you may opt to take shared/private speedboats or book seaplane/domestic flights.

Maldives Travel Guide
Commuting in the Maldives using public ferries (dhoni) is so cheap. Around US$1 each way, even for the longest routes.

SEA EXCURSIONS

If you’re staying on a local island, then you could ask your host to hook you up to a boat that would bring you to nearby sandbars, coral gardens and such. You could also ask for help on doing a day tour on a nearby island resort for a fee. If you’re staying in Hulhumale or Male, there are many tour companies that offer a wide range of activities to suit your island desires.

As for us, we got four free sea excursions from our guesthouse in Maamigili Island including lunch picnic on a sandbar, sunset fishing (and barbecue party later that night), numerous snorkeling trips, and my ultimate favorite wild sea turtles and whale sharks encounter. We also sought the help of our host, Ahmed, to help us in doing two day trips on nearby island resorts ($25 and $45 per person including afternoon snack buffet and use of amenities).

Maldives Travel Guide
Hello there, friends.
Maldives Travel Guide
Swimming with wild whale sharks was one of the highlights of our trip.

FOOD

In Male and Hulhumale, restaurants and cafes are readily available. On local islands, there are few eateries that serve meals for as low as US$1 per meal, yes, that cheap. As for the island resorts, well, standard resort prices apply.

As for us, all of our breakfasts were included on the room rate we got from Whale Shark Inn. For other meals, we had to dine on the eateries on our local island or have it delivered on the guesthouse. Meal prices ranges from MVR25 (US$1.63) to MVR120 (US$7.84).

But take note of this, alcoholic drinks and pork are strictly not allowed on local islands as well as Male. You may want to take a trip on a nearby island resort to gulp on some beer which usually starts at US$5 per can. Also, bringing in of these prohibited items in the country would incur penalties and punishments.

Maldives Travel Guide
Mocktail

LANGUAGE

Dhivehi is the predominant spoken language in the Maldives but English is commonly used. Their writing system is called Thaana.


POPULATION

Currently (March 2017), the Republic of Maldives has a total population of 373,998 with a population density of 1,253 per sq.km. (source).


RELIGION

The Maldives is a Muslim nation (Sunni) and all citizens should adhere to the state religion legally.

Maldives Travel Guide
White sand roads

MONEY EXCHANGE

Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR) is the standard currency in the whole of Maldives but small bills of US Dollars are widely accepted on hotels and guesthouses (MVR1 = US$0.065). You could exchange your money through accredited money exchange centers located at the airport or in the banks in Male City. Hotels and guesthouses have foreign exchange services as well.

Maldives Travel Guide
Am I dreaming?
So there, all you need to know about that dream paradise trip is provided here. I will have a detailed account on what transpired during the course of our eight-day jaunt in the Maldives on my next posts in which you could assess more or less if it’s really worth the long trip and budget. And I am telling you, if you’ve been dreaming about going to this paradise then you should go now, while you still can. Because the last time I heard, some of the coral islands are slowly sinking as it suffers from high surface erosion and rising sea levels. So can you do me a favor? Go now and experience the very essence of hospitality in the local islands plus get that picture perfect sun, sea and sand photos that are worth sharing.







2 comments:

  1. Hey Carla,
    Thanks for this post. My wife and I dream of going to Maldives one day once we're up and running with our hold and it can stand on it's own. We imagine this place would be a bit expensive. We'd likely do a bit of splurging and budgeting but this serves as a good guide to one side of what we're looking for. As a US citizen it's great that we can travel hack with credit card and travel points so that's been a huge plus for us. Thanks again for this info!
    Cheers,
    Mark

    ReplyDelete