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Maldives on a Budget – A 2-Week Itinerary

A top down view of a Maldives beach with a vibrant blue sea and a dark green treeline on either side

Maldives on a Budget – A 2-Week Itinerary

The Maldives is one of the most incredible countries on earth. A beautiful nation of 26 atolls, comprised of well over 1,000 islands, nestled in the heart of the Indian Ocean. With a small population of just over 500,000 residents, this tropical haven welcomes an astonishing 1.5 million tourists a year. Famed for its luxury overwater bungalows, villas, and high-end status, people often wonder if it’s possible to visit Maldives on a budget.

A couple embracing on the tip of a sandbank as the sun rises

Is It Possible to Do Maldives on a Budget?

Yes, it is absolutely possible to travel the Maldives on a budget! This wasn’t always the case.

Prior to 2009, the only way to visit the Maldives was to stay at one of the luxury resorts, with their own private islands. But today, luckily for backpackers and those looking for value for money, there are more wallet-friendly options.

What Is the Cheapest Way to Travel Maldives?

In 2009, the Maldives government changed the rules to allow the development of guesthouses and hotels on local islands, sometimes referred to as the non-resort islands. As you can imagine, this made a huge difference to the cost of visiting the country.

A couple swimming on the surface of the ocean with a turtle swimming near the coral below

So, the cheapest way to travel Maldives now involves staying on these local islands and avoiding the resort islands. There are a growing number of local islands available, but in this 2-Week budget itinerary, we’re covering three of the best islands.

Best Place to Stay in Maldives on a Budget – 3 Maldives Islands in 2 Weeks

A set of three photos of sunrises and sunsets on Thulusdhoo, Maafushi, and Dhigurah

Our favorite three Maldives islands are: Thulusdhoo, Maafushi, and Dhigurah. All three offer cheap options for accommodation, food, and activities. Dhigurah is a little more expensive, but it also has a more luxury, chilled vibe.

We’d recommend spending between 4-5 nights on each island, maybe fewer on Dhighurah due to the higher cost.


Thulusdhoo is a tiny island (less than 0.5 square miles) which is part of the Male Atoll, also called the Kaafu Atoll. It’s only 17 miles northeast of Male, the capital of the Maldives. This close proximity makes it an ideal budget destination here, and the perfect start to the trip.

Getting to Thulusdhoo

There are two main ways to get to Thulusdhoo, by public ferry or speedboat. The cheapest way is by public ferry from Male.

Public Ferry to Thulusdhoo

For the public ferry option, the first thing you need to do is get from the airport to the main Male Island.

From Male’s airport (Velana International Airport), you need to get the airport ferry. The airport ferry runs every 10 minutes during the day and costs around $1. You can buy the ticket from a little booth in front of the airport, near the dock. The ferry departs just in front of this booth.

A blue and white ferry pulls into the dock at Male Airport in the Maldives

Once on Male, you need to get the local ferry to Thulusdhoo. The ferry runs at 15:30 every day except Fridays. It usually runs from the Hulhumale Ferry Terminal, which is right next to where the airport ferry will take you. But be warned, it sometimes runs from the Villingili Ferry Terminal on the other side of Male. You can either check with your guest house or ask at the Hulhumale Ferry Terminal ticket office. The ferry costs just $3 per person and takes around 90 minutes.

Speedboat to Thulusdhoo

If your flight lands at an inconvenient time, or on a Friday, the best option might be to take a speedboat. These run directly from the airport, so no need to get the airport ferry over to Male. This option is nowhere near as cheap at $30 per person but they run more regularly, it takes 30 minutes, and it’s better than losing a day stuck in Male.

A couple of white speedboats moored to a dock

Your guesthouse or hotel will be more than happy to help assist you in booking or clarifying the days and times. Things can be quite old-school in the Maldives, and so the information isn’t always accurate and up to date online. This means the locals often have better knowledge. Besides, the hotels and guesthouses don’t seem to charge any extra for services like this, perhaps they just earn commission from the speedboat companies.

Best Things to Do in Thulusdhoo

Despite being a tiny island, Thulusdhoo has plenty of beautiful places to see. Plus, the surrounding reefs that you can reach on boat trips are some of the best we’ve seen in the world.

Bikini Beach

You may notice a recurring theme on each island, which is that each of them has a beach named Bikini Beach. Because the Maldives is a conservative Muslim country, bikinis and shorts would normally be prohibited. So, each island has a beach designated for tourists where beachwear is fine.

On Thulusdhoo, this is over on the east coast, near most of the hotels. Look out for a few signs pointing you in the right direction. With it being on the east coast, it’s the perfect place to go for sunrise.

You can snorkel to a shallow reef just off the coast. Within a minute of getting in the water, I saw a baby shark on his way through the reef as well as a huge number of tropical fish.

The beach is also one of the best places to book any trips you want to do as there are a few stalls here.

Sunset at the Western Sandbank

A couple stand arm in arm in the sea at sunset

We already mentioned the sunrise in the east but the sunset on the western end of the island is even better. There is a long peninsula with a sandbank at the end, surrounded by shallow, warm water.

Coca Cola Factory

A person stood next to a human-sized Coca-cola bottle and Coca-cola sign of the Thulusdhoo factory

We know this sounds like an odd thing on a list of activities, but it’s pretty cool. The Coca Cola factory is the only one in the Maldives, and supplies drinks to the entire country. It was built in the 80’s and is part of a small industrial area of Thulusdhoo, which specializes in drying fish and sea cucumbers.

Fun Fact: Interestingly, it’s the only Coca Cola produced using desalinated water in the entire world.

They don’t seem to have set times for tours, so drop in and ask if you can go in. The morning is your best bet, since they sometimes halt production in the afternoon.


There’s a small pier to the west of bikini beach called Naafi Jetty. It’s a really nice spot to sit for sunset to watch the sky burn all shades of pink and orange.

It attracts many seabirds so keep an eye out for herons and cormorants spotting fish from the pier. If you watch the water towards the end of the jetty, you can see all sorts of amazing sea life. We saw rays, small reef sharks, and many people also see turtles here. The best time to spot the animals is around dawn or dusk.

Snorkeling Trips

Snorkeling trips are easily our favorite thing to do in the Maldives. From Thulusdhoo you can take a trip to a few beautiful spots like turtle point and mushroom reef.

Where to Stay in Thulusdhoo

We stayed at a nice place called Akiri Surf Residence that included breakfast and was reasonable at $85 per night. We think they have two buildings, and we were in the newer one closer to the beach. You can help yourself to coffee and tea and the owner comes by each morning to prepare breakfast.

Where to Eat in Thulusdhoo

For a small island, there’s a surprising number of restaurants. We enjoyed the curries in Aqua Beans and Santa Rosa. If you want a true local vibe, head to Byyoni.


Maafushi Island is where the budget travel all began, and thanks to this small, enterprising island, budget travel is a reality across the Maldives. It was here that some of the first guesthouses started springing up in 2009.

Getting to Maafushi

The cheapest way to get from Thulusdhoo to Maafushi is again by taking advantage of the public ferries. There’s an early morning ferry from Thulusdhoo back to Male for $3 per person. We think it was 7:30am, but your guesthouse can confirm and help you.

Then you need to take another ferry from Male to Maafushi at 3pm for another $3 per person.

A queue of people waiting to board a blue ferry in the Maldives

Your best bet while traveling between places is to always avoid Fridays. Some ferries do run, but most don’t, and at the very least it would be a reduced service.

Again, it’s possible to do this by speedboat, we’re not sure exactly how much this would cost. It would normally be around $30 from Thulusdhoo to Male and another $30 from Male to Maafushi. However, it might be cheaper to do it all in one. You can again check with your guesthouse as they will be able to book this for you if you decide to do it that way.

Best Things to Do in Maafushi

Being the most popular of the non-resort island, there’s probably more to do on and around Maafushi than any other island.

Bikini Beach

Bikini Beach on Maafushi is on the northwest corner of the island. It’s marked out by two breakwaters made from large rocks. The breakwaters provide a shallow, warm pool area in the sea, perfect for bathing. There are stalls nearby selling fruit smoothies and king coconuts.

There’s also another beach, which is often quieter, next to Bikini Beach to the northeast called Arena Beach.

Sunset Near Port

The breakwater surrounding the harbor is a popular place to watch the sun go down. You can spot lots of fish from here, and keep your eyes peeled for rays swimming around in the port.

Snorkeling Trips and Excursions

There’s almost too much choice in terms of day trips in Maafushi. But each of the companies do similar trips, for similar prices so there’s probably not a lot of difference. We went on a couple of trips with iCom Tours as they had good reviews and seemed to be professional.

The nurse shark & stingray trip is one you have to do, unless you’re squeamish. You actually get in the water with the nurse sharks and a whole school of these gentle giants surround you in the water.

You take it in turns getting in to keep it organized, and they film footage of you on a GoPro. If you’re a competent swimmer and listen to instructions, they’ll also let you go off on your own to snorkel with them.

Another trip we loved was to Gulhi Island with some reef stops. We saw loads of turtles at a reef drop-off, and many species of fish. Then finished the day at a secluded beach with a delicious biryani that was included.

Finally, if you did want to experience the overwater bungalow resorts, you can do day trips from Maafushi to some of them. But despite being cheaper than staying at a resort, they are on the expensive side, so not strictly a budget activity.

Renee’s Coral Garden

You can find Renee’s Coral Garden around 200m from the shore at Sunrise Beach on the northeast side of the island.

There is a pin showing its location on Google Maps, although unless you take your phone with you, this might not be that helpful in the water. To locate it, swim directly east from the shore, past a vast area of sea grass.

A man-made coral garden of frames with young coral growing and a large school of silver fish

The visibility can be quite bad at first as it’s shallow and sandy, but after a while, you should start to see more clearly. Continue over an open expanse of sand and suddenly the corals and marine life will come into view.

There are many artificially created reefs dotted around, and a bewildering array of animals. Within a few minutes of being there we had seen a lionfish, pufferfish, wrasse, butterfly fish, and many large shoals of other tropical fish.

Water Activities

A couple kayaking on a yellow kayak with yellow oars at sunset

There are a few places that run water activities on Maafushi, we went with Active Watersports. They offer parasailing, jet skis, sea kayaks, and a fun tube!

They do packages which make it much cheaper per activity, so we went with all four, of course. The parasailing was an amazing experience, and they film you on a drone, so you get to take away incredible footage as well as an unforgettable memory.

Tip: Book the parasailing for sunset for an extra special experience.

Moonlight Bar

A group of men in traditional Maldivian dresses performing a local dance at a beach club

The one downside to the Maldives is there isn’t as much to do in the evenings as most destinations. But that’s not the case on Maafushi thanks to the Moonlight Bar.

The Moonlight Bar has live music at 8pm every night from solo guitarists to a big, local group that sing and dance in traditional Maldivian style. They serve the best smoothies, as well as mocktails, and milkshakes. Plus, they serve food, but if you do decide to eat here, it’s probably best to go before the entertainment starts.

Boat Bar

The Boat Bar or Floating Bar is a huge boat anchored off the shore of Maafushi. Unlike the island itself, they’re allowed to sell alcohol because it’s offshore.

To get there, you need to get a small boat from the Maafushi harbor out to the boat. We found the best way was to just ask around at the harbor.

On the boat they serve beers, wine, and spirits, and they have a DJ. It was very quiet when we went so wasn’t as enjoyable, plus it was quite expensive at around $6-10 for a drink.

Where to Stay in Maafushi

We stayed at Narnia Maldives, which is in a great, central location and has spacious rooms. Breakfast is included, although it’s not great if you don’t eat meat or eggs. A double room cost us around $80 per night.

Where to Eat in Maafushi

Our favorite place to eat on Maafushi is an Indian restaurant which we can’t remember the name of! Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have been added to Google Maps.

It wasn’t far from the Moonlight Bar, maybe only 30 yards north, and we don’t recall there being any other restaurants between the two. They have a large sandy area with seating outside and they often sell coconuts from a small outbuilding. So, hopefully that’s enough information to find it.


Dhigurah was the more luxurious and expensive of the islands. That’s not to say it costs a lot, but it had a more upmarket vibe than Thulusdhoo and Maafushi.

Getting to Dhigurah

From Male’s airport (Velana International Airport), you need to get the airport ferry. The airport ferry runs every 10 minutes during the day and costs around $1. You can buy the ticket from a little booth in front of the airport, near the dock. The ferry departs just in front of this booth.

A tanned couple in beachwear smile as they're transported on the back of a small minivan along a sandy trail

Again, you need to get the local ferry from Maafushi to Male, which runs in the morning for $3 per person. We believe it was around 7:30am but you can confirm with your guesthouse.

In order to book the speedboat from Male to Dhigurah, you can contact the place you’re staying in Dhigurah to help you. We stayed at Bliss Dhigurah and can’t recommend them enough. They contacted us as soon as we booked and asked about our travel plans.

Best Things to Do in Dhigurah

Dhigurah is our favorite of the three islands because it was a lot quieter and had the best restaurants.

Bikini Beach

Another island, another Bikini Beach! This one is on the west coast of the island. The beach is so long, you can have an enormous stretch of it to yourselves. The water is crystal clear and warm, and the backdrop of palms provides natural beauty and some much-needed shade.

Jungle Walk

A girl walking through the jungle on Dhigurah

This is a beautiful walk at the southern end of the island, through gigantic palms, and other tropical trees. The cool shade under the canopy is a welcome break from the midday sun. Also, don’t forget to look out for tree swings.

Sandbank to the South

The sandbank on the southern end of the island is a pure slice of paradise. Warm, turquoise water lapping at the shore, white sand, the view of the palm tree jungle, and not another soul around (at least that was the case for us).

A couple running on a bright white sandbank with clear turquoise sea

It actually leads to a LUX resort which you can see to the far south, but most people staying at those probably don’t leave the resort.

If you have a drone, they were made for this kind of natural phenomenon, so be sure to bring it with you. Just remember you’ll have to land it in hand as there’s only sand around, so it’s good to practice before you get here.

Snorkeling Trips – Whale Sharks and Mantas

The number one thing to see from Dhigurah surely has to be the largest fish in the ocean, whale sharks. These docile giants can reach nearly 60 feet (18 meters)!

Unfortunately, luck was not with us on the day we went as we didn’t catch a glimpse of one all day. But we had an amazing day anyway as while we were searching, we came across two enormous manta rays. We got to swim with these graceful creatures for a while and it was a highlight of the trip.

We also saw dolphins from the boat which was a bonus!

Where to Stay in Dhigurah

As mentioned, we stayed at Bliss Dhigurah and would 100% recommend them. The level of service was exceptional, the chic restaurant served delicious food, and the room was lovely. They have a rooftop where you can sit with a great view of the canopy.

It was on the pricier end at about $200 per night, but we felt it was worth it. There are cheaper options available nearby to keep to a smaller budget.

Where to Eat in Dhigurah

A breakfast plate with bowl of muesli, toast, coffee served on a rustic wooden table

Dhigurah has a few great restaurants, firstly the restaurant in Bliss itself called Hermit’s. We had breakfast here each morning and then went out for food in the evenings.

If you like Thai food, you must go to Absolute Thai. The green curry and pad thai were excellent. Malaveli Restaurant has a nice seating area on the roof, and they serve European food as well as some local dishes. Then finally, UFA Kitchen, which had a lovely seating area surrounded by plants, trees, and fairy lights. Perfect for a romantic evening meal!

Cheap Flights to Maldives

Possibly the best option we know of is aimed at people located in the UK. With certain American Express cards in the UK, you can build up Avios points, which can be used with British Airways to book flights, upgrade cabins, and more. But the best use of them is surely the companion voucher.

BA Companion Voucher

To unlock a BA companion voucher, you must spend a certain amount of money on the credit card during a year. This differs depending on what card you have but will often be £10,000. We use the card for everything we possibly can during a year like booking flights, accommodation, shopping, subscriptions, eating out… you get the picture. So, we naturally hit this every year.

What the BA companion voucher allows you to do is to use Avios points to book a flight and a companion can fly with you completely free. Although it’s worth noting, you do still have to pay charges and taxes. Alternatively, if you want to fly solo, you can get your ticket for 50% of the cost.

A view from an airplane window of an atoll of Maldives islands

By using Avios points we’d built up over the years and a companion voucher, we were able to book return flights from London Heathrow to Male for both of us, for a grand total of £300 ($370).

Just to put it in perspective, the average price of these flights would be around £750-£900 ($910-$1,095) each, or £1,500-£1,800 ($1,820-$2,190) total.

Meaning we saved as much as £1,500 ($1,820)!

Split Journey

If the BA companion voucher isn’t an option for you, then fear not, there are still some reasonably priced options out there. When searching for direct flights from the UK or Europe to Male, the costs can be very high. Even with one-stop options, you still can’t always get the best deal. This means that sometimes it’s better to manually split your journey.

Some of the best options we’ve seen involve booking separate flights to Colombo in Sri Lanka or Abu Dhabi in the UAE, and then another on to Maldives. For example, the screenshots of prices below show you could book 4 singles, London -> Abu Dhabi -> Male -> Abu Dhabi -> London, for $308 (£255) per person, what a steal!

These flights do use more budget airlines, so of course it will cost more if you need extra luggage or prefer to fly in style.

Final Thoughts on a Budget Maldives Trip

We hope we’ve proved it’s easy to put together a cheap Maldives trip. It’s still not the cheapest of locations; mainland Asia has many great beach destinations for a fraction of the price. But it doesn’t need to break the bank, and in our opinion is worth splashing out a little.

If you’re hoping to do it on an even tighter budget, that’s also possible. You can save more by staying in cheaper accommodation and spending more days at the beach and snorkeling locally instead of doing excursions.

Maldives on a Budget – A 2-Week Itinerary

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