The Maldives are known for their pristine, clear waters and irresistibly soft sandy beaches. Filled with picturesque golden sunsets, diving in the amazing deep blue, snorkelling with myriads of adorable fishes, water sport activities, relaxing and soporific spa treatments – a world of fun and adventure await you in this wonderful, paradisaical archipelago. It is the ultimate dreamland of all bright-eyed and eager travellers.
However, the Maldives are also associated with gorgeous but expensive resorts and costly transportation fees.
But now, with the advent of the new Maldivian Tourism Act in 2009, guest houses have been popping up regularly on local islands, providing affordable accommodation services that anyone can have access to. This means that anyone who wishes to travel in the US$500 – US$1000 range, or even less.
Guest houses are accommodations for tourists and travellers in the form of, typically, a bed and breakfast business style. Their rooms usually consist of a bedroom and an adjoining bathroom.
Some guest rooms include a balcony, some are windowless, and some come with a sea view; the varieties of rooms offered by the private guest houses are broad-ranged. Some guest houses come in the form of apartments, with a common lounge outside the room and cooking amenities, while others may be designed in semblance of a college hostel, with rooms flanking a single corridor.
Depending on which island your choice guest house is situated on, your transportation means will also differ. Speedboats and Dhoni (the traditional Maldivian boat design) ferries are the main transfer means between the islands, but for some places, a sea plane transfer might be required. Sea plane transfers do cost a lot though, and it is advisable to avoid it if you are trying to save expenses.
When it comes to visiting the Maldives, the mainstream resort vacations are the first thought, but once you know about the benefits of staying in a guest house, you might start thinking twice about it.
Below are 5 reasons to get you excited about coming to the Maldives, in spite of being on a budget:
1. They are cheap.
A night at a resort of decent standards will set you back at least US$500, while a five-star luxury resort may cost about US$1000+ for a room in high season. Search up guest houses in Booking.com or TripAdvisor.com and you will find that the room rates for guest houses are all below US$150 per night.
The cheapest rooms can cost you as low as $20 a night, although I do suggest such rooms with caution, mainly due to the quality of service and reliability (you really get what you pay for).
Boat transfers are also generally cheaper, costing about US$40 a ride when resorts charge US$100 – US$200 for a round trip. If you don’t mind longer journeys, you can even get a ferry transfer at less than US$5, which is the rough rate for locals. Many third-party transfer services on local islands offer these boat trips.
Food and beverages are also far cheaper, sitting in the comfortable price range of US$5 – $10 a meal
(unless you order a lobster or something). Most room rates offer breakfast as part of the room rate, while a select few guest houses offer half board (which provides dinner), and full board (covering all three meals) packages.
Some guest house owners who own their own Dhoni or speedboat even organise their own excursions – a.k.a the snorkeling, cruises and fishing trips – to make things easier for you. If possible, they can also tailor a trip to reefs and destinations of your choice, thus making your trip even more fulfilling.
2. You will have access to the same activities that resorts offer, if not more.
Catering to the adventurous, water sports and dive centres are usually situated near guest houses, and they offer a wide range of water activities.
Taking a snorkel trip out to a beautiful reef teeming with fish life, or a dive at an enchanting thila, or underwater reef, would easily be the highlight of your trip, as well as delving into a sunset dolphin cruise. Those with some luck can also try night fishing, where the fresh catch can be cooked as the night’s meal. Water sport enthusiasts can try their hands on kite surfing or jet skiing.
All such activities will often cost below $50 (except for diving, which may be more expensive depending on your type of dive), and the possibilities of water sports are endless.
3. You will have access to more food choices.
At resorts, you are usually stuck on an island with only one or two international restaurants. This makes it a hit or miss for finding a cuisine that suits your liking.
As guest houses are located on local islands, which usually have numerous guest house, armed with their own restaurants, in the vicinity, you have the luxury of choice. If you feel unsure about the food quality of a new restaurant you’d found, you can always refer to Tripadvisor for help and reviews.
4. You can explore the local culture.
Being situated on a local island means that you will get a better chance of witnessing and experiencing the local culture of the Maldivians. Relax into a joali (a Maldivian hammock), or find old buildings made almost completely of coral skeleton. Watch the boys play soccer in their sandy field (almost all islands have one of their own), or say hello to the children who have just finished their lessons at the local schools.
Try the local snacks and cuisine, including spicy short eats and tasty kothu roshis. Or better yet, learn a few Dhivehi (the Maldivian language) words and phrases, and impress the friendly locals with your language prowess. The possibilities are limitless.
5. You have all the freedom in the world.
As an independent traveller, you would love the freedom to formulate your own extensive itineraries when staying at a guest house, and move around the whole island to explore the local culture. The cherry on top is that you do not have to spend a small fortune.
At resorts, you would have to pay quite an amount for a short stroll around a local island. At a local island, you would get to meet more locals and understand more about their way of life.
You will also get to explore the underwater world more often, as local islands usually have several choices of dive centres to choose from, thus limiting your chance of being unable to dive due to full capacity. With a resort’s diving amenities, you would usually also be charged twice as much for a single dive or snorkel trip – which means less time exploring the seas if you are travelling on a budget.
Or even better, try the spa centres if there are some at the local island where your guest house is located at – they will cost less than half of what you might typically pay at a resort.
In a nutshell
This jewel of the Indian Ocean is no longer exclusive to those who spend much, but to all who wish to step out of their comfort zone. Be prepared drink in a whole new dimension of rich, Maldivian culture, while retaining some of your most essential creature comforts.
You will be able to meet the unique Maldivian culture, revel in the thrills of the water sport activities, swim alongside schools of fish and admire more sunsets than you can ever imagine when you stay on the guest houses of local islands.
Who needs luxury when you can have the same joy, and more, without it?