The Maldives has always been on my bucket list. The idyllic images that populate the internet and travel magazines, as well as the waves, of course, always made me dream of this destination.
However, the prices for visiting the Maldivian islands have never been appealing. Until not so long ago, the only way to visit the Maldives was to stay in a luxury resort, and although I don’t dislike a little bit of luxury in life (who doesn’t?), my wallet could never afford stays of thousands of euros.
But things changed, and suddenly more offerings began to appear on the local islands. Yes, we don’t have the room over the sea, an infinity pool or a slide that ends in turquoise waters, but the experience of staying on a local island provides everything the Maldives has to offer and, for me, it’s preferable to get a more genuine experience of the country.
In this article, I will show you my nine-day trip to the Maldives. You will learn how I managed to live (and well) in a destination considered to be luxurious, without having to spend a lot of money; where to sleep and eat; the activities you can do; the waves you can surf, etc. All accompanied with tips and the amounts I spent.
Let’s get to it!
But, after all, where are the Maldives?
The Maldives is one of the smallest countries in the world, consisting of a collection of about 1200 islands… yes, you read that right, 1200 small islands and sandbanks (hundreds of them uninhabited) that form several atolls.
The Maldives is 820 km long, from north to south, and is close to India and Sri Lanka.
With the capital Malé, the Maldives is probably the flattest country in the world, and its total population is around 540,000 people, the vast majority of whom are faithful to the Muslim religion.
Getting to the Maldives and traveling there
By plane, of course! There are several ways to get to the Maldives by air transport. In my case, I chose to travel with Emirates with a stopover in Dubai. It was 7h30 between Lisbon and Dubai, a stop of about three hours at the airport, followed by another 4h00 flight to the capital Malé.
The trip cost 800 euros. I could have spent less money, but I really like traveling with Emirates, since the tourist class offers comfort and the food onboard is also great. Not to mention that they consider the transport of surfboards in the standard allowance, which means that if you don’t exceed the weight of a conventional bag, you don’t need to pay extra for that.
What to do on a long stopover at the airport?
Facing stopovers for a few hours at the airport is natural if we try to get cheaper flights. But getting “stuck” at the airport doesn’t have to be a nightmare. There are a few things we can do, depending on the airport, of course.
- Buy a book and catch up on some reading. It’s always a great option to occupy the time;
- Catch up on your sleep, if the flight is at night;
- Go to the airline lounge if you’re traveling business class. Even if you travel in tourist class, some companies allow you to use the lounge for an extra fee;
- Look for another travel magnet to add to your fridge collection;
- Get a massage. Many airports now have dedicated spaces;
- Have a decent meal… but don’t do it in Dubai if you don’t want to leave half of your travel budget there!
Once we arrive in Malé, it all depends on where we are staying. The luxury resorts in the Maldives have seaplanes that pick guests up from the international airport and take them to the desired island.
In my case, the option was the boat. To go to Thulusdhoo, the island where I stayed, I took a fast boat organized by the hotel, which took a few other locals and me.
The cost of the seaplane transfer is usually included in the amount you pay for your stay at the resort. In my case, I spent 25 euros to arrive and another 25 euros to leave the island at the end of the trip.
Once on the desired island, getting around is mainly done by bike or motorcycle and on foot, since they are small. However, be aware that there are no inter-island roads, so any trip off the island where you are, is done by boat.
Travel to the Maldives in pandemic times
If all goes well, you are reading this post in a time where the pandemic is history! But if not, you have to inquire with the Maldives Embassy or Tourism Board about the procedures for entering and leaving the country.
In my case, the country was open to tourism and foreigners, but there were some formalities to consider.
Before traveling, I had to take a PCR test 72 hours in advance, confirm the yellow fever vaccination, and have a stay booked. Data regarding these three things are included in the form that we have to fill out online, the IMUGA. I also had to present proof (including the IMUG QR code) at check-in, and the IMUGA is also requested at immigration upon arrival and a valid passport, of course.
When leaving the Maldives, I had to do another PCR test (the hotel organized everything) and fill out a form for Portugal, but I think each country will have its own procedures.
It’s not mandatory, but I recommend 100%: take travel insurance! Whether you’re surfing or snorkeling, in the Maldives, accidents can happen, either falling on rocks or slipping on a boat. And although the country has a low rate of COVID cases, we are not exempt from catching it.
For travel insurance, I recommend the one from IATI, which has all covers (including COVID), at one of the lowest values in the market. And if you book through this link (or the banner below), you also get a 5% discount for being a Marlene On The Move reader.
I have never heard of Thulusdhoo
If you are thinking that, believe me, neither have I until this trip. It was a couple of friends who brought this Maldivian island to my attention. And I’m glad they did!
Thulusdhoo is about 35 minutes by boat from the airport in Kaafu Atoll and is a small island that can be visited in a few hours.
Fun fact: it’s the Coca Cola island! It’s so-called because it is home to the Maldives Coca Cola factory, the primary (and only) industry in Thulusdhoo. Well, this is not counting the tourism industry, of course.
Talking to a resident I met on this trip, she told me that at one time, Thulusdhoo lived off the textile industry. There were clothing manufacturing factories on the island that produced for all of the Maldives and even for export, but over time they closed down.
Today Thulusdhoo lives on tourism, mainly that linked to surfing, since on the island there is one of the best waves in the Maldives – called Cokes, because of the factory – and it is within a short distance of other well-known ones, such as Chickens (on the island right next door), Ninjas, Sultans and Jailbreaks.
There is little else in Thulusdhoo besides a few hotels and hostels, restaurants and surf and dive businesses, but the small town seems to have everything you need: a few small markets, two mosques and a school.
The harbour is another place with some movement, either by boats bringing in and out tourists or locals working off the island or by ships bringing in supplies needed by the population since no food is produced there.
Where to stay in Thulusdhoo
Contrary to what you were expecting, there are several places to stay in Thulusdhoo, from the hotel next to the beach, to lodging a few streets further inland. Apart from the hotels, I also saw some more modest accommodations for those on a lower budget.
In my case, I chose to stay at the Canopus Retreat Thulusdhoo, a four-star hotel right on the beach (really!) and in front of the Cokes wave. In fact, I paid a little extra to be able to see the wave from my balcony, and it was well worth it!
In total, I spent for eight nights, for two persons, a little over 800 euros. It may seem like a lot of money for such a short time, but the truth is that in Portugal you can easily pay that amount for a nicer hotel, not to mention that the price can be higher if you are talking about the Algarve in high season. So I didn’t find it expensive at all for a hotel, just a stone’s throw from the beach and an incredible lagoon, with breakfast and a view of the best wave in the Maldives. In fact, as it was my birthday during my stay, I also had a birthday dinner, with cake and congratulations sung by all the hotel staff, which was spectacular from day one!
The Canopus Retreat is, without a doubt, my recommendation. But so that you can make a choice more according to your taste and budget, I leave here some of the accommodations in Thulusdoo:
- Canopus Retreat Thulusdhoo – Where I stayed and the one I recommend.
- Samura Maldives Guest House – Right next to Canopus, I think it will be my next stay to try!
- Season Paradise – The only one I know of that has a rooftop pool, but to tell you the truth, with that sea, who needs a pool.
- Reef Edge – On the same coastline as Canopus and Samura.
Thulusdhoo is a Muslim island, so there must be some coyness when dressing, especially the women. I didn’t feel that I had to wear pants with sleeves all the time, but tiny shorts and tops or mini dresses are not advised. The island also has a beach area called Bikini Beach, where tourists can walk around in bikinis and swimsuits. It is actually the area where the hotels are, so it does not cause many inconveniences.
And what is the food like?
Surprisingly enough, there are several options to eat in Thulusdhoo, from international food to local dishes.
Canopus has a restaurant that serves Italian food, with delicious pizza and a braised tuna to die for.
Another of my choices during this trip was Byoni, a very local restaurant/cafe with more regional dishes, such as nasi goreng or curry. I went there several times because the variety of dishes was huge and the prices much more attractive.
But for vegetarians, there’s also an option. The Sandbar has a wonderful veggie dish and some grilled shrimp that make you want to come back.
Finally, Indulge is perfect for a light lunch after surfing or a snorkeling session, with amazing sandwiches and fantastic acai bowls.
“What about prices?” you are thinking. Nothing out of the ordinary! For example, a pizza at Canopus costs $9, a curry at Byoni is $5 (but the rice is paid separately) and a veggie plate at The Sandbar is $7. Indulge in the one with more “European” values, with an acai bowl for $10… but it’s excellent!
While we’re on the subject of dollars.
On the island, the values are in dollars, and the local currency, the Maldivian rupiah, and the stores, hotels and restaurants accept payment in both formats.
My advice is to change your money to rupees as soon as you arrive at the airport since if you pay on the island with dollars or euros, you will always receive your change in the local currency.
If you’re planning to pay by credit card, most places will charge you an extra fee.
But let’s get to the point: what can I do on the island?
The images we are used to seeing of the Maldives vary little more than luxury resorts or diving… the truth is that in a country consisting of islands and an endless sea, water is inevitably at the center of attention of any trip to this land.
Thus, water activities are undoubtedly the forte of the things to do here. Surfing, snorkeling and diving fill the days in the Maldives. The waves are incredible, and the diving is unforgettable. In few places in the world, is there such clarity that allows for an unprecedented level of visibility underwater. Not to mention the richness of the marine life.
On the island of Thulusdhoo (and I believe in most of the others), there are also other things you can do, such as walking and cycling – I advise against this during the hottest hours of the day -, letting out your photographic skills, bathing in the lagoons, or just socializing with the Maldivians, who are one of the friendliest and most helpful people I have ever met.
All in all, I spent a total of 1700 euros (per person) on this nine-day trip to the Maldives. Could it have been more low cost? It could have. This is if I had chosen a more modest hostel, had stuck to local food, had not bought some souvenirs and pieces of wood for the house, and had not spent money on boat trips for surfing and snorkeling.
However, 1700 euros in an extended week in one of the most expensive luxury destinations in the world doesn’t sound bad at all. 🙂
And you, what do you think about it? Was it a destination you would like to visit one day, or do you think the money was misused?
Comment in the box below. I want to know your opinion!
In summary, some values to keep in mind:
- Plane ticket: €800
- Boat to and from the island: €50
- Hotel: €800 (8 nights/2pax)
- Meal: €10 to €15 (average)
- Boat ride to the waves: €5 to €20 (depends on distance)
- Snorkeling Tour: €20 to €100 (depends on what we want to see and whether lunch is included)
- Covid PCR test: €50
- Bike rental: €5 / hour
A note from Marlene
I made this trip to the Maldives in late September 2021, and the amounts referenced in this post correspond to that date. However, depending on the time and season you visit the country, they may be outdated.