You may think that the Maldives is waaaay out of your budget. So did I at first. But it is possible to do within a reasonable budget and without missing the dreamy resort life we all picture when we think of the Maldives. And the beautiful white sand and turquoise water. Of course it's not the typical "budget trip" but all I'm saying is that it can be done! Here's what I did and what I spent in a week in the Maldives.
My budget after a week
One night at Express Inn incl. breakfast on Hulhumale (the airport island) = $30
Two nights at Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort incl. food & flight from the main island = $1020*
Three nights at Seashine incl. breakfast on Huraa Huraa (local island) = $136
One night at Fern Boquote Inn incl. breakfast on Hulhumale (the airport island) = $33
Transport to/from airport with bus and ferries between islands = $25
Food on local islands = $100
Cost per day = $192
Total cost = $1344
*You can find a cheaper resort but I wanted the fancy "honeymoon" experience and stayed in a overwater bungalow with sunset view from the terrace and private infinity pool. If you can do without this, then it's possible to find something cheaper.
Staying at a resort
When I think of the Maldives I think of fancy resorts like the one in the picture above and I HAD to try this. Even for a short time. So to fit it into my budget, I chose one of the most budget-friendly resorts I could find that was still ticking of the boxes on my bucket list, which means that it needed to have a overwater bungalow villa and an infinity pool. If this isn't important for you, you can do it even cheaper (see how much I spent on the local islands in the budget). I love to stay busy on my trips and I knew I didn't need to be at a resort for long. I just wanted enough time to really feel the vibe and I felt that three nights/two half days and one whole was more than enough for me.
If you want to see more of what Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort has to offer, I've made a post about my time their including pictures of the resort. Read it here.
Staying at local islands
This is another way to see the Maldives. You'll still be able too see the white sand and the turquoise water, however, you loose some of the "glam". But the local islands has a lot of charm as well and you get to see how the real Maldivians live. I stayed at the island Huraa Huraa, which is only a 40 minute speedboat ride from Male - the main island.
Another positive aspect is, that everything is a lot cheaper, which provides you with extra money for excursions to sandbanks or snorkeling for sea turtles. If you're not staying at a resort for a part of your trip, then you can go on a day tour from the local island. There's lots of islands that takes you on a day tour to a nearby resort island where you'll be living like a king for a day.
If you choose to go to a local island, remember to bring respectful clothing. Maybe a scarf for your shoulders and dresses or skirts that cover your knees. It's easier with men. Shorts and t-shirts will do just find, however, I've heard that some resorts demand that men wear shirt and pants when eating at their restaurants especially at night.
Which islands should you stay on?
It can be hard finding heads or tales in where to go in the Maldives since it's made of over a thousand islands. There are around 1,190 islands and over 105 resorts! The easiest thing to do is finding an island that's not too far from Male. It will save you lots of money if you can take a speedboat or ferry.
I don't recommend staying in Male. It's very crowded and it's definitely neither the safest or the cleanest island. Most people just use Male to catch a boat or a seaplane. If you need a place to stay for a night before moving on, I recommend staying at the airport island: Hulhumale. Hulhumale is actually very nice and quiet and you get the first glimpse of the white and turquoise beaches.
When visiting local islands you should be aware of the different beaches. The population of the Maldives is 100% muslim and therefore it's important to be respectful on the local islands. Luckily, every island has one or more Bikini Beaches made for tourists. Here you can get your tan on without bothering the locals. There's also the local beaches called either "Local Beach" or "Relax Beach" and on these beaches bathing suit is not allowed.
From the airport it's really easy to take the bus to the ferry to Male or to Hulhumale city for a night to relax before moving on. The bus costs between $2-3 depending on where you are going. To get to Male and the rest of the Maldives, you have to take the ferry. It leaves every 15 minutes and it only costs $1 so generally transport is very easy when you arrive in Hulhumale Airport.
To get to your resort or the local island, they can help you with transportation. Sometimes you won't be able to take a ferry and you will have to find a speedboat or a plane. The hotel can help you with that. We payed $20 for a speedboat from the hotel to get us. The resort was too far away for a boat, so we had to take a domestic flight which we booked through the resort. A representative came and picked us up in Hulhumale Airport and took us all the way to the plane as part of their service. We didn't have plane tickets but the resort representative was sort of our ticket to get on the plane.