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Budget Traveler’s Guide to the Maldives: Maafushi Island

In the Maldives, there are approximately 1200 idyllic islands, grouped into a double chain of 26 atolls. They spread over a huge 90,000 square kilometre patch of prime Indian Ocean real estate. Live coral reefs, blindingly white deserted sandbars, and devastating blue-green waters make up one of the world’s most naturally blessed countries.

graphic

Until recently, a visit to this island paradise was off-limits to budget travellers, and it seems that most people have yet to realize that a trip to the Maldives can now be done affordably and independently, by visiting any of the country’s local islands.

But what if I told you that you could visit the Maldives for less than $100 per day? That transport to one of the country’s mesmerizing islands can cost as little as $2? that meals can be had for less than $10? and that even day long excursions can be done for less than $50?

Would you book yourself a flight just as fast as you can? We sure did, and ended up on lovely little Maafushi.

What’s Maafushi Like
At just 1.3 kilometres long, and 250 metres wide, Maafushi is tiny. When standing in the middle of the island, it’s literally possible to see both the east and west coasts of the island, without taking a single step. Surprisingly, even though the coasts are in such close proximity, they have a completely different feeling and character.

The pier, bikini beach and most of the bigger hotels, are located on Maafushi’s East Coast. The West Coast is less developed, dotted with homestay style guesthouses and the locals beach. Tourists can still visit the locals beach, but you must swim in t-shirt and shorts and respect the local Muslim customs.

On the southern tip of the island, there’s a maximum security prison, but you won’t be spending much time there (I hope). You’ll be spending all your time on the north-eastern tip of Maafushi, where the tourist or bikini beach is located. Blocked off by a wooden fence, this is the ONLY area of the island, where you are free to wander around shirtless or in a bikini.

That’s not to say that the island is uptight. It’s completely okay to walk around in shorts and a tank top, or a summer dress. Most of the visitors to the island were, with the locals not even blinking an eye.

What to Expect
Since Maafushi is a local island where people actually live, there are no over-water bungalows, luxurious spas or high-end restaurants. There’s no individual butlers assigned to see to your every need, or fancy cocktail bars to have a drink. In fact, there’s no alcohol on the island at all.

Instead, you’ll see residents going about their daily business – praying at the mosque, meeting over coffee, or playing soccer. You’ll be surprised by the fact that someone actually owns a car and joyrides around the tiny island every night. You’ll see mothers and their children, fully clothed, and enjoying a dip in the pristine waters. You’ll get a sense of what real life is like for most Maldivians, and not just the vacation brochure version that we’re used to seeing.

Not to worry though, that’s there too. The white sand beaches, swaying palm trees and sparkling blue-green ocean of your dreams is on Maafushi in abundance.

Every day, for 12 days straight, we’d take the short stroll over to the bikini beach, plop ourselves onto a vacant beach chair, hammock or stretch of sand, and stare in awe at the irrefutable beauty of the ocean. Constantly changing, shifting, and crystal clear, we never tired of looking at it.

Gorgeous ocean, white sand, palm trees, hammock.. Check!

Gorgeous ocean, white sand, palm trees, hammock.. Check!

When the fever of the sun threatened to overwhelm us, a quick dip in the calm cerulean sea revived us. An oceanside fruit juice and meal of pineapple fried rice fortified us for the next few hours. A pod of wild dolphins frolicking in the distance provided one day’s entertainment.

Every other evening (the ones where Agri wasn’t playing soccer with the local boys), we sat on the beach, munched on Maldivian short eats, and watched one glorious sunset after another.

It’s as close to paradise as you expect it to be. And the best part…is that it doesn’t cost nearly what you thought it would…

Coming up: Daytrips and excursions from Maafushi, how to get between islands, where to stay and what to eat…

Is there anywhere you’ve longed to visit that seemed beyond your reach? What places are on your dream travel wish list?

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29 Comments Post a comment
  1. Alright, I put this definitely on my list for future travels! Thank you so much for the guide, will help us a lot I believe.
    It is always funny to see that in Muslim countries/’places they don’t have alcohol or sell it because once you get closer with some locals it often happens that they invite you for some drinks. I don’t know if it’s normal but I and many friends had this kind of experience Over the years. Sure it is forbidden for Muslims but in the end not all take it too seriously πŸ™‚

    September 16, 2015
    • Lol, I have a lot of Muslim friends that fit exactly into that category. No real “haram” there. πŸ˜‰ I will say though, that there really was no alcohol on Maafushi – maybe because it’s easy to manage and block in the middle of the ocean? There’s a floating bar a little ways away from the island, where you could go and have a beer if you’re really desperate though. AND there was definitely…um…”other stuff” available…if you were so inclined.

      September 16, 2015
      • Well I wouldn’t be so desperate for a beer anyways when I can enjoy such great place πŸ™‚

        September 17, 2015
  2. It’s so great to hear that it’s possible to travel there on a budget. I’m really really want to go! Maafushi Island actually sounds really interesting. Is it bad that I had no idea it was Muslim? I suppose after spending so long in Jakarta I would feel right at home there πŸ™‚ Gosh, and those beaches looks stunning…

    September 16, 2015
    • The beaches there were the best I’ve ever seen…everything you imagine the Maldives will be! You definitely have to go! We actually wanted to go to a few islands – Maafushi and Thoddoo, north of Male – but of course, were a bit limited by the pregnancy. Maafushi is the most developed for sure, but I think there’s a lot of local islands to check out, all with different vibes. πŸ™‚

      September 16, 2015
  3. Maafushi is a paradise! In fact you had great holiday -beach holiday combined with the locals cultural – daily life happening in Maldives – something that perhaps would difficult to see in resort only islands…

    September 19, 2015
    • We actually visited a resort island on a day trip, and it was virtually impossible to interact with locals and get any sense of their real lives. Everyone on the resorts was hired from other countries – usually Bangladesh or Sri Lanka – and even with them there was little contact outside of a service capacity. No, we definitely preferred Maafushi. It had the beauty of the beach and water AND access to local culture…and for much cheaper too! πŸ™‚

      September 20, 2015
      • That’s excellent! I will put Maafushi as an island to visit when in Maldives, I’d prefer to have interaction with the locals. Brilliant idea and thanks so much for sharing this!!

        September 20, 2015
  4. What amazing sunsets! I’d never get tired of looking out at that ocean.

    September 21, 2015
    • I felt exactly the same! I stared at that ocean every single day, and never got bored of it’s beauty. It really was beyond gorgeous! πŸ™‚

      September 21, 2015
  5. You’re tempting me to consider a trip – I researched the Maldives in 2013 and made my peace with the fact that I’d never be able to afford a visit. Now I suddenly have options. πŸ™‚

    October 4, 2015
    • You definitely do! And it’s totally worth it. I’d love to go back and check out some of the other local islands. There are so many of them with guesthouses now! πŸ™‚

      October 8, 2015
  6. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful post, Shelley πŸ™‚

    I really missed a great opportunity to travel to Maldives a few years back 😦

    Now, I feel like, exploring this beautiful place with my family πŸ™‚

    October 24, 2015
    • Hi Sreejith! Yes, you definitely must go. It’s really one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’m sure you would come away from your trip with the most wonderful photos! πŸ˜€

      October 31, 2015
  7. kpilz #

    Nice post Shelly, I am glad you enjoyed Maafushi. One of your readers made the point that when it comes to alcohol Muslims do tend to break the rules. That’s true for many Maldivians also – those who do drink, do so on holiday in Sri Lanka or anywhere else – but having lived there for the last year, I’d like to point out that it is virtually impossible to get your hands on alcohol anywhere outside of a resort or the airport bar. But don’t let that spoil your holiday πŸ™‚

    December 1, 2015
    • Thank you! Wow lucky you, having lived in the Maldives for the last year! πŸ™‚ Yes I have a lot of Muslim friends that def break the “rules.” There was literally not a drop of alcohol to be found on Maafushi, except for on the bar boat for tourists anchored out in the sea. No matter though…I don’t drink anyways, and my hubby definitely didn’t need it when we were surrounded by so much beauty. πŸ˜€

      December 7, 2015
  8. Tracey Nicholson #

    Loved your account of your trip to Maafushi. We. Are going in 4 weeks (and 6 days!) staying at the Kaani Village and Spa for 9 days then on to Huraa for 7 more. Can’t wait and can completely relate to your preference for an inhabited island rather than a resort, although we may have a trip to one sometime.
    How easy was it to get cash out if needed? Were there any ATMs near by…just in case? Anything you would advise/recommend? Must see places?
    Beautiful pictures by the way.

    February 13, 2016
    • Hi Tracey. OMG I’m jealous! What I would give to go back there again! πŸ™‚ We also stayed at Kaani Village for a portion of our time, and then moved to a little home stay on the other side of the island for the rest. Kaani was nice, but def don’t book tours through them. Significantly more expensive than other places. Regarding ATM – there are none on Maafushi. But it’s easy to deal with. Just carry enough US$ and get some ruffiya from the airport before you leave. The exchange rate is essentially equal, and the islands will accept and make change with you with whatever currency you have available. Make sure you keep the receipt from your exchange or you won’t be able to exchange your leftovers back when you return…

      I was going to write a few more posts about our time in Maafushi – where to eat, etc…etc…but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Feel free to shoot me an email through the Connect Form at the top…and I can give you some more tips! Enjoy your trip!!! It’ll be amazing! πŸ˜€

      February 14, 2016
  9. Sarah @ Expat of the World #

    Hey, I’ve just found your blog! I was living in Maldives, so I’m sooo happy you had such a lovely visit! I like your writing style too- glad I found you!

    April 23, 2016
    • OMG! You’re so lucky to have lived there! I’m not sure that I could live there forever, but a few years, no problem! Tell me though…do the beaches get mundane after awhile? πŸ˜‰

      April 23, 2016
      • Sarah @ Expat of the World #

        Haha absolutely not!! πŸ™‚

        April 23, 2016
  10. phillip locky #

    hello Shelley and Sarah, I’m going to Maarfushi from jan 9 2017 to feb 4, to say I’m looking forward to it is an understatement, i have always been fascinated by the Maldives, and have always wanted to go and visit them…from someone who has never gone any further east from the UK than Israel….. as a fidget arse…lol, I will have to readjust I suppose….relaxation is not second nature to me, sadly I’m travelling solo…divorce….and Maarfushi just sounded perfect, ok the lack of alcohol apart from the moored yacht was a shock…after I had booked my stay…..lol, looking forward to swimming , fishing and a bit of sunbathing, I will take trips to local islands to get that more western day out, so thanks for the info and pics on these pages , will report back in Feb 2017, and any good tips would be appreciated from you all…thanks in advance.

    December 2, 2016
    • Hi Phillip, well Maafushi is certainly a great place to relax, but I think a whole month there might be a bit much. The island is VERY small. You could definitely island hop to a bunch of different local islands though and take day trips. There’s a lot available. If you do get a serious case of beach fatigue (which I didn’t think was possible, but actually experienced after 12 days straight on Maafushi), you could always pop on a plane and take a little side trip over to Sri Lanka. Lots to see and do there. Enjoy your time. The Maldives is like no other place on earth. πŸ™‚

      December 6, 2016
      • phillip locky #

        thank you for replying Shelley, I’m going to have a look at the flight price from male to sri lanka.

        December 20, 2016
        • You could also check out flight to Kuala Lumpur and then head into Thailand. If you’ve never been, it’s a great country to have some fun, lounge around on beautiful beaches and eat amazing food at an incredible house.

          December 21, 2016
  11. Efrat #

    Please take it off! It will make things there bad… please!!!!

    February 5, 2017
    • What will makes things bad there? Tourism? I think it’s too late Efrat…Maafushi was the absolute most developed island for independent tourism in the entire Maldives…

      February 6, 2017

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  1. Travel-Stained Monthly Recap: September 2015 | Travel-Stained
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