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.
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.
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?