Are you dreaming of the Maldives but think you can’t afford it?
Well get excited because you can! This is the first in a series of posts about the Maldives and how you can have an incredible holiday on a budget or in absolute luxury. We’ve tried both and a combination is the perfect way to get to know the country - enjoying incredible luxury and spending time at local villages, supporting the local economy and getting to know local people.
First off, let me introduce you to Thulsdhoo Island where we've just spent six nights for $590 Australian dollars - for all accommodation (one room) food and drinks, snorkel and bike hire and boat trips. Amazing, right?!
Thulusdhoo is a small, local island only 30 minutes by speedboat from the Maldives capital, Male. Flights all land at Male and its a hub of domestic and international flights, seaplane flights and speedboats and ferries to the islands. It's super organised. Your guesthouse or hotel, whether fancy or not, will have someone to meet you when you arrive and guide you to your connecting flight or speedboat. It's so easy.
The island has a small village of coloured houses built with coral. It is so pretty and made even more picturesque by the palm trees that are everywhere - and people just climb up and grab coconuts as needed, and these coconuts are super delish. About 500 people live here, fishing, driving boats and taking tours, working for the government or in small business, or for the resorts close by - or not working and enjoying life, surfing, snorkelling and taking it easy.
Thulusdhoo is said to have the best surf break in the Maldives - it’s just off the northern point and you paddle straight out from the beach (I’m not supposed to tell you that but yes, it’s awesome).
The streets are safe, there are palm trees everywhere and beautiful white beaches with clear water in so many different tones of brilliants blues and blinding white sand.
It is a village island though so there is industry here, and there is a little rubbish too. It’s not a carefully curated resort island but it’s real life in the Maldives and it’s still beautiful - and best of all it’s entirely affordable.
There are lots of hammock style swings all around the island - a woven net strung between a rectangle of bamboo and hanging from trees - and a rocky tsunami break to gaze out at the water and watch mantas and baby sharks.
We lived well here for around $100AUD a day - this is accommodation, meals and the occasional trip to Chicken Island or snorkelling at one of the many spots around the island.
There are other islands that are even cheaper. You can find rooms in Maafushi for $40AUD (much more crowded with tourists) or at Fulhadhoo which looks amazing for $50 a night. Look around and see what you can find. The ferry network is also really easy to navigate and guesthouses help with your transfers, so you can try a few different islands if you like.
Whilst Thulusdhoo is not a known family spot, I think it’s pretty perfect for a budget family stay - especially if anyone in your fam is into surfing. Here’s why:
The beaches :)
There are a few really good beaches on the island - if gorgeous clear and turquoise hues, white sand and sandbanks are what you're after - and there are so many fish around. You can see dolphins playing from the beach and swim with baby sharks, watch manta rays feeding and stare down at a natural aquarium through the crystal clear water. You can also take a boat for a few minutes over to the gorgeous Chicken Island or a day pass to Club Med ($140 pp for lunch, all drinks and activities)
Palm Tree Beach
Down on the south east point is a beautiful white sandbank that stretches out with beautiful blue water on either side. This is where the baby sharks hang out. They’re sandy coloured and hard to see but once you get your eye in you will see them everywhere, and will clearly make out their black tips.
This is a beautiful island just across the channel from Thulusdhoo. You need to take a boat over and can take a packed lunch and stay for the day. It is the perfect Maldivian spot - a quiet island, white sand and gorgeous blue water. There are sharks, dolphins and lots of fish. It has beautiful white sandbars and gorgeous blue water.
At low tide a network of sandbanks stretches out into the distance. Emmie and I were up early to walk out over them and play in the shallow water. You can also wear bikinis when swimming here - as advised by Ana from the guesthouse - as locals don't come down to this beach. It's so much fun walking from one sandbank to the next.
Bikini Beach on the western side is where the beach guesthouses are. They have swings and seats and covered areas to sit and relax in the sun and the beaches are laid out in front of you with the surf break on the right and a reef in front. Down towards the southern end is the beautiful blue water - however boats do pick up and drop off tours here and there's a few moored in the water. But it’s still beautiful and where everyone hangs out in their cossies.
You can pair up a trip to Chicken Island with a snorkelling stop at the Coral Garden. It’s a few minutes from Thulusdhoo and while the corals are not all brightly coloured there are so so many beautiful coloured fish, starfish, soft corals and anemones and a huge drop. You can see turtles here too. It’s pretty amazing. Boat hire to both the Coral Gardens andChicken Island is around $30-$40 - in total for the boat.
Near Bikini Beach is a long pier where you can catch fish in the early morning or afternoon and watch manta rays hanging out in the shallow water. It’s like a natural aquarium, you can stare down at hundreds of fish swimming around below.
Other snorkelling and tours
There are a few other snorkelling spots to take a boat to and you can take dolphin spotting tours as well. Boat hire is around $30 and Chicken Island costs $5 per person to visit. Isola hires snorkel equipment for $1 an hour and free when on a tour organised by the guesthouse.
Accommodation is cheap
There are many guesthouses on the beach or in the streets behind. It’s a small island so you’re always close to the water.
We stayed at Isola Guesthouse where a big double room costs from $49 US plus tax (May to November, up to $70 in season but keep an eye out for specials). Breakfast is included. You can request the Maldivian breakfast - roti with shredded fish, lime and coconut - it is so delicious we ate it for lunch and dinner too - or enjoy fresh fruit, toast and pancakes.
Its a really small guesthouse of only three rooms. So if you have a big family you can book it all out and it’s like having your own home. The rooms are big, there’s aircon and hot water and the beds are huge.
Isola doesn't have a garden but theres a lounge area with TV - English channels - and a sandy outdoor area that winds around the house with an outdoor shower and chairs and tables.
Ameen looks after guests, getting you anything you like and Ana is the organiser - he will take you anywhere and book your boat and snorkelling tours and come with you to make sure it all goes smoothly. Augustine also works at the guesthouse and has a massage room - the only one on the island! They are absolutely lovely people who looked after us so well and we like them so much!
There are quite a few guesthouses on the island. You can find them on Booking.com or AirBNB, or you can do the backpacker thing and book a few nights and then go hunting. Met House is on the beach and looks really nice but it's more expensive, Dream Inn is only $47 per night and has good reviews, and everyone loves Canopus Retreat.
Dhiffushi Island is close by and also a great spot. You can check out all the accommodation options on Kaafy Atoll here - Thulusdhoo and Dhiffushi - this hotel, the Crown Beach Hotel looks unreal and is only $34 a night on special right now. So it's worth looking around and keeping an eye out for specials.
The streets are safe and quiet
There are only a couple of cars here. People mostly get around on pushbikes and I’ve seen a few e-bikes - so the streets are really safe. Emmie and I went on a couple of morning bike rides, and in the afternoons if it rained we jumped in puddles all around the streets.
We felt entirely safe on the island - from leaving bags on the beach to Emmie running around. It’s a good place.
Wifi reception is awesome
We used the guesthouses wifi and I also bought a data SIM from the airport for US$20 that gave me 4G and lots of credit. Both gave me great access on my phone and I used guesthouse wifi on my computer and Em on her ipad. We've stayed at three places in the Maldives so far and wifi has been great at all of them.
Food is cheap and delicious.
We ate at Isola, feasting on fresh fish and salad ($5), curries ($4) and western meals like spag bol ($3) and grilled chicken, chips and salad ($5). There are lots of local restaurants around the island and a pizza place, and corner stores sell all the goods like Magnums, chips and biscuits and staples for meals as well.
Children’s play area
There is a huge children’s outdoor play park at the southern end of the island, a short ride down from the guesthouse. It has lots of play equipment, a climbing wall, swings and slides. They;re very strict...I was told 'children only' when I tried to chase Emmie up the stairs during a game of tip. Oops.
Locals give surf lessons and you can also organise them through the guesthouse.
Alcohol and clothing.
The Maldives is a Muslim country and and Islam is the only practiced religion. When staying on local islands guests need to observe respectful practices. This includes dressing modestly - covered thighs and singlets or t-shirts for women - and not drinking alcohol. The only places the Maldives where you can drink alcohol freely is in resorts. Bikini Beach is where guests can swim freely in bikinis although we were told by locals it is okay swim in cosies in deserted parts of the island where there aren't any locals like the palm tree beach and other little hidden spots.
Take the speedboat from Male for $35 per person each way - it takes about half an hour.
You can also check out AirBNB for houses and guesthouses, and the links above - which are affiliate links so if you use them I get a little return at no cost to you.
There aren't any ATMs on the island but you can generally pay with card if needed, although this is not guaranteed. Take money out from the ATM at Male airport (use the middle machine, your card won't work to withdraw US dollars in the other machines unless you're a bank customer). It's down near the Maldivian Airlines check in counters. The currency is rufiyaa but US dollars are generally accepted too.
If you have any questions please let me know in the comments and I’ll get the answers for you.