When someone suggests a trip to the Maldives, you'd be forgiven for assuming that between seaplanes, five-star resorts and restaurant monopolies, it would cost a small fortune. But that is a myth. In fact, it is possible to have a budget-friendly break in the tropical island nation. This summer I visited, and five days in paradise cost me less than Dh1,700.
Now, it wasn’t a water villa, butler-on-call, free-flowing-drinks type of holiday, but in or outside a resort, the Maldives still delivers pristine beaches, sensational scuba diving, fresh-from-the-sea dinners and sunsets to die for.
With a budget of Dh1,700, I set about finding a hotel. Instead of going for an all-bells-and-whistles resort, my best friend and I opted for a guest house on a local island called Ukulhas.
As soon as you eschew a fancy hotel for a local island, you cut the vast majority of your Maldives expenses. As it is a Muslim country, only resorts have alcohol licences, so there are no swim-up pool bars to spend your money at. Knowing that we'd be happy spending our days on the beach or in the ocean, picking a guest house on a low-key island worked. Island Home Ukulhas fit the bill perfectly. Set mere metres away from the beach, it seemed almost too good to be true, especially when the Dh680 per person total, for four nights, included all food and soft drinks.
After landing in Male, we took a speedboat to the island. These leave twice a day from the airport for the Alif Alif Atoll. Ukulhas is the second stop.
The boat was one of our bigger splurges on the trip, costing Dh184 each way. There is a cheaper alternative, a four-hour ferry, which travels twice a week and costs Dh18. But the appeal of being on the island in 90 minutes won me over.
As we arrived in the small port, the blue seas, colourful boats and buildings lived up to all of my Maldives expectations. Ukulhas is tiny, about one kilometre long, and a walk around the entire island takes little more than 30 minutes.
It has about 1,000 inhabitants and a handful of small shops. There are also tourist beaches where you can wear swimwear on the sand and in the sea, and our hotel lent out snorkelling equipment free of charge.
My main reason for visiting the Maldives was for the marine life, and those activities often don't come cheap – but we chose to do a manta ray safari for just Dh240. I also went for two dives at the island's own scuba centre, Dive Ukulhas, which cost Dh404, including all equipment and boat fees. This excursion met every expectation possible, and I saw everything from sting rays to lemon sharks, and eels to turtles.
Back at our hotel, we were delighted by the set-up, food-wise. Rather than eating at our six-room property, we were directed to local cafe Celeste's, where we could enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner included in our room-rate, and stop in for snacks and drinks on a whim.
We ate Maldivian curries or freshly grilled catch of the day – prawns, lobster and tuna were all available – feeling pretty proud that we had managed to budget it all in for the price of one night in a nearby hotel.
Disclaimer: flights aren't factored into this budget. I flew directly to Male with Emirates, which cost Dh2,600, but you can fly Indigo from Dubai via Kochi, India, for Dh1,214. Sorted.