Like how a $0.6 ticket to Male presented itself to me one oddly cold October morning. Hubby and I purchased tickets in a heartbeat. And debate followed soon after. Shoestring budget or splurge?
Well, we kinda did both. Though our budget wasn't exactly shoestring-y by Southeast Asia standards and our splurge was limited to only one night in an entry level luxury resort. We dipped our toes in local communities. And wriggled our toes in the surrounding waters of a posh resort as well. The varied experiences helped us gain a well-grounded perception of what Maldives really is. Not just as a tourist destination, but as a nation.
Official Name: Republic of Maldives
Country Code: +960
Maldives Standard Time: +5 hrs GMT
Electricity: 220V, Euro plug
When to go: September to May
Maldives For The Pinoy Backpacker
It would be wise to have a copy of your flight out and proof of sufficient funds (either a confirmed hotel reservation or US$100 + $50 per day in cash). We were not asked for any of these.
Do not attempt to sneak in chicharon. Importing pork products into Maldives is forbidden. Alcohol too.
According to the article Backpackers Invade Exclusive Island Paradise, "Since a reform under the country's first democratically-elected president Mohamed Nasheed in 2009, Maldivians have been allowed to open their own guesthouses on populated islands.". And Sundhara Palace guesthouse in capital city Male which opened September last year was cited as an example. It mentioned a $30 rate for a basic en-suite accommodation per night, but did not indicate if it's per head. Nor if it includes 10% service charge, $8 "bed tax" (charged per guest regardless of age) and Tourism Goods and Services Tax.
Currency: Rufiyaa (15.45 MVR = 1 USD). Dollar bills are widely accepted.
If you're gonna be whisked to a resort upon arrival, withdraw cash at the airport because ATMs are not available on the islands. And if the ATM doesn't dispense small bills, exchange your dollars. You'll need them for tips.
If your destination is the capital, from the airport you could simply walk out of the arrivals hall and head to the public ferry dock. Ferries to Male leave every 10-15 minutes at daytime. Costs $1 and takes 15-20 minutes. Roving cabs in Male's got a flag-down rate of $1.30, and there's a $0.3 charge per bag on top of that.
If you're going to Hulhumalé, there's a public bus which operates on a schedule. Costs only $1, however, only one item of luggage is allowed per person. Public bus can be found to the right of the international arrivals area. No roving cabs there, but your guesthouse could book a pickup service. The minivan will pool guests of various guesthouses at the arrivals so expect to wait.
Transfers to island resorts are arranged by the resorts themselves, and payment may be on top of the accommodation rate. Speedboat transfer's price, of course, depends on the distance. Sometimes on the number of people aboard. A guesthouse in Maafushi gave us a quote of $185 + tax (10% Service charge + 8% TGST) one way for three people. $300 + tax (10% Service charge + 8% TGST) for round trip.
I know, I know. Darn it. Transport's even pricier than the rooms.
There are a few islands that can be reached by passenger ferries. Only costs $2. Ferries service Maafushi (trip takes an hour and half). I believe there's only one trip per day though. And not available on a Friday. They depart/arrive at Villingili Ferry Terminal in Male. Which means if you're coming from the airport, you have to take the ferry from Hulhulé to Male first.
In case you're wondering, seaplane transfers could cost $200 + tax (10% Service charge + 8% TGST + your sanity and/or your soul) one way.
Male's got a great range of restaurants aimed at tourists. Prices aimed at tourists too. At the airport, Burger King (opened June 30 last year) sells meals at $10-$12. Neighbor Thai Express offers dishes that are also priced at $10 (their Pad Thai's pretty good).
Local fast food can be bought from small cafes called hotaa or sai hotaa (teashop). Hotaas serve Maldivian quick bites such as fried samosas (pastry with savory filling) which are locally called bajiyaa, gulha (ball-shaped dumplings made of tuna, flour, coconut, onion and chili), and roshi (Maldivian roti). Meals cost only $1-1.50. Some hotaas also serve unappetizing-but-cheap burgers. Diners share communal tables, so it's the ideal environment to have a chitchat with locals. Similar to India and Sri Lanka, hotaas are dominated by male customers.
Bottle of water is $.50-$1 in Male and Hulhumalé convenience stores.
Tip: Bring bottles of drinking water to resorts if taking speedboat/passenger ferry (luggage weight is checked before boarding seaplanes) cause a bottle of water in an island resort is $4-5!
In island resorts, meals are usually served buffet style. In Eriyadu Island Resort where we stayed for a night, a la carte dishes are not offered in the restaurant. We were charged $30 per person for buffet lunch, a good deal for such resort. I ate tuna in every meal.
Maldivian curry dishes are tongue-numbing, and tastes similar to Sri Lankan curries.
Experiences You Spend Money On
Granting Male's few attractions (Hukuru Miskiiy, National Museum, Republic Square) don't interest you (and you got the spare dough), these might:
Whale Submarine 'dive' for non-divers. Designed and constructed in Karlsrhue, Germany. It can carry fifty passengers to a dive depth of 150 meters. Expensive at $85 for a 45-minute dive (sub is anchored, only goes up and down). But hey, you get to tell people you've ridden a sub! Great for families with kids. Dives in every hour and a half, day and night, starting 9:00 AM 'til 8:00 PM.
Snorkeling and diving at Maafushi (they got three dive centers) in Kaafu Atoll. If you're interested to see stingrays and sharks, ask your hotel/guesthouse in Male for packages.
Night fishing trip — or shall I say fishing lesson — with a local fisherman. Also, whale and dolphin watching.
Day trip to the uninhabited island of Kuda Bandos. Ideal for a romantic picnic. I believe guesthouses in Male and Hulhumalé offer this for about $50 per head. Includes transfers and a bottle of water.
Laze on Male's artificial beach. Or take the passenger ferry to Hulhumalé Island and laze on its own artifical beach. Important: Because there are communities on both islands, women are not allowed to wear bikinis on public beaches. Sorry ladies, no sexy selfies.
If you wish to consume alcohol, the only bar in Maldives that isn't on a safari boat or in an island resort can be found Hulhule Island Hotel on Hulhule Island where the airport is. If you're staying in Male, this means you must take the ferry for a tipple!
Passengers are not allowed inside the departure area until check in counter opens. Ticket is inspected by a guard at the entrance.
There's a left luggage service outside the arrivals area, $5 per bag a day.
Departure taxes are included in the ticket.
Spend your leftover rufiyaa on souvenirs at the airport. A fridge magnet though is $4-5.