Muslim-Friendly Holiday In The Maldives On a £1500 Budget
The Maldives is an extraordinarily beautiful country I cannot fully describe with words, and pictures don’t do it justice. It was definitely one of the most memorable times of our lives and will be in my heart for a long time. The phenomenal views, the hijab-friendly spa-like daily swims, the amazing excursions and sea-life explorations, and our most hospitable hosts who took care of literally every logistical detail for us so we didn’t have a care in the world, just made our trip one of the most relaxing times of our lives.
The Maldives is a Muslim country, with a 100% Muslim population. It is very peaceful for tourists around the world, and our hotel informed us that there was a 0% crime rate on the island we stayed. There are so many tourists flocking from all parts of the world; we met people from the UK, Finland, Hong Kong, Italy, Senegal, France, and Switzerland.
The country is made up of water with about 1000 islands. Each habitable island has at least one mosque. The island we stayed at had 4 mosques, and you can walk the whole island in 10-12 minutes.
The locals are very nice also I was surprised to find almost all women dressed in hijab and black abaya, especially on the islands, as that is there norm there. You will see very few of them without hijab, and that is just on the capital island of Malé. They are friendly people with a laid-back culture as they are close to the equator. Each morning, I would wake up at fajr to a group of hijabi women going in for a swim with their abayas doing some kind of yoga-exercise with an instructor. It was kind of cool to watch them.
The Maldives was always on my list to explore; I just didn’t want to pay $12,000 USD to do it. So after speaking with a friend who already has been, doing extensive research online, and obsessively searching for cheap tickets, I figured out a way to do it for two people on a $1500 USD budget, for one week. In the last years, the government has allowed locals to open guest houses on their local islands (kind of like B&Bs but with a resort feel), and this is the route we took, instead of the exorbitant resort fees charged by international hotel chains.
There are a few options here. If you live in the US or UK for example, you can take a flight from there directly to Maldives (or with one stop). From the US, that might be approximately $800-$1100 USD per person.
There are many other cheaper ways to actually get to the Maldives without booking a direct flight. Your best option will be to book a travel deal to Kuala Lumpur or Dubai first, which you can consider your 2in1 holiday. Then from Asia, you can book cheap flights to the Maldives with AirAsia or Scoot airlines which are Asia’s budget airlines. Just make sure you follow their baggage rules so your very cheap ticket doesn’t end up being very expensive.
From Dubai, you can book a FlyDubai flight which is Dubai’s budget airline and take the 4 hr flight to the Maldives.
Alternatively, you can also book flights to Colombo in Sri Lanka which is only an hour away from the Maldives and many airlines use this route as a fifth freedom flight costing as little as $100 return.
Note that if you arrive in the Maldives while there is no speedboat service you will have to spend 1-night hotel either in Malé or Hulhumalé. It’s not a big deal, and you can explore the capital, but keep it in mind for your budget. We spent around $80 USD hotel (including breakfast) plus around $30 on food for two meals for this. (If I had to do this again, I would actually spend the night in relaxing beach area of Hulhumalé, and just explore city-life Male on the way back.)
For the best flight deals check Skyscanner here as they give you the cheapest option including low-cost airlines.
Hotels in the Maldives
There are so many islands and local guest houses to choose from. We went with Liberty Guest House on Mahibadhoo island. We chose this because a friend already has stayed there and said it was great, it was rated as the top ten guest houses in the Maldives by TripAdvisor with excellent reviews, and it was only 1.5 hours from the capital with a speedboat, so we didn’t have to pay an extra $500 each for a seaplane to get to the island.
Prices per night vary, depending on peak or non-peak season. We spent around $75 USD per night (including breakfast) in peak season. Peak season is from December to March. Because many Maldivians have worked as employees at the high-end resorts, they are very familiar with customer service and high-end hospitality, so it’s part of the package for them to take care of your every detail and need. Once we booked, we got an automatic email with the details of the speedboat times and charges ($75 return ticket per person), and other details about the stay.
We ended up booking the hotel through Agoda.com, but we ran into a lot of issues because the guesthouse only has 10 rooms, and they happened to have a 20+ person group from Hong Kong booked on some of our vacation days and Agoda overbooked us, so they had to shift us to another guesthouse for a few days, but still gave us access to their guesthouse, beach, programs, and restaurant. This was a big bummer for us and they did rectify it by giving us a discount and just told us to next time book directly with them so they can ensure the reservation. So, I would recommend you just call/Whatsapp them directly and book directly with them. Please keep in mind that it is really expensive to call the Maldives on the phone so we ended up texting through Whatsapp with them, and they are responsive.
Transportation from the airport to the island
They picked us up from the airport, escorted us on the 5-minute ferry ride from the airport to Male, and they took us by taxi to our 1-night hotel. Even though the hotel accepts USD and a bunch of other currencies around the world (e.g Euro), we exchanged about $50-100 USD to Maldivian currency at the airport (their exchange rate is actually not that bad there. Just keep your receipt if you want to exchange your money back at the end of the trip because you will need it). That night and the next day we explored Male with the map the hotel gave us and ate at some nice restaurants they recommended (e.g Seagull Cafe House with beautiful tall trees in their open-air restaurant). Our other hotel gave us a taxi from their hotel to the speedboat port the next day, and they pay and coordinate everything, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.
About the Island
The local island we were on was extremely relaxing, with transparent water. You can walk the entire island in about 10-12 minutes. It is basically an oval with ocean all around it. There are four mosques, schools, a college, about 8 restaurants, convenient stores, I think 1 police car, ambulance, scooters the Maldivian way, and of course, the houses, and the local beach.
The interesting thing is that this island has a “no alcohol” and “no bikini” law since it’s a local island. We were told that a lot of tourists complain about that (maybe that’s why they go on many excursions to the resorts because they are allowed to wear bikinis there). For us, it was perfect, because it meant that we could even more so comfortably go for our daily swims and lounge on the beach. In fact, we had the entire beach area to ourselves almost all of the time. We would swim for about 2 hours a day in the most relaxing sun. Note: alcohol is not permitted in the country, except for licensed resorts, but apparently some local islands allow bikinis and some do not, but they will definitely let you know. To be clear, when they say ‘no bikinis’ they actually mean no 1 piece or 2 piece swimsuits. Alternatively, people can wear shorts and a t-shirt, or yoga pants, etc.
The rooms are pretty nice, and also large, especially for the price. The guesthouse makes sure they are very clean also. We got a balcony facing the beach that is a few steps from the ocean.
The guesthouse has a restaurant so you will not have to worry at all. They have both Eastern dishes (e.g. fish, tuna, or chicken curries) and Western dishes (e.g. pizza, pasta, eggs and sausage breakfast). Things are very cheap on the island. You can eat dinner for two for about $11-14 USD. If you go to the local restaurants on the island, you can probably bring that price down to about $7-10 USD. We also bought snacks and water at the local convenience stores for cheap prices.
Excursions will take most of your budget but they are the most fun and memorable. The guesthouse has a list of about 15-20 excursions from about $120 to I think about $600 each, for 2 people. For example, we went on a half-day picnic to a deserted island and swam, ate, and snorkeled. It was truly amazing. You could go diving also, and this guest house has one of the best diving centres in the Maldives, and maybe the world. Excursions are definitely worth saving money for. But if you are on a tight budget, swimming is free, and they also have canoes and snorkeling there for free.
We also visited the touristy things on the way back, to the National Mosque, etc. One thing I should mention about souvenirs is that they are pretty expensive in the Maldives. If you can find them on a local island, buy them there as they are cheapest. Our local island did not have souvenirs so we bought a few from the capital, Male. It’s expensive there but extremely expensive at the airport. For e.g. there is a popular wooden turtle for I think around $20 USD in Male, it was $46 at the airport, and $10 in Kuala Lumpur (at the touristy shops no less)!
Overall, we fell in love with the Maldives and I hope you do too. Relax, enjoy, and unplug.
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