Backpacking in the Maldives
After Abu Dhabi, we went to the Maldives for three weeks. No, not for a luxury vacation, but for a backpacking trip to the local islands. Our goal was to explore a few of the local islands on a budget. And yes, backpacking in the Maldives is possible! We enjoyed the trip to the fullest and would definitely do it again! Except for the first night, we made the trip spontaneous.
You want to do the same? Here in this post you will find our backpacking experiences and our tips for the local islands.
Why the local islands?
On the local islands you can experience the life and culture . Furthermore, the local islands are a lot cheaper than the "resort islands". However, it is important to know that the local islands, which are accessible to tourists only since 2009, are strictly Muslim . Thus, you should be aware of the following things before traveling there.
- It is only allowed to wear swimwear at the „Bikini-Beach“ . Also, out of respect for the locals, it is recommended to cover your shoulders and knees when leaving your accommodation. Walking around the island village in a bikini is a no-go.
- There is a strict ban on alcohol on the local islands. However, there is the possibility for a few euros to visit the bar-boat, where you can consume alcohol.
- Friday is a muslim holiday, so there are no public ferries and most stores and restaurants are closed. We have always avoided this day for onward travel.
- On the maldivian islands you can pay either with US-Dollar or Rufiyya. Mostly we paid with Rufiyya and withdrew the money directly on the islands. Except on Guhli there was an ATM on all islands.
- It is best to book the Accommodation on site or simply by WhatsApp, so you save a lot of money. The number can usually be found on the website of the hotel/guesthouse.
- Use the public ferries, because the price is simply unbeatable! You pay per trip per person only 1.30€.
- Visit local restaurants . These are usually very tasty and incredibly cheap! For a main meal you usually pay only 2-5€ and for a coffee only 0.50€. Don't be put off by the appearance of the restaurant or café.
- Sim cards are available for free at the airport. However, we neither used nor charged ours, because there is free WiFi everywhere.
Malé and Hulhumalé
Since we landed late in the evening in Malé, we had no choice but to spend the night near the airport. The capital island of Malé is noisy, expensive and not very beautiful. So we decided to spend the night in Hulhumalé. Hulhumalé is located northeast of Malé and is a bit quieter and cheaper than Malé. Malé and Hulhumalé are ok for a stopover, but we can not recommend for a longer stay.
We stayed for one night at the Newtown Inn and paid €73 for the double room without breakfast. We had free coffee/tea and the room was nice and well kept. At night it was unfortunately quite noisy, because our room was directly on the main road. But for one night it was more than ok and the accommodation was the cheapest we could find in the region of Malé and Hulhumalé.
From the airport we took directly the bus to Huluhmalé, which cost us only 1 € per person. After a 10-minute ride, we arrived at our booked hotel. The next day we took the public ferry from Hulhumalé to Malé, which also cost us only 1€ per person. From there we took the public ferry to Thulusdhoo. You can also use the speedboats or the seaplanes for further transport, but they are much more expensive.
Malé and Hulhumalé are much more expensive than the other local islands, so we paid about 5 to 10 € per meal in the restaurant. However, the food was very tasty.
Thulusdhoo is the largest local island in the east of the North Malé Atoll. It is located only 23km from Malé and can be reached in just two hours by public ferry. The island is one of the most famous surf spots and is known for having some of the most challenging waves in the Maldives. However, even as non-surfers, we enjoyed this island. Thulusdhoo was by far the most beautiful island, we visited on this trip. The reason was the great island vibe and the incredibly friendly locals. Furthermore, the beaches were beautiful and there were a variety of excursions so we never got bored. Since we liked the island so much, we extended our stay from four to six nights.
We stayed the first four nights at the " Silk Retreat" which cost us 42€ a night. The double room with private bathroom was simple and nothing special, but we lacked nothing. Right next to the guesthouse was also the associated restaurant "Silk Café", where you could eat delicious and cheap. The owners were very very friendly and helpful.
Since after our four booked nights the guest house was completely booked, we moved to the „Surf-Deck“ . I found the accommodation by chance during a walk on the beach and booked directly a room with sea view and breakfast for 65€. The staff was very friendly and the best thing was that we were right on the beach and heard the sound of the sea at night.
From Malé there is a daily public ferry to Thulusdhoo. The trip cost only 1.30€ per person and took two hours. Of course you can choose the speedboat, which costs about 15€ per person. Within Thulusdhoo you can get around well on foot or by bike.
There are many stores and restaurants of all price ranges on the island. Our favorite was definitely the Byyoni Café, because the food was super tasty and also cheap. We paid for two main meals with appetizers and drinks not even 10€ for the two of us. Mostly we were the only tourists here, but that didn't bother us at all. Mostly we ate delicious curry, rice or noodle dishes.
Directly on the beach there are also very nice and delicious restaurants, but they are much more expensive. Other restaurants that we have tried and can recommend are the Silk Café, the Sand Bar, Banyan Restaurant and the Indulge Café. You can get a delicious pizza at the Contagious Restaurant.
In the south of the island there is a rock wall where you can watch small sharks and rays and directly at Bikini Beach you can snorkel and see many colorful fish and if you are lucky also turtles .
The best place to watch the sunrise is from Bikini Beach, where we also saw quite a few dolphins. The best place to enjoy the sunset is on the small hill to the west, where there is also a beautiful white sand beach.
On Thulusdhoo there is a Coca-Cola factory, which supplies the whole Maldives with Coke. You can make free tours directly at the factory without appointment.
After Thulusdhoo we headed to Dhiffushi, an island that belongs to the North Malé Atoll and is located north of Thulusdhoo. The island is only 950 meters long, 200 meters wide and the population is about 1050. In contrast to Thulusdhoo, we found the island atmosphere not so special and also the locals seemed a little closed. However, the beaches were incredibly beautiful and by far the most beautiful we have seen in the Maldives!
Since we decided spontaneously to go to Dhiffushi, most of the accommodations were already fully booked. Thus, our choice was a little limited and we decided to book the hotel "Dhiffushi Inn". We booked a double room with balcony with sea view and breakfast and paid 78€ per night. The "Dhiffushi Inn" was by far our most expensive accommodation on the Maldives trip. However, the hotel was really great, because it was very clean and the breakfast buffet was very tasty. The beautiful Bikini Beach was only a minute walk from the hotel.
The trip to Dhiffushi took only half an hour away from Thulusdhoo and cost 1.30 € per person. From Malé you can reach Dhiffushi by public ferry in about 3 hours. Of course you can also take a speedboat here.
Since we had breakfast included, we decided to go to a restaurant only once a day. Our afternoon snack was usually a delicious porridge with fresh fruit, so we were able to save a little money. Every evening we visited the local restaurant "Dream Corner View“, which was located right on the beach. For a delicious main meal we paid 2-5€. So we needed 5-10€ per day for both of us for food and drinks. Tea, coffee and water were free at the hotel.
Other restaurants and bars that have been recommended to us are: Café 420, Dhiffushi Inn Restaurant, Araamu Restaurant/Rooftopbar, and "the Kettle" Restaurant. However, these were double or triple the price of the Dream Corner View Restaurant.
In the north of the island you can book many excursions and visit many great bars. The most beautiful beach is definitely the Bikini Beach in the west. There is a small beach bar and free sun beds. You can rent a kayak for 10€ an hour at the bar and paddle into the sunset.
On the way back to Malé we decided to make a stopover in Himmafushi. Himmafushi is a well-known surfer island . Since neither of us are surfers, we booked only one night for the time being and wanted to have a closer look at the island. But already on arrival we were thrilled! The island is very clean and well maintained, the locals are very talkative, open and friendly. And the best: Himmafushi was the cheapest island on our Maldives trip. We had a daily budget of €50 for the two of us. However, compared to the other beaches, the Bikini Beach on Himmafushi was not as nice because of the sea grass.
We decided to stay at the guest house " Jail Break Surfer Inn", which cost us only 40 € per night for a double room with private bathroom and breakfast. The owner was very open and friendly and gave us many island tips. There was a large communal terrace and a common room where you could talk to other travelers. Since we liked the accommodation, we extended our stay from one night to two nights.
Himmafushi is only 17 km away from Malé and the travel time by public ferry is only 40 minutes. In Himmafushi you can rent bikes or just explore everything on foot.
In Himmafushi there are several restaurants, bars and supermarkets. Our host recommended us the „Moscow Yeda“ The restaurant is located directly at the harbor and also has a rooftop bar. The food was very very tasty and also very cheap. We paid an average of 2-3 € for a main meal. Since we liked the restaurant so much, we didn't try any other.
Directly from Himmafushi you can also make great day trips to other islands. Our host has also offered us free boat trips to the island Huraa, so the islands support each other in tourism. If you want to make a day trip to a resort island, you can do this for 50€ per person.
From Himmafushi we took the ferry to Malé and then to Guraidhoo. The island was recommended to us by locals from Dhiffushi. The island has about 1580 inhabitants and is located in the South Malé Atoll. We liked Guraidhoo very much, because the Bikini Beach was very nice and the locals were very open and chatty. Unfortunately we had only two nights on this island, if we had had the possibility we would have extended our stay in Guradihoo.
On the website "Booking.com" there was a large selection of cheap accommodation in Guraidhoo. Finally we decided to stay at the guest house „Moodhumaa Inn“. Our room was incredibly clean and spacious. The included breakfast was very, very tasty. We paid €84 for two nights and were very satisfied.
From Malé we took the public ferry to Guraidhoo. The trip took two hours and we were picked up directly at the harbor by our host. The speedboat would cost €15 per person from Malé and the trip would take about half an hour.
Since we only spent two nights in Guraidhoo, we could only try two restaurants. Once we went to the „Island Bite“, a small local cafe, where we ate delicious Kottu Roshi for only 4 € per person. The second evening we spent at the fancy but cheap restaurant „Solo“. We can recommend both restaurants.
From Guraidhoo you can take the public ferry to the neighbor islands Maafushi and Guhli, because the ferry leaves at 7 o'clock in the morning to Malé and returns in the afternoon. So you can visit Maafushi or Guhli for only 2.60 € per person. If you book a day trip to one of these islands with a provider, you would have to calculate at least 40 € per person.
In Guraidhoo there is also a house reef where snorkeling is excellent.
Guhli Island is a local island in the South Malé Atoll of the Maldives and is located only 21 km south of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and was therefore our last stop on our Maldives trip. Guhli has only 800 inhabitants and so it was the smallest island we visited. There are a few stores, good restaurants and cafes and a beautiful "Bikini Beach", where you can also snorkel well. In addition, the inhabitants are very open and friendly. The only thing we didn't like about Guhli is the one or other construction site. Since tourism is becoming more and more popular here, more and more hotels are being built. I think that the local islands will be hardly recognizable in a few years.
In Guhli we chose the guesthouse „Sandy Heaven“. We booked a double room with private bathroom and a terrace for five nights and paid 53€ per night with breakfast. The room was beautiful and the staff was incredibly friendly and welcoming. The "Sandy Heaven" was by far our most beautiful accommodation on our Maldives trip. We booked the accommodation directly via WhatsApp and saved almost 20€ per night.
From Malé, the trip with the public ferry to Guhli takes only a good hour and costs as always 1.30€ per person. But since we had previously visited the island of Guradihoo, we took the ferry from there. The trip to Guhli took about an hour. The island of Maafuhsi was a stopover on the ferry ride. However, we skipped this island because it is supposed to be very crowded and touristy.
Since breakfast was included in our accommodation and our afternoon snack was porridge with fruit as usual, we only ate in the restaurant in the evening. Our favorite was the café "Salt Harbour", which is located directly on the harbor with seaview. The food was delicious and cheap. We were mostly the only tourists here as well. Mostly we ate curry , rice or noodle dishes.
Directly at the accommodation "Sandy Heaven" you can book great excursions, such as snorkeling or diving with sharks, stingrays and dolphins. There are also romantic excursions, such as a romantic dinner on a lonely sandbank at sunset.
If you like some action, you should go to the harbor in the evening, because there you can watch big sharks and rays. But be careful! Try not to pet the animals, because they might mistake your hand for food.
We are still overwhelmed by our backpacking trip to the Maldives. We never thought that it is possible to visit this paradise with just a little money. But that is not the only thing that convinced us. The friendliness and openness of the locals was simply incredible. We are infinitely grateful that we made this trip and we are really surprised that you only need 30 € per person to enjoy this tropical paradise. In total we spent 900 euro per person for everything for the three weeks.
Living with the locals and getting to know the culture was one of the highlights for us, not to mention the underwater world. The underwater world was incredible, we snorkeled with turtles, sharks, rays and many colorful fish.