Trip Index (what we have published so far):
Believe it or not, but I still have a number of friends who are not yet in the miles and points game. I keep trying them to convince them, though 🙂
For this trip, my friend and I put up a challenge for the both of us – less than $100 per day to experience the Maldives. However, neither of us wanted to skimp on having top-rated food and we both wanted to snorkel around one of the most beautiful islands.
See how we fared!
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To fly in, we used a cash ticket from Colombo for just $75 one-way on China Eastern. The airline flies every other day and tickets can be bought using most OTAs such as Orbitz.com. The flight was fine on a new 737-800 with a friendly (but not English-speaking) crew.
If you casually browse room rates for any Maldives island, most hotel websites will give you 'sticker shock'. Most resorts price in the $300++ range, with many miles and points favorites such as the Conrad or the Park Hyatt exceeding $1,000 for most nights.
However, Male city has a number of decent budget hotels – I stayed at the Coral Hotel & Spa for $50 during my last visit.
This time, my friend and I wanted something a bit more resort-style and found the SeaHouse TopDeck. The same company operates a popular bar/restaurant/cafe just off the ferry terminal.
I found rates for just $35 per room at Expedia for this Maldives hotel! It's located on Villingi, which is an island just off the western edge of the main island of Male. The ferry takes 5 minutes and costs just 20 cents.
The hotel was small, but the staff there were very friendly. I had trouble getting the shower to work but managed to succeed. The WiFi was temperamental but eventually worked (albeit slowly).
The breakfast was great, though, and better than in many full-service US hotels I've stayed in. Given the low price, overall this was an incredible deal.
Now our plan was to NOT skimp on swimming around beautiful islands during the day. While the local island of Villingi has a decent beach, it's not spectacular.
The SeaHouse TopDeck organizes day tours. You can choose from any of the resorts that sell day passes (there are quite a few) and then add $35 per person for the boat transfer. For this, at least 4 people need to come together, though.
The hotel offers a trip to the 'Picnic Island' which charges just $11 entrance fee. During breakfast, we got a total of six people together – basically, we just asked the other guests if they wanted to join us – and left at 10.30AM.
The boat ride was choppy, but scenic.
Picnic Island itself was VERY picturesque and low-key. It reminded me of Fiji's Yasawa Islands. The local crew were pretty chill, but still provided impeccable service at lunch ($11) and when renting us their water sports equipment.
The coral reef just off the island wasn't in the best shape, but as good as any I have seen in the Maldives. The water was incredibly clear. The island had about 30 people for the day and it was just the right amount – it never felt crowded during my time there.
We got back around 5PM after another very choppy (and this time rainy) ride back.
The great thing about Male is that food is very cheap and yet rather good. The short ferry ride gets you to the main island, where the choice of coffee shops and restaurants is impressive for such a small city. You can sit outside, ogle at the water and enjoy an alcohol-free mojito while eating some great food.
I'm picky with food, but several places I went to and noted down in my guide to Male were very good.
So how did we fare with the challenge?
Even though I had a double room to myself at the SeaHouse TopDeck, it's perfectly acceptable for a couple; at $35 total, it works out to just $17.50 per person per night for a great hotel that's literally at the water's edge and includes a great breakfast!
The boat trip was $35 and the island charged $11 entrance fee.
I ended up spending $25 on food which was more than enough for two meals & good coffee. Remember, there is no alcohol on these islands (unless you stay on a resort) which rescued the bill.
So the grand total for that one day is just $88.50 per person (if two people share a room) to include food, coffee and snorkeling around an awe-inspiring beach.
It can be done and I never once felt I missed out on anything or that anything had to be extra cheap.
If you stay another day and skip the day trip, you can spend less than $50 each including food and lodging. That's hard to beat even in 'value destinations' such as Indonesia and Thailand.