Maldives Budget Holidays vs. Maldives Luxury Holidays

I tried $100 a night and $1200 a night accommodations to see what was possible.

The Maldives is a honeymooner’s dream, a decadent destination where the global elite lodge and indulge their every tropical-themed whim. Some would even say it’s the best vacation money can buy. Since the Maldives government lifted restrictions on foreign tourists visiting the inhabited islands, the travel winds of the world’s most beautiful island paradise have started to change. You can now stay in comfortable, family-run guesthouses across the island nation for a fraction of the price of luxury resorts. Backpackers and vacationers of all backgrounds and budgets can now enjoy the vacation of their dreams.

But does the budget-friendly Maldives live up to the sky-high expectations of private island resorts?

In the spirit of duality, my partner and I visited the Maldives, where we split our time between two very different budgets. We ate, snorkeled and slept for less than $100 a day, then another $1,200 a day. The result is two very different holidays within the borders of the same country. Despite similar environments, our experience underwater (and above) is very different.

Kuramathi: 100% locally owned luxury resort – $1,200 per day

I’ll start by saying that I’m not any imaginary vacation traveler. I believe that rarely, if ever, sitting in the airtight bubble of Western culture is the best way to see and understand a destination. But unlike many of the Maldivian corporate resorts scattered across idyllic private islands in the Indian Ocean, Kuramathi is locally owned. That fact, along with its commitment to eco-consciousness and eco-friendly accommodations, is what drew me to trying luxury travel. At least I can feel good about where my money is going.

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We left the airport in an air-conditioned speedboat and headed to the palm-fringed coast of the long, narrow island. The sea is bluer than the cloudless sky. From the refreshing pandan-scented towels to the all-electric strollers that shuttle guests around the nearly two-mile-long island, every detail has been meticulously planned and executed.

Overwater Bungalows in KuramathiGina Chuma

For $1,000 a night, we get access to one of three buffet restaurants overlooking the ocean and our own overwater bungalow. The gray-scale cabin is outfitted with a spacious minibar, a modern white bathtub and a king-size plush bed, all of which face a wall of paneled glass and open completely to a breezy waterfront terrace. My morning swim from the bungalow came across a green turtle, a pair of large yellow titan triangle fish and a couple of harmless reef sharks, before quickly rinsing off in the outdoor shower, sipping coffee in the soft pink glow of the day out. This is the most exquisite room I have ever stayed in.

The buffets are top notch (especially breakfast) and usually include a variety of freshly cooked international dishes as well as some local delicacies such as coral fish or fish curry. We also had $200 in our allotted budget to spend at one of the more luxurious a la carte restaurants on the island. Succulent Diane steaks grilled tableside at Island Barbecue and the freshest local fish fillets served in the waves of the Indian Ocean at The Reef are culinary highlights worth splurging on.

The lush islands of Kuramathi are much greener and cleaner than any inhabited island we have visited. Foxes soar through a tangle of banyan trees and native coral reefs, easily accessible from the shore, and some of the best snorkelling we’ve experienced in the country. Sharks, rays, large tropical fish and live coral formations are just steps away from the white sandy beach. There’s a hydroponic garden, numerous pool bars serving superb island cocktails, an on-site marine biologist, a verdant botanical garden walk, and a lagoon big enough for all SUP, jet ski and kayak explorers .

Overall, Kuramathi is the ultimate holiday. Pure relaxation and rejuvenation. I feel like I don’t know much about the culture of this country. But I had to experience its natural beauty and biodiversity at its best. Maldives luxury is worth the once in a lifetime splurge.

Green Leaf Inn Omadhoo – $100 per day

Unlike resorts and their private islands, guest houses are located on “inhabited” islands. Since the Maldives is a Muslim country, tourists must abide by local regulations on these islands. That means no alcohol and a strict dress code. Each island has a designated beach area where visitors are allowed to wear bikinis and shorts, but otherwise your knees and shoulders should always be covered.

The inhabited island of Omadhoo is home to around 500 Maldivian residents and has some of the most stunning white sand beaches in the country. It’s also one of the few islands that’s relatively easy to get to from Male’ by a slow $4 local ferry. This is how budget travelers to the Maldives travel.

After four and a half hours floating in choppy water under the scorching sun, we met the innkeeper on the pier. Green Leaf Guest House gave us a comfortable, minimalist air-conditioned room for about $80 a night, just a 5 minute walk from “Bikini Beach”. Technically everything on Omadhoo is a 5 minute walk from the beach.

MaldivesBudget Kuramathi room
A room at the Greenleaf Inn.gina truman

The owner also took us on a walking tour of the island. We walked past the wooden pier, where we could watch the resident nurse sharks struggle and fight for daytime fish shavings, and a beach where stingrays, four feet in diameter, floated like underwater Roombas, and a school of A discreet chaise longue among the palm trees he reserves exclusively for guests. Snorkels, fins and SUP boards are also 100% free. His property even has a rooftop stargazing bed for cool nights under the stars. The best part of a budget lodge is the enthusiasm of the residents for you to visit and enjoy their home island.

Our rates include a simple egg breakfast, coffee and fruit. We spent the rest of our meager budget on $5 meals at the restaurant next door. Mains are delicious cheese kottu and tuna fried rice, staples of the inhabited island.

We sizzled in the equatorial sun, thanked our beach umbrellas and lounge chairs, and explored every sandy street. Our hosts prepared dinner for us on the beach one night while blue fairy dust of bioluminescent plankton washed up on our feet. Pure Maldivian magic.

Similar to a resort island, the water is crystal clear and the snorkeling is great. Unlike on a resort island, we were bothered by sandflies and mosquitos morning and evening. The tranquility of Omadhoo is interrupted only by the call of prayers from the local mosque and the cries of beach cats.

It’s rustic relaxation. Budget-friendly Maldives is not only possible – it turns out to be delightful. For less than 1/10 the price of a luxury resort, you can experience underwater playgrounds and stunning beaches, albeit with more litter, bugs and a different dress code.

Kuramathi is the epitome of Maldivian luxury and the country is well-deservedly known for that feel. But a trip to the budget-conscious Green Leaf Guest House offers many of the same attractions for travelers looking for a no-frills exotic beach vacation. The Maldives is no longer just a playground for the rich and famous.

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