For a long time, the Maldives had a policy of keeping tourists on special islands, which meant they could only stay in full-service resorts, where the cost of an overnight stay started at around US$200 and rose into the stratosphere. However, the brief democratic flourishing under the rule of Mohammed Nasheed from 2008 onwards led to all islands opening up to tourism, and backpacker-friendly guesthouses starting at US$30 a night now flourish on the inhabited islands of the archipelago.
Most resorts occupy their own island (1500 x 1500m to 250 x 250m) which means the beach to guest ratio has to be one of the best in the world and it’s hard to imagine ever having to fight to find your own private piece of beach to relax on. Many have a ‘no shoes’ policy and with such soft sand it’s easy to love the idea.
The choice and themes of resorts are impressive and most people will find one they like. Roughly speaking, they can be divided into three groups:
- Dive resorts designed primarily for divers. Explicitly geared towards people who want to spend most of their time underwater. Onshore facilities are limited, but the house reef is usually excellent. Often found in the more remote parts of the archipelago.
- Holiday resorts that are mainly for families. These are large and have full facilities (several restaurants, day care centres, etc.), but do not offer excessive luxury and have less privacy. Most of these resorts are located on Kaafu and are easily accessible from Male.
- Luxury resorts that cater mainly to honeymooners and the jet set. The place to be if you want designer furniture, gourmet food and a plasma TV in an overwater villa accessible only by rowing boat, and are willing to pay high prices for the privilege.
A Maldivian classic is the overwater bungalow, built on stilts directly over a lagoon. While these look fabulous and sound enticing, they also have their downsides:
- They are usually packed closely together (often sharing a wall), which means little privacy.
- Especially at low tide, the water level can be too low to swim or snorkel.
- Resort facilities may be located some distance from the bungalows.
- The lapping of the waves is romantic enough on a calm day, but can make it almost impossible to sleep when a storm passes through.
These factors vary from resort to resort, so research carefully. A good one is definitely worth trying at least once, but many Maldives repeaters prefer a bungalow with a private beach.
When considering where to go, factor in transport time and cost from the airport: The more remote resorts usually require an expensive seaplane transfer, and you may have to stay overnight at the airport on the way there. The further you are from Malé, the quieter the islands and the better the diving.
Many resorts, especially the smaller dive-oriented ones, cater mainly to a single nationality, resulting in “Italian” resorts, “Dutch” resorts, “German” resorts, and so on. While almost all welcome any nationality and have some English-speaking staff available, you may be cut off from evening entertainment and have problems with, for example, diving if you do not speak the local language.
There are guesthouses on inhabited islands, and Maafushi Island is popular when looking for uncomplicated accommodation of this kind. Prices at the lower end are 25-35 euros per night.
Examples include: Equator Village on Addu Atoll, a former RAF base converted into a 78-room hotel. The cost is around $100-150us pp/per day all inclusive (including regular branded alcohol). Another unique place is the Keyodhoo Guest House, this guest house is located on a resort built by an Australian after the tsunami ($20 pp/per night). Most visitors are divers or adventure travellers. Other Inns/B&Bs are located on Vaavu Atoll, Dhaalu Atoll, Kaafu Atoll, North/South Male Atoll and Ari Atoll Haggnaameedhoo. Only a few of these Inns/B&Bs have their own pool. It is advisable to enquire whether bikinis are allowed on the beach. The distances between the Inns and the beaches are usually short, but visitors should still dress according to Maldivian customs.
More independent travellers and those seeking a cultural experience may consider renting rooms in villages. To do this, you will either need to walk around the village and ask around if you are particularly confident in your social skills, or ask in Male if someone can put you in touch with their friends or relatives on the remote island for such an informal homestay. Prices can be as low as 15 euros per night for a clean, functional room.