The Maldives had a longstanding policy of keeping tourists on dedicated islands, which meant they could only stay in full-service resorts where the cost of a night’s accommodation started around US$200 and went up into the stratosphere, and the vast majority of visitors continue to opt for these. However, from 2008 all the islands were opened to tourism, and backpacker-friendly guesthouses starting from US$30 a night opened on inhabited islands across the archipelago.
Most resorts take up their own island (1500 x 1500m to 250 x 250m), meaning that the ratio of beach to guests must be one of the best in the world and it is hard to imagine that you would ever have to struggle to find your own private piece of beach to relax on. Many have a “no shoes” policy and with such soft sands it is easy to love this idea.
The range and themes or the resorts is impressive, and most people will find one they like. They can be grouped into three types:
- Dive resorts, designed primarily for divers. Geared expressly for people who want to spend most of their time underwater, facilities on land are limited, but the house reef is usually excellent. Often found in the more far-flung parts of the archipelago.
- Holiday resorts, designed primarily for families. These are large and have a full complement of facilities (several restaurants, day-care centres, etc.), but don’t have over-the-top luxury and have less privacy. Most of these are located on Kaafu, with easy access from Male.
- Luxury resorts, designed primarily for honeymooners and the jet set. The place to be if you want designer furniture, gourmet food and a plasma TV in an overwater villa reachable only by rowboat, and are willing to pay high prices for the privilege.
A Maldivian classic is the overwater bungalow, built on stilts directly above a lagoon. While these look fabulous and sound appealing, they have their downsides:
- They’re usually packed tightly together, often sharing a wall, meaning little privacy.
- Especially at low tide, the water level may be too low to allow swimming or snorkelling.
- Resort facilities may be a fair distance from the bungalows.
- The lapping of waves is romantic enough on a calm day, but can make it next to impossible to sleep if a storm blows 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 costs from the airport: the more far-flung resorts generally require an expensive seaplane transfer and you may have to stay overnight at the airport on the way. On the upside, the further away you are from Malé, the more peaceful the islands and the better the diving.
Many resorts, especially the smaller dive-oriented ones, cater largely to a single nationality, leading to “Italian” resorts, “Dutch” resorts, “German” resorts, etc. While almost all welcome any nationality and have some English-speaking staff on hand, you may be cut off from any evening entertainment and have problems e.g. diving if you don’t speak the local lingo.
There are guesthouses on inhabited islands, and Maafushi island is popular with looking for hassle-free accommodation of this type. Low end prices are €25-35 per night.
Examples include: Equator Village on Addu Atoll, a former British Royal Air Force base converted to a 78-room hotel. The cost is around US$100-150 per person per day all inclusive (including some alcohol). Another unique location is Keyodhoo Guest House, this guest house is on top of a recreation centre built by an Australian after the tsunami (US$20 pp/per night). Most visitors are scuba divers or adventure travellers. Other Inns/B&B can also be found on Vaavu Atoll, Dhaalu Atoll, Kaafu Atoll, North/South Male Atoll and Ari Atoll Haggnaameedhoo. Only a few of these inns and B&Bs have their own pool. Confirm if bikinis are allowed on the beach. The distance between the inns and beaches are usually short, but visitors should still dress appropriately to Maldive customs.
More independent-minded travelers and those looking for cultural experience may consider renting rooms in villages. This will require either walking through the village and asking around if you’re particularly confident of your social skills, or inquiring in Male whether someone can put you in contact with their friends or relatives on remote island for such an informal homestay. Prices can be as low as 15 euros per night for a clean functional room.