Idyllic turquoise ocean, palm lined empty beaches, colourful reef teeming with marine animals and exotic bungalows perched over the ocean, this is pretty typically the image you get when thinking of the Maldives.
A luxury, heavenly, honeymooners spot, frequented by the rich and famous, and sure to be only just a dream for the average budget, right?
Well, the Maldives is increasingly possible on a backpacker and budget travellers pocket, follow my ten tips and make a trip to the Maldives your reality!
1. Travel out of season
The Maldives has a distinct high season, between November and April, where tourists from around the world flock to the archipelago for endless sunshine and prime weather - prices in the high season skyrocket leaving the Maldives out of reach for the budget traveller and backpacker.
The best time to visit the Maldives on a budget is during the shoulder season, typically the weather is still amazing, the accommodation has less than a 20% occupancy rate meaning prices are slashed and you'll even get better service!
2. Stay on local islands
The Maldives are characterised by exclusive resort islands that seem to be floating in the middle of heaven without another soul in sight - these are also characterised by astronomical prices!
The Maldivian Islands offer up numerous atolls with over 1,200 tiny islands. Until recent years tourists could only visit certain islands, however, tourists and travellers can now access islands where local residents live. This means more homestay, small villa and boutique resort accommodation that come at a tenth of the price of the resort exclusive islands.
The islands where you'll find the cheapest accommodation are Thulusdhoo, Maafushi, Dhiffushi, Huraa, Himmafushi and Hulhumale (airport Island), with Thulusdhoo being the best pick for beaches and accommodation options.
3. Choose your island based on public transport accessibility
Most local islands are also serviced from Male by public ferries and speed boats.
This will literally save you a truckload of cash as private charters to exclusive islands come at a minimum additional cost of US$200 one-way transfer per boat - so that's an additional US$400 return JUST to get to your island, and that's IF your island can be accessed by boat! Some of the exclusive islands that are further from Male, the country's capital, can only be accessed by seaplane with prices starting from around US$400 one way.
Public ferries and speed boats often only run once a day, but won't cost you more than US$5pp per way. As they on a tight schedule, make sure to time your flight accordingly...
4. Time your flights to meet public transport
Following on from the point above, this is a crucial consideration when arranging your trip if you want to avoid private transfers.
If possible, book a flight that lands before lunch and gives you adequate time to collect any baggage, clear immigration and then take the short airport ferry across to Male main island (give yourself 2 hours) as public transport to most local islands only goes from Male once daily, normally around 2pm-3pm depending on which island you're heading to.
If it's not possible then consider staying in Male for one evening and catching the public ferry the following day. Accommodation in Male is fairly cheap and you'll avoid having to book a private charter.
5. Avoid honeymoon style accommodation
The Maldives is a famed honeymoon and romantic destination, hence why the accommodation can fetch prices into the ridiculous range!
To save pennies search out deals on rooms that aren't targeted towards honeymooners with endless budgets - for example, we booked a twin room (two single beds) in exactly the same hotel where a double room with the same facilities would have cost twice the price. And the solution? We just pushed the beds together and saved ourselves US$700 for the week.
Local islands also have far more homestays and some hostels on offer which often include shared rooms, inclusive of food and gear hire.
6. Find accommodation with inclusive meals
Often this can push the cost of the accommodation out, however, in low season it can be offered as a sweetener and is a massive added bonus if you're on a budget.
Included meals such as a buffet breakfast mean you can fill up in the morning, and perhaps sneak a little snack out with you for during the day, only leaving dinner as an additional expense.
7. Share day trips and excursions with other travellers
Private transport is one of the major expenses incurred by travellers in the Maldives, and often it's because you're hiring out the entire boat and skipper for just one or two people.
Try and organise excursions with other resort guests, let reception know your travel plans and itinerary and ask them to kindly inform you if they get bookings from other guests wanting to share a similar itinerary, that way the transport costs are shared throughout the group rather than lumped on you.
8. Pack smart
Knowing what your accommodation does and doesn't include before you leave will allow you to pack appropriately.
Some hotels have unlimited gear hire such as snorkels, surfboards and diving gear, but some will charge you every time you borrow something - this can be the case with more budget style accommodation.
The Maldives temperature barely varies throughout the year and the most you might need is a light pull over for evenings, so pack minimal clothing and consider perhaps bringing your own snorkel and fin set or surfboard, and pack your clothes into your board bag.
Also, bear in mind the geographical isolation of some of these islands, as it does affect the price you will pay for basic necessities on the island. Items such as toiletries, surf wax, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and other general necessities must be brought to the island via boat, which means transport costs put the prices up. Rather than rely on local stores for these items, it would be wise to pack these with you for the trip.
9. Visit local restaurants and supermarkets for food
Maldivian resorts and hotels are notorious for overpriced meals and beverages which incur additional taxes that often catch you by surprise.
Whilst the food in the Maldives is nice, it's not the major draw card for travelling here, so save your pennies by visiting where the locals eat on local islands and stocking up on fresh fruits and other goodies that can be found at the local supermarkets.
10. Only day trip to resort islands
It's a long way to come to not fully experience the luxury of what the Maldives is all about, and whilst the local islands do offer stunning natural beauty and a great way to visit on a budget, the experience of a dining in a bungalow over crystal clear water still needs to be done once in your life right?
Good news, many of the major exclusive resort islands recognise this and in fact, offer quite good value day trips to their exclusive resorts.
It will blow out your budget a little bit, but for less than US$150 you can get a full day access to some of the Maldives most luxurious resort islands fully inclusive of all the food, drinks and water sports equipment you can get your hands on for that day.
If you only do one of these trips during your stay in the Maldives than you'll still get the amazing experience and save yourself a pretty penny by not forking out for the experience daily.
All images and words by Alexis Zahner // @mermaid_tales_adventure