For South Africans, the Maldives is a postcard image of stunning sea views and, all too often, luxury resorts that seem beyond our grasp. But it needn’t be.
With 1 ZAR equalling around 1,30 MVR, South Africans are at a distinct advantage. In comparison, the European holidays South Africans love taking result in poor exchange rates and are more expensive than the Maldives.
It’s worth remembering that, as in any country, expense depends on the individual. That said, the Maldivian tourism industry is undoubtedly biased in favour of costly luxury trips. However, thanks to a stronger Rand, that luxury is cheaper for South Africans in the Maldives than in many other countries and for those on a budget, the Maldives is starting to open up.
The Maldives isn’t far away and flights aren’t expensive:
- Cape Town to Malé: around R9839 for an economy return ticket
- Johannesburg OR Tambo to Malé: R9929 for return economy flights
- Durban to Malé: R12019 for return economy flights
Note: flights are calculated around mid-May 2018.
If you’re looking for luxury, the Maldives has plenty on offer. Compared to a night in a guest house, a resort getaway is expensive, though there are options that won’t break the bank.
The Maldives has become famed for high-end luxury resorts but in recent years the island nation has begun to champion more affordable accommodation options such as guest houses. Resorts traditionally occupy an entire island, blocking out other developments, but there are an increasing number of islands offering diverse accommodation options.
To keep prices down, choose your local islands carefully. Maafushi is a great option. It’s close to Malé, keeping transport down, and has cheaper accommodation than many others. Other affordable local islands include Gulhi, Guraidhoo and Hura. Local islands won’t have the seclusion of the resorts but there are still plenty of fun activities and touristic beaches. AirBnB is where you’ll find most budget options, including hotels.
- Costs per night: from R594.
Soneva Jani, in Noonu Atoll, is one of the most expensive resorts in the Maldives. It’s an eco-friendly, ultra-luxurious retreat. Two of the best loved features of the overwater bungalows are water slides directly into the azure ocean and retractable roofs over the master-bedroom for comfortable nights under the stars.
- Costs per night: a small villa starts at R35 679, the largest comes with four bedrooms at a price of R237 860
Most luxury island resorts follow the same pattern as Soneva Jani, with awe-inspiring facilities and top-end price tags. COMO Cocoa is another popular resort, with yoga classes and a tranquil spa.
- Costs per night: R6877 for two sharing a dhow suite, including breakfast, yoga class and a dinner. This can go up to R20643 for a two bedroomed villa.
Among the top-rated resorts are some more affordable options. These include Filitheyo Island Resort, noted for its excellent diving facilities and top-notch culinary delights.
- Costs per night: starting at R2088 for two sharing.
Kandima Maldives, remarkable for its list of activities (including cooking classes) and having what is probably the longest pool in the country.
- Costs per night: from R3414 for two sharing.
Are meals in the Maldives expensive? It depends on where and what you eat. Most resort packages will include some or all meals but if you’re on a local island, you may need to venture to various local offerings which are relatively cheap.
- Cost of a three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant: around R232
- Cost of a main meal in a cheap restaurant: around R54
- Cost of a regular cappuccino: approximately R31
More upscale restaurants targeted at tourists will cost more.
- Cost of a beachfront dinner on a local island: R179 is standard
- Cost of dinner in a guesthouse: starts at R119
On the resorts, if your food’s not included, expect to fork out.
- Cost of a pizza: from R159
- Cost of a cocktail: from R143
Resort Day Trip
If you’re staying local but want to experience luxury for a day, guest houses and hotels run excursions to resorts. For the price, you’ll be able to use the beaches and swimming pools. Spa treatments, cocktails and dinner may or may not be included.
- Costs: starting at R951 per person
Boating and Underwater Excursions
- Cost of a half day snorkeling excursion: expect to pay R417
- Cost of a full day diving trip: from R775
- Cost of a boat trip to a sandbank: around R270
The Maldives is a network of 1800 islands and you’ll mainly be getting around on boat. There are three kinds of boat: ferry, dhoni and speedboat.
A speedboat is the most expensive with prices depending on distance. The good news is that, if you take a resort package deal, the cost is probably included.
- Cost of speedboat trip: R900-R4500 for a return ticket
The dhoni is a traditional Maldivian sea vessel that’s now been modernised with a motorised engine and metal frame. It’s a picturesque manner of getting around and can be more cost effective, unless you want to charter it for private day trips, when it becomes pricier than a speedboat.
- Cost of a journey by dhoni: around R39 per kilometer
If you’re keeping to a budget, the ferry will be your go-to. The Maldivian government has been expanding the inter-island ferry network in the past few years, again helping low-end tourism. The catch is that these ferries only go to local islands, not to exclusive resort islands. For smaller islands, the ferry may take the form of a dhoni.
- Cost of a ferry ride: never more than R120 for a 15 hour journey
There are planes which operate between Malé, Maamigili and Dharavandhoo. Flyme is the national carrier and prices are similar to South African domestic airfare.
- Cost of flight from Malé to Dharavandhoo: R1308 (one-way)
- Cost of flight from Malé to Maamigili: R1535 (one-way)
A unique experience is the seaplane, used for connections to the remotest islands.
- Cost seaplane flight: upwards from R4164 (one-way)
On local islands there are buses in operation.
- Costs: usually around R5 for short trips.
- Cost of transport from Hulhumalé airport to Malé: approximately R16,63 by bus and public ferry
Additional Cost Considerations
It cannot be stressed enough how important travel insurance is. If you have a medical emergency on one of the islands, a plane will need to be privately chartered to get you to the nearest hospital: it won’t be cheap.
- Cost of travel insurance: it usually can work out to around R50 per day
With the Maldives being visa-free for South Africans, you’re saving around R2000, the amount normally required for European visas.
No doubt that the Maldives is geared towards the high-end traveller but the beauty of the islands can be seen from a guesthouse window or a private villa deck. How expensive your trip to paradise is depends on your tastes but for the budget traveller, it’s never been more attainable.