Maldives on Budget

by Mridula on April 24, 2014

in Canon D550,Maldives,Photography,Travel

I always had the impression, along with some of my friends who like to travel, that Maldives was an incredibly expensive destination. Then I chanced across Svetlana’s Maldives posts on a budget. That was a complete blessing, as it showed me that Maldives on budget was possible. Now, that I have done the trip here are my tips for doing Maldives on budget.

Flight Costs: I had actually applied for leaves to visit Maldives in March. But then I was late in looking for flight tickets. I usually search on multiple aggregating websites and then go and check the fare on the airline website as well. I found the Spicejet Delhi-Mumbai-Kochi and then Kochi-Male flight to be cheapest. In March I was getting 21 thousand Indian rupees return fare. I was hesitating to spend 42K for two people just on the airfare. In the end, when I got the tickets for April I paid 17K each as the return fare. If I had leaves I would have taken the flight from Kochi, but what to do, with a full time job leaves are precious as I have to make them last for one full year. Being in academics helps as I get a bit more leaves than others but I still treat my leaves with enormous care.

Beautiful Maafushi Island, Maldives

Beautiful Maafushi Island, Maldives

Finding an Island: I zeroed down at Maafushi because I searched for budget islands in Maldives and this one was popular. There are two type of islands in Maldives, resort islands and budget islands. Resort Islands have existed for a long time, I am told budget islands were opened about three years before. I am not sure about the time frame at all, it could be that Maafushi opened to the tourists three years before. The resort islands are expensive. For example I cannot find anything under US dollars 200 (without taxes) on the resort side. Whereas on the budget side you can find accommodations starting from $50. There are many more budget islands in Maldives.

Taxes: When a person quotes a price in Maldives, the actual price will be invariably more. They have a 8% tax on almost everything. Then there could be a 10% extra tax. So when you are planning your Maldives trip do keep in mind that you will pay more than the quoted price most of the time.

Finding a Hotel: I found the hotel via Tripadvisor. I stayed at Picnic Inn which is a basic guesthouse. There are cheaper hotels than Picnic Inn at Maafushi. But while researching at Tripadvisor I realized that the lower priced ones were in close proximity to the jail on the island. I decided to stay mid way. The hotels on the beach side are more expensive, the hotels closer to the jail less so. I booked directly through the hotel. I finally went with them because they were very prompt in answering my queries. I wrote to a few others but found them slow in providing information to me.

Speed Boats are Expensive: Maldives is an island nation. So you take boats to go from one place to another. The local ferries are cheap but not frequent. There are no ferries on Fridays as well. The speed boats are really expensive. I was quoted 200 dollar for the speedboat transfer from Male Airport to Maafushi. The ferry was at 3.00 pm from Male city. My flight landed at 2.10 pm. With visa on arrival I knew there was no way we could take the ferry. So I agreed to the speed boat transfer. If there are more than 5 people sharing a speed boat they charge you $39. I was lucky that the hotel had another group coming by the same flight and I paid $39 per head in the end. But this was just luck. For the Fihalhohi Resort Island trip the speedboat cost was $65 per head. For comparison entry fee with lunch at the resort was $48 per head.

The alternative was to stay at Male and take the ferry to Maafushi the next day. I realized the speedboat costs quite close to my trip and I was not willing to go and search for another hotel in Male. The ferry cost is about $3 and I took it on my return leg from Maafushi to Male.

Money Matters: On the islands everyone accepted dollars so I never exchanged currency. We were offered 15.4 Maldivian Rufiyaa for a dollar. Now that Indian rupee is about 60 to a dollar I was not thrilled. Some of the shopkeepers return you the local currency for the change even if you paid in dollars and that is how we had local currency with us in the end to pay on the ferry.

Dining by the Sea, Maafushi Island, Maldives

Dining by the Sea, Maafushi Island, Maldives

Food and Water: On budget islands there is no liquor available. The resort islands have no such restrictions. On an average we paid $20 for a a meal for two with fruit juice. In the tropics it is impossible to stay away from juices.Tap water is not potable. A 1.5 liter water bottle costs $1.

Excursions: At Maldives the temptation is to go on other side excursions like diving, snorkeling, sunset cruise and island hopping to name a few. All these are expensive. The prices will vary but do keep a budget for it.

From my side I have tried to give an idea about various costs. If you think I have missed out on something important do let me know, I will try to update the post.

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We opted to go to the Fihalhohi Island Resort, Maldives because it was easier on the pocket. We were actually staying on Maafushi, which is a budget island. The excursions were available to both Anantara and Taj Exotica but it was so expensive for me. Most of the islands take day guests. So, the population on a resort island is made up of tourists who are staying at the resort and floaters like us, who visit it just for a day. Fihalhohi is a beautiful island but then so is Maafushi.

Fihalhohi Island, Maldives

Fihalhohi Island, Maldives #Lumia1020

The most expensive part for us about this island hopping was the cost of the speed boat once again. It was 65 US Dollars per head. In contrast the resort entry fee was 24 dollar and with lunch 48 dollars. We opted for the package with lunch because we knew we would be hungry by noon. Staying outdoors does something to the appetite. We were told that the lunch was from 11.30 to 1.00 pm Male time. That puzzled us. They said this island was 1 hour ahead of Male time. Now this was new for me, that different islands were in different time zones in Maldives.

Water Bungalows, Maldives

Water Bungalows at Fihalhohi Island, Maldives #Canon550D

The water bungalows were a sight to behold! I was completely mesmerized with them. There was a staircase going down straight from each bungalow to the sea! When I came back to Maafushi I checked the price of the standard room at Fihalhohi island Resort, Maldives. It was about 200 dollars without taxes. I didn’t even bother to check the water bungalows as I am sure they would be much more expensive. They surely looked good though. On both the islands everyone accepted US dollars. In fact I never used the local currency anywhere except Male. My nephew did use it on Maafushi too. I am not sure if the local ferry will accept dollars though.

Fish at Fihalhohi, Maldives

Fish at Fihalhohi, Maldives #Canon550D

The water was so clear around the resort that I could see fish right from the sitting deck near the reception. So, I clicked this picture with my 70-300 lens like I would click a bird! After Maldives I am wondering if I should buy camera casing for the cell phone so that I could take it underwater. You see I always find ways to spend more money!

Fish by the Beach, Fihalhohi Island, Maldives

Fish by the Beach, Fihalhohi Island, Maldives #Canon550D

By afternoon the paradise became incredibly hot. Even a die hard photography person like me was forced to retire to the shade. I did venture in the middle to click this group of fish that came swimming right by the shore. The black spot is formed by a group of fish!

Grey Herons at Fihalhohi

Grey Herons at Fihalhohi Island Resort, Maldives #Lumia1020

Grey herons were the only birds I could photograph at Fihalhohi. Though I saw Koels and fruit bats too. These herons were such fearless birds that I could click them with my cell phone. They knew no fear of humans or cameras being waved in their faces. They flew away when you tried to get extremely close. Even then they would just hop around lazily a few steps away from you in the most bored fashion.

Bird

Grey Heron in Search of Shade #Lumia1020

But by mid afternoon even the birds were looking for shade. It was time to move in and have lunch. Lunch was in a big restaurant. They had stuff for vegetarians and a nice dessert section. They started closing the counters right on time, by 1.00 pm Male time they started removing food.

For us island hopping was expensive but then it was beautiful too. The islands get a lot of day visitors. The only trouble was that they had nothing really going for day arrivals. I thought there would be a few changing rooms at least for day guests but I was told there were not. Wash rooms were there, so was an open air shower. I guess it would add a lot to the experience if they dedicated a few changing rooms for day visitors as anyone who came there would like to go to the sea. I managed to change in the bathroom and had no real trouble.

Overall, Fihalhohi is a beautiful island and by Maldives standards not too expensive. If you are wondering why I don’t have any sunset pictures, it is because we went back to Maafushi at 3.00 pm so that my nephew could play football with the locals at Maafushi!

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If you have read even a few of my posts you know I largely stay away from culture and food. So now that I have blogged almost everything else I thought it was about time I tried my hand at culture and food. I had the opportunity to listen to some Yoik drumming of the Sami people from Lapland. They are the indigenous people who live in Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

Sami Yoik from Lapland

Sami Yoik from Lapland #Lumia1020

I was planning to upload a video of the drumming and the yoik on Youtube and imagine my surprise when I got to know that the opening song of the movie Frozen is a Sami yoik from Norway! I actually watched the movie on my Delhi-Munich flight! There is a version of the opening song with the drums that I have now completely fallen in love with. I have to share it.

Sami’s are said to be pagans. Reindeer herding is one of their professions. They are said to be close to the earth and proud of their culture. The wonderful team of the #Lumiainlapland event had organized a lunch for us at a Lapp Hut- Tiikun Tiipii at Levi.

Tiikun Tiipii- A Lapp Hut with Excellent Food

Tiikun Tiipii- A Lapp Hut with Excellent Food #Lumia1020

The hut straight looked like it came out of a Christmas post card! Our hostess was Tiikku, who had a lot of knowledge about Sami culture. We asked her if she was a Sami to which she said she was not. She had the most interesting eyes in the world, her iris had two colors! She served me the most amazing homemade beer I ever tasted in my life. I am saying this when I am not even fond of beer. I realized at Levi that I was drinking either beer or wine with almost every meal and without it as well. I am not used to it! My head started feeling funny, by the second day I started saying no even to wine, which was a pity.

Tiikku by the Fire, Levi, Lapland

Tiikku by the Fire, Levi, Lapland #Lumia1020

I don’t know why I kept seeing similarities between the Everest region in Nepal and Levi, Lapland. The color and the embroidery felt very similar to Nepal. Then there was fire which was at the heart of the community at both the places. Or maybe it was just a trick of my mind but Levi, somehow reminded me of Nepal very strongly.

Vegetarian Food

Vegetarian Food #Lumia1020

If you love to travel, being vegetarian limits your options but that is how I am. I am willing to live on bread but remain a vegetarian. But of late I feel the world has started us vegetarians better. I had some excellent potatoes, carrot jam and vegetables as my main course. Tiikku’s place has great Sami pictures. She was talking about the role of a Shaman and his/her importance in the traditional Sami culture. Then she pointed at me and said a Shaman would usually sit where I was sitting, opposite the door!

Home Made Beer and Flambéed Lappish Cheese with Lingonberry Sauce

Home Made Beer and Flambéed Lappish Cheese with Lingonberry Sauce #Lumia1020

Now that I at least make an effort to talk about food, I realize that desserts are my real interest. Along with the previously mentioned excellent home made beer I loved the Flambéed Lappish Cheese with Lingonberry Sauce. My more food inclined friends talked about cloudberry which sounded very exotic to me. I manged to try a cloudberry based dessert in Helsinki eventually.

Reindeer Love

Reindeer Love #Lumia1020

I didn’t get to see a reindeer in the wild but I got to see plenty of them. There is no doubt people love them but they eat them too. I remember one member of the Chinese media team saying loudly that he would never eat reindeer meat as they were too cute! Then people asked him which was the cutest animal in China. To which he said pandas and anticipating the next question, he said vehemently “and no one eats pandas.” Well I am a vegetarian, I anyway don’t understand it.

In the end I leave you with the yoik I heard at Levi, Lapland. It was an absolute privilege for me to listen to it.

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Maldives is a beach destination. And you need to read no further if you are visiting a resort island. At a resort island there are just tourists and no restrictions on dress. However, I was visiting a budget island, Maafushi and Maldives is a Muslim nation. On Maafushi there is a local population. So, I was wondering about the dress code before I left.

What I read on the internet about dress code for women in Maafushi, it felt like I should be conservative. It felt like even a swimsuit would be frowned upon so I left it behind. Well, it is another matter that I bought another swimsuit at Maafushi. I am from India and I anyway wear single piece swimsuits so I was fine with what I got in the local store. But now that I am back let me dispel a few of the myths about the dress code for women at Maafushi Island in Maldives. You can easily wear a bikini on the tourist side of the beach at Maafushi. Here is what I saw.

Wearing a Bikini at Maafushi

Wearing a Bikini at Maafushi #Canon550D

And not only just one or two women, a majority of the women on the tourist side of the beach wore bikinis. So, next time someone tells you you can’t wear a bikini on the beach, show them some pictures! Having said that people would wear a sarong or a t-shirt or a wrap when they would start walking to their guesthouses. People would generally not walk on the village roads in a bikini. But make no mistake, on the tourist beach you can be in your swimwear. Do not leave your swimsuit behind like me.

Short Shorts, Maafushi, Maldives

Short Shorts, Maafushi, Maldives #Canon550D

This is a picture of two people walking back from the beach. Generally people covered up a bit more, but even if you did not and wanted to wear short shorts, that was perfectly fine.

Local Women at Maafushi Beach, Maldives

Local Women at Maafushi Beach, Maldives #Lumia1020

On the other side of the island is the beach frequented by the locals. This is how local women at Maafushi go to the beach. If you plan to walk on this side it would be easier if you covered up a  bit. I have no idea why this distinction is maintained but this side of the beach was quieter. There were hardly any tourists and who were there like me walked around in Capris and t-shirts in general, even though shorts were fine as well.

Bare Shoulders, Maafushi, Maldives

Bare Shoulders, Maafushi, Maldives #Canon550D

Before going I read something about not baring your shoulders at Maafushi. Well, I clicked this picture on the local side of the beach. The girl was having a photo shoot with her friend and no one bothered them. So, I figure that baring shoulders is not such a big deal on the Maafushi Island.

The Beach at Maafushi Island, Maldives

The Beach at Maafushi Island, Maldives #Lumia1020

On the beautiful tourist side of the beach at Maafushi you can see people having a good time in the beautiful blue waters. As I said before on this side of the island wearing a bikini was common.

People at Maafushi Beach, Maldives

People at Maafushi Beach, Maldives #Canon550D

However, in the end it is your choice, women would wear what they wanted to wear, including a shorts and t-shirts. I wonder why there is so much on the internet about Maafushi that does not meets the ground reality when it comes to the dress code of women and beachwear.

A Local Family at Maafushi, Maldives

A Local Family at Maafushi, Maldives #Canon550D

Even though it makes for a huge contrast with the locals, I never felt any hostility directed at me for dressing differently. I always thought that the people were friendly and generally left you to your own whims and fancies. So, next time you head to Maafushi, click some more pictures of the beach and spread the word around that there is no need to leave behind your swimsuit.

I would end this post with a word of caution though. This post is a result of my personal experiences at Maafushi only. I am not sure how other budget islands are. But anyway don’t leave your beach wear behind, in the other scenario it will just not come out of your bag.

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For this lazy Sunday, here is a cute child on the streets of Maafushi, Maldives.

A Child at the Maafushi Streets, Maldives

A Child at the Maafushi Streets, Maldives

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I was amazed by the sheer size of the Chittorgarh Fort. The place was immense. I was told the area of the fort is 700 acres and it would take 3 days if I wanted to see it properly. Chittorgarh Fort is also one of the living forts where people have their homes, though no new construction is allowed. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Chttorgarh Fort, Rajasthan

Chttorgarh Fort, Rajasthan

It was a pity that I had so little time to see this majestic monument. The fort’s construction is attributed to 7 AD by the Maurya ruler Chitrangada Mori. It then came to the Sisodiya Rulers of Rajasthan.

A Temple at Chittorgarh Fort

A Temple at Chittorgarh Fort

There are many temples within the fort. There is one devoted to Mira Bai as well, though not the one in picture above. It is so fascinating to go to places and see structures that I previously knew from the history books only. After all the Mira Bai story I think was part of some history lesson for me. It was a Hindi movie from my childhood too.

Rani Padmini's Palace, Chittorgarh, Rajasthan

Rani Padmini’s Palace, Chittorgarh, Rajasthan

The other famous spot from my history lessons was the Rani Padmini’s palace and the story of Aladuddin Khilji. The legend goes that Khilji was smitten by the queen and he wanted to see her. They show you the mirror in which Khilji was able to see the queen’s image. And if you actually turn back and try to see the spot where the queen would have been standing, you cannot see it. It is visible only in the mirror. I have never been a fan of the queens setting themselves on fire if the menfolk lost a battle but then who am I to judge such ancient times.

Chittorgarh City, Rajasthan

Chittorgarh City, Rajasthan

There is a 9 story structure within the fort called the Vijay Stambh (victory pillar) and you can climb it till 8th floor. The stairs are narrow and dark. But it was fun going up the structure. This was the view of the city from the place. It was totally worth it. I was also so surprised to see all the idols defaced within the structure, I mean there were a lot of statues and all defaced. That would have been a lot of work for some people! But then religion is such a complex thing.

The Light and Sound Show at Chittorgarh, Rajasthan

The Light and Sound Show at Chittorgarh, Rajasthan

Finally it was time for the light and sound show which told us the history of the fort in an amazing way. Once again I could recognize a story from my history books, that of Panna Dhai who puts her son to be killed in order to save the crown prince!

While reading the books I never imagined the fort to be such a grand place, seeing it was something else. But then I never have had a vivid imagination nor too much of a fascination for history. After a while I tend to forget all the stories …

I visited Chittorgarh Fort from the Lake Palace, Nahargarh which is about 30km from the city. I was invited by the hotel to spend some time with them. How I wish I had more time.

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