Last Updated on 19/09/2021 by Clotilde Passalacqua
For years you have dreamed of a holiday in this paradise of white sand and crystal clear water. Now you have discovered that visiting the local islands in Maldives is not even so expensive… but where to start?
Maafushi island is probably the first option you will come across, surely not a place to avoid but also not the best and definitely to be combined with a visit to another local island and possibly a couple of days in a resort.
Planning a trip independently to one of Maldives local islands can be overwhelming.
About 10 years ago the Maldivian government changed the law and so offered the possibility for its citizens to open independent hotels and guesthouses. Before this the only choice you had was to experience the luxurious Maldives of the glossy catalogues, while remaining confined to the private islands of the resorts. Today however it is possible to immerse yourself in the local culture and visit Maldives best island.
This option has obviously also opened the door to a new type of tourist who wants to experience the Maldives on a budget. Excluding flights to reach them, the Maldives can be very cheap.
If you want a detailed breakdown of costs you can read How to budget for Maldives for a terrific vacation, where you will find all the cost info to consider when choosing local islands in Maldives or fabulous resorts.
Let’s move on to some considerations on which island to visit in Maldives and whether Maafushi (probably the best known of the Maldives local island) can meet your needs and dreams.
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How to choose the best island in Maldives and how to get there
How many islands are in Maldives?
Considering the presence of 26 atolls and almost 1,200 islands scattered over a 1,000km square surface, and the still scarce information on the most remote islands it is not difficult to feel confused.
Let’s have a look at what to consider when evaluating Maldives best local islands:
Time to reach local island in Maldives
The islands in the Maldives are scattered over a very large area of the Indian ocean. Arriving in Male, if you want to reach the most distant islands on a budget you will have to carefully plan your itinerary and include long transfer times with a local ferry.
Atoll transfer is a good site that shows local connections between some atolls. It is a good starting point to understand which atolls are connected and how much time you need for the transfer.
Some of the Maldives islands are well and frequently connected with ferry and speedboat more times a day.
However it is important to check the timetables, because some connections are active only on certain days of the week.
The most realistic scenario to reach your final destination, if very far away, is to stop for a few days in a couple of islands along the way.
When you have at least an idea of where to go however, I suggest you contact your hotel / guesthouse to get the latest ferry timetable; their local knowledge is very useful in case of information not updated on the net, or other events that could modify the regular connections.
Local connections usually cost between $ 2 and $ 4 per person.
Money to reach local island in Maldives
If your time is short then the alternative, always with an eye on costs, is to invest a little more money for transfers with speedboats.
From Male, speedboats continuously depart for several local islands in Maldives, in some cases even more than one transfer per day. Of course compared to transfers with local boats the costs are exorbitant, but the convenience is guaranteed.
For example: we landed in Male at 10 in the morning. On Monday the only local transfer leaves at 15:00 (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday there is also one at 10am) so we would have lost practically the whole day.
Instead, we took the speedboat from Maafushi tour at 11:30 and in half an hour we landed on our first dream island (or so I thought).
However, I must add that some local islands in Maldives can only be reached by internal flights.
For those arriving from Sri Lanka or India there is the possibility, with some airlines, of arriving at one of the 2 other international airports (there are 4 in total, but 1 is for private flights)
This option would already place you in an area with less tourist flow, from where you can then move to less travelled islands.
But now let’s go back to my original question:
Is Maafushi the best of the local islands in Maldives? Our experience
Our trip to the Maldives was a bit hit and run. The dream of visiting the Maldives has accompanied me for a long time, so when I realized that between exploring the Maldives local islands and the help of airmiles and hotel points, I could visit the Maldives on budget then I did not hesitate.
We had 2 nights in Maafushi and 5 nights in the luxurious Conrad Rangali Island Maldives.
With only two days to explore one of the inhabited islands in Maldives, after several searches, my choice fell with Maafushi.
It is one of the few islands that has direct connections with speedboats from the airport and it is quite close by so you only need a short transfer. To reach most of the other islands, you must first move to Male.
To be honest, the transfer to Male is simple and can be done by bus (leaving the airport on the left) or in 15 minutes by ferry.
Maafushi island seemed the perfect compromise between time saved and money spent … but unfortunately when a place becomes easily accessible then part of the magic vanishes.
Do you need some tips to build your family trip itinerary? Check out this Step by step guide!
Maafushi is not a large island, approx 1km long by 200m wide so surely you will find yourself doing a lap at least once.
As soon as you arrive the impact is strange, the beach is practically deserted and not as attractive as you might expect. Most of the hotels, guesthouses, and facilities are distributed in the northern part of the island, where the bikini beach is also located
What are the bikini beaches?Bikini beaches are the beaches where it is not necessary to cover yourself. The Maldives is a Muslim country and tourists are required to respect its culture. For this reason, in all the Maldives local islands there are dedicated beaches where it is possible to wear only a bikini.
The architecture of the island is very simple, not particularly charming, but probably until a decade ago perfectly integrated into the landscape.
Unfortunately, to cope with the continuous influx of tourists, the landscape is being defaced to build tall buildings that will become hotels.
Don’t get me wrong, maybe Maafushi is not the best island in the Maldives, but it is a very pleasant village where you can get in touch with the local culture, and enjoy pleasant hours discovering fish you’ve never seen before in the natural aquarium that surrounds it
However in my opinion Maafushi has lost the aura of a place lost in the ocean where only the waves of the sea can be heard while lying on the beach … well maybe with your eyes closed during times of prayer when the builders of the hotels behind the bikini beach put down their jackhammers !!!
Unfortunately I am convinced that today it is necessary to venture to one of the Maldives local islands of which I spoke at the beginning: those of which there is little information and photos, relying a little on adventure and being surprised by some scenario not yet seen in Instagram !!!
What to do on a local island in Maldives
Relax, swim, sleep, and repeat! The pace is nice and slow, this is the most beautiful thing, you don’t need to pre-book activities and restaurants days in advance.
Now, conditioned by London life to book everything months in advance to ensure entry to popular exhibitions and events or to avoid endless lines, I literally love when I can wake up in the morning and decide what to do … or at least the night before!
Excursions to do snorkeling, see turtles, whale sharks…
If you decide to combine your visit to the local islands in Maldives with a few days in a resort and you want to save money, then consider making the most of the excursions from the local islands. Although certainly different, excursions will take you to see incredible places and for a fraction of the price you would pay in the resort.
Whale Shark Tour
Half Day Snorkeling
Half day snorkeling, Dolphin watching and Sandbank trip
Just as an example: the whale shark tour from Maafushi cost $85++ pp, while at the Conrad Rangali Maldives it costs $200++ pp.
However do not forget that simply swimming from the bikini beach you can spend enchanted hours watching the seabed and snorkelling with the fish.
If you want to surprise your partner, this activity will not cost you too much. For $25 you can reserve one of the 3 tables that the Arena restaurant (I discuss in more detail later) sets up almost on the shoreline. In my opinion, the food is nothing special, but the atmosphere compensates for it. You can choose between a fixed price BBQ or the a la carte menu (more practical in my opinion). Then you will have to add what you order to the table price.
Visit Gulhi local island
The ferry that leaves Maafushi in the morning towards Male at 8, in less than 15 minutes will take you to Gulhi. If you want to change the scenary a little this is an excellent and cheap option.
You can explore the island, snorkel in different waters, and then return with the 4:15 ferry to Maafushi
Surely you have already taken into account that to visit the local islands in Maldives you will have to give up on alcoholic drinks.
Maldives is a Muslim country and so alcohol is banned everywhere outside of resorts … and where there are floating bars. Yes you got it right, boats turned into bars where you can go to spend a few hours drinking a beer or a glass of wine. In Maafushi there are 3 floating bars and speedboat transport to reach them is included which leaves from the harbour.. beers are usually around $6
If your budget for Maldives is really reduced, a solution to sample resort life is to organise a one-day visit.
From Maafushi, as from most of the other local islands in Maldives, your guesthouse / hotel should have no problems organizing your transfer with the day pass to a resort. Our hotel had 3 different resort options and it was charging from $100 to $145 per person for a trip from 8am till 5pm
Maafushi: Adaaran Prestige Vadoo resort day trip
In Maafushi diving can be organized directly in one of the 4 centers on the island and all the various recreational sports such as jet ski, paddle board and more, are easily accessible from the beach next to the bikini beach. Most of the local islands in Maldives have diving centres, but to be sure check with your hotel.
If you also include sunbathing among your key activities, don’t worry because if you want a minimum of comfort you can also rent comfortable sun beds. With our guesthouse they were included in the price.
Maafushi: Kite Surfing & Wind Surfing
What currency to bring to local islands in Maldives?
We have had no problem paying with credit cards in the hotel and in the restaurants, but it is also useful to have cash, especially if you are staying for more than a couple of days. USD is accepted everywhere, but in most cases they will give you back change in Maldivian Rufiyaa.
HOT TIP: You can’t exchange Rufiyaa back in other currency so try to exchange the minimum you need
Where to stay in Maafushi
If you want the comfort of a classic hotel you will have no problems, the options are varied and constantly expanding.
Among the classic hotels I had considered the aforementioned Arena Beach Hotel, and the Kaani Grand Seaview. Both are right on the bikini beach. Fortunately, in the end I didn’t choose them because at the moment the major construction works are taking place right behind these two hotels. (inquire first in case these are your first choice)
KAANI GRAND SEAVIEW
ARENA BEACH HOTEL
Even just seeing them from outside and taking a look at the receptions you can understand that they have done everything to offer the shining alternative for those looking for luxury even on a trip to the Maldives on a budget.
The Kaani especially has beautiful glazed balconies that allow you to appreciate the panorama in an exceptional way.
However I was looking for something different. I had 5 nights in front of me in an exclusive 5-star resort and on arriving in Maafushi I was looking for a little more desert island (with bathroom and hot water of course) than for a standard hotel.
Liyela retreat Maldives
My choice fell on the Liyela retreat Maldives. A small hotel run by Lola.
Here the atmosphere is completely different, everything is very simple, almost austere but very refined. The building has been renovated without being starved. Natural materials with wood were used as the main element and local art as decoration.
The rooms are large with comfortable bathrooms, balcony with sea view and very clean. The only flaw perhaps being they lack a seat, there are seats on the balcony, but in my opinion a small armchair would be nice in the bedroom.
On the roof terrace you will find the Raha restaurant, where breakfast is also served. Mark says they serve a fantastic Maldivian breakfast (mashuni, a spicy seafood dish)
Lola and the rest of the staff are very kind people and ready to help you in everything. Even though we only stayed two days we really appreciated the little details, whether it was making sure we had enough water in the room or offering us ice cream after lunch.
When we arrived they came to pick us up with a golf cart and they always accompanied us to the bikini beach to guarantee us the sunbeds. As I said before they can organize for you all the excursions you want including a visit to a resort.
The prices are in line with those of the other high-end hotels on the island, but if you have come to Maafushi to savour the different life of the local islands in Maldives, then here you will find the perfect compromise between local life and comfort.
If you are looking for the perfect resort for families don’t miss my post about Maldives with kids!
Where to eat in Maafushi
I hope you are fish lovers, or like me you will be forced to fall back on less inviting dishes while your partner / friends / family devour succulent and perfectly cooked catch of the day, or to choose carefully where to stop to eat! Obviously we were on a small island in the midst of the ocean so this doesn’t surprise anyone, right?
I have to say that the alternatives are there, but seriously the fish dishes (as Mark tells me) are at another level
On the bikini beach you can easily order lunch while lying on your sunbed. After a while you will get an immense tray with lobster, seafood, catch of the day or other fish delicacies, at least from the menu I have seen.
On the island there are many restaurants from the most simple kiosks to restaurants described as fine dining usually in hotels.
We tried the Raha restaurant which is part of our guesthouse / hotel and the beach restaurant Arena beach (part of the hotel of the same name).
Raha restaurant was definitely the best.
The restaurant is on the building roof with sea view. The furnishings are simple but cared for and with elements of local art. The atmosphere is relaxed but with attentive and personalised service.
The food has a Mediterranean influence, it is tasty and perfectly cooked. It is little more expensive than other places we have seen on the island, but it certainly does not disappoint.
The Arena restaurant
This restaurant (part of the Arena beach hotel) has one of the most picturesque set ups, with tables on the beach and at a great price.
It offers a grill buffet with many meat, fish, pasta options for just $ 12 ++ or a set menu with starters around $ 7 ++ and $ 10 ++ for fish or meat.
Unfortunately, however, it has little exclusivity.
When we visited it was full with the tables all attached to each other and very little atmosphere. If the price is decidedly inviting, the environment is not so much.
The picture is different however if you book the candle lit dinner I mentioned earlier. In this case you will be far enough away from the crowd to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere by the sea and also appreciate better the mediocre food
At this stage you will have understood that Maafushi had a slightly bitter sweet taste for me, but it was a great place to start a Maldives adventure.
Enjoy your dream!