Editor’s note: In the second segment of the two part series, Bruce Lynn looks at the non-resort options; Guesthouses and Liveabaords / Safari Vessels as options to stay in the Maldives as a tourist. You can read the first part on this link.
Non-Resort Maldives Options; Guest Houses & Safari Vessels
The Maldives tourist experience started with special resorts segregated on their very own small islands that were completely devoted to that resort. The resort had its own dedicated infrastructure (like their own power station and desalination plant) as well as a contingent of workers housed in staff quarters. The expense of building and operating your own dedicated island is quite high, which contributes to the price tag of staying there. In an effort to provide lower cost options and expand the ways that entrepreneurial Maldivians could contribute to and benefit from the industry, the Tourism Ministry introduced the concept of “guest houses” run by Madivians on “local islands” (ie. islands where other Maldivians lived). These allowed Maldivians to invest in small hotels or lodging that would take a modest amount to set up and run and so could be charged out at very modest rates. Some guest houses cost as little as $50/night. For certain types of travellers, being on an inhabited island has added dividends of being able to explore and interact with the local community and experience their island life. But these offerings also have a number of constraints that you should be aware of and do limit their appeal to some visitors:
Dress – By living in the Maldivian community there is a reasonable expectation that guests will respect local customs, the most prominent of which is dress for women. As an Islamic country, the local population generally appreciates modest female dress including covered legs and shoulders. This tradition most impacts swimming costumes. While locals wear a “burkini” (covers head to toe) in the water, Western cossies (especially skimpy bikinis) are not allowed. Saving grace – One exception is that some local islands with guest houses have set up special segregated beaches for visitors where even bikinis are allowed (no topless sunbathing though).
Alcohol – Another central tenet of the Islamic tradition is the prohibition of alcohol. Perhaps not a big deal for teetotalling guests, but for those for whom a sundowner is an essential part of the holiday experience, it can be a disappointment. Saving grace – A couple of islands have set up bars serving cocktails on boats moored offshore from the island and which only foreign visitors are allowed to go to. Also, the locals have mastered quite a repertoire of “mock-tails” (alcohol-free ‘cocktails’) which are extremely tasty to provide exotic tropical refreshment as an alternative.
Services – While resorts have entire staffs of hospitality professionals, guesthouses are typically more mom-and-pop operations. As a result, they often have fewer resources at their fingertips and may be less adept at certain aspects of the guest experience. Saving grace – On the other hand, you will get extremely personal and friendly 1:1 attention.
Standard – While resort islands can be super luxurious, the majority of which are 5-stars and very few are below 4-stars, guesthouses are typically of a 3-star grade (and lower). The key amenity that is often lacking is air conditioning, which can be a challenge in a tropical locale. Saving grace – Online review sites provide lots of information so you can find the amenities and quality you care about and avoid properties that are missing things important to you.
LIVEABOARDS / SMALL CRUISES
Another option for trimming your budget are boats. Liveaboards have long been a cheap option for divers to bunk while going from dive site to dive site. But in the Maldives, the cruising options have gotten quite sophisticated and expansive. You can find quite well appointed bedrooms in lovely vessels serving delicious food. Some boats even offer spa services onboard. And yet the value for money is much stronger because the boats have much fewer overheads. Saving grace: You get to not only see lots of different parts of the Maldives, but you get to enjoy a stay at sea if that appeals to you.
About the author Bruce Lynn is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Maldives resorts having researched and visited them for over two decades and being the first person to have stayed at 100 resorts. His non-commercial website MaldivesComplete is used by the industry and public alike as the go-to resource for easily accessible information including 2000+ blog posts, and a database of 200+ resorts, 1000+ room categories, and 1800+ dive sites .