Picture white-sand beaches stretching into crystal clear blue water in varying shades as it makes its way from sandbar, to island, to reef, to island again. Sea life flourishes under the calm sea, whether it be a Manta ray, Whale shark, massive Tuna fish, or any sampling of hundreds of thousands of other kinds of sea creatures that make this aqua-hued playground their home.
This is the Maldives – the island chain that so many dream of visiting. It’s on bucket lists around the world, saved for the “someday”s and “maybe when I’m richer”s.
The reality is, this can be tangible sooner than you think.
In 2009, the Maldives opened up the possibility of tourism on locally inhabited islands. This spawned the growth of various guesthouses all around the Maldives with some wonderfully affordable prices.
My personal favorite happens to be the Amazing Noovilu in Mahibadoo island, Ari Atoll, which I booked with AirBnB.
Accessed easily via speedboat from Male several days out of the week for a mere $20, Mahibadoo is in one of the very best atolls for marine life spotting and beautiful beach enjoyment.
Even better, it’s not the metropolis that Male is, and costs a mere fraction of resort prices. At an average of $100 per night for a double room (that is large enough to accommodate 3 if traveling as a small family), it’s the perfect budget way to experience the real Maldives.
Mazin is the always-smiling guesthouse owner who, with many years of resort experience, knows exactly how to create a wonderful experience for his guests. Each step of the stay is taken care of by his extended family members, from a greeting in Male to help the guests find the right ferry and make their way to Mahibadoo, to the fresh and delicious meals prepared three times daily. Consisting of traditional Maldivian cuisine of seafood, delicious flat bread, rice, and fresh fruit and veggies, it’s a special treat to get a real sense of how Maldivians eat, live, and love life.
The guesthouse is small and perfect with three rooms at the moment, poised to grow to five. The rooms are clean and spacious with a double bed and small futon, a mirrored wardrobe, 24-hour electricity, fans, air conditioning, and daily cleaning and changing of the sheets. The garden leading into the guesthouse is shaded by small palms and banana trees, complete with lawn chairs and a small outdoor kitchenette. It is completely walled in, creating a private feel but still an openness with tinted windows.
My personal favorite was the bathroom, which was outdoors (but again completely walled off for privacy), with frangipani trees and sand all around the shower, which had hot water and a western-style toilet.
The island itself can be walked around in an afternoon. There are ATMs, small conveniences stores, friendly locals, and plenty of coffee houses.
Activities are the real treat, because Mazin takes it upon himself to be the tour guide. He offers Manta watching and Whale shark snorkeling tours in his mini speedboat, which provides perfect flexibility and results in an almost-private tour without any real time restrictions.
What I really found special and appreciated quite a bit was his commitment to making sure that I got to SCUBA dive. Though this isn’t something he normally offers, Mazin went the extra mile by renting SCUBA gear from local sea cucumber fishermen, hiring his brother to captain the small boat, and taking me diving himself. It was a wonderful, and again, completely private experience that is missing from the big resorts.
Then there was the night time fishing on a local fisherman’s boat, resulting in one of the most dazzling star displays I’ve ever seen, followed by a meal of fresh fish.
Lastly, the picnic island excursion was lovely, punctuated by spear fishing, snorkeling, and lazing around in the sun, or under the shade structures temporarily erected by his brothers for our afternoon on the island.
I really enjoyed staying on a local island and experiencing the real Maldives, at a very affordable rate, and in such a way that I was supporting a local family – one that was a complete joy to be a part of for the week that I was there.
I wish Mazin all the success in the world, and encourage you to visit this amazing guesthouse should you wish to see the Maldives on a budget.
Book it yourself:
- The Amazing Noovilu can be booked via AirBnB (just follow this link and do a quick search for the “Amazing Noovilu”)
- Since this is a local island, there is no alcohol and no bikinis, however, you’ll spend so much time on excursions where a bikini is fine, that this shouldn’t be a big deal
- Check out my budget guide to the Maldives for more information on how to find a cheap flight and other incidentals