The best local islands in the Maldives – 30 affordable alternatives to resorts

Are you longing for a tropical vacation to the Maldives, but don’t want to spend a fortune on resort islands? Well, look no further! These are some of the best local islands in the Maldives that can provide an amazing and affordable holiday experience. Read on to learn more about some of the affordable alternatives to resorts that offer a great level of service for some great value for money. As I have personally gone to three types of islands (resort, small local island, and big local island), I can easily give you the scoop on what to choose for your upcoming trip.

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The basics about local islands in the Maldives

As the local islands in the Maldives have been only lately opened to the general public, there’s not that much information available yet. This is both cool and uncool at the same time, as this means there are not that many tourists choosing them, thus allowing you a pretty cool experience, but also you might have a hard time finding the information you need. I hope this detailed post will give you all you need though. If not, reach out to me by commenting on this post, on social media, or by mail, and I can try to find what you need.

When it comes to the visa situation in the Maldives, you don’t have to worry. This is a country where almost anyone gets a visa on arrival valid for 30 days, no matter on which island you intend to stay. It is advisable though to be able to prove your return with a valid ticket and that you have a place to stay while you’re there.

Maybe the best thing about staying on a local island in the Maldives is that the coral can actually be better here as it’s not yet affected by over-tourism, like the ones from the resort islands. The government has just recently opened the inhabited islands for tourists so they’re not yet extremely crowded and damaged.

On the other hand, on some islands, you might see intensive construction work being done. Even your hotel might have an entire new wing being built while you’re there. This might make the island or hotel less dreamy than you thought, so check out reviews for specific islands before you decide, or go to at least two of them to increase your chances of getting a dreamy vacation as well.

A pro tip if you want the best of all worlds is to go as far as possible from the airport. The trip there might cost you more in terms of money or time, but you’ll get the nicest islands and the best marine life if you go further away from the major pollution hub of the area.

From inhabited islands in the Maldives, you can do a multitude of activities. The bigger islands have tour companies that can offer you almost all tours available on resort islands as well, and on the smaller ones, you can definitely arrange something with your host. Even going on a resort island is possible with a day pass, so ask your host if you’re interested in some of these activities.

A small, but powerful piece of information you need to know is that, as in the rest of South-East Asia, the plumbing system here is not the best. What does this mean for you? Well, you’ll have to throw your toilet paper (and as usual, all other sanitary products) in the bin, and not in the toilet. It is what it is, don’t worry too much about it.

The people in the Maldives are some of the nicest that I have ever met, and you’ll say the same when you get there. They have a culture of hospitality that goes beyond the resorts so be prepared to be pampered by these amazing people, no matter where you go. Most of them also work or have ever worked on the resort islands, so be sure they know how to make their tourists return every year.

But truth be told, a local island in the Maldives will never be like a resort island, no matter how much you desperately wish for it. It won’t be better or worse, or maybe it will be both for different criteria, but it will never be the same. In the end, you’re going to a local island to see something different so, be prepared for different, I say.

Getting on local islands in the Maldives

While there is a myriad of ways to get to local islands in the Maldives, I can tell you in short that you can either use a local ferry, which is like $1-$3 per person per way and can take a long time to get to the destination, or you can use a scheduled ferry for around $30 per way, and get there faster. Various other speedboat options are available if you think you’d want one. Check out this schedule and see if you can pull this off easily by yourself.

While I go into more detail in this post about going between islands in the Maldives, be sure to check with your host. They are the ones that can help you the most, as they know the ins and outs of transportation in the area. They can arrange almost anything for you once you are their guest, so don’t hesitate to contact them if needed.

Beach view on one of the best local islands in the Maldives

Rules you have to follow while staying on Maldives’ local islands

As the Maldives is a mostly Muslim country, you have to abide by a few rules (and avoid some mistakes) while you’re there. You can check out my detailed post about the dos and don’ts when traveling to the Maldives, but here are a few things to consider anyway.

If you would like to wear a two-piece swimsuit, you should use the bikini beach, as these bathing suits are not allowed on public beaches. Sunbathing topless is prohibited on ALL islands though so please be aware of these rules when enjoying the beach. This is probably why most tourists only use the bikini beach, but you are welcome to use the local beach if you wear the appropriate clothes.

While you are allowed to wear almost anything on a beach, you should dress modestly whenever you’re not sunbathing. Going to the restaurant in your biking or wandering around the island in your short shorts is an absolute no-no and should be avoided. Wear something that covers your knees and shoulders, no matter your gender, and you’ll be well-received by the locals.

I know you might be on your honeymoon and have a hard time keeping your hands off each other, but a public display of affection is frowned upon in the Maldives. Most probably no one will tell you anything unless you’re being really rude, but you’ll get stared at for sure and I don’t think you want this kind of attention.

And the last of the most obvious rules, you should not even try to bring alcohol into the country, as well as pork products, Bibles, pornography, and other similar materials. If you’re very fond of your bottle of liquor or your Bible, you can leave them at the airport customs and get them back before you leave.

Some of these things might be considered bad things about the Maldives, but to be honest, we have to be respectful of all cultures. So, in very short, if you don’t like it, that’s your problem, and you should look at the whole pictures before (aka, have you seen those beaches? OMG I would give up alcohol in a heartbeat to be able to go there more often!).

Alcohol on local islands

What is more to say about alcohol on local islands in the Maldives, you ask? You thought we covered it already huh? Well, sit down and take notes, because there are wormholes you can use to get that cocktail you’re dreaming of.

While it is forbidden to sell or buy alcohol in the Maldives, some local islands have an interesting approach to this and there’s a boat bar in the middle of the ocean that you can get to by boat from Maafushi. It will be extremely expensive in both time and money to get there, but hey, you’re getting your fix so enjoy the opportunity.

Another way to have a pina colada next to the pool is to get a day pass for a resort island. Some local islands offer this as an activity and for a fixed price in the area of $150, you can enjoy a nearby resort island and its amenities for a day. This includes all beaches, pools, food, and drinks so it’ll be almost like you’re there for good.

Prices on local islands

When it comes to handling money on Maldivian local islands, be aware that while the national currency is the Maldivian Rufiyaa, you can most probably pay for everything in USD, no matter where you go. The thing is, you might get the change in Rufiyaa anyway, as there’s a limit on how many USD bills they have so you might be stuck with it.

There are not that many ATMs on local islands, but you can usually find one on the biggest island of the atoll. The best plan you can have is to get money from the airport ATM and keep the receipt if you’re getting Rufiyaa, as you’ll need it if you want to exchange it back for USD. In case you got the Rufiyaa as a change for your expenses, you’re kind of in a pickle here, as you don’t have this receipt.

So, to be sure you don’t get any leftover currency with you (The Maldivian Rufiyaa cannot be exchanged outside of the country), try to either use your card as much as possible (Revolut works in the Maldives for sure, we tested it) and combine this with having small USD bills with you. In case you’ll get Rufiyaa change, you’ll just have a few bucks, and you can easily spend it before you leave.

In any case, most guesthouses and restaurants have card readers so you can most probably rely on Revolut for your entire trip, but having some cash is never a bad idea. Just be sure to have some crisp bills as the older ones might not be accepted by anyone in the country. Oh, and keep them safe from water. You’ll see that their currency is made of plastic, and it’s the best thing for the country.

While prices can vary wildly based on the island you’ll go to and the amenities you’ll choose, here is a rough estimation of how much you can spend on the top four budget consumers.

  • accommodation – between $50 and $150 per night
  • transportation – between $3 for public ferry and $65 for scheduled speed boat per way
  • food – $5-$8 for a main course of chicken or fish with rice
  • activities – $50-$130 on activities from Maafushi, for example

If you are very budget conscious when planning your trip, check out my detailed post on tips to spend less in the Maldives and see if you can find something that might help you. Spoiler alert, you will!

Local island vs. resort island

You might be thinking that all of this is really overwhelming. So many options, and so many factors to keep track of. But don’t worry, I have a short and sweet outline for you, so you can decide for yourself which option is the best for your needs.

So, let’s start with the price, as this is most probably the biggest concern you have. On average, prices are 4 times smaller on local islands compared to resort islands. This applies to almost anything, from accommodation to prices for activities to transportation. The only thing where it’s hard to compare prices is the food, as on a resort island you’ll have a package meal plan, and on a local island you’ll go to restaurants.

But the experience is never exactly the same. A 4-star hotel on a local island will never give you the same feeling as a 4-star resort, no matter how much they try. You will get amazing service anywhere you go, but the amenities cannot be the same, especially when it comes to everything outside of the hotel’s doors. Everyone has an interest in keeping you happy though so rest assured they’ll try to.

On resort islands, you will have amazing food options, no matter where you go. The decadence I’ve seen there is out of this world, especially when you think of this country not being able to produce most of what you see there. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t starve on local islands either, but the luxurious meals you’ll see on resort islands are out of this world.

The local islands come with a set of rules you need to follow, but also with a chance to see the culture of this island nation. The locals are amazingly friendly and you can get a scoop on how they actually live, outside of the holiday magazines and wallpaper views. This comes with good and bad views, but hey, no place is perfect, we better get used to it.

The secret third option

While you may have thought your choice is a matter of local versus resort island, there’s a third secret option most people don’t talk about: the small local island. There are islands in the Maldives where only a few hundred people live, there are no roads or crowds, and you can only find a few accommodation options, a maximum of three or four.

As there aren’t that many tourists or even locals on these islands, you’ll feel almost like on a resort island. You don’t get the crowds, the dirt, or the noise of a big island, and you avoid the big price tag of the resort island. Still, all the other rules for local islands apply, and you’ll be limited in the options you’ll have for restaurants, tours, and so on. As always, discuss these things with your host so you can decide what’s best for you.

The sad option

As we have a secret third option, there’s also the not-so-secret sad option. The islands of Malé and Hulhumalé are the ones where you’ll find the best prices for accommodation, but there’s obviously a reason for that. These islands are not in any way intended to be used by tourists. They are extremely crowded and don’t resemble any of the beautiful islands you are imagining when thinking of the Maldives.

If you arrive late or leave early in the morning, you should of course stay here for a night, in which case the convenience is worth the disappointment. These islands are also great to get to know the local culture, and you can join a number of tours from here. Otherwise, from the point of view of a tourist coming to relax on a beach, these two islands are not the dreamy ones you’re looking for.

In my opinion, and I’m sure most people would agree, if you’ve spent so much money to fly so far from home, it would be a shame to leave this place sad and disappointed, thinking that it was a waste of time and money. You’re better off going to literally any other island, local, or resort, and you’ll have a far superior experience.

How to choose your local island in the Maldives?

With these many options, how do you choose? Well, first think of what you want from this vacation. Do you want to relax on the beach and just hear the waves? Do you want to have a good house reef for off-the-beach snorkeling, but nothing more? Are you a big eater and heavy alcohol drinker? Do you prefer adventure traveling and would rather spend every day doing something else? And, more importantly, what’s your budget?

When you decide on these things, you are basically deciding the island you’re going to choose as well. Most resort islands will offer you all of the above but will have a big minus in the area of the budget, as the price will be hefty. If you cannot afford a resort island, or at least not for your full trip, check out my proposals below with island options for each category. Check them out and decide on your accommodation on the island by filtering based on amenities and price.

Cheapest local islands in the Maldives

The most affordable local islands in the Maldives are, of course, the most crowded. But if you’re aiming for something better, look no further than the small islands of Kudahuvadhoo, Midu, or Thulusdhoo. While small and intimate, these islands also offer you options to enjoy a few activities when you’re not just laying on the beach. Check out a few accommodation options below!

Kudahuvadhoo – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!
Midu – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!
Thulusdhoo – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!

And if you’re choosing Thulusdhoo for your trip, check out this post about the top things to do in Thulusdhoo, written by a fellow blogger!

The most beautiful local island in the Maldives

Damn, this is hard to tell, as all of them have a unique beauty that you cannot really find anywhere else in the world. The island that’s said to have the most beautiful beach with turquoise waters is Kelaa Island, and it’s quite nice that it only has two accommodation options.

Another smaller island I can personally recommend is Bodufolhudhoo. This is the one I visited a few years ago and the coral is amazing, better than on the resort island I was after. It used to only have two accommodation options, but now it has five and even a diving center.

Kelaa accommodation – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!
Bodufolhudhoo – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!

Best local island in the Maldives for activities

If you’re here for the activities, then look no further than Maafushi. This island is becoming the tourist hotspot in the area, and there’s a company called iCom Tours that offers a wide range of activities. There are of course other options as well, so shop around before you decide, and ask your host for recommendations as well.

The island is basically under construction as there are so many hotels opening everywhere, it’ll be hard to see a place without a crane on it. But the atmosphere is relaxed, you have plenty of options for restaurants and activities, and you can even go on the drinking boat and enjoy some wine if you crave it.

Maafushi accommodation options for you:
Value for money: Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!
Great spa: Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!
Deluxe: Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!

Best local island for scuba diving in the Maldives

If your plan is to mostly float in the water and watch the cool wildlife or dive as much as your body will allow, check out one of the following two islands. Fuvahmulah is known for the great marine life in the area as it is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and it’s a big enough island to offer you some nice opportunities to choose the best service provider for diving gear and trips.

The other great option you have is Dharavandhoo, located in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO marine biosphere reserve. The marine life, as you can imagine, is amazing in the area, as the coral is in a great state, so around 1.200 types of fish call this place home.

The third UNESCO biosphere reserve in the Maldives is located in the Addu Atoll, which is closer to the Gan Airport. Check out all three options before you decide, but I’m sure all of them will make any diver extremely happy.

Fuvahmulah – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!
Dharavandhoo – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!
Gan, Addu Atoll – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!

Best local island tours in the Maldives

As I said before, most tours and activities are happening in Malé and Maafaushi, as these are the two main hubs for the tour companies. There are plenty of options for everyone, from submarine tours to snorkeling to fishing and photo sessions, you can find plenty of things to do in the Maldives. Check out a few options below!

Best local island in the Maldives for couples

When you go on your honeymoon, you usually want some special things for your amazing trip. Some of these amenities include quietness, luxurious accommodation options, and a spa, but you might also want the option to enjoy your desired activities if you’re a more active couple. Of course, if you’re more into activities, check out the options available on more crowded islands, or split your trip into two parts, so you can enjoy both sides of the Maldives.

If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, check out the island of Dhigurah, as it has a particularity: a sandbank that connects it to a resort island, so you can actually go to a resort island for a day with minimal effort. Another small island you can look into is Fulhadhoo, but the prices are a bit bigger on this one. The hotels are very chic though so it might be worth the price for your honeymoon trip.

Dhigurah – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!
Fulhadhoo – Check prices on Booking! Check prices on Agoda!

Affordable overwater bungalows in the Maldives with private pools - resort pool view

The best local islands in the Maldives

As you can see, the best local island depends greatly on your desires and expectations. As we are all different, we cannot expect to have the same taste and expectations, so I have gathered a small list of islands you should look into, based on the criteria I mentioned above. I hope that by now you basically know if you’re looking for a very small and quiet island or a more crowded and touristic one. Check out the options below and choose your favorites.

Small local islands

  • Laamu Gan
  • Dhigurah
  • Feridhoo
  • Goidhoo
  • Fuvahmulah

Medium local islands

  • Fulhadhoo
  • Thinadhoo
  • Omadhoo
  • Fehendhoo
  • Dhangethi
  • Bodufolhudhoo
  • Hangnaameedhoo
  • Mathiveri
  • Kelaa
  • Dhiffushi
  • Hanimaadhoo
  • Feridhoo

Big local islands

  • Fulidhoo
  • Himmafushi
  • Hithadhoo
  • Thulusdhoo
  • Thoddoo
  • Omadhoo
  • Ukulhas
  • Rasdhoo
  • Maafushi
  • Dharavandhoo
  • Guraidhoo
  • Malé
  • Hulhumalé

FAQ about local islands in the Maldives

How many local islands are in the Maldives?

Out of the almost 1.200 islands that form this amazing country, only about 200 are inhabited. All the others are either resort islands or uninhabited altogether.

Can I stay on a local island in the Maldives?

Sure, if they have accommodation options available and you abide by the local rules. This is actually a great way to spend less while enjoying the gorgeous beaches and the colorful culture of the place.

Which is the best local island in the Baa Atoll in the Maldives?

There are plenty of local islands located on this atoll, and you’ll have to decide for yourself based on what you want. A great island is Finolhus as it’s small and with a rich house reef, or Kudarikilu for the very beautiful beach. Check out all the options though as there are plenty of opportunities here waiting to be discovered.

What’s the cheapest local island in the Maldives?

The cheapest local islands in the Maldives are the most crowded ones, as these are really not intended for tourists. While you can still use them, you won’t see that much of what this beautiful country has to offer, so you should better look for an island further away from these. To name a few, the Capital city island of Malé and the airport island of Hulhumalé are the cheapest ones to stay on.

What currency can you use on local islands?

While everything is displayed in both USD and Rufiyaa and you can use both everywhere, you might get the change only in Rufiyaa, which will almost force you to spend the rest of your money since you cannot exchange Rufiyaa in the Maldives if you don’t have the receipt from the original exchange. To mitigate this issue, carry smaller USD bills and only exchange small amounts when needed.

Are the Maldivian local islands safe?

Yes definitely, they depend on tourism so would never do anything to harm this income stream. Plus, they’re amazing people, very welcoming and careful with their guests, as you’ll be able to see no matter where you’ll stay. Still, be mindful as a solo feMalé traveler if staying on more crowded islands like Malé, as there’s a curfew in place. Please also be aware of the local customs regarding modest dressing so you won’t offend the locals.

Do you have an internet connection on local islands in the Maldives?

While most guesthouses offer free wifi, you might also want your own stream. For this purpose, you can get a SIM at the airport or use an eSIM service. If you need help extending your plans, you can ask the very nice people at the counter or your host to help you with the data plan updates.

What to wear on local islands in the Maldives?

While in public, everyone should wear clothes that cover at least knees and shoulders, and you should wear even more covering clothes if visiting a mosque (not all mosques can be visited by non-muslims so ask before you try to get in).

The best local islands in the Maldives – The takeaway

The Maldives is a beautiful and idyllic archipelago in the Indian Ocean. With so many islands to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which one to visit. However, if you’re looking for an affordable vacation that still offers a taste of paradise, then the local islands are definitely worth considering. From stunning beaches and lush vegetation to vibrant culture and delicious food, the best local islands in the Maldives offer everything you need for a perfect getaway – at a fraction of the price. So why not give them a try? You won’t regret it!

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11 thoughts on “The best local islands in the Maldives – 30 affordable alternatives to resorts”

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  10. Woah! I didn’t realize the Maldives had so many islands and some affordable ones! I would love to visit one day, and I guess I will have a lot to explore.

    Reply
  11. I have already had an experience visiting a resort island. I now wish to experience life on the local islands of Maldives. But, it is the ferry duration to these islands that stops me every time.

    Reply

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