I never really had even thought about whether you can travel the Maldives on a budget. I always thought it was a country of gorgeous blue water which comes with a hefty price tag. But, there are ways to make the Maldives an affordable destination for budget travellers – in comes Thulusdhoo Island. A local island in the Maldives.
It was a hard decision to make as to whether we splash out and stay on a resort island or on one of the local islands. We knew that our Sri Lanka trip was going to be an adventure and wanted to continue this theme into the Maldives.
What you can find in this post
Once I started researching, I very quickly realised that you can now experience the Maldives on a shoestring. Although, to be honest, the idea of seeing the Maldives on a budget was not the key selling point! I wanted to see the real Maldives. The Maldives that not many people have experienced.
These are the islands where the local Maldivians actually live and work. There are around 200 of these local islands and they do vary in size. Some are going to take a decent effort to get to, but generally, a speedboat transfer from the airport and you should find yourself surrounded by white sand and blue water – exactly like what is seen on all the resort websites.
I’m a chronic over-planner when it comes to travel planning. So much to see and so little time means I am trying to cram in so much (but I am learning to slow down now we have kids), so trying to choose between local islands while having no idea what they were going to be like left me a little flustered – which island, what type of accommodation, is this the right choice for us, so many questions! The first thing I do when I decide I want to go somewhere is head to Google Images and Google Maps (well this is the first thing sensible Ross does!). Getting a visual on the islands is a great starting point.
One thing to note is that budget in the Maldives is not super budget. There are no dorm rooms or hostels as such or gorgeous huts on the beach for $5 a night. You’ll still be spending a little bit. But peanuts compared to the big resorts. A visit to Thulusdhoo or any of the other local islands is the best way to save money! But, in saying that, it is still going to cost you a fair bit, the speedboat transfers are not particularly cheap at all!
In the Maldives, Friday and Saturday are the weekend days, with Friday being a day of rest. Most places (i.e. the little shops and the hairdresser) will close between 12-2 approx also.
You also need to have at least your first-night accommodation booked to enter the country.
Getting to Thulusdhoo Island
Thulusdhoo is local island in the Maldives. It’s in Kaafu Atoll, so it’s very close to the capital city, Male – about 30 minutes via speedboat transfer, or an hour and a half by public ferry.
Thulusdhoo is the perfect place to experience real local island life. If you are planning a trip to Thulusdhoo Island in the Maldives then you’ll need to know how to get there!
We booked our flights to Male before we even started to think about what local island we wanted to stay on. I had no idea beforehand that it is a good idea to try to match up your flight with the ferry or speedboat service where possible. Not all island locations have a daily schedule. It is a good idea to at least get advice on the local transfer schedule. It was pretty confusing. They run on certain days and at very odd hours.
If you have time to spare (and don’t want to spend a lot of money), catching the local ferry would be a great way to get around the local islands in the Maldives. They make multiple stops at different islands so you can plan your journey to visit multiple local islands.
You do need to be aware that some islands can be hundreds of kilometres from the capital and can take 12-14+ hours to reach via local ferry – it’s a big place!
The speedboat schedule for getting to and from Thulusdhoo changed about 6 times before we left. It was quite confusing and hard to find up to date information.
Your guest house will have the most up to date schedule so confirm everything with them. Don’t try and research online as most blogs are not up to date with the number of changes.
You will need to have a booking for the speedboat (via your guesthouse) and you will pay cash to the captain of the boat.
Thulusdhoo is only 30 minutes by speedboat from the Maldives capital, Male. Flights all land at Male and its a hub of domestic and international flights, seaplane flights and speedboats and ferries to the islands plus burning off in the distance (yes, really). There are so many people needing to move straight to their resort or island.
But our first impressions were of loads of people, wavey water, storm clouds, rubbish floating all over the water and a massive open water burn off in the distance! Is this really the Maldives?
Arriving at Thulusdhoo Island
Thulusdhoo is a working island and it is far from a fancy resort island. There is even a Coke bottling factory on the island! The biggest negative to Thulusdhoo is the amount of rubbish over the island. The bikini beach (the tourist beach, more on this below) area was kept clean from rubbish and there are some rubbish bins placed around the streets (which apparently has only happened in the last year) but the rubbish everywhere else was a real eyesore. It was pretty horrible, to be honest.
To be clear, if you stay on a local island you are not staying at a resort, not even close to a fancy resort. You are staying in a guesthouse or small hotel. I had read up on the rubbish around the local islands but it was a big shock for Ross.
Thulusdhoo is a small island made up of sandy streets and brightly coloured houses set back from the beach. I really had zero knowledge of what the architecture would be like on a local island but I was not expecting so much colour!
Thulusdhoo is a surfers paradise and in fact, the surf is what most of the visitors come here for. It is said to have the best surf break in the Maldives. There are a couple of different areas, one straight off the point and others you can catch a boat out to. We had a perfect view out the front of our hotel and whilst the kids played on the swings, Ross and I sat and watched the surfers.
We felt safe walking the streets and really enjoyed wondering around looking at all the different colours along the sandy streets. It was amazing from certain streets you could look both ways and see the water!
We only saw a couple of cars and motorbikes, otherwise, everyone just walked.
Bikini Beach or ‘tourist beach’ is what the beaches on the local islands are called where tourists are allowed to wear, well, their bikini’s!
On Thulusdhoo, the bikini beach is on the western side which where the beach guesthouses and hotels are. This was a 2-minute walk from Canopus Retreat. There are many different banana lounge chairs around (Canopus said the black ones are reserved for their guests), some had guest house names and I think lots were for anyone to use. There were swings and day beds all along this section of the beach also.
The reef is straight in front of you and you are able to snorkel straight off the beach. There are boats which come into this little protected area, mainly for picking up and dropping off surfers, and tourists to other activities. They keep a good eye out for swimmers and snorkellers but it is best to be wary with kids.
There are hammocks, swings and day beds dotted all along the bikini beach side of the island. It was just gorgeous to step outside after breakfast, straight on to the sand just metres from the water.
Where to stay on Thulusdhoo
Tourism on Thulusdhoo Island only recently started becoming popular, but there seems to be many options to choose from for Thulusdhoo Accommodation from hotels and guesthouses.
I went around and around in circles trying to work out where to stay. In the end, I think I made a mistake with booking Canopus Retreat. It has an epic location, right on the beach (literally walk out the door and you are on the beach, it was amazing) but we had many issues and you can read all about those here.
There are many places to stay and I had my heart set on staying right on the beach. Really though, it’s such a small island that you are never far from the water so it probably doesn’t really matter where you stay.
You can find places to stay on both Air B&B and booking.com. Just read all reviews carefully as many are just family run places so might not be up to the level you are expecting.
The best-looking accommodation we walked past was Met House, it’s right on the beach and the rooms look out to the beach. The rooms look to be beautifully decorated. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t take our booking as it wasn’t a full week. I think (but not 100% sure) that the owners are the same as Canopus which is interesting given our experience.
Isola Guest House is set back from the beach but looks really nice.
Season Paradise is the biggest hotel on the island and even has a rooftop pool. It wasn’t particularly cheap though.
For us, Hill Tribe Travels, we really should have booked one of the guesthouses in the Maldives. We are not big ‘hotel room’ lovers and I think a guesthouse would suit us a lot more.
Cokes Surf Camp seems to be a popular spot to stay for those visiting for the Maldives surf experience. Although I wouldn’t call these places Maldives surf ‘resorts’. Remember, you are staying on a local island, very new to tourism and are better described as a Maldives guesthouse.
Places to eat on Thulusdhoo
There are a number of little restaurants to try on Thulusdhoo. Most guesthouses will have packages including meals but we only arranged breakfast. Most guesthouses are also open to the public for meals. I didn’t find eating out to be particularly cheap, to be honest. Perhaps not as expensive as Australia but definitely not Asia cheap.
There are lots of little ‘milkbar’ type places around selling fruit and veg, cereals, chips and ice cream (at Australian prices). If you time it right you might even find a selection of freshly baked goods including potato cake (an actual sweet cake), egg dishes, spicy tuna pancakes and bread.
We tried the following restaurants –
Short Break – We had lunch and dinner here. A tiny hole in the wall type restaurant with only a couple of tables. The vanilla milkshakes were the winner here. The kids loved the fish and chips (and the free class of Coke which came around and they tried for the first and only time! Well there is a Coke bottling factory just down the road!!).
Silk Restaurant – Part of a little guesthouse we had a nice dinner here. There were only about 5 tables and all were full. We enjoyed tuna and rotti.
Talouse by Salsa – A much bigger restaurant with a couple of tables of locals. It felt strange walking into this restaurant with all the staff standing there watching you. But the juices were great, the meals quick and fresh.
Fusion at Canopus Retreat – We had lunch here most days as the pizza was terrific. We only had dinner once when we arrived. It was mostly good value (apart from a bowl of hot chips for $5US with about 6 chips!).
Alcohol on Thulusdhoo
The Maldives is a Muslim country and Islam is the only practised religion. It is the only religion allowed at all. The only places in the Maldives where you are allowed alcohol is on the resort islands (as they are internationally owned). You won’t find it sold in shops or restaurants on Thulusdhoo, in fact, you are not allowed to bring it into the country.
Things to do on Thulusdhoo
Other than surfing, swimming, relaxing, eating and snorkelling straight off the beach there are a few activities you can lock in to keep yourself busy.
It is also very easy for the kids to play for hours with the hermit crabs on the beach – great amusement!!
At the end of the Bikini Beach is a long pier where you can wander along and stare down at the hundreds of fish and manta rays swimming below. We were surprised at how much we could see, even through the choppy wavey water. There seemed to be a food waste ‘rubbish dump’ off the side of the pier, we saw wheelbarrows of food being dumped.
There is a big children’s playground at the southern end of the island. It is bright and colourful with lots of play equipment including a climbing wall, swings and slides. It is only open from 4pm to 6.30pm which is a bit strange! The kids had a ball each time we visited though. There were quite a few equipment pieces that had rusted from being so close to the salt water. There was still plenty for Ned and Olive to play on though.
Visit a Sandbank
There are three sandbanks close to Thulusdhoo. The prices were the same to arrange through our hotel or through the beach stand. Approximately $30US per adult and no charge for the kids (we booked on the beach rather than through the hotel)
20 minutes by speedboat takes you to this little sandbank. This is where we visited. We had no choice due to the tide times but it would have been our top choice anyway as it’s the one sandbank where you can snorkel straight off the beach. It was busy, very busy! Crazy busy actually for such a small piece of sand! The snorkelling straight off the beach was pretty amazing actually and we even saw a piece of coral which was alive!
The water was blue, bright and warm. Definitely one of those places where you lie down in the shallows and pinch yourself that you are in the Maldives.
This is apparently always deserted and only recently discovered! I am not sure about this haha! It sounds delightful with low tides all around but I don’t think there is any snorkelling here.
This is the closest sandbank to Thulusdhoo and at low tide you can walk to the nearby Gasfinolhu Resort.
Day trip to a resort island
The closest resort islands are the following. Bear in mind that it adds up quite a bit when you factor in the speedboat transfers.
Club Med Kani Resort
$140pp which includes buffet lunch, unlimited alcoholic drinks and access to use the resorts facilities
Transfers – $130 per boat (can divide this between other parties on the boat if there are others going), you will need to check with your guesthouse as to the timings.
Cinnamon Dhonveli Resort
Day Pass approx. $45 includes buffet lunch
Day Pass approx. $85 includes buffet lunch & unlimited drinks
Transfers – $190 per boat for two-way return journey
There are a couple of different snorkelling spots you can visit. Your guesthouse will have lists of these and be able to book these for you. Prices are around $30US per person.
The coral garden is meant to be amazing for fish (but not coral!).
What to wear on Thulusdhoo
When staying on the local islands, guests need to respect the local customs including dressing modestly. This does not mean covering your head and wearing long pants. The rules are not as strict for visitors but when heading out into the town you should have on a t-shirt and shorts (try and cover your shoulders and thighs).
The bikini beach is the only place where you can freely wear your bathers. Quite a few people were wearing bathers and skimpy clothing out the front of Canopus Retreat where we stayed. Not sure whether they didn’t know, or just didn’t care (the bikini beach started a little further down the beach).
Buying Sunscreen in the Maldives
We had used two bottles of sunscreen during our time in Sri Lanka and I had read that it is expensive to buy once in the Maldives. We managed to find a bottle at Colombo airport before we left but it wasn’t as strong SPF. We looked in the airport once we arrived in the Maldives and there was a small bottle selling for $40US!!!! We took the bottle tops off our original bottles and made them last together with the other small bottle.
None of the shops sold sunscreen on Thulusdhoo.
I had read that mozzies are pretty bad also. We didn’t find them bad at all and hardly used our mozzie repellent.
Money on Thulusdhoo
There is an ATM on the island. We took out a large sum of the local currency from the airport and a little more on the island at the end of the trip. You would also be fine to only have US dollars. The prices for the speedboat were quoted in US$ and calculators were out for the conversion. On the island, there was a mixture of both local currency and US$.
Wifi in the Maldives
One word, terrible!!! Well, I shouldn’t say that; it may have only been terrible at our hotel. But I have read that even in the resorts you can have sketchy wifi, so I’d highly recommend buying a sim card at the airport before you set off to your accommodation.
Rubbish on Thulusdhoo
Hardly a picture perfect Maldives beach, hey?
Once you see the rubbish you can’t unsee it. I had read about the rubbish on the local island’s so I was prepared but it was a bit more of a shock for Ross. There was lots of it (but the ‘tourist bikini beaches’ were kept clean).
Have you ever thought about what on earth they do with all the rubbish in the Maldives? We’ve probably all seen the video’s of the SUP’s pushing their way through rubbish island….
I have been told that Thulusdhoo is the cleanest it has been in the past 5 years. The island held a big clean up in February & it has for the first time after a clean-up, actually stayed relatively clean since.
Before all the streets & beaches were absolutely covered in rubbish & there were no bins around the island – wow!
Waste management is a huge issue in the Maldives, as is educating local people on the importance of using waste disposal bins consistently.
As tourism is only new in the Maldives on local islands, these things take time.
Waste management is certainly something that all islands struggle with here in the Maldives, resorts included.
We can only hope that it continues to improve as the years go on.
Interesting, something to think about.
Best time to travel to the Maldives
The best time weather wise to visit the Maldives is between November to April. They do actually get a fair bit of rain during the wet, rainy season.
The best time to Thulusdhoo, in particular, depends on whether you are visiting to surf or not.
Surf season – March to October
Best weather – January to March
Although the surf can be pumping or flat at any time and you can also get rain at any time. The wet season had come early when we visited in April with a couple of days of rain.
Overall thoughts on Thulusdhoo
Overall, if you are thinking of Travelling to the Maldives and wondering how to travel to the Maldives on a budget – know that it is possible! The local islands such as Thulusdhoo are gaining in popularity each and every season as more people are wanting to experience local island life rather than just stay at the big internationally owned resorts.
Independent and budget travel is very new to the Maldives and we definitely had the feeling that we were visiting somewhere quite untouched. When the government changed its regulations to allow guesthouse to open on the local islands, for the first time tourists were allowed to stay with locals and gain an insight into Maldivian life. Still, many budget travellers remain unaware that it’s possible to do this. It is definitely possible to have a family friendly Maldives experience on a local island.
While it’s true that the majority of the tourists (millions of tourists) who come to the Maldives stay solely on a resort island (and why wouldn’t you, the resorts are so beautiful), I think visiting a local island is a fantastic experience and will give you a different feeling about what it’s like to live and work in the Maldives and to visit as an adventure traveller, rather than just having a vacation at a resort. A very small percentage of tourists come to the Maldives and gain an understanding of how the locals live. A visit to Thulusdhoo is a perfect location to do this.
Now, we need to add the Maldives back onto our travel plans so we can stay in a swanky Maldives resort to compare experiences!!
What do you think? Do you think you would visit a local island in the Maldives? I think if you were flying from Australia to only visit the Maldives as a once in a lifetime trip you would most likely stay in a resort! But, if you have a little more time or feel like being adventurous or have a smaller budget, a stay on a local island is ideal.
Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments below.
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this is so helpful!
Thanks so much Amber 🙂
No worries. When are you hoping to go?
Helpful post. We are currently here – omg the rubbish is just unbelievable. Every day seeing locals throw trash to the water with buckets. I read this post before going but still, could not imagine that the rubbish problem is that bad. We are staying at Reef Edge which is ok. Had dinner couple of times in Canopus, pizza was good
Hey Maarja, Thanks for your comment. It’s crazy isn’t it!!! It sounds like it may be worse now. We didn’t see anyone throwing the rubbish into the water….How are you managing to travel? Very jealous!!!!
Thanks for this article. I am travelling to this island in two days with the family (with two kids). So refreshing to read about other people travelling with kids and not to a resort.
Hi, I’d love to hear about your experiences on the local islands. It was a couple of years ago now that we went! Have a great time 🙂