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Maldives for not (too) expensive? It's possible. There is an alternative to luxury hotel-islands: the guesthouses of inhabited islands.
New tourism in the Maldivian archipelago
I discovered the Maldives in February 2014. A new destination on Bubbles Underwater & Beyond ! ????
CLARIFICATIONS: in April 2014, I interrupted my series of articles on the Maldives, finding it difficult to continue to brag about the beauties of this archipelago of the Indian Ocean (and thus to encourage people to visit the Maldives) while the regime had hardened its application of sharia, after my stay in February 2014. Not respecting human rights, the Maldives had to leave the Commonwealth of Nations in 2016. But in september 2018, things have changed, with the surprise defeat in the autocratic president's elections Abdulla Yameen supported by Islamists and now prosecuted for corruption, beaten by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, an ally of the democratic camp. Then in april 2019, the party of Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives (2008-2012), several times imprisoned by the regime and main figure of the opposition, won the first legislative elections since Yameen left. The Maldives return to the path of democracyit's great news!
In the South of India, this immense archipelago at the water's edge is known for its luxury island hotels and resorts, overpriced, cut off from the local population, frequented by very wealthy tourists and honeymoon couples.
The Maldives have long chosen luxury tourism, making sure to limit contact between foreign visitors and the local population. But it is changing. Recently, residents have been allowed to open guesthouses, which range from guesthouses to small tourist hotels.
These guesthouses have multiplied in recent years, and there is now a choice, from north to south of the archipelago, for independent travelers. You can stay in the villages of the inhabited islands and discover the real life of "real people".
This is the option I chose for the first week of my Maldivian trip! Before giving me a second chic week on a cruise-diving boat... ????
So I first spent a few days north of the archipelago, on the island ofHanimaadhoo, at the very cool Asseyri Inn guesthouse. I chose an island very far from Male (about 280km, or an hour's flight), to avoid the most frequented corners. I hesitated with Gan, in the south, but it will be for another time…
Update - January 2017:the guesthouse Asseyri Inn as I knew it no longer seems to exist. The website now refers to another hotel, much more chic, located on another island ...
It was the glowing reviews on TripAdvisor that made me decide to contact Asseyri Inn. Their package "solo traveler" with activities for each day suited me, they had availability on my dates and in addition there is a small diving center. Perfect to immerse myself in the atmosphere of the country and acclimatize me gently!
Guesthouses and small hotels
Some guesthouses in the Maldives are very modest, others are downright very chic. The most economical are around 30-40 € per night, the most expensive in the 100-150 €. There are many in Malé (the capital island), in Hulumalé (the artificial residential island near the airport) and on two islands fairly close to Malé, Maafushi (prison island) and Guraidhoo. But it looks like accommodation has opened in almost all the atolls of the archipelago. There are inexpensive ferries to go from one island to another and more expensive air connections with Maldivian Aero to reach the farthest
You will find a lot of information via a Google search with the words "Maldives + guesthouses" or "Maldives + backpacker".
The best known and most popular are listed on TripAdvisor in the section " guest rooms " and many of these accommodations use the sites Booking.com or Agoda.com to rent their rooms (very practical to book yourself on the internet, or get an idea of the rates). Some other loose links, found during my research before leaving: → Guesthouses in Maldives : a selection of guesthouses in several different atolls → Maldives Guesthouses & BB: small selection by Lonely Planet → Maafushi Maldives: choice of guesthouses on several islands, not only Maafushi
Good to know: you have to check whether the taxes are included or not, otherwise you have to add +10 % and +8 % (it was in any case the amount during my visit, but that can change). You also have to look at the services included in the price, it sometimes has very interesting packages: → just the night (with or without transfer) → overnight stay + breakfast or half-board → the night + all meals + activities for the day ...
Head to Hanimaadhoo!
Hanimaadhoo has the advantage of having an airport, now "international", with connections from Sri Lanka and soon to India, perhaps. It's a peaceful island, stretched all the way, which has less than 1,500 souls, inhabited only on a small portion to the north.
My guesthouse is in the heart of the village, close to the port where the fishermen arrive in dhoni, the traditional boat, with the fish of the day, and of the school. We see boys and girls cycling in their uniforms at the end of the lessons.
As a reminder, Islam is the state religion in the Maldives. Hanimaadhoo is one of the few inhabited islands where the wearing of the bikini is allowed to foreign tourists, on a delimited beach. Permission is required and Asseyri Inn has recently obtained it. The guesthouse plans to build a new building in front of the beach and move there, in front of turquoise water and white sand.
Another thing to know: alcohol is also prohibited on the so-called "local" islands. To drink a beer (possibly in a bikini), it is only in tourist hotel islands, on cruise ships and at the hotel located next to Male airport. For those who are in need, it is always possible to organize, for a fee, a short day or half-day stay in a nearby resort, to temporarily taste the pleasures reserved for luxury tourists.
But this is obviously not what I came looking for on Hanimaadhoo… The peaceful and authentic Muslim village atmosphere, crushed with intense light, suits me, as my first Maldivian cultural immersion. People are more reserved than in Indonesia, but very welcoming. More in the next post!