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The Maldives for not too much money? It is possible. There is an alternative to the luxury island-hotels: the guesthouses of the inhabited islands.
New tourism in the Maldivian archipelago
I discovered the Maldives in February 2014. A new destination on Small Bubbles of Elsewhere ! 😎
CLARIFICATIONS: in April 2014, I interrupted my series of articles on the MaldivesI found it difficult to continue to praise the beauties of this Indian Ocean archipelago (and thus to encourage people to go to the Maldives) when the regime had tightened its application of Sharia law, 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 Nasheedformer president of the Maldives (2008-2012), several times imprisoned by the regime and main opposition figure, won the first legislative elections since Yameen left. The Maldives return to the path of democracyThis is great news!
In the south of India, this immense archipelago on the water is known for its luxury island hotels and resorts, overpriced, cut off from the local population, frequented by very wealthy tourists and honeymoon couples.
For a long time, the Maldives has chosen to focus on luxury tourism, taking care to limit contact between foreign visitors and the local population. But this is changing. Recently, locals have been allowed to open "guesthouses", which range from guesthouses to small tourist hotels.
These guesthouses have multiplied in the last few years and there is now a wide range of choices from the north to the 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 myself a second week more chic on a cruise-diving boat... ????
So I first spent a few days in the north of the archipelago, on the island ofHanimaadhooI stayed at the very nice guesthouse Asseyri Inn. I chose an island very far from Malé (about 280km, or one hour flight), to avoid the most frequented places. I hesitated with Gan, in the south, but that will be for another time...
Update - January 2017 : The guesthouse Asseyri Inn as I knew it does not seem to exist anymore. The website now refers to another hotel, much more chic, located on another island...
It was the rave reviews on TripAdvisor that made me decide to contact Asseyri Inn. Their "solo traveler" package 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 to acclimatize myself gently!
Guesthouses and small hotels
Some guesthouses in the Maldives are very modest, others are downright chic. The cheapest ones are around 30-40€ per night, the most expensive ones are around 100-150€. You can find a lot of them in Malé (the capital island), in Hulumalé (the artificial residential island near the airport) and on two islands quite close to Malé, Maafushi (the prison island) and Guraidhoo. But it seems that accommodations have opened in almost all the atolls of the archipelago. There are cheap ferries to go from one island to another and more expensive air links 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 "bed and breakfast". and many of these accommodations use the sites Booking.com or Agoda.com to rent their rooms (very convenient to book yourself on the internet, or to get an idea of the rates). Some other links in bulk, found during my research before I left:
→ 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 just Maafushi
Good to know : you have to check if the taxes are included or not, otherwise you have to add +10% and +8% (it was in any case the amount at the time of my visit, but it can change). It is also necessary to look at the services included in the price, it has sometimes very interesting packages:
→ just the night (with or without transfer)
→ overnight stay + breakfast or half-board
→ the night + all meals + activities for the day ...
Set course for Hanimaadhoo!
Hanimaadhoo has the advantage of having an airport, now "international", with connections from Sri Lanka and soon to India, perhaps. It is 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 dhoniThe traditional boat, with the fish of the day, and the school. We can see boys and girls cycling past in their uniforms at the end of school.
As a reminder, Islam is the state religion in the Maldives. Hanimaadhoo is one of the few inhabited islands where foreign tourists are allowed to wear bikinis on a defined stretch of beach. A permit 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 the turquoise water and white sand.
Another thing to know: alcohol is also forbidden on the so-called "local" islands. If you want to drink a beer (possibly in a bikini), it is only allowed on the tourist islands, on the cruise ships and at the hotel located next to the airport in Male. 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 momentarily taste the pleasures reserved for luxury tourists.
But this is obviously not what I came to Hanimaadhoo for... The quiet and authentic Muslim village atmosphere, crushed by intense light, suits me well, as a first Maldivian cultural immersion. People are more reserved than in Indonesia, but very welcoming. More in the next post!