I won’t lie. I have a thing for impromptu trips. But so far such trips have been within the radius of a few hundred Kilometers. Never ever in my wildest imagination had I thought that I would take one to the Maldives. Because us middle class people generally don’t do that.
But when the universe plans something for you, you have to just go with it.
It may sound pretty absurd but as our plans to visit a wildlife sanctuary in central India seemed to fall apart, thanks to inflated rates and overbooked safaris, we randomly started searching airfares to other places in and around India. We came across a direct flight from Mumbai to Malé which looked reasonably priced. Despite knowing that Maldives is infamous for being ridiculously expensive, we still decided to give it a go because we were desperate to go somewhere. So four days before the trip, we booked the plane tickets and began hunting for a resort that wouldn’t bankrupt us.
During our intense research over the next couple of days, we came across many surprises with regards to the expenses. Budgeting the Maldives trip was not as straight forward as we had initially thought it would be. Here are few of the things that we learned during this process:
- The island resorts can only be accessed via transfer services provided by the resorts. Each island resort has its own fixed transfer mode and rate which depends upon the distance of the island from the airport and the luxury rating of the resort. These transfer charges are ridiculously high, sometimes costing as much as $500 per person for a return transfer!
- The government taxes (Green Tax, GST etc) can make the expenses bloat up considerably. Many resorts collect the taxes separately before settling your final bill. So if you are not aware of these taxes you may end up with surprisingly fat bills. One needs to make sure prior to booking a hotel whether the charges mentioned are inclusive of taxes or not – especially so if you are booking through third party sites. These charges are not hidden but you need to mindfully consider them while budgeting.
- Drinking water is a luxury on these islands. Though you may get a complimentary water bottle each day per person, you may still need more water which can cost a lot. Opting for an all inclusive package that includes meals plus certain beverages and water instead of full board which only includes meals is the most sensible option here.
- The resort islands may provide complimentary snorkeling, scuba or other excursions. The non complimentary excursions can cost significantly and many times are not meant for amateurs.
- Staying on a non resort island can cut down the expenses significantly. These islands can be accessed by public ferries. If you are on a really tight backpacker kind of a budget then you may consider staying on these islands. There are a lot of local tour companies that arrange for excursions around nearby islands so apart from the luxury, you will not miss out much.
While searching for the right island resort we stumbled upon Biyadhoo. This 3 star property from south Malé atoll seemed like an ideal place for us to be. Biyadhoo is famous for an excellent house reef – probably the best in the atoll, is reachable by a speedboat (which means no need to splurge on a seaplane) and provides some vegetarian food options beyond fruits and salad. We booked it right away through makemytrip which was providing an all inclusive package at a really good price. I had no doubt that the universe was really orchestrating this trip for us.
Out of the 5 nights, we decided to spend the first one in Hulhumale (the airport island) taking into account any possible flight delays and immigration process. The island resorts generally have shared shuttle transfers at regular intervals. If there are any severe delays or if the shuttle gets canceled due to any other unforeseen reasons, one may have to wait until the next morning. We didn’t want to take any chances here so spending a night in Hulhumale and exploring the neighborhood seemed like a more sensible option to us.
We booked a homestay through airbnb called ‘Raintree Residence‘. They provided free airport transfer and breakfast. After some initial mess up with picking us up on time from the airport, we were greeted by a very friendly person who was our host’s cousin. He drove us to one of their other homestays called ‘The Orca’. This was a new property. The room was small but cozy with an attached balcony. The breakfast was continental so for us vegetarians it was just toast, butter, jam and cornflakes.
The host offered to show us around Malé the next morning at an additional $10 charge. We drove around the city for an hour and spent some time around the Islamic center. The whole city had a sleepy vibe. We decided to wrap up soon because we were running out of time and headed back to the airport where our island shuttle would pick us from. The overall experience at Hulhumale / Malé was pleasant but avoidable.
Our speedboat ride from Malé to Biyadhoo was of approx. 45 minutes. Blame it on the bad weather or the speedboat driver, I wasn’t having a good time. The bumpy ride was greeted by some winds and rains midway and my anxiety was shooting through the roof. Out of the zillion things that I am afraid of, water certainly makes it in the top 5. So even though, the Chinese toddlers in our speedboat were having a great time, I was fighting my fears and praying to all the Gods that I know really hard. My prayers were probably heard and we soon reached our island. The blue lagoon, white sands and a green piece of heaven beyond that welcomed us. It was a love at first sight.
Over the next three days, we spent our days exploring our beautiful island and the magical sea life around it. On one of the afternoons we went on a small group excursion that included dolphin and manta ray spotting, snorkeling in the deep sea for turtles, visit to a very tiny uninhabited island called sandbank and a local island called Guraidhoo. This was a paid excursion. We also had a complimentary snorkeling excursion from the resort which only my husband availed the next day ( I chickened out. You will understand why. Read on). The weather, again, was not friendly. The wind and rains were not leaving us alone. As the sea was not calm we couldn’t spot mantas. Amidst all the drizzle and shaky waters, we parked our boat in the middle of the ocean and our guide declared that we would snorkel here. The sea here was quite deep and since I couldn’t swim he said that he would take me later separately. So while everyone else including my husband were snorkeling, I was blaming my father for never enrolling me in a swimming class while feeling sick in our wobbly boat. My husband came back in sometime as he was having issues with his snorkel. The other three – an Italian family of husband, wife and son continued to snorkel freely without assistance. The guide asked me if I wanted to come down. Uncertain of what I really wanted to do, I said yes and without giving it a second thought jumped into the water. That moment can be inscribed as the bravest moment of my life though I was regretting my action right away. The next few minutes were the most embarrassing minutes of my life. After having a glimpse of the reef I came back disheartened because I couldn’t see any fishes or turtles. On the other hand, the Italian family was gleaming with happiness and I couldn’t help but envy them.
The whole excursion experience taught me two important lessons:
- Amateurs or non swimmers should avoid snorkeling excursions in deeper waters if the sea is shaky.
- I need to learn swimming ASAP.
Our stay at Biyadhoo was very comfortable. The room was spacious. Every room had a private access to the beach. The restaurant and bar had a very courteous staff and nice ambience. The restaurant staff made sure that we get an extra vegetarian dish during every meal. The staff at the diving and water sports center too was very helpful. Surprisingly, the front desk staff was not so prompt or friendly either. Not sure why they were so indifferent towards the visitors. Nevertheless, I would still recommend Biyadhoo to those looking for budget resort and lovely reef in Maldives.
On the last day, as we were waiting for our shuttle boat to take us to the airport, I wondered if I would ever come back. It felt like the trip got over too fast… like I didn’t make the most of this trip. All the things that I couldn’t do started popping up in my mind and I felt like quite a failure. The pristine islands that still haven’t given into darkness of the human greed, that continue to shine in their primitive glory reminding us how petty our ideas and pursuits of happiness are, that make us loath our dull surroundings and crave for being part of them forever – My heart ached at the thought of probably not experiencing any of this again.
I wished I could swim. I wished the weather was kinder. I wished we could have planned earlier and better. But then as I bid adieu to the white sands and blue lagoons, I realized that these 5 days wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t universe’s wish. Why was I even complaining! It was time to say goodbye to Maldives with a grateful heart.