Why Is The Maldives So Expensive? How To Visit For Less

why is the Maldives expensive?

The Maldives is one of the most exclusive holiday locations on the planet. A collection of islands and atolls scattered across a stretch of the Indian Ocean, this might be one of the smallest countries in Asia but it’s certainly one of the world’s most expensive holiday destinations.

Since tourism took off here in the early 1970s, the archipelago nation has seen a huge boom in international visitors. Today, tourism is the single biggest industry in the country, responsible for an estimated 28% of GDP. A lot of that comes from the luxury vacation sector, and many of the islands in the Maldives are currently leased to high-end resort chains that will always cost a pretty penny.  

That’s just the start of it, though. Still wondering why is the Maldives so expensive? You’ve come to the right place. This guide will reveal the reasons behind the high price tags in this paradise archipelago in the Indian Ocean and offer a few tips on how you might just be able to visit for less this year…

Why is the Maldives so expensive? The short answer

Maldives luxury resort
Photo by Rayyu Maldives on Unsplash

Why is the Maldives so expensive? The short answer is that there are a whole host of reasons, but it mostly comes down to the fact that…

  1. It’s difficult to get to – The Maldives aren’t near to anything. Yep, that’s kinda the draw. These islands languish out in the midst of the Indian Ocean like a string of pearls. Nice and all, but it means airfares to and from the main airports are almost always going to be high.
  2. It’s a luxury destination – The Maldives is a luxury destination. Simple as that. The people who come here are often in search of classy overwater bungalows and whatnot. Many will have loads of cash to splash to get it, too. Things are changing now but slowly.
  3. Almost everything is imported here – Another reason why costs are high in the Maldives is that almost everything is imported. Resorts have to source everything from ingredients to soaps from across the oceans and that costs money!
  4. The Tourism Goods and Services Tax (TGST) – The government of the Maldives imposes an extra tax on top of basically any product or service rendered to travelers who come to the country. This adds an unavoidable premium to the cost of a trip here. 
  5. Lack of space – The Maldives might string through over 500 miles of open ocean but the country has a mere 297.8 square kilometers of total land mass. That’s really, really small, meaning there’s very high demand for any terrain that does exist, cranking the cost of stays skywards. 

Let’s take a closer look at all these main reasons for the priciness of the Maldives in turn…

The Maldives are seriously hard to get to

Plane in the sky
Photo by Envato Elements

Firstly, the Maldives are pretty remote – think like 5,000 miles from London sorta’ remote and a mega 9,000 miles from Los Angeles on the West Coast. The upshot? Getting to the country is not exactly a walk in the park. For most, reaching this slice of paradise will require at least one transfer and, for many, upwards of two. 

It’s really common to book commercial flights via either a hub in the MIddle East, a city in southern India, or nearby Sri Lanka. That adds time to the trip for sure, but it also adds money, since it means there’s basically no way to avoid a hefty long haul on your way here. 

Stats from flight scanner Momondo show that the average cost of a return airfare to Male from London can peak at over $890 in the summer season. From LA, you’re looking at an average of more than $1,380 return!

And that’s not even the end of it. When you do finally land in the Maldives you arrive in Malé, which is unlikely to be the island that you’re staying on. To reach your hotel, you’ll probably have more onward travel by speedboat or by seaplane. All that can cost a chunk of cash.

The Maldives are primarily a luxury destination

Private island in the Maldives
Photo by Envato Elements

Perhaps the main reason that your average traveler looks at the Maldives and balks at the prices of everything from food to hotels is the fact that this is a bona fide luxury destination. It’s no secret that the atolls are among the most sought-after honeymoon getaways on the globe. Everyone knows that A-listers and celebs love the spot.

A good chunk of the accommodation available in the Maldives is made up of high-end resorts. These resorts are an experience as much as a place to stay, often located on a single island in an unimaginably beautiful setting, and coupled with incredibly high levels of luxury and service. Needless to say, enjoying such pampered service on your own private paradise does not come cheap.

What’s odd is that this is as much a result of local regulation as it is the general reputation that the Maldives have. The government of the Maldives flat out banned local accommodation options and forced all travelers to go to private island stays up until 2009. That effectively made accommodation in the Maldives the province of only the richest of hotel chains. It’s changed now, but things are moving slowly and there are still not enough local options to create competition to keep prices low. 

Almost everything is imported in the Maldives

scenic views in the Maldives
Photo by Envato Elements

Many of the ingredients for those breakfast buffets and cocktails overlooking the ocean will have made a similar journey to you; a similar journey in the form of multiple flight connections and transfers on boats or airplanes!

Couple that with the aforementioned fact that the Maldives are tailored to luxury travelers who have a penchant for the finer things in life – champagne, caviar, fine dining – and it’s a double whammy. That is to say that sourcing premium goods from far and wide costs money, and that cost – plus a significant markup – are mostly passed on to guests and travelers.

The numbers bear it out…The WTO reported that the Maldives exported some $285 million dollars worth of stuff in 2021. Compare that to the whopping bill for what was imported, which sits at a mind-boggling $2.5 billion! 

The Tourism Goods and Services Tax

The Tourism Goods and Services Tax, known as the TGST for short, is a subcategory of the main sales tax, known as just GST, in the Maldives. It’s essentially the same as VAT in the UK, but applies only to sales made in the tourism sector.

Now, by international standards, the basic GST in this land of sparkling beaches and fish-teeming reefs isn’t particularly overbearing on the budget. It comes in at a rather modest 8%. Compare that to Hungary’s 27% or Sweden’s 25%!

Where things get spicy is when you add that all-important T. For sales in the tourism sector – that’s every drink you buy at the hotel bar, every tour you book around the coral-ringed atolls, every stay you enjoy in an overwater bungalow – the gov here want a whopping 16%.

Okay, so that’s still not astronomical. True. But when average hotel rates are in excess of $250/night, 16 points can be a hefty additional fee to pay. 

Lack of space

Islands in the Maldives
Photo by Envato Elements

The Maldives string all the way from the sides of India to the top end of the Chagos Islands in a run that covers 529 miles and a whopping 90,000 square kilometers of territory in all. But that’s not the full story. Truth is, habitable land here accounts for a incy-wincy 0.4% of the total area of the country, leaving just shy of 298 square kilometers.

On top of that, just 198 of the over 1,190 islands that make up the Maldives are actually inhabited and. So, approximately only 5% of 0.4% of the total country (that’s 0.02% – if my GCSE maths does me proud), is currently in play for developers and human habitation.

The basic point here is that land, and specifically land that’s developed and built on, is like gold dust in these parts. Reports show that some of the cheapest islands for development are up for sale at a minimum of $5 million, while larger islands can sell for over $65 million without struggle.

Those costs inevitably pass straight on to the pocket of the people staying in the hotels that eventually pop up beside the sands and swaying palm trees, cranking up the cost of holidays to the Maldives even more.

How much is a holiday to the Maldives?

Kayaking in the Maldives
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

If you’re planning on visiting a resort in the Maldives then prepare to part with a hefty chunk of cash. Before even considering typical holiday expenses such as eating out or activities, the bare bones of the holiday (ie. getting there and booking somewhere to stay) are going to set you back. There are a variety of resorts available in the Maldives, and there’s a joke that they range from expensive to incredibly expensive.

The cost of a package deal for two travelers sharing a room for a week in one of the Maldives’ resorts will typically come in somewhere between $1500 to $6000 per person. This cost does include all flights and accommodation in the Maldives for the week. If you choose to stay at one of the most luxurious (read: expensive) resorts in the Maldives, a basic package for a week-long stay including flights can easily come in at over $13,000 per person.

Of course, that total cost can sky-rocket even further. If you decide to upgrade your flights from economy class or upgrade your room or villa at the resort then the final cost can end up being considerably higher. Some resorts also offer half-board, full-board and all-inclusive deals, meaning that some or all of your meals will be taken care of, but at a significant additional cost.

Depending on the resort, adding an all-inclusive option to your stay can easily add an extra $700 to $3000 to the total cost of the holiday. Thing is, there is usually very little choice on most resort islands besides their own restaurants, so all-inclusive is basically a must. If you don’t take that option, you’ll most likely end up eating in the resort’s onsite restaurants anyway and paying far more for it a la carte.

You’ll also need to factor in the cost of the transfer from the airport to your hotel. Again, the total cost of airport transfers will vary depending on the resort and the journey. Transfers to some resorts can be made by speedboat whilst others further away from the Maldives’ main airport in Malé are made by seaplane. All resort hotels can arrange transfers, which you can expect to cost somewhere in the region of $100 to $500 for a round trip per person. 

How much should I budget for a trip to the Maldives?

views in the Maldives
Photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash

Besides the cost of travel and accommodation, and assuming that you’ve taken up that all-inclusive deal, you’ll also need to set aside some extra money for activities and excursions you might want to do during your trip.

Typically, the Maldives are largely a place to go for a dose of R&R, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be heading out on daily shopping sprees. Instead, you’ll be tempted by the wonders of the ocean. Snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing in the Maldives’ tropical waters are amongst the most popular activities here. 

A scuba diving trip in the Maldives can cost between $90 to $150 per person. A snorkeling session is a little less, typically around $50 to $80 per person. 

The cost of getting to and from other islands also needs to be factored into your budget. Whilst there is a cheap ferry service that runs between the inhabited islands of the Maldives, it is far from reliable. Ferries are often delayed or even canceled, plus they do not stop at resort islands.

The most effective way to travel between islands is by private speedboat, or, for further trips, by seaplane. Neither of these modes of transport come cheap and many people staying in a resort tend to limit themselves to only two or three trips to other islands in order to keep costs down.

A journey by speedboat is usually around $100 per person per trip. Seaplanes are far more expensive and you can expect to pay at least $500 per person per trip if you choose to travel in the air. 

Finally, it’s worth remembering that most resorts’ all-inclusive packages only include food and not alcohol. Drinks in the Maldives don’t come cheap, thanks mostly to the country’s 22% tax on alcohol. If you plan on having drinks in your resort, allow extra in your budget.

On most resorts, a beer costs $10 to $15, whilst cocktails usually start from $20. If you’d like a tipple to go with your taste of paradise, we’d suggest allowing for a budget of around $200 for drinks for a week overall.

That means, adding everything up, we’d suggest budgeting at least an extra $900 per person onto the cost of a week-long trip to the Maldives. Bear in mind that this is only a conservative estimate. You can easily spend a whole lot more than this in the Maldives if you so desire.

When is the cheapest time to visit the Maldives?

Beach in the Maldives
Photo by Nattu Adnan on Unsplash

The Maldives has two distinct weather seasons, a dry season and a rainy season. The rainy season runs from May to October and this is when you’re likely to find cheaper deals on packages to the Maldives. 

Don’t expect to find a huge bargain, as the Maldives is always pricey, no matter what the time of year. But compared with the Maldives’ peak tourist season, from November to April, prices are typically a little lower on the whole. 

The downside is that there is a lot more rain at this time of year. Storms are much more frequent, though they do usually happen at night. Some days can be gray and cloudy, though temperatures are still high and most days are still clear and sunny. 

(One upside: The rainy season in the Maldives does tend to match with the peak season for surfing the islands, which is great news if you’re coming here mainly for the perfect, peeling waves.)

How much is food in the Maldives?

food in the Maldives
Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

The cost of food in the Maldives varies greatly depending on where you eat. In any of the resorts, assuming you haven’t taken the all-inclusive option, a meal in an on-site restaurant is going to be very expensive. 

Most resorts will have a selection of two or three restaurants. These will range from laid-back casual dining spots to incredibly high-end restaurants that specialize in haute cuisine. In the more casual restaurants, a simple meal such as pizza can cost around $15 to $20. At a resort’s most expensive restaurants you can expect a meal to start at around $100 per person. 

Because you’re often totally limited to your resort island for the full stay, it’s tricky to save on food. The only way is to stay on an inhabited island near a town.

On Malé, for example, you can find a wide variety of restaurants that serve local Maldivian cuisine, as well as regional and international food, with a typical meal costing around $10 per person. 

Is there anywhere to stay in the Maldives for cheap?

Maldives luxury resort
Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash

And if you’re looking to save even more money on a holiday in the Maldives the good news is you don’t have to spend a fortune staying in a resort. There are a great number of affordable hotels to be found on the Maldives’ main inhabited islands, particularly on Malé. 

Most importantly, in 2009, the government of the Maldives declared that local people were allowed to open guesthouses on the inhabited islands. This change in the law has led to the Maldives being far more affordable for many visitors. A week-long stay in a guesthouse can easily cost less than a single night in one of the resorts!

Staying in a guesthouse may mean you miss out on experiencing the ultimate lap of luxury but it can cost as little as $30 a night. The kind of independent travel to the Maldives that the guesthouses cater for is still in its infancy, and, though the accommodation they offer is a far cry from what’s on offer in most resorts, you can still expect a very good level of comfort and mod cons such as Wi-Fi and air-conditioned rooms as well as breakfast included. 

One top tip is to stay in a guesthouse for the majority of your trip to the Maldives and splurge on a resort for the last day or two.

Why is the Maldives so expensive? Our conclusion

There are a whole host of reasons why the Maldives is an expensive destination. Mainly, though, it comes down to the fact that this run of paradise islands is seen as one of the planet’s most sought-after luxury destinations; a place for jet-setters, A-listers, splurging honeymooners and the like. For that reason, the main hotel market is geared largely towards folks with cash in town.

On top of that, there’s a hefty 16% tax (known as GTST) placed on sales in the tourism market in the Maldives, along with a distinct lack of land to develop more hotel that would add competition and bring down rates.

Finally, the Maldives are tricky to get to. Most travelers are looking at hefty long-haul links to take them over the seas to the paradise islands. And the journey’s not even over once it’s over, since you’ll need to organize onward transport to you specific hotel resort island, either by boat or seaplane. 

Reece Toth

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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