Move over millionaires, the Maldives are now open to the middle class

The Maldives are 99% water and, until now, only the 1% enjoyed this exotic archipelago seemingly riddled with more five-star resorts than residents.

Even Instagram models found themselves shunned by $3,000-a-night properties profiting from a law limiting tourism to uninhabited islands. Until 2009 it was illegal for locals to rent out rooms and open guesthouses or restaurants.

Travelers who didn’t identify as rich (or royal) were SOL. Today, however, the the 1,200-island nation is all about being inclusive, with 1,000-plus guesthouses and Airbnbs.

For starters, it doesn’t care if other countries are closing their borders. It’s rolling out the red carpet to anyone with a pulse and negative PCR test.

Despite being 9,000 miles away, and in the midst of a pandemic, the US has become one of the Maldives’ top five markets. More than 25,000 Americans visited between January and July. That’s almost half as many who visited in 2019.

An aerial view of the Maldives.
Once only open to the rich and royaled, the Maldives are now welcoming the rest of us.
Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation

Why the influx? Marketing. Via email, Visit Maldives said they know their destination is synonymous with luxury. But they’re working hard to dispel the myth they only cater to travelers who shop at Whole Foods with Amex Centurion cards. 

If Mastercard is more the name of your game, Visit Maldives recommends Maafushi, Fulidhoo, and Guraidhoo. For the Trader Joe’s traveler, staying on an island accessible by public ferry (fares start at 50 cents) is a no-brainer. At the very least, don’t opt for an atoll far from Malé International Airport. Malé — the country’s capital — is where the island hopping and financial flexing begins.

An aerial shot of the Maldives.
The Maldives are half a world away, but you can get there for under $700.
Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation

Superyacht agencies rent out 250-foot-long floating mansions for $1.5 million a week. Seaplane and speedboat transfers range in price from $10-$20/minute, per person. A 45-minute ride to a resort can easily cost more than transatlantic airfare.

According to Kayak, October is the cheapest month to fly to the Maldives. Eithad Airways currently has flights from NYC starting at $665 roundtrip. A ticket to Hawaii is almost as much. Granted, there are no nonstop flights to the middle of the Indian Ocean, and you lose a day or two to traveling. For this reason, Visit Maldives suggests staying at least a week.

An aerial of the Maldives.
Liquid gold: The nation is 99% water, yet has a reputation for being prohibitively expensive.
Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation

Budget-wise, seven to 10 days shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. In October, a week for two in a sea-view room at a three-star hotel starts at a mindblowingly low $387. Upgrade to a private bungalow for just $585; $900 gets you a semi-detached villa boasting lagoon views.

Even if your motto is five stars or bust, you don’t need to break the bank. Sure, a stay at the Ritz-Carlton Maldives, which opened in June, will set you back at least $4,500 per night. But Sun Siyam Iru Fushi, a locally-owned five-star resort, has rates starting at just $1,913. That price is for a week, for two people. (Sun Siyam Resort’s newest property, Siyam World, will open in late October; its 500 rooms instantly earning it bragging rights as the Maldives’ largest resort.)

Of course, for us plebeians there’s always Airbnb where apartments start at $28/night.

Just remember the island’s official religion: Islam. Alcohol and/or pork consumption could get you kicked to the curb. Similarly, if your teeny weeny bikini wants to see the light of day, better stay at a resort on a private island. They play by their own rules.