How to Travel the Maldives – Island Hopping, Public Ferry

Local Ferry in Maldives

Anyone claiming that the Maldives is only for luxurious and relaxing holidays hasn’t experienced island hopping between the local islands in the Maldives. 

By hopping between islands, you get to explore the Maldives in a budget-friendly and adventurous way, using public ferries (1-10 USD) and scheduled speedboats (20-80 USD).

Getting around the Maldives on public ferries can be challenging, but with some planning and this guide, you can create a trip filled with breathtaking nature, authentic culture, and exciting activities without breaking the bank.

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Why Choose Islands Hopping in the Maldives?

Maldives Atoll Map
Maldives Local Ferry

1. First of all, island hopping in the Maldives is the best way to have an adventurous, authentic, and budget-friendly experience.

Get to know the locals, their daily life and their culture. This adventure breaks away from the typical tourist experiences of resort vacations in the Maldives.

2. Secondly, the Maldives consist of 1,200 islands spread across 26 atolls. Although the islands within one atoll may be close, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are similar.

Each island has its charm and character, known for something unique and offering a different experience. For example:

  • Ukulhas Island is renowned for its spectacular house reef for snorkeling.
  • Rasdhoo is famous for its scuba diving sites and the nearby sandbank.
  • Thoddoo is known for its fruit plantations, white beaches, and sea turtle encounters.

With numerous local Maldivian islands available, hopping between them is the best way to explore a variety during your time in the Maldives.

We suggest picking an atoll and exploring some of its islands. This way, you won’t spend too much time transferring from one atoll to the other.

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REMEMBER: The local Maldivian islands have a strict Muslim culture. It’s important to dress respectfully, covering shoulders and knees, and there won’t be alcoholic drinks available for purchase.

How to travel around in the Maldives?

Thoddoo Island Beach Boat

After arriving at Velana International Airport in Male, you need to find transport to reach your final accommodation. From ferries to speedboats and planes, there are many ways to travel between the different islands.

The options and prices available will depend on your destination and budget, so make sure to check before choosing an island or booking accommodation.

Existing transportation options to get around the Maldives include:

  • Public ferries ($)
  • Scheduled speedboats ($$)
  • Private ferries ($)
  • Seaplanes ($$$)
  • Internal flights ($$$)

For a budget-friendly island-hopping experience, we recommend choosing between the slow and very affordable public ferries, where you will travel with the locals and witness daily life, and the quicker and more reliable speedboats.

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TIP: Based on experience, a good mix is using speed boats for hopping between atolls and local ferries for hopping between islands within an atoll.

Transportation Options in the Maldives

We will explain the five transportation options, focusing on the budget-friendlier options: ferries and speedboats.

Maldives Transport Options
Footprints on Thoddoo Beach

Public Ferries

Local Ferry in Maldives

When traveling in the Maldives on a budget, public ferries, costing about 1-10 USD per trip, are your best option.

The ride offers a budget-friendly adventure with spectacular surroundings and the possibility to interact with the locals. However, it can also be an uncomfortable journey that takes a considerable amount of time.

The journey to further atolls and islands can take up to a day, with stops at various places along the way. Moving between islands within an atoll is relatively easy, but traveling between atolls can be more complicated.

Flexibility is key for two reasons.

1. Services only run 3-6 times weekly, with no service on Fridays. Keep in mind that schedules can change, and updates may not always be available online. Confirming information with your guesthouse a few days before is a good move.

2. Ferry schedules can be unpredictable due to the weather. The ferry might get canceled or delayed, forcing you to consider alternatives like taking a speedboat or extending your stay for 1-2 nights.

After arriving at Velana International Airport in Male, you can take the airport ferry for 1 USD to the Ferry Terminal, where most public ferries depart.

If there is no ferry on the day you arrive, you can choose to spend one night in Male before catching the ferry the next day.

If the ferry in the morning is canceled, they usually inform you one hour before the scheduled departure time. Go back to the airport and try to get on a speedboat by asking if there are seats available or speaking to your accommodation for assistance.

The ferry system is operated by the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC). Check the ferry timetables here: MTCC Ferries Schedules 

Tips for taking the public ferry in the Maldives:

  • Stay in one atoll. If you’re traveling on a budget, consider exploring more islands within the same atoll. This will save you a lot of time and make it much easier to use the public ferries.
  • Check ferry schedules on Google Maps. Often, there are recent reviews with the latest timetable when you check the piers on Google Maps.
  • Book your guesthouses and homestays ASAP. This way, you can ask your accommodation about the public ferry options to get there. If you’re not 100% sure, consider booking with free cancellation.
  • Bring cash with you. Cards and USD are not accepted on the ferry. The local currency is Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR). You can exchange euros or USD in Male.

Scheduled Speedboats

Speedboat in Maldives

Scheduled speedboat transfers are available from Velana International Airport to different atolls, islands, and resorts at a cost between 30-80 USD per way.

They are quicker than ferries. For instance, the same route took us 1 hour by speedboat compared to 4 hours by ferry.

For most local islands, there are two daily speed boats in the morning and afternoon.

However, make sure to confirm schedules with your homestay, as they can handle the bookings and reserve a seat by asking for your flight details.

This option can also serve as your Plan B if your Plan A was taking the ferry and it got canceled. Just use the Airport ferry to switch from the public ferry’s jetty to the airport speedboat’s pier.

Private Ferries

You can find private ferries from Male to nearby islands. These ferries operate based on weather conditions and leave when they are full. 

There is no information online about private ferries, which means you will have to go to the pier and ask. Not the best option, if you ask us.

Seaplanes

Maldives Seaplane on Beach
Maldives Aerial View

The most exciting way to reach your destination is by seaplane from the terminal at Velana International Airport. It’s a short ride with spectacular views, and prices vary depending on the distance, typically ranging from 300 to 500 USD

Usually, resorts or travel agencies organize and book these flights, but you can also book directly through their website.

Domestic Flights

There are also domestic flights departing from Velana International Airport. You can book through Skyscanner or have your resort/travel agency handle it for you. It’s a great choice if you plan to visit islands that are far from Male.

FAQ

You can reach the Maldives by flying into the international airport of Male, the Velana International Airport. From there, you can take domestic flights, seaplanes, speedboats, or a short 5-minute ferry ride (1 USD) to the ferry terminal.

We found cheap flights from Europe with the Wizz airline, with a stop at Abu Dhabi. For example, Rome – Abu Dhabi – Male was a total of 130 euros in February. Another option to make the most of your time and money is by combining your trip to the Maldives with your trip to Sri Lanka, which is only 1 hour away. Flights from Colombo can be cheap when booked in advance.

Coming from Southeast Asia, we only found cheap flights to/from Kuala Lumpur.

Yes, you can, but island hopping between local islands in the Maldives requires some planning. It is not as easy as in other countries, as it is still a less common option compared to the all-inclusive resort experiences on private islands.

Yes and no. If the islands are in the same atoll, you can travel between them. If they are in different atolls, you will first have to go back to Male or arrange a private transfer, which can be very expensive. This is why we recommend staying within one atoll to visit more islands instead of changing atolls with every transfer. It will save you time and money.

It depends on the transportation mode you choose; prices range from 1-500 USD. Local ferries cost between 1-10 USD, speed boats cost between 20-80 USD, and seaplanes can cost up to 500 USD.

No, it depends on which islands you want to visit. If you’re traveling on a budget, make sure to choose islands reachable by local ferry or speedboat.

Picking a Maldivian island can be tricky, as there are hundreds to choose from, and many may seem similar. However, it’s incredible how each island is unique. We highly recommend the islands Ukulhas, Rasdhoo, and Thoddoo in the Alif-Alif Atoll (also called North Ari Atoll), all situated very close to each other, around a 1-2 hour ferry ride away.

On local islands, you’ll find guesthouses and homestays run by friendly locals. These homestays have been some of the best we ever had, all including pickup at the pier, breakfast, drinking water, and some even provide snorkeling gear. Checking Booking.com, we were surprised at how many accommodations with good reviews you could find. Prices start from 30 USD per night.

When you visit the Maldives, chances are high that you’ll experience some of the best beaches and water activities you’ve ever done (some even for free). This country is truly unbeatable in this regard. Explore now the 20 best things to do in the Maldives and their costs.

Conclusion

Rasdhoo Sandbank, Maldives

With this guide and the updated ferry times from your guesthouse, you should have no problem hopping between the islands, and most importantly, you can do it on a budget.

Our two-week route: From Male, we used public ferries to hop to Rasdhoo, then Thoddoo, and finally Ukulhas, before returning to Male, all for a total of 11 USD per person.

Feel free to share your questions and experiences regarding navigating the Maldives with us.

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