It's an island paradise that's been off-limits to the ordinary traveller for decades, simply because of its hefty price tag.
Those crystal clear waters in the brochures, with perfect coconut palms lining the pristine pearl white beaches - are real. Not photoshopped. It's actually better than those pictures..
OPTION ONE: STAY ON A LOCAL ISLAND
There are now more than 400 guesthouses scattered throughout the small local islands of the Maldives. Most of these have popped up in the past two years. They far outnumber the 120 odd private island resorts which carry the majority of cashed-up vacationers.
We picked our guesthouse because it's one of the top-rated and best value accomodations in the Maldives, and the island sounded perfect. Thoddoo Island is the largest fruit and vegetable producer, making it a fruit lover's paradise; papaya and watermelon plants cover most of the area. Roughly 180,000 papaya are grown on the island each year.
Not only is Thoddoo island just a speed boat ride (domestic and seaplane flights can really add to the overall cost of visiting outer islands), it's also the greenest island in the country!
Alternatively you can take a local ferry to the island which is again a huge cost saver. This trip takes between 4-5 hours.
But how much did this really cost?
Transport to the island:
$20usd per person for local ferry. 4-5 hour trip
$50usd per person for Speed boat. 1 hour 20min trip
$60usd per night - room only
$90usd per night incl Breakfast
$160usd per night Full board
Note: These prices vary depending on what season you travel. It's best to check Agoda.com for the latest deals.
Fruit $1-5usd per day
Chips, Chocolate, Ice-cream etc $5-10usd per day
Meals at local restaurants $8-50usd per day if you aren't taking full board. Remember this is an isolated island in an isolated country, so anything that needs to be imported will have a higher price tag.
You can bring your own food but alcohol is illegal on local Maldivian islands
ACTIVITIES ON OFFER
The owner of our guesthouse, Abdullah, spent years working in ocean conservation– and runs fantastic tours to see whale sharks and giant manta ray.
We also visited an abandoned island, where a picnic arrived by boat. Afterwards we got in the water to find swarming fish of every colour; and we had the entire island to ourselves.
A dive session costs $75, about half the price of what you'd pay at resorts
Snorkelling at the island's reef is free - there is however only one beach where you can wear your bikini but it is the nicest. Just remember this is a Muslim country.
A picnic on a deserted island with lunch and snorkel trip costs from $100 per person. It includes freshly caught fish, island vegetables and fruit, rice and juice
Whale shark trips: $140 per person
Manta ray snorkeling: $70 per person
30 minute wake-boarding or water skiing: $60
There's a beautiful grassy reef area just a few metres out from the bikini beach and we were lucky to see turtles there every time!
Bring mosquito repellent - being a tropical island with plenty of greenery - mosquitos love it here. Luckily there are no diseases you can catch from mosquitos on these islands
There are of course trade-offs: being a local island, there's a strict following of Islamic law.
There is no alcohol.
Women are also asked to dress modestly, and are only allowed to wear a bikini on designated bikini beaches.
Your room isn't beachfront, you need to walk through fruit plantations for about 15 minutes to get to the ocean.
Food is almost impossible to find outside of your guesthouse during the month of Ramadan, and call to prayer is a constant reminder of the religion here. We were woken regularly during the night, so would not recommend travelling here during Ramadan if you are a light sleeper.
If you're happy to accept the trade-offs, and want a more backpacker style adventure – visiting a local island is the best way to tick the Maldives off your bucket list, without breaking the bank.
To book Thoddoo Retreat, check out their website here or find their latest offers on Agoda.com below.
OPTION TWO: VISIT LUXURY RESORT ISLANDS FOR HALF THE PRICE
If visiting a luxury resort in the Maldives is the top of your bucket list but you just don't have the budget... here is one of the newest ways that is giving almost everyone the opportunity to visit a luxury island.
Here's the deal:
Hotels and even resorts are opening up in Male almost quicker than apartment blocks in Dubai at the moment - why? Because there is huge demand from tour agencies wanting to offer affordable trips to the Maldives.
Luxury resorts have now started opening their coral gates to 'outsiders' for day trips or even amazing value overnight stays.
Basically you spend a small amount of your money on a budget accomodation either on the airport island of Hulehumale or the main island; Male. This is for sleeping only.
You then choose your preferred package, price range and resort and head out on an amazing day trip - frolicking in crystal clear waters, along overwater bungalow walkways and dining in poolside restaurants.
These prices were accurate at the time of our visit in 2017 and are quoted per person in USD.
They include transfers to and from the resorts, a full day stay to explore the house reef, relax on the beaches and any entrance fees charged by the resorts.
Different hotels work with different companies/resorts to provide these day services, so prices vary, however this is a great indication of costs associated with this kind of trip. The best way is to contact the resort directly for the best rates.