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I stayed at a luxurious overwater bungalow in the Maldives and a budget option. I had a great time for less than $100 a night.


Conrad Bungalow with jacuzzi.The Conrad bungalow I stayed in had a jacuzzi.

Fiona Chandra

  • I stayed at two different overwater bungalows in the Maldives at very different price points.
  • The expensive resort was nicer, but the beaches and ocean were equally beautiful at both places.
  • I found there’s no need to spend $1,000 a night to sleep over Maldives’ blue waters.

Early 2024 saw record-breaking increases in tourist arrivals to the Maldives, and I can see why.

The Asian country is beautiful, and after staying at two different overwater bungalows there, I learned you don’t even need to spend thousands to have a luxurious vacation.

Here’s how my stay at the high-end Conrad Maldives compared to my stay at the more affordable South Palm Resort — and why I don’t think you need to spend thousands to have a nice overwater-bungalow vacation.

My first stay was at Conrad Maldives, which can get pricey. Overwater bungalows at ConradI was wowed by the crystal-clear waters in the Maldives.

Fiona Chandra

First, I stayed at the ultra-luxurious Conrad Maldives.

The resort’s overwater bungalows here usually cost a minimum of $700 per night before tax and service charges, but I saved on my stay by using Hilton free-night certificates I got from signing up and using the Hilton American Express credit card.

Since most Maldives resorts are on their own islands, we had to take a seaplane to the resort, which cost about $675 round trip.

The white-sand beaches at the Conrad Maldives resort were pristine and the water was so clear it sparkled. The natural beauty that made Maldives famous certainly didn’t disappoint.

My room at the Conrad Maldives was spacious and luxurious.Conrad Maldives room with bed and couchMy bungalow at Conrad Maldives had wood floors.

Fiona Chandra

I booked a villa with a pool but got upgraded to one with a jacuzzi. The villa had a comfortable king bed, a leather couch, and a large bathtub with an ocean view.

The room also had nice touches like soft bathrobes and a Nespresso machine.

Our jacuzzi was perfect for evenings but too hot during the day. I spent most afternoons scuba diving and using the resort’s free kayaks instead.

The food at Conrad was expensive but good.tray of seafood at Conrad MaldivesThe seafood dinner at Sunset Grill at Conrad Maldives was great.

Fiona Chandra

Again, since most of the resorts in Maldives are located on their own island, guests have to eat at their chosen resort throughout their stay.

Thankfully, Conrad Maldives has 12 restaurants and bars, from seafood at Sunset Grill to Chinese at Ufaa and Italian at Vilu. Even at the more reasonably priced restaurants that serve pizza, main courses cost at least $30.

One night, I had dinner at Sunset Grill, which sits on stilts over a coral reef with a great sunset view. I ordered a platter of grilled seafood, which, at the time, cost $295 for two people and included lobster and tiger prawns. It was simple but tasted fresh and well-prepared.

I was a Hilton Diamond member at the time of my stay because of my credit card, so I got free breakfast at Atoll Market, which helped me save money since Atoll’s buffet costs about $60 a person.

I even splurged on a meal at Conrad’s undersea restaurant, Ithaa.Author Fiona Chandra at Ithaa undersea restaurantIthaa Undersea restaurant isn’t cheap.

Fiona Chandra

There are other undersea restaurants around the world now, but Ithaa is said to be the original.

Although the food itself was good I don’t think my meal was necessarily worth the over $300 I spent. Dining under the sea was definitely cool, though.

Later, I took advantage of a deal for South Palm Resort. View from South Palm Beach bungalowThe online reviews of South Palm Resort seemed good.

Fiona Chandra

My second bungalow stay was at South Palm Resort, where an overwater villa without a pool can cost about $300 a night before taxes and fees.

Fortunately, I booked my stay for even less. My friend and I bought a Travelzoo deal that allowed us to pay $1,200 for a seven-night stay for two. Our package also included breakfast.

To get to South Palm Resort we took a Maldivian Airline flight to Addu City and a boat to the resort.

Since we could take a commercial flight, we only paid $400 per person to get to our resort. This was cheaper than the Conrad seaplane.

Although our room at South Palm Resort wasn’t as luxurious as the one at Conrad, it was still spacious and nice.Bed in room at South Palm ResortMy room at South Palm Resort was nice.

Fiona Chandra

Although the room’s amenities were not as nice as what I experienced at Conrad — there was no bathtub or bathrobes and my room had instant coffee instead of a Nespresso machine — we didn’t lack any necessities.

Plus, I just got my morning coffee during my free breakfast at the resort instead.

We did not pay extra to have a pool connected to our room and instead swam in the ocean. At one point, we even swam with a turtle right in front of our bungalow.

The beach at South Palm Resort is as beautiful as any, with soft white sand. Empty Beach at South Palm ResortI loved the white-sand beach at South Palm Resort.

Fiona Chandra

The beach here was just as beautiful and the water was just as clear as what I saw while staying at Conrad Maldives.

Plus, both resorts had at least one pool, free kayaks, and Jet Skis for rent.

Both have a dive center and a spa, although the ones at South Palm Resort were more basic. Still, this meant South Palm Resort’s dives and massages were cheaper.

There are only a few restaurants at South Palm Resort.Food on wood tray at South Palm ResortWe were able to have food at tour room at the South Palm Resort.

Fiona Chandra

The food I had at South Palm Resort wasn’t as good as what I ate at Conrad, and we had fewer options.

South Palm Resort has two bars and one restaurant. Still, eating here was cheaper, with many entrées costing about $25. We enjoyed dishes like tandoori-chicken pizza from Moodhu Bar, which serves Eastern and Western cuisine.

I also liked that the buffet at the main eatery, Banyan Restaurant, had more Maldivian food than Conrad. I love trying what the locals eat when I travel.

After both stays, my takeaway is you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars a night to visit the Maldives.Manta Ray underwaterThis trip proved to me it’s possible to still have a great, luxurious trip with a cheaper resort.

Fiona Chandra

Unless your heart is set on a luxury resort, you don’t need to spend $1,000 a night to sleep over the Maldives’ crystal-blue waters.

I had a great experience at both hotels and each stay came with incredible views. Plus, both resorts offer snorkeling trips, dolphin cruises, sunset cruises, and fishing excursions.

Don’t get me wrong — Conrad Maldives was the better hotel with nicer rooms and facilities, but if an overwater-bungalow stay in the Maldives has been on your bucket list, it may be more within your reach than you think.

My stay at South Palm Resort felt luxurious at a lower price point. Plus, the country has other similar resorts that are even more affordable with the same access to beautiful beaches and marine life — and there are always good travel deals to be found.

Read the original article on Business Insider