Free Things to do in Riga

The Latvian capital city of Riga has a lot to offer budget travellers. This list of fun and free things to do in Riga will really help you experience the city’s nature and history without spending a penny!

Walk Along the Pilsētas Kanāls/City Canal

Located in the heart of Riga, the Pilsētas Kanāls canal is leftover from medieval times. The moat was once for protection from invaders, but now its location at the centre of the city makes it popular with visitors. Many of those visitors will pay €18 for a 1 hour ride down the canal in a small boat. But you can take it all in at a slower pace, by walking along the banks of the canal!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. City Canal

The canal runs for 4 kilometres and is flanked by parks, memorials and Vecriga or Old Riga. Each bank of the canal offers a different experience. You can access the east bank from the Riga Central Market and follow it to Kronvalda Park. You’ll pass through quite a few of the city’s green spaces and see a lot of pieces of history. Perhaps the most interesting place to see some history is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. It’s right near the canal and entry is free.

The west bank will also take you through some green spaces with monuments. Then you can take a detour into Vecriga/Old Riga and literally walk into history.

Free Things to do in Riga – Discover the Cobbled Streets of Vecriga

Vecriga/Old Riga was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997 and it is Riga’s historical centre. The best thing about Vecriga is that it’s made for pedestrians, which makes it lovely to walk around. Upon entering Old Riga, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another century. It’s jam-packed with historical buildings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. Vecriga
Image by Makalu from Pixabay

You could easily spend a whole day wandering around the narrow cobbled streets just checking out the history and architecture. There are also no less than ten museums within the confines of Vecriga. These include the Cosmos Illusion Museum and the Literature and Music Museum. Most have admission fees of €2-8. The Latvian War Museum however is free and will give you insight into Latvia’s political and military history.

City Parks

There are a surprising amount of small parks located within a 10 minute walk of the old town. Once you step inside these parks, the buzz of the city fades away and it’s very easy to forget that you’re still in the city. Many contain sculptures, historical monuments and other points of interest.

Vērmanes Garden Park

Riga’s second oldest public garden, Vērmanes Garden Park, is spread over 5 hectares. This tiny park is full of things to occupy your senses. From sculptures, gardens and fountains to historical monuments and a flower market. There’s even a play area for kids, an open-air stage and cafes where you can sit down and relax. The walking paths running all through this park are well-maintained and easy to follow. There are also plenty of benches around if you get tired or just want to stop and take it all in for a bit.

Esplanāde

At 8.75 hectares Esplanāde is the second largest of the inner city parks in Riga, taking up a whole two city blocks. Like the other parks in Riga, it has monuments, fountains and many well-maintained paths running through it. What’s a little bit different about this park is that it has a cafe in the middle of it. Furthermore, it contains one of the city’s biggest attractions; the Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral.

Bastejkalns Park

Bastejkalns Park is a thin strip of greenery running along both sides of the Pilsētas Kanāls/City Canal, between the bridges of Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela and Krišjāņa Barona iela. It is home to some of the most unique flora in Riga, as well as fountains, bridges, important sculptures and monuments. Three of the city’s most recognisable sites, the Freedom Monument, Peace Dance Sculpture and the Laima Clock stand within the park.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. Nymph Fountain Bastejkalns Park

Bastejkalns Park is lovely to walk through both during the day and at night. At night there is the added bonus of bridges been lit up. The lights of the city also cast surreal reflections on the impossibly still waters of the canal.

Kronvalda Park

The largest of Riga’s inner-city parks can also be found on the banks of the City Canal. Aside from memorials and fountains, the 11.92 hectares of Kronvalda Park include walking paths and a cafe. For the more active among us there is a playground, rollerskating tracks and bicycle hire.

The unique thing about this park is that it contains some of Latvia’s largest willow, oak and beech trees. Additionally, the Chinese Pagoda in the park was an anniversary gift from Riga’s sister city Suzhou, China.

Viesturdārzs

As Viesturdārzs is on the outskirts of the city centre, it is the quietest of all the parks in Riga. It’s not near the City Canal like the other parks, but it has its own tranquil bodies of water. Like the other city parks, Viesturdārzs has monuments and playgrounds for the kids. And also for dogs! Viesturdārzs is a dog-friendly park.

Aside from being furry-friendly, something that sets this park apart from the rest is its art. There are permanent art installations all around the park.

Free Things to do in Riga – Visit the Castle of Light/Gaismas pils

The Castle of Light is the combination of two significant ideas from Latvian culture; the Glass Mountain and the Castle of Light. The Glass mountain represents obstacles faced by creative folk while the Castle of Light symbolises human creativity and freedom. So it’s quite apt that the combination of these two ideas should house the National Library of Latvia (Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka).

K in Motion Travel Blog. Free Things to do in Riga. Castle of Light
Image by Nikolaus Bader from Pixabay

With its striking design and 68 metre height, it has become a dominant part of Riga’s cityscape since it’s construction in 2014. The Castle of Light is said to be one of the most beautiful modern libraries in the world. It was even included in the BBC list of the ten most beautiful modern libraries in the world in 2017.

The thirteen floors of the library are home to over 5 million titles, including manuscripts from the 14th century! So it has something for the book worm in all of us. Did I forget to mention that it has free WiFi?

Finally, if you’re planning a trip to Riga in the future, here’s a downloadable Free Things to do in Riga Itinerary just for you!

Related Post: Reflections on Riga

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Reflections of Riga

Unfortunately, my luxury bus ride from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius had to come to an end. I was now in the Latvian capital of Riga. In this article I’ve included photographic reflections of Riga as well as my own experience of the cosmopolitan capital city.

The hours seemed to have flown by while I was on the bus and it was now dark. Very dark. But it wasn’t even 7pm yet. I don’t think I could ever get used to these crazy European winters!

There was something that struck me about Riga straight away. It instantly seemed more modern and happening than the Lithuanian capital city that I had just left. I had arrived in both cities at similar times, yet Riga was a lot more lively. More lights, more people, more traffic and more open stores.

Reflections of Riga – Confusing Subway Tunnel

I was hungry but as it was already dark I decided to drop my bag off at my accommodation first. Navigation through the city seemed rather easy. Except at the intersection of two main roads near the train station. Pedestrians had to use a subway to pass under the intersection. A subway that confused my map. Stupid GPS!

So imagine being tired then having to try to get your bearings in a subway tunnel that seemed to have far too many exit options. There should have only been four but there were at least 10. To add to the fun, the subway tunnel had an ever so slight curve that threatened to turn me around completely. I was not willing to give up like my map did. So I made an impromptu decision to take the exit that looked the nicest. That’s tired logic for you. Luckily, it turned out to be the right exit. Sort of.

I had actually taken the exit just after the one I needed. It wasn’t a major problem seeing as it has still taken me to the right road. Just the opposite of it.
I was able to rectify that problem at a ground-level crossing a few minutes up the road. Once I finally made it to my accommodation, I was in a very tired and hungry state.

Chatty Chick and Local Eats

The receptionist at my accommodation was the opposite of everyone I had encountered in the Baltics so far. She was chatty. Extremely chatty. I’m normally always up for a chat but I’d had a long day and was very hungry. I asked her for recommendations for good places to eat local food. She advised that a chain called Lido would be a good choice.

There was a Lido nearby, so I made my way there. I was surprised to see that it was ‘buffet style’. Not only that, instead of a normal buffet, where you pay a set price and eat what you want, you had to pay individually for each thing that you ate. Furthermore, there were only a few local looking dishes on the buffet. It mostly seemed like American kind of food. That’s not what I came to Europe for!

I was not interested in walking around town looking for some local food, so I settled on a €1 beef wrap from the place next door. It hit the spot and didn’t break the bank. My favourite kind of food!

Reflections of Riga – Beautiful Buildings and a Blue Bridge

Now that I’d got some food in me I was feeling much better and was ready to explore the town a bit!

While walking to my accommodation from the bus station, I had noticed a few things that I had decided to go back take a closer look at. Firstly, there were a crazy amount of Christmas decorations adorning trees on the side of the road. That wouldn’t be too strange if it weren’t the end of January. More than a month after Christmas was over!

The main attraction for me was the blue bridge I’d seen earlier. This bridge is the path of Krišjāņa Barona Iela over Pilsētas Kanāls or City Canal. Of course, it looks like any normal boring bridge during the day. But at night it’s mesmerising. Especially with the reflections on the canal.

The canal starts and finishes at the Daugava River which flows 1020 kilometres, all the way from Russia, through Belarus and Latvia to the Gulf of Riga. Pilsētas Kanāls is flanked on both sides by lovely parks and green spaces. But who cares about that, how about that bridge, eh?

Day Trip to Sigulda

One of the main things I was looking forward to doing in Latvia was bobsledding at the international track in Sigulda. The town is about an hour from Riga by train. The train runs quite regularly throughout the day. I didn’t want to leave it until too late but I also wanted to leave after sunrise. Would you believe sunrise was around 9:40 am? I settled on the 10 am train.

Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the time it would take me to walk to the train station. I nervously approached the ticket window at 9:58 am. I half expected the lady behind the counter to refuse me the ticket as it was so close to departure time. She didn’t. She took my €2.10 then gave me the ticket with a smile and no hint of urgency. I still needed to get to the platform though!

Most people would run at that point, but I’m not a runner. I just started walking faster. To be fair, my fast walking is faster than some people’s running. I made it on to the train and was comfortably seated just before the train started moving. The train ride was quite relaxing and the scenery was very green. I was especially impressed with the pine forests where all the trees seemed to line up in perfectly straight lines. For kilometres upon kilometres.

Reflections of Riga – Sigulda

Just over an hour later I had made it to Sigulda. It felt like the temperature had dropped between Riga and Sigulda by at least 5 degrees. I might’ve thought this was all in my head if it hadn’t been for all the people dressed in snowsuits and ski gloves. This was amusing to me as I’d never seen people walking around in snowsuits when there was no snow.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Path in Sigulda.

I stopped for a quick eat in a cute little cafe near the station where they served soup in a bowl made of bread. Then I made the freezing walk to the international bobsled track. I was excited about the adventure on which I was about to embark. Things didn’t quite go to plan.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Bobsled Track in Sigulda.

I saw many people walking around adorned with colours of different countries. Canada, Russia, Korea. Uh oh, it was a competition day! That meant that bobsledding was closed to the public for the day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. View of Bobsled Track in Sigulda.

I had gone all that way, so I decided to take a walk around the complex. It was rather impressive actually. After watching a few of the teams fly past me from a viewing area, I couldn’t stand the cold any longer.

Reflections of Riga – Train to Sunset

As I had decided to leave earlier than planned, I got back to the Sigulda train station rather early. More than 40 minutes before the next train was due. I was happy to wait inside the station where it was much warmer than outside!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Sigulda Train Station

The wait didn’t really seem to be that long, even though I was having problems accessing the free WiFi at the station. There was no announcement when the train had arrived. Luckily I’d seen it pass the station building on the way in. Once I was back in Riga, the sight that I saw was nothing short of amazing.

You know the strange thing, it wasn’t even night time yet! I had arrived at the Riga Train Station at 5:20 pm! It was still afternoon.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Train Station Clock at 5:20 pm

Leaving Riga on Another Luxury Bus

I had learned my lesson from having to pay extra by purchasing my bus ticket at the last minute in Vilnius. So I had pre-purchased my ticket online the day before. This was a weird concept to me, as transport prices are generally set, or negotiable, no matter when they’re purchased in most other regions that I’ve travelled in.

After I showed the bus lady my ticket she motioned for me to get on the bus and said that I could sit anywhere on the bottom deck. The service was going all the way through to St Petersburg in Russia, but it was almost empty until Tallinn, which was my destination. This bus also had a swanky hot drink machine like the Vilnius to Riga bus. The seats weren’t as comfortable though.

We made some random stops along the way. At one of the stops, we seemed to just be waiting, as no one got on or off. One of the passengers decided to take the opportunity to pop off the bus to have a quick smoke. The driver wasn’t having it, but as he didn’t speak English, the best he could come up with was, “No bus stop please”. Can’t argue with that, I guess.

Keep an eye out for the continuing Baltic adventure in Tallinn, Estonia

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Experience The Old World Charm of Vilnius

What happens when a warm weather person ventures into the Baltics in winter? A lot of complaining about loss of feeling in the extremities of the body. I will never understand how people can live in such horrible temperatures! But I had heard that the old world charm of Vilnius in Lithuania was something that I really needed to experience first-hand. So I put on 20 layers and got myself on a plane.

Experience The Old World Charm of Vilnius – Airport or Train Station?

As far as international airports go, the Vilnius International Airport, or Vilniaus oro uostas in Lithuanian, is a bit on the smaller side. It is still the largest of four airports in Vilnius and sees about 5 million passengers through its halls a year. Upon entering the terminal, you could be excused for mistaking it for a train station.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Airport

The nice lady at the tourist information centre indicated which bus went to the old town and where it left from. Luckily the bus stop was just outside the terminal building. So I waited inside, away from the cold, where I could see the bus stop. It was already dark at 5pm.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Airport Bus Stop

The number 88 bus didn’t take long to arrive. Unlike what I’m used to at home, where you enter a bus through the front door, this bus took passengers through the back door. In my tired state, I just sat down without paying. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realised I hadn’t paid. The driver didn’t seem fussed about this at all and nonchalantly took my €1 when approached later.

The Old Town At Night

Upon arriving at the bus stop near the old town, a short walk from the main road took me to a cobbled street. As lovely and old-worldy as it looked, it really wasn’t easy to walk on. The cobbles were the biggest I’d ever seen. A few metres of walking on that was annoying enough to make me switch to the narrow footpath to the side of the road.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Cobbled Road

I went to the old town centre to search for some food. Almost everything was closed except a small supermarket, that looked like a convenience store, and a Hesburger. Hesburger is like a Finnish version of McDonald’s. It actually outsells McDonald’s in Finland and the Baltic states. As options were running low, I settled on the €1 Cheeseburger. It was as disgusting as I thought it’d be.

I grabbed some supplies from the convenience store/supermarket. I didn’t want to eat another cheeseburger the next day. Most groceries were reasonably priced, which was great for the budget. The old town did have a certain charm about it, but it was also a little boring. At the time I thought it could be because it was night and many things were closed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Empty Streets During the Day
Maybe it’ll be a bit more lively during the day, I thought. It was not.

Exploring the Old World Charm of Vilnius by Day

I was struggling to get myself out into the cold, but I really wanted to see the city. Just as I was ready to go, it started snowing! I wasn’t going out in that, so I decided to stay inside a bit longer. I ventured out about 20 minutes later to find not one trace of the recent snow anywhere. Where did it go? Did I imagine it was snowing? No, I’m 100% sure it was snowing. Obviously snow works in mysterious ways incomprehensible to the mind of a warm weather person.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Where's the snow?
Where’s the snow?

Magic snow aside, the cloudy skies seemed to accentuate the beauty of some of the buildings. But they didn’t seem to do much for the mood of the locals. I’m quite used to people being friendly and approaching me wherever I travel. Things were a little different in Lithuania. People just didn’t seem to want to talk. I mean, they would interact with me if I asked for directions, but they’d give the shortest answer possible. They would constantly look like they were uncomfortable with the situation and waiting for any opportunity to get out of it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Cloudy Sky

This happened with just about every Lithuanian I tried to engage with. All except the smoking lady at the bus station. She never actually spoke to me but her interactions with others were quite hilarious. She shamelessly interrupted conversations smokers were having with their friends to get a cigarette.

The hilarity leveled up when she approached a smoking tourist. She didn’t speak English, so she just stood near the tourist and his friend. Then she started nodding her head and looking at them while they were talking. When they stopped to look at her, she pointed to the guy’s smoke and put her hand out in a ‘give me’ kind of fashion. Needless to say, the poor guy was a bit dumbfounded and handed her a cigarette. He then watched her walk off towards her next victim.

Street Art

I’d heard that a famous political mural with Trump and Putin kissing was near where I was staying. I wanted to find it! Of course, things didn’t quite go to plan. All I had was a street name, so I found that street. The mural was nowhere to be seen. I did find some other art along the way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Street Art

That mural was right across the road from this interesting statement hung on the side of a train..
K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Train Statement

Was it a sign of a dystopian future? Or are the people of Vilnius really not able to express opinions after 10pm? It would explain their stoic demeanors and standoffish ways. Anyway, back to the art. Once I’d given up on finding the famous mural, I came across this in a back street.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Alien Street Art

If it hadn’t been for this, I’d have never noticed the drainpipe next to it. The thing I had been searching for was there. Sort of.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Putin Trump Mural Sticker

As I couldn’t find the original, this was the closest I’d get to seeing it. Then I spotted an embroidered car. I wondered, how many months would that take to make?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Embroidered Car

The last arty thing I spotted, while not strictly street art, was still cool. What’s the best way to make something stare-worthy? Use coloured lights!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Light Art

Bernardine Park/Bernardinų sodas

On the west banks of the Vilnia River lies Bernadine Park. It has an interesting history that has seen it closed and reopened under different names by different regimes. These days it’s mainly full of manicured beds of flowers and fountains. From there you can access two historical monuments. The Trys Kryžiai or Three Crosses and the Gediminas Castle Tower.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Three Crosses K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Gediminas Castle Tower

I had intended to climb the hills for both of these. The path to The Gediminas Castle Tower from the Bernadine Park was closed for repair. This was also the path that was needed to access another path that led to the Kalnų Parkas and the Three Crosses. That meant that both required a longer walk around the outside of the park to reach their other access points. So I chose to just do the castle tower as it was rapidly approaching sunset.

Experience the Old World Charm of Vilnius – Gediminas Castle Tower at Sunset

The tower is actually a part of the Lithuanian National Museum, the main building of which is a few minutes walk from the tower. The path up to the tower is short, but steep.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Path to the Gediminas Castle Tower

A lot of the path is cobbled too, which makes it a little bit more difficult to navigate. I guess that’s why a funicular has been built to take people to the top of the hill for €1, or €2 for a return trip.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. City View From Gediminas Castle Tower

You can see almost the whole city from the top of the hill. I’ve got to admit that it was a pretty amazing view. The top of the hill was very windy. It was already quite cold without the wind. So you can imagine how difficult it was to take pictures with numb hands. But I just had to get a shot of this amazing sunset!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Sunset View From the Gediminas Castle Tower

Experiencing the Old World Charm of Vilnius at Night

Winter in Lithuania brings about an early sunset. So it starts getting dark before 5pm. The cold seems to really kick in after the sunset too. But that didn’t stop me from checking out the city after dark. Well, that and the fact that I was on the other side of the city from my accommodation and had to walk back.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Vilnia River

The river looked so pretty and peaceful after sunset, even though there was a main road running either side of it. It actually looked quite amazing at dusk.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Vilnia River After Sunset

I walked alongside the river for as long as I could, before heading back into the city via an intersecting road. It wasn’t long before I came upon another park, so it seems like there’s a fair amount of green spots in the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Lights in Park

This park was lit up with lights that changed colours at intervals. You don’t want to know how much time I spent staring at them! Let’s just say that I was so distracted by the lights that it took me a while to realise that there was an ice rink right behind me. Complete with a disco ball!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Ice Skating at Night

Luxury Bus

Once it was time to leave Vilnius, I got myself a €16 bus ticket to Riga. I was not at all happy about paying that much for a 5 hour trip. But I guess that’s just par for the course in Europe. I remember wondering, when I purchased the ticket, what was so special about this bus? Was there a reason it cost so much?

Well, it was the most luxurious bus that I took in all of the Baltics. Or anywhere for that matter! The seats were roomy and comfortable. The heating was set at just the right temperature. And there was a hot drinks machine that dispensed coffee, hot chocolate and tea! I tried to drink €16 worth of tea, so I think I got my money’s worth!

Stay tuned for the continuing adventure in Latvia.

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Can I Travel the South Pacific on a Budget?

The South Pacific region in Oceania, which encompasses Melanesia as well as parts of Micronesia and Polynesia, is renowned for pristine beaches, sparkling blue waters and island resorts. Resorts don’t exactly conjure up a picture that seems affordable to the average person, right? You may therefore be asking, can I travel the South Pacific on a budget?

The short answer is yes! In practice, it’s a little more complicated but it’s still very doable. You’ll just have to plan and research more than you would for somewhere like South East Asia. It’s not really a turn-up-and-go-for-it kind of region. This is due to a variety of factors, including limited transport options and the sheer distance between islands.

Imagine an area larger than the whole of the European continent, but with thousands of small islands randomly dotted around it. Then thousands of kilometres of deep water between them. The South Pacific is home to some of the most remote islands in the world. Despite the logistical difficulties it can still be done and it’s more than worth visiting! Let’s look at some commonly asked questions about travel in the South Pacific on a budget.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. Boats and Blue Water

I Can’t Afford a Resort! Where can I stay?

There are a surprising amount of choices for budget travellers in the South Pacific. It can get a bit trickier on the less frequented islands but all of the major islands have hostels. Most can be found on Agoda. If you can’t find any on Agoda or similar booking sites, you may need to ask Uncle Google and book directly with the property.

Obviously some islands are a bit pricer than other places in the world. Most still fall well within the budget category though. Expect to pay somewhere between US$10-20 for a bed in a dorm room on most islands. Or US$20-160 when there are no dorm beds available. Below is list of prices valid as of March 2020. Some of these prices have decreased in recent years as some islands have become more popular destinations.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific On A Budget

For the islands of Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Nauru a little bit of research is required. As the third least visited and least visited countries in the world, Tuvalu and Nauru have limited choices for accommodation. There are only 2 places in Nauru! Due to that and the limited international flights serving them, these four islands could be the hardest in the world to travel on a budget.

Travel the South Pacific on a Budget – Couchsurfing

If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing, you can check out my article about it here. In a nutshell, it’s a platform that allows you to get in contact with locals who are willing to open their home to you. It can be a bit hit and miss on some of the islands, because there are barely any hosts. But in places like Fiji and Tonga there are many hosts willing to take you in.

Couchsurfing isn’t just about getting a free bed. It’s about cultural exchange and giving you a window into local life. It can give you some of the best travel experiences you’ll ever have. Like sitting down to a traditional meal with your hosts. Or insider information on the quiet beaches and best islands to visit. There is also a facebook group based on a similar idea, but only for females called Host A Sister.

Travel the South Pacific on a Budget – Village Homestay

This could be the way to go in places like American Samoa and Tokelau (arranged through the Tokelau Liason Office). It’s a very similar concept to Couchsurfing, but is usually organised by a government department, who will vet hosts to make sure that guests have the best experience possible. As with Couchsurfing, it’s a great way to get a feel for local life.

Travel the South Pacific on a Budget – Volunteering

This could be an option if you intend to stay in each place you visit for several weeks. Sites like WWOOF and Workaway offer volunteer opportunities. For most jobs you are expected to work a certain amount of hours in exchange for food and board. Many engagements require you to stay for a minimum period of 2 weeks to a month.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. Beach Hammock

Isn’t it just all resorts?

No. The locals don’t live in resorts. They generally live in simple houses in residential areas. In many cases, they are happy to share their home and food with travellers. There are also volcanoes, hills that can be hiked, lagoons, atolls, reefs to be snorkeled, waterfalls to be seen. The list goes on!

Do I have to Fly Between Every Island?

No. You cannot fly between some countries in the South Pacific. For instance, if you want to get to the Cook Islands, the only place in the South Pacific you can fly there from is New Zealand. No other island chain has air links to that chain. The same goes for Niue. Tuvalu and Kiribati, on the other hand, can only be reached via biweekly flights from Fiji. There is only 1 weekly flight between Tonga and Samoa/American Samoa. If you want to get to any other island chain from either of these countries, you need to go via Fiji or New Zealand. Then Tokelau has no air links at all! You can see now why planning your trip could give you a headache!

When it is an option, flying is definitely the easiest way to go but it’s not cheap. Those biweekly flights from Fiji to Tuvalu are over US$500 for a round trip. The weekly flight from Tonga to Samoa/American Samoa is over US$300 for a one way trip of less than 2 hours. Auckland, New Zealand to the Cook Islands is around US$250 return.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. Weekly Flight From Tonga to Samoa
Weekly flight from Tonga to Samoa

If you have a bit of time, it’s also possible to buy yourself passage on any of the cargo ships that visit the islands. They have a small passenger allotment that is never full. This is of course much cheaper than flying but it will take time. A lot of time. You may also not be able to get to the exact island you want on the first try. It will definitely be an adventure though!

Inter-Island Transport

Most island chains have scheduled ferry services between other islands in the same chain. Frequency can vary wildly depending on the country though. Some like Fiji have very developed water transport systems to most islands. Ferries to many islands leave throughout the day. The more remote chains, like the Cook Islands don’t have any scheduled ferries. Locals normally have their own fishing boats for getting between the islands. So your options would be either fly or make friends with a boat owner.

Isn’t Food Expensive?

Yes and no. While it is true that most food is imported, there are still a lot of locally produced foods. A traditional meal at a local restaurant can turn out to be quite reasonable. Somewhere between US$4-25. Food at supermarkets can be expensive because it’s mostly imported. Tropical fruits grown on the islands seasonally will also be quite cheap. I honestly can’t think of anything better than eating bananas and coconuts everyday! Check in with locals and see what they’re eating. As most locals receive modest wages, eating like a local would be your best bet for keeping your expenses down.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. Coconut

Can I do It By Myself?

Yes! Absolutely! The Pacific islands are super safe and full of caring, helpful people. Don’t be surprised if people in cars stop to check if you need a lift somewhere when you’re walking along a road. It’s really easy to hitchhike on all islands. You could even end up doing it accidentally!

Public transport will also give you a chance to make some new friends. It’s almost impossible to take a bus in the South Pacific without someone wanting to get to know you. It’s also quite a cheap way of getting around, with local buses costing anywhere from US$0.45-2.50.

It’s also easy to hire bicycles and scooters on most islands. Bicycles are a great way to get around the smaller islands and range in price from US$8-25 for a 24 hour period. Scooters are great for the bigger islands and can be hired from US$10-35 for 24 hours.

If you really want someone to share the adventure with, you can check out social media groups to see if anyone else is travelling there at the same time you plan to. It can sometimes be invaluable having someone to share car rental costs with, to make sure you see all the waterfalls and volcanoes you may never get a chance to see again.

Why I should I Go?

Let me answer this one with pictures
K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. Cook Islands Calf K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. Tongan Coral K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. Samoan Calf K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. Cook Islands Beach K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel the South Pacific on a Budget. New Caledonia Sunset

How Do I Get There?

This will depend where you are in the world. The most accessible of all the South Pacific Island chains is Fiji. It has international flights arriving from every continent. It can also serve as a base for getting to other island chains. If you can’t get a flight to Fiji, then New Zealand would also be a great option, especially if you’re planning on going to Tokelau, Niue or the Cook Islands.

Get Yourself Into The Right Frame of Mind For Travel to the South Pacific on a Budget

I wish I could say it was easy but it’s going to take a lot of organising. Possibly months to get an itinerary that works logistically and financially. It definitely requires a lot more planning than places like Asia where you can just turn up. There are so many things to take into account, ranging from flight schedules to intermittent transport options. Once you’re there though, things will get easier as almost everyone speaks English and islanders will always want to help you. You know what? You got this!

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Discover the Real Vanuatu

Growing up, I had always heard that Vanuatu was a resort paradise reserved for the ridiculously rich. I was sure that there had to be more to Vanuatu. Since no one I knew had ever been there and I was in the area, it was my duty to pop over and discover the real Vanuatu. I’ve got to say that what I found was pretty amazing.

A 1.5 hour flight on a small plane had taken me from the French territory of New Caledonia to one of the youngest independent nations in Melanesia; Vanuatu. The difference between the two places was immediately visible upon landing in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila. The airport in the New Caledonian capital of Noumea was a modern, multi-level building, whereas Port Vila’s was more like a shack.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Shack

That wasn’t particularly a bad thing. There was a very homely feel to it. A short walk on the tarmac brought me to the terminal building. Inside, I was instantly drawn to two signs. One claiming that Vanuatu was ‘the planet’s happiest country’ and one about the country hosting the Pacific Mini Games several weeks beforehand. I was very intrigued by the first sign. My first contact with a Vanuatuan, or ni-Vanuatu in the local pidgin language Bislama, seemed to confirm the first sign’s claim.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Signs

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Smiles at Immigration

At the immigration desk I was greeted by a very friendly officer in traditional clothing giving me a very toothy smile. I couldn’t help but smile back as I handed him my passport. His next words surprised me, “Welcome to Vanuatu, we’re happy to have you here!”. I had to have a quick look around me to check that I was in fact at the immigration desk and hadn’t taken a wrong turn somewhere. Have you ever had such an enthusiastic welcome from immigration before?

The small airport basically just consisted of a strangely named one-stop-shop kind of store.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Strangely Named Airport Store

A police post adorned with a picture promoting the Pacific Mini Games.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Police Post

Then my stop, the tourist information desk. I stopped to find out some bus information. I was confused when the woman said there was no bus and I would have to get a taxi if I hadn’t already booked a transfer. She then tried to convince me that I needed to take a taxi. I let her know that I wanted to take the public bus. She then pointed to the road beyond the car park outside. She indicated that I should wait there for a bus with ‘B’ on it. “Make sure it has a ‘B’ on it!”, she reiterated as I walked away.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Car Park

Smiles on the Side of the Road

A quick walk across the car park brought me to the road but I could see nothing that resembled a bus stop. I did see a helicopter next to what looked like a garden shed, a contradiction that seemed to describe Vanuatu perfectly so far; expensive stuff near sheds. With no indication of where I should be, I just stood on the side of the road. I figured I’d be able to flag down the bus as it drove past.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. View of the Airport from the Bus Stop
View of the airport from the ‘bus stop’

Within Minutes, people had started gathering around me. Of course, they weren’t gathering around me, they were waiting as I was in fact at the bus stop. I checked with one of the locals that was now standing near me and he asked where I was going. When I said I was going to Pango, just south of Port Vila, he advised that the bus could take me close. He then gave me a big smile.

As I waited, he decided to give me a bit of a history lesson about Vanuatu. I was already aware that the country has only been known as Vanuatu since it gained independence in 1980. My new friend Itu wanted to make sure that I knew it. “We used to be French. We used to be British. We called it New Hebrides”. I presumed that he was referring to the 74 years of joint French and British rule. He continued, “Now we are ni-Vanuatu!”.

He went on to explain that the word Vanuatu came from the joining of ‘Vanua’, meaning land and ‘tu’ meaning stand. For the ni-Vanuatu, it is a strong word that indicates they are independent on their land.

Discover the Real Vanuatu – The Bad Side of Tourism

When the bus arrived, Itu spoke to the driver and indicated that I should hop on. I paid the 150VUV/AU$1.90 to the driver and sat down. It wasn’t long before another local, Isa wanted to chat with me. She was relieved when she found out that I wasn’t staying at a resort. Although she admitted that they do bring money into the country, Isa believed that the resorts were taking advantage of the locals. “Nearly everyone I know works in tourism jobs, but the resorts are bad. Their money goes back to their big foreign company, not to our country”, she informed me.

As we got closer to Port Vila, which is only about 6 kilometres from the airport, the roads were falling into disrepair. Almost as if someone was trying to illustrate Isa’s point, we hit a pothole in the road while she was comparing the Port Vila’s pretty resorts to its less than well-maintained roads. “If the resorts are so good, why are our roads breaking? Why we have no power?”. I was not that surprised to learn that so many ni-Vanuatu were living below the poverty line. A lot of families still choose to live off the land, grow their own tropical fruits and catch their own fish. They’ll normally cook their food on hot stones or boil it.

Getting a Feel For Island Life

As you’d expect from a South Pacific Island, there is a lot of greenery and water everywhere. In fact, at one point in our drive, we were 300 metres from both the west and east coasts of the island.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Coast

I walked along a very simple looking side street, barely wide enough for one car. This road was actually a lot better than some in the area. Can you guess why?
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Local Street

I was near the southern tip of the island, so there were quite a few resorts in the area. Like this one.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Resort

At that point I was hungry and there were no other food options. So I popped in to see what this resort had on offer. I was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices. I was able to get a full breakfast for around AU$10 and the service was amazing.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Resort Breakfast

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Unexpected Interactions

As I continued along the road towards the corner where I could catch the bus to the airport, a child walking from the other direction approached me. He tried to talk to me in his language, which could’ve been any one of the hundred spoken in the area. Obviously, I didn’t understand, so the child took the Cricket bat he was holding and raised it above his head with a big smile on his face. Like he was making some kind of offering. I think this was his way of saying, “Let’s play!”

Rare moments like these are what make travelling so worth it! How awesome is it that this child just came up to me, with no concern about who I was. Or no thought of how I was different. He didn’t see a foreigner, just that I was a potential Cricket buddy. If only more adults in the world acted like this. I was so pleasantly surprised by this young boys actions that I just had to play some Cricket with him!

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Local Insights

Not long after that an older man came along and said something to the child. That made the boy grab my hand and take me over to the man. The man introduced himself as Jim. I’m not sure if that was his real name or just a name he thought would be easier for me to say. Jim asked if I had some time. I did, so we chatted for a bit. He was happy that I was interested in finding out about life in Vanuatu. He showed me an interesting article in the local newspaper that he was carrying.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Vila Times Article

Jim also expressed some worries that many foreigners, mainly Chinese, are buying Vanuatu citizenship. With an investment of $150,000 they can get a passport. This is actually a major revenue maker for the country. Unlike most of the money from tourism, this money stays in the country. Jim lamented that although he doesn’t like it, it may be a necessary evil. He then changed the tone of the conversation with his rendition of the ni-Vanuatu national anthem, “Yumi Yumi Yumi”.

Final Thoughts

When I first had the thought that I wanted to discover the real Vanuatu, these kinds of random interactions with locals were exactly what I had in mind. In the end, I think I got much more of an insight into local life than I ever thought I would. As for the poster that I saw on the way in claiming that Vanuatu was the planet’s happiest country. I think I would have to agree. Despite all their troubles, ni-Vanuatu are happy with their simple lives always have a smile ready for you.

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Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji

When most people think of Fiji, they think of islands, beaches and resorts. While these are certainly prevalent, they are not really what Fiji is all about. When I think of Fiji, I think of my childhood Fijian neighbour, who I thought was the funniest and friendliest man alive. Because of that man, I was expecting a lot of friendliness and a whole pile of laughs in Fiji. I was not disappointed! Read on to find out more about the friendliness and festivities in Fiji.

Fiji Time

Being a chain of hundreds of islands in an endless sea means that Fiji has a culture and vibe all of it’s own. Aside from the friendliness that was noticeable instantly, one thing that struck me on arrival was that everyone was happy. This could be because they have their own version of time over in Fiji. This concept may be a bit hard for busy people to get a handle on. I’m sure you’ve heard of island time, but Fiji takes it to a whole new level with ‘Fiji Time’. They even have the t-shirts to prove it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friends and Festivities in Fiji. Fiji Time Tshirt

Fiji time is really something else. Things move slower and no one is stressed by deadlines. This means that everyone always has time for others. Fiji has to be one of the friendliest and most welcoming places on earth. In fact, when you visit, you’ll leave with a new word in your vocabulary; Bula, the Fijian word for welcome. You will hear and see it everywhere!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Bula

All travellers arriving in Nadi are even given a welcome to Fiji serenade by locals in their colourful local threads. We may have had no idea what they were singing about, but it sounded cheery and quickly put us at ease.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friends and Festivities in Fiji. Airport Serenade in Nadi

One interesting thing about Fiji is that alcohol is super expensive. Like really, stupidly expensive. So much so that when locals have friends flying in, they ask them to grab some duty-free booze for them from the airport. It’s half the price! I had therefore agreed to grab some bourbon for my host, Save, who in turn met me at the airport.

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – A Local Experience

Save lived in a very simple house in an area not too far from the airport. It was very green and lovely but I was disappointed to find that I was on the wrong side of the island to climb the mountains. The area only had a few small hills.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Far Away Mountains K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Little House on a Hill

As soon as we got to Save’s house, I met some of his family and we immediately sat down for dinner. As I mentioned before, Save’s place was rather simple, so they didn’t have a dining table. That meant that a rug spread across the floor became the dining table for a delicious local meal. Mostly eaten by hand. I like this idea actually. Who needs to wash those pesky knives and forks anyway?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Floor Dining Table

Save’s place was about a 10 minute walk down from the main part of town, where the buses to the city left from. On the way I saw some kids swimming in water that I wouldn’t think was good for them, but they seemed to be having a lot of fun! I also saw horses and chickens wandering around. It wasn’t until further into my South Pacific travels that I realised that chickens wandering around was a normal everyday occurrence on many Pacific Islands!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Horse and Water

I also passed a store that claimed to have all my needs. Although I found this claim dubious, especially considering the rather small size of it, I went inside to check it out anyway. It turns out that they didn’t have all my needs, but the lovely shopkeeper was eager to chat to me. With all that Fijian friendliness flying around, I didn’t leave that little store for over an hour.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Grog Shop

More Friendliness and Chats On a Fractured Fiji

On my many walks through the area that I was staying in, I noticed that there were a lot of Indian restaurants around. I’d also noticed Indian places of worship. I didn’t give it a second thought until the local bus into the city broke down. The bus driver invited me to sit in his bus and wait for the replacement bus to come. While waiting, he filled me in on why there was such a huge Indian population in the area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Indian Temple

Under British colonisation in the early 1900s, Fiji was a part of the indentured labour scheme. Indentured labour is pretty much just a nice way of saying slavery. While the labourers did get paid, the wages were very low and the conditions could sometimes be atrocious. These indentured labourers had been brought over to Fiji from India at the expense of the colonial government. Yet the government decided that, even though these labourers had contributed greatly to building the colony’s economy, they would not pay for them to go back to India.

That left many displaced workers with little to no money and no way of getting back to their birthplace. With nowhere else to go, they made Fiji their home. While I’d like to say it was all smooth sailing from there, according to Mr Bus Driver, it was not. Even though they outnumbered the indigenous population at one point in history, they remained under-represented with in the country’s parliament for several years. They also endured many years of racism. It seems like things may be getting better if this sign is any indication.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Respect and Love All Fijians Sign

Friendliness in The City

As this impromptu history lesson ended, the replacement bus arrived. Mr Bus Driver made sure I was the first person to step onto the bus. He indicated that I should take the seat behind him. The 30 minute drive into the city cost only FJ$1.5, which is around AU$1. It wasn’t long after getting off the bus that a friendly local had stopped me to say, “Bula!”.

He introduced himself to me as Will and said that if I needed anything while I was in the city, I could go to him. After showing me where the cheap local food was, he insisted that I go to his friend’s shop. He had told me the story of his friend being a struggling artist just trying to sell some traditional handmade crafts. I was expecting a small shop, but it was huge.

While I suspect that story was a bit of a speil, Will didn’t get pushy. With their proximity to Australia and New Zealand, Fijians are no strangers to cashed-up tourists. So I can’t really blame the guy for trying. Even though I didn’t buy anything, he still seemed happy. When I left he asked me to tell all my friends about the store, of course!

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Christmas and New Year

Given their colonial past, you would be correct in assuming that Fijians are big on celebrating Christmas and New Year. But of course, they do it with their own island twist!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Christmas Decorations

I don’t remember seeing many Christmas trees while exploring, but I did see many sets of lights arranged to look like Christmas trees.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. House Christmas Tree K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. LightChristmas Tree

When the new year is almost upon them, Fijians like the light up the sky with fireworks. As is done in many places. But what they do after is a little more unique.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Fireworks

As I was walking to a house party I’d been invited to by some people I’d just met outside a club, one of my new friends told me to stop. I was a little puzzled and wondered what was going on. My friend advised that there were people behind a gate getting ready to throw buckets of water at us. We quickly crossed to the other side of the road, where he explained that this is somewhat of a local tradition. Throwing buckets of water at unsuspecting people walking past. Considering it was summer, I could think of worse things to endure.

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Islands

I guess no trip to Fiji is complete without seeing a few different islands, right? But what’s a budget traveller to do? Would you believe there is actually an island resort in Fiji that caters to budget travellers? It’s still not what I would consider cheap, but the price is considerably lower than other islands.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. One of the Mamanuca Islands

Someone from the family that I stayed with for the second half of my stay, was able to get me an industry discount. That meant that I only paid FJ$190 (AU$125) for a day trip to Beachcomber, one of the Mamanuca Islands. The regular price at the moment is FJ$219 (AU$145).

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Beachcomber Resort, Mamanuca Islands

A free bus transfer to Denaru Marina comes with the purchase of an island package. That was great because I really had no other option to get to the marina, which was several kilometres out of town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Ferry From Danaru Marina

The boat ride out was quite enjoyable. As you could imagine, there was plenty of blue water to keep me mesmerised. Along with some famous islands.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Blue Waters At Resort Island

There were sporadic announcements about upcoming islands where different movies had been filmed. Some islands were even named after the movies that were filmed there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Resort Island, Mamanuca Islands

We even stopped at a few of the bigger resort islands on the way to drop off passengers. They got their own special island welcome.

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Beachcomber

Beachcomber itself is clearly set up for a younger, more active crowd.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Entrance to Beachcomber

Even though the whole island is less than one kilometre long, there’s a lot to do, if you’re willing to pay a bit extra of course. You could play mini golf on a fairly well-used course. Or do some kayaking. Although that option wasn’t available on the day I was there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Beachcomber Minigolf

The first thing you might notice is The Sand Bar, where you can get yourself a local beverage for about FJ$8.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. The Sand Bar at Beachcomber K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Fiji Beer at Beach Bar at Beachcomber

But if you take 10 minutes to have a walk around the island, you might see some wildlife too.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Beachcomber Duck

Or there’s a small boat tour included in your day trip. They’ll take you out to the middle of the sea to let you do some snorkeling and feed some fish.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Fish Near Beachcomber K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Fish Feeding Near Beachcomber

Perhaps you’d just prefer to sit on the beach and admire the view?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Beachcomber Beach View

Keep an eye out for the next stop on my South Pacific tour; Tonga!

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Travelling the Maldives on a Budget

Is Travelling the Maldives on Budget Possible?

The Maldives is a fascinating destination that captures people’s hearts. What’s not to be fascinated about? Hundreds of tiny islands in the middle of impossibly blue waters sounds incredibly inviting to me! But given the infamous resort-like set up of the place, most would think that travelling the Maldives on a budget could prove quite challenging. You’d be surprised how easy it actually is!

While I appreciate the idea of travelling to relax, that’s just not how I travel. Resorts really do not interest me, but I’m always interested to see how the locals live. So I got in touch with a wonderful local Maldivian named Muhamed. He agreed to host me in his family home on the island of Hulhumale. It’s just over the bridge from the Velana International airport.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Volleyball Beach

Getting to the Maldives

As the Maldives normally cater to high-end travellers, the airfares to get there tend to reflect that. But being the cheapskate that I am, I’d managed to find a flight for around US$160 return from my home in Hong Kong. With a stopover in Sri Lanka! This was great for me, as I have a friend in Colombo. It also meant that the last leg of the flight from Sri Lanka to the Maldives took only 1 hour.

Awesome Views

To say that the Maldives looks amazing from the air would be an understatement. You’re looking over an endless blue ocean for most of the flight. Then outta the blue, pun intended, you start to see random sand bars in the ocean. They look so tiny, yet so intriguing. It’s interesting to think that people live on some these tiny, little, unprotected sand strips in the middle of a vast ocean. It’s also absolutely amazing how immaculately blue the waters are between the atolls and sandbar islands. Possibly one of the best views on approach to a country ever.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Near the International Airport
Boats Near the Airport

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – A Warm Welcome

I was impressed that we actually landed on time and I was off the plane and through immigration within 15 minutes. My host Muhamed had kindly organised for someone to meet me at the airport. It was his brother who works at the airport. He had typed up a very professional-looking sign with my name on it, so that I could find him. I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve had my own sign upon arrival into a country. I felt super special!

He then showed me out to the bus stop, where I could get the bus across the bridge to Hulhumale. The bus only cost 15 Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR), which is under US$1. He let Muhamed know when I had left on the bus, so he could meet me on arrival in Hulhumale. As a bonus, the bus stop in Hulhumale was about a 2 minute walk from Muhamed’s flat. Nevertheless, Muhamed picked me up on his moped because he was worried about me having to carry my bag. How lovely!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Near the Airport Area
Looking over to Male from near the airport

Hulhumale

Muhamed lived in a 4 bedroom place on Hulhumale where 9 other members of his family also lived. They still ensured that I had a bedroom to myself, even though I told them I was fine with sleeping on the couch. Maldivians believe in treating their guests like royalty. I was so lucky to have a local family allow me to stay with them. The family was of course interested in finding out more about me. Muhamed was the only one in his family that really spoke any English though. That meant he had to do a lot of translating!

Hulhumale is an island in the Maldivian chain that is northwest of Male. It is joined to Male and Hulhule, where the international airport is, by the Sinamale Bridge. Construction on the bridge had just been completed not long before I had arrived. I was one of the first people to cross the bridge. Before the bridge, the only way to travel between those islands was by speedboat or ferry.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Boat

Reclaimed Land

Interestingly, Hulhumale was completely constructed on land reclaimed in 2004. The government had realised back then that the land available wasn’t going to cater to the needs of the growing Maldivian population in the future. So they made their own land. There were many construction sites around Hulhumale. Muhamed advised me that the government was reclaiming even more land. He also told me that a lot of the land had already been purchased by luxury hotel groups.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Colourful Building With Construction Behind
Colourful buildings with construction behind

Hulhumale was colourful and all the roads looked brand new. There also seemed to be a lot of newly constructed buildings housing foreign cafe chains, especially near the beach area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Colourful Buildings

And it appears that someone in Hulhumale knew I was going to be there..
K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Kez Graffiti

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – Getting Around

If people want to travel somewhere on the island they are currently on, they mostly use mopeds to get around. You’ll often see people on different mopeds riding side by side just having a chat. While there were always cars on the road, I didn’t get the feeling that traffic was a problem in the Maldives. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any traffic lights.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Hulhumale Intersection Without Traffic Lights
Intersection without traffic lights
Ferries Between Islands

If people want to travel between islands in the Maldives, they take a ferry or speedboat. There are regular ferry services between some of the 1000 plus islands in the Maldivian chain. Muhamed regularly travelled to an island called Villingili, which is south of Male. At a glance, this island has a very similar name to another small island, Viligili, that lies to the west of Male.

The reason for Muhamed’s constant trips to Villingili was that his wife and daughter lived there. While I was there, he needed to pick up his daughter from a class then take her back to Villingili. He asked if I would like to join him for the trip and of course I said yes! I wanted to see as many islands as I could during my short stay.

Villingili

While it was relatively easy to get to Villingili, the route wasn’t as direct as you would expect. We had to get a 50 MVR/US$3.20 ferry to Male first. Muhamed had an extra bike stashed there. He used it to take us from where the Hulhumale to Male ferry had arrived to where the Male to Villingili ferry would depart. That Ferry cost 25 MVR/US$1.60. The two ferries are run by different companies, Atoll Transfer for the Hulhumale to Male route and MTCC for the Male to Villingili route. That meant that the ports were on opposite sides of the island.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Male Ferry Port

It was night by the time we made it to Villingili. It was quite a small island and definitely didn’t have a tourist feel to it at all. Housing on the island seemed to consist of small, budget 1 bedroom flats on narrow streets. I wasn’t really looking that hard, but I didn’t see any cars there; only mopeds.

In the few hours since she had met me, Muhamed’s 6 year old daughter had taken a bit of a shine to me. The fact that we couldn’t speak the same language didn’t seem to worry her. She asked if I could stay at her place for that night, but I had to politely decline as I had already organised a trip to another island.

Travelling the Maldives on a Budget – Day Trip to Himmafushi Island

After some long chats with Muhamed about which island would be the best to go to on a budget with limited time, we came up with Himmafushi Island. It’s about 16km north of Male, which meant it was only a 20 minute boat ride. Muhamed had called ahead and found out that the speedboat from Male to Himmafushi was 100 MVR/US$6.50 per person. Muhamed was good enough to accompany me on the ferry to Male to make sure that I could find the right speed boat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Male From The Water
Male from the water

When we got there, Mr boat guy advised that it was 150 MVR/US$10. The reason for the difference was that Muhamed had been quoted the local price. The tourist price was of course higher and Mr boat guy was adamant that was what I needed to pay. So I got myself a return ticket and jumped on the boat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. On the Way to Himmafushi

Getting There

There weren’t many other people on the boat, so I could pretty much sit anywhere I wanted. I settled into a seat on the lefthand side of the boat, but then realised that all the good views seemed to be on the righthand side.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Bluer Water On the Way to Himmafushi

The trip out to the island was quite lovely. I was absolutely mesmerised by the water that just seemed to become bluer the further away we got from Male.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Blue Water and Islands On the Way to Himmafushi

Once Himmafushi came into view, it was obvious that it was a very small island. Only 1km long!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Entering the Himmafushi Port

I had always thought that bad parking was something you only saw on land. But when we were arriving at the Himmafushi port, I found out it happens in the ocean too.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Bad Parking at Himmafushi Port

Sand, Souvenir Shops and Street Art

When I finally got my feet back on land, I headed to the beach. As the island was so small, the beach was not hard to find!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Beach on Himmafushi

As I walked on the sand, I was amused as hundreds of little crabs scuttered around me. Some retreating into their shells because they perceived danger, while others made a break for the water. It was quite entertaining to watch.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Overdressed on Himmafushi

Whilst exploring the island, I was invited into a local souvenir shop, The Dolphin Shop. Inside the owner, Hussein gave me not one, but 2 gifts from his store. He also insisted that I stay for tea. Who was I to say no?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Dolphin Shop on Himmafushi

Speaking in Tongues

After chatting for a while, Hussein decided to utter a few words in Chinese. He wanted to check with me that what he was saying was correct. Then he invited me to visit again and proceeded to give me a Dhivehi lesson, for when I come back next year apparently.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Dolphin Shop Souvenir and Dhivehi Lesson on Himmafushi

Time to Go

Hussein had tried to convince me to stay a bit longer, but I eventually bid him farewell and took a short walk around the island before my ride back to Male arrived. I was very interested in the fact that an island with only 4 streets still managed to have some street art.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling the Maldives on a Budget. Street Art on Himmafushi