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13 dreamy places like Maldives but cheaper

These alternative coastal paradises will give Maldives a run for its money.

A vacation to the luxurious resorts of Maldives is an unforgettable affair, but we want you to look back on your holiday and remember powder sands and cyan-blue waters, not the hefty price tag. Be kind to your bank account by opting to fly to one of these fabulous locations that are similar (if not better) and more importantly, cheaper.

These places tick all the boxes for white sandy beaches, clear waters and watersports that Maldives is famous for.

When you need a break from the sun and sea, explore the rich cultural heritage of these sites, trek lush jungles or visit national parks, sample the food and enjoy the warm hospitality of the people.

1. Fiji

This South Pacific archipelago chain sits east of Queensland and features over 300 islands blessed with sandy beaches and coral-filled waters.

When it comes to cost on-ground Fiji prices are on-par with Maldives with a cheap meal costing around $6 and a sit down for two around 30-40 according to Numbeo. Where the savings lie is in the flights which start from $403 return from Sydney while Flights to Male start from $498 and the flight difference is immense as well with Fiji accessible within 4 hours however Maldives taking over 14 to get to.

  • Best islands: Yusawa, Mamanuca, Viti Levu, Savusavu and Lautoka.
  • Things to do: Snorkelling, diving, paddleboarding, kayaking and eating fresh seafood.
  • Where to stay: De Vos The Private Residence. A dreamy pool and access to a private beach are just some of the perks that this 5-star hotel has to offer. Rooms start from $86 per night.

See all travel deals to Fiji

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2. Gili Islands

Only a short boat ride from Bali but a world away, these three small islands offer picture-perfect white sand beaches, swaying palms and a view of Lombok's majestic Mt Rinjani volcano.

The price of hotels and meals on Gili Islands, or elsewhere in Bali is dirt cheap compared to Maldives with a day's worth of meals costing under $10 and the average cost per person, per day coming under $50.

  • Islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, Gili Meno
  • Things to do: Diving in crystal-clear waters , snorkelling right off the beach, island hopping between the Gilis, watch the sunset from a beachfront bar
  • Where to stay: Aston Sunset Beach Resort. Sitting on a private beach on the main island, Gili Trawangan, this resort offers a range of accommodations including villas with private pools.

See all travel deals to Bali and the Gili Islands


Belize

Image source: Travel Belize

3. Belize

Belize will have you spoiled for choice with Caribbean shorelines to the east and Central American jungle to the west. Packed with adventure and culture, you can scuba dive the Great Blue Hole one day and explore excavated tombs of Mayan kings the next.

Flying to Belize is not going to be cheap with fares starting from $1,500 from Sydney however it's the cost on ground that makes this cheaper than Maldives with cheap meals starting from $4 according to Numbeo. 5-star hotels can start from $138 per night. Comparatively, equivalent hotels in Maldives start from $200 per night.

  • Top 5 beaches: Placencia Peninsula, Hopkins, Ambergris Caye, South Water Caye, The Split
  • Must do/see: Reef diving, Mayan archeological sites, Belize Zoo, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, Great Blue Hole
  • Stay: At the Belize Ocean Club Resort. Choose to wake up to breathtaking ocean views with snorkelling and other water activities at your fingertips. Prices from $329/night.

See all travel deals to the Caribbean


Whitsundays

Image source: Tourism Whitsundays

4. Whitsundays

Located in the heart of the world's most famous reef, the 74 Whitsunday Islands have stunning beaches and secluded bays framed by aqua water and emerald forests. If you have to choose one though, we recommend Whitehaven Beach - it’s the finest in Whitsunday, if not the world.

By cost, flights to Whitsundays are not only cheaper than to Maldives but much shorter with budget airlines Tigerair and Jetstar both flying in. Meals are up-priced due to it being a resort area however the lack of exchange rate and hassle can make all the difference.

  • Top 5 beaches: Whitehaven Beach, Horseshoe Bay, Turtle Bay, Catseye Beach, Airlie Beach Lagoon.
  • Must do/see: The Great Barrier Reef, Aboriginal rock paintings, scenic drives.
  • Stay: At the Martinique Whitsunday Resort. French-Caribbean style apartments with a balcony that offers panoramic ocean views. Prices start at $370/per night.

See all travel deals to Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays


5. Vanuatu

If escaping to a nation of dozens of tropical islands surrounded by unbelievably blue waters is your thing, then we'd recommend Vanuatu. Only a few hours' flight off the east coast of Australia, these islands are perfect for a short escape or an extended getaway - after all, there are more than 80 islands to explore.

Flights to Vanuatu fall just shy of those to Maldives as both are accessible by budget carrier, while hotels are relatively similar priced. Unfortunately, the cost of food is almost double on Vanuatu than Maldives but for the shortened flight time we think it's worth putting this island on this map.

  • Best beaches: Champagne Beach
  • Things to do: Snorkel or dive the coral reefs, chase waterfalls at Mele Cascades, check out the mighty, active Mt Yasur volcano
  • Where to stay: Iririki Island Resort and Spa. Two words, overwater bungalows. Plus, there's a beach, a pool overlooking the sea, tennis courts, and more activities available.


6. Philippines

Thousands of inviting islands and famed Boracay beach parties await you in the Philippines, but don’t forget to take some time to explore the chiselled beauty of rice terraces and historical landmarks in Manila.

If you're lucky, you can catch flights to the Philippines for under $200 return. When in the nation, the cost of living drops dramatically as well with similar meals half the price of those on Maldives. It's a winner in our eyes for super budget-friendly holidays.

  • Top 5 beaches: Boracay, Siargao, El Nido, Panglao, Pagudpud
  • Must do/see: Nightlife, beaches, island hopping, swimming with whale sharks, rice terraces
  • Stay: At Discovery Shores Boracay. This luxury five-star property sits on Boracay’s fine white sand beach. Enjoy a day on its private beach or pamper yourself at the full service spa. Rates start at $317/night.

See all travel deals to the Philippines


Perhenthian-Islands---shutterstock

7. Perhentian Islands

The Perhentian Islands are less than hour boat ride from the east coast of Malaysia, and are a haven for scuba divers. Whether you are touring the underwater wonderland, relaxing on the blindingly white sand beach or trekking the lush jungles, it's is a budget-friendly path to a tropical escape.

With budget airline AirAsia flying into Malaysia you can often catch a cheap break for under $200 return, undercutting Maldives flights by a mile. 5-star hotels are a little pricier as they're more scarce but the cost of activities can be a dream with diving activities starting from $25, including equipment.

  • Top 5 beaches: D’ Lagoon, Long Beach, Coral Bay, Turtle Beach, Adam & Eve Beach
  • Must do/see: Scuba diving, turtle conservation, jungle trekking
  • Stay: at Bubu Resort Perhentian Island. This resort is the perfect holiday destination for honeymooners and water sports enthusiasts. Go scuba diving or relax by the beach - it’s entirely up to you. Rooms start at $372/night.

See all travel deals to Malaysia


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8. Lakshadweep, India

So much like the Maldives, technically this Indian island chain is part of the Maldives, geographically speaking. It's much less developed and accommodation is sparse, but budget bungalows can be found on a few of the islands.

  • Best beaches: Kavaratti Beach, Minicoy Beach, Bangaram Beach
  • Things to do: Visit Kavaratti Aquarium or snorkel to see the local sealife, relax on the beach, visist uninhabited islands
  • Where to stay: Agatti Island Beach Resort. This beachfront resort features white and blue villas that place you right on the sand and is surrounded by crystalline waters.

See all travel deals to India


More places like the Maldives

Not on such a tight budget? Then we'd recommend checking out these idyllic isles like the Maldives that exude luxury:

9. Bora Bora

When you think of paradise, you think of Bora Bora. This picture-perfect spot in the South Pacific has lush, jungle-covered mountains, an unbelievably blue lagoon and pristine beaches.

  • Best beaches: Matira Beach
  • Things to do: Explore the lagoon by jetski, indulge in an overwater bungalow (and dive right into the water from it), snorkel or dive
  • Where to stay: Intercontinental Bora Bora. Idyllic overwater bungalows and unrivalled views of the lagoon and mountain. What more could you ask for?

See all travel deals to Bora Bora


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10. Mauritius

Looking every bit like the epitome of paradise, Mauritius is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean that’s packed with picturesque lagoons, towering waterfalls, and colourful reefs.

  • Best beaches: Trou aux Biches Beach, Belle Mare Beach, Ile aux Cerfs Beach, Flic en Flac Beach
  • Things to do: Diving, exploring national parks,
  • Where to stay: Hilton Mauritius Resort & Spa. Treat yourself at this luxury, beachfront property that offers sunset views over the Indian Ocean. It also offers complimentary dolphin-shopping trips.

See all travel deals to Mauritius


11. Curacao

Curacao is one of the Caribbean's best kept secrets with hidden beaches tucked along its Western coast. Watch psychedelic sunsets at more than 35 captivating beaches while savoring the rich history dating back to the 16th century at its capital city Willemstad.

  • Top 5 beaches: Cas Abao, Playa Kalki, Blue Beach, Caracasbaai, Jan Thiel
  • Must do/see: Ostrich farms, scuba diving, Christoffel National Park, Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge
  • Stay: at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort. Take scuba diving classes and swim with dolphins. Tee off in paradise at one of the best golf courses in the Caribbean. A room with spectacular sea views start at $229/night.

See all travel deals to the Caribbean


12. Cook Islands

Nestled halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii is the Cook Islands chain and its bevy of beautiful beaches. It comes up just slightly pricier than Maldives unfortunately as prices on-island are dear however the flight time is bang-on perfect coming up less than 6 hours from Sydney. Flights are mainly operated by Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand though Jetstar offers a few indirect services per week.

  • Top 5 beaches: Muri, Aroa, Black Rock, O'otu and One Foot Island.
  • Must do/see: Snorkelling, diving, hiking, sailing and ecotours.
  • Stay: at Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach and you won't regret it! It's a 5-star stunner moments from the airport with its own private beachfront and balcony rooms. Prices start from $261 per night for a beachside suite.

See all travel deals to the Cook Islands


13. Seychelles

Located on the east coast of Africa, for somewhere utterly pristine, heaven-scent and a bit of a blow-out, make yours a luxurious trip to Seychelles. It's definitely a cut above Maldives in terms of cost but for the crystal clear water, nature reserves and unique flora and fauna it's the thing of dreams. Make yours a reality.

  • Top 5 beaches: Anse Source d'Argent, Anse Georgette, Grand Anse, Petite Anse Kerlan and Anse Cocos.
  • Must do/see: Diving, fishing, island hopping, wildlife hikes and temples.
  • Stay: at Coco de Mer Hotel and Black Parrot Suites for a highly rated, well-priced 4-star hotel that offers everything from an outdoor tennis court and private beach to a tour desk to get out and explore. Not that you need to.

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Stephanie Yip

Stephanie is the travel editor at finder.com.au. On top of being an avid traveller, she's an all-round bargain hunter. If there's a deal on hotels or a sale on flights, she'll know about it. And she'll let you know about it, too. Though probably not before she buys her own ticket.

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