The budget alternative to the Maldives at the heart of an international row

In the azure embrace of the Indian Ocean, tranquil Lakshadweep – India’s smallest Union Territory, off the coast of Kerala – has recently gained global attention, thanks to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the archipelago earlier this month, promoting domestic tourism to the islands.

Modi shared images of his time on the islands on X (formerly Twitter), painting a vivid picture of the islands’ natural splendour that simultaneously sparked interest and raised eyebrows.

With just 145km between the most southerly of the Lakshadweep chain, Minicoy, and Thuraakunu in the Maldives, comparisons are easy to make – white sand beaches, swaying palms and iridescent lagoons. For tourists, there is one striking difference – the price. While resorts in the Maldives charge typically several hundred dollars, a night in Lakshadweep is unlikely to top £70.

Following Mr Modi’s posts, three ministers from the neighbouring island-nation Maldives derisively mocked him on X and in retaliation, a groundswell of discontent materialised on the platform in the form of #boycottmaldives movement, urging Indian travellers to reconsider their holiday plans and explore the southern Indian archipelago of Lakshadweep instead. Indian citizens, celebrities, and some global influencers joined the chorus, advocating for a shift towards Lakshadweep as an ethical and equally enticing substitute. The travel platform EaseMyTrip suspended all air travel reservations and introduced exclusive promotions for journeys to the Lakshadweep Islands.

While the feud between India and the Maldives continues to simmer, the allure of Lakshadweep as a budget-friendly alternative to its Maldivian counterpart emerges as a key talking point. The archipelago offers hotel stays for as little as a tenth of the price of similar accommodations in the Maldives, with rooms from £40 per night.

An art teacher in Mumbai paints a poster condemning Maldives ministers’ statements regarding the Indian PM (Photo: Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Lakshadweep’s allure extends beyond its economical appeal, as the archipelago harbours an array of activities and natural marvels that rival those found in the Maldives.

Formed of 10 inhabited islands, 17 uninhabited islands and attached islets, four newly formed islets and five submerged reefs, as well as a dozen atolls, each has a distinct appeal. The smallest island, Bitra, has a population of under 300.

Must-visit destinations include Kavaratti, the capital, with its traditional architecture and modern amenities. Visitors can tap into Lakshadweep’s culture at the Ujra mosque, adorned with intricate carvings, and the Marine Aquarium, with its sperm whale skeleton.

The islands are blissfully tranquil (Photo: Hemant Sharma/Getty Images)
The islands are blissfully tranquil (Photo: Hemant Sharma/Getty Images)

Agatti island, with its stunning coral gardens and coconut palm-lined shores, is a picturesque haven for those in pursuit of tranquillity.

Minocoy – the southernmost atoll- has gin-clear waters teeming with marine life, coral reefs and shipwrecks, making it ideal for scuba diving and snorkelling. The island’s lighthouse – built by the British in the 19th century– offers a spectacular view of the Arabian Sea.

Bangaram Island has warm, shallow lagoons that are favourable for swimming, while Kadmat is the place to sample the coconut-rich, spiced cuisine and fresh fish (tuna, snapper, grouper and barracuda), as well as getting out on the water – deep-sea fishing and kayaking are both on offer.

Kalpeni – a cluster of three smaller atolls – is ideal for reef-walking, and a brief boat ride from the island leads you to Pitti, an idyllic sanctuary for bird species such as sooty tern, greater crested tern, and brown noddy, as well as sea turtles.

Tear-drop shaped Thinnakkara island, north-east of Agatti, promises seclusion and a profound connection with nature. For those in search of culture, Andrott provides a glimpse of local life with its several Buddhist archaeological remains and mosques.

Tourists visiting Kavaratti island (Photo: Mohijaz/Getty Images)
Tourists visiting Kavaratti island (Photo: Mohijaz/Getty Images)

Travel essentials

Getting there 
Kochi in Kerala serves as the entry point to the Lakshadweep islands, providing access by both air and sea. There are flights to Agatti with Alliance Air, although planes are small, so luggage is restricted. Flights cost around £50 one way. 

Tourists can travel to Kadmat and Kavaratti Islands by boat from October to May or by helicopter, subject to availability.  

Seven passenger ships – MV Kavaratti, MV Arabian Sea, MV Lakshadweep Sea, MV Corals, MV Amindivi, MV Lagoon and MV Minicoy – operate from Kochi to the Lakshadweep Islands, with travel times ranging from 14 to 18 hours based on the destination. 

Staying there 
Kadmat Beach Resort has doubles from £40 per night. 

White Pearl Beach Resort Agatti has doubles from £55 per night. 

More information  
The best time to visit is during the dry season, from October to May.  

Alcohol is not permitted on the islands. 

Visitors require an entry permit – apply in plenty of time since they are first-come, first-served lakshadweep.gov.in/tourism/entry-permit/