As someone lucky enough to have seen much of the world, I’m convinced the Maldives is the best vacation destination on Earth (unless you find the sand and sea boring). Having grown considerably from 1970, when the Indian Ocean archipelago was still a largely uninhabited collection of 1,192 fishing islands, today there is little to distinguish one from the other (there there are more than 150 operating as resorts, with a dozen new offerings launched each year).

Competition is fierce between brands to differentiate themselves in what is essentially a parade of turquoise-fringed white-sand microcosms dotted with overwater villas. Standards are high, as are prices, which range from around £300 per night to over £2,000.

But is it possible to visit this heavenly corner of the planet on a small budget? And are the more expensive establishments really that much more amazing than their more moderately priced neighbors?

That’s what I set out to find out by visiting seven of them, from the cheapest I could find (a ramshackle hostel on a local atoll for £11 a night) to the most expensive (an exclusive dream island at £4,000 a night) and several in between.

Accompanied by my fiancé Julius, I judged each of them on five key criteria – setting, design, service, facilities and food – and then chose three examples to compare. I found quite a few surprises, especially in the mid-ranges, where similarly priced resorts aren’t created equal. We’ve stayed at two sister resorts under the same Marriott roof, the second (Le Meridien) being easily three times as wonderful as the first (The Sheraton), despite being about the same price bracket; from £440 per night.