MALÉ CITY

Capital, Culture, Transfer

The pint-sized Maldivian capital is the throbbing, mercantile heart of the nation, a densely crowded and fascinating place, notable mainly for its stark contrast to the laid-back pace of island life elsewhere in the country.

Malé offers the best chance to see the ‘real’ Maldives away from the resort buffet and infinity pool. Overlooked by tall, brightly coloured buildings and surrounded by incongruously turquoise water, Male is a hive of activity, the engine driving Maldives’ economy and the forum for the country’s saga-worthy political struggles.

Malé is also pleasingly quirky – alcohol-free cafes and restaurants jostle with shops and lively markets and the general capital-city hubbub is very much present. This island city may not have a huge number of sights, but it offers a very real chance to get a feel for Maldives and to meet Maldivians on an equal footing.

SIGHTS

Traveling in Malé is an experience, not a series of amazing must-see attractions. It is best to wander around, feel the most exotic atmosphere of the capital, and there are some real attractions that won’t make you bored.

Malé Map

Airport Ferry

Airport Ferry

Villingili Ferry Terminal

Villingili Ferry Terminal

1# President's Office

President's Office

2# Old Friday Mosque

Old Friday Mosque

This is the oldest mosque in the country, dating from 1656. It’s a beautiful structure made from coral stone into which intricate decoration and Quranic script have been chiselled. Non-Muslims wishing to see inside are supposed to get permission from an official of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Most of the staff are officials of the ministry, however, and so if you are conservatively dressed and it’s outside prayer times, you may well get permission to enter on the spot.

3# Mulee-Aage

Mulee-Aage

4# Sultan Park

Sultan Park

5# National Museum

National Museum

Maldives’ National Museum may be a ferociously ugly building gifted by China, but it nevertheless contains a well-labelled collection of historic artefacts that serve to trace the unusual history of these isolated islands. Sadly the museum was broken into by a mob of religious extremists during protests against former president Nasheed in 2012, and its most precious items, some 30 ancient Buddhist coral stone carvings from the country’s pre-Islamic period, were destroyed for being ‘idols’. Security remains tight.

6# Republic Square

Republic Square

7# The big Friday Mosque

The big Friday Mosque

The golden dome of this impressive modern mosque dominates the skyline of Male and has become something of a symbol for the city. Opened in 1984 and built with help from the Gulf States, Pakistan, Brunei and Malaysia, the Grand Friday Mosque is striking in its plainness, built in white marble and virtually free from decoration. Set back off the main square, Jumhooree Maidan, it is the biggest mosque in the country.

8# Fish Market

Fish Market

Although the squeamish may well object to the buckets of entrails or the very public gutting of fish going on all around, the Fish Market should not be missed. This is the soul of Male – and it’s great fun watching the day’s catch being brought in from the adjacent fishing harbour. Look out for some truly vast tuna, octopus and grouper. Maldivian women don’t usually venture into these areas, although foreign women walking around won’t raise any eyebrows.

9# Fruit and Vegetable Market

Fruit and Vegetable Market

The busy produce market gives you an enjoyable taste of Maldives – people from all over the country gather here to sell home-grown and imported vegetables. Coconuts and bananas are the most plentiful produce, but look inside for the stacks of betel leaf, for wrapping up a ‘chew’. Just wandering around, watching the hawkers and the shoppers and seeing the vast array of products on display is fascinating and as real a Maldivian experience as possible.

10# Whale Submarine

Whale Submarine

The Whale Submarine leaves four times a day year round, and while it’s not useful for whale watching (as suggested by the name), it’s still a very popular way for kids (three and over only) and non-divers to get a peek of life deep underwater. It is an expensive excursion, however, and definitely not for claustrophobes. Book online or by phone, and a free transfer to the embarkation jetty will be arranged for you.

11# Artificial Beach

Artificial Beach

A sweet little crescent sand beach has been crafted from the breakwater tetrapods here where locals can swim and enjoy a day on the beach. There’s a whole range of fast-food cafes nearby, though the construction of the massive new China-Maldives Friendship Bridge has rather robbed the area of any of the charm it once had.

12# Seawall

Seawall

HOTELS

Malé makes Hong Kong look spacious, and as you’d expect on this densely populated island, space is at a premium. Compared to the rest of Asia prices are very high here, though a night in Malé still costs peanuts compared to one in most resorts. One cheaper option is to stay on Hulhumale, a 10-minute boat ride away from Malé, and the place where Maldives’ nascent backpacker scene is concentrated.

1#

Hotel Jen Malé

Four-star resort, free WiFi, swimming pool.

2#

The Somerset Hotel

Four-star resort, free WiFi.

3#

Somerset Inn

Three-star resort, free WiFi.

4#

LVIS boutique

Three-star resort, free WiFi.

5#

Hotel Octave Maldives

Three-star resort, free WiFi.

6#

Sala Boutique Hotel

Four-star resort, free WiFi.

RESTAURANTS

You’ll eat decently in Malé, with restaurants typically offering several different cuisines – most popular are Thai, Indian, Italian and American-style grills. Malé restaurants don’t serve alcohol, but many serve nonalcoholic beer. By contrast nearly every restaurant now has an espresso machine, and you can get a good cup of coffee almost anywhere.