Male (Maa-lay) is the island capital of the Republic of Maldives. Surrounded by azure waters and blue skies, this was a sleepy backwater until about 50 years ago when tourism took hold and it became the gateway for luxury beach and spa holidays.
Today, Male is the world’s most densely populated city where every available piece of space is taken up on an island just over a mile long by less than a mile wide and home to around a third of the country’s 350,000 people.
The ‘Friday Mosque’, a museum, shopping, the colourful fish market and soaking up some Maldivian life will be the main reasons for visiting Male. It’s also the jumping off point to other resorts within the island chain.
Getting there/around Male
Flights land at Male International Airport on the island of Hulhule. From there, seaplanes, helicopters or boats transfer you out to your island resort. Male itself is a 10-minute trip by traditional dhoni boats that dock outside the Nasandhura Palace Hotel.
It takes 45 minutes to walk around the whole island, but taxis are advisable as Male’s warren-like streets can be confusing. Locals mainly travel by bike or moped.
Independent travel is difficult to organise in a territory that’s 98% water. Resorts will organise day trips to Male for you.
Beaches around Male
Male has no beaches of its own – land is too precious for such frivolities. There are, however, 1,190 palm-fringed islands in the archipelago, of which 88 have been turned into upmarket holiday resorts with powder-white beaches, elegant spa facilities and much more.
Maldives operates a ‘one-island, one-resort’ policy so that’s what you’ll find – quite literally there will be a resort on your island and nothing else.
Sightseeing in Male
The quaint National Museum is housed in a former sultan’s palace and has a treasure trove of ceremonial clothing, headgear and relics.
The Huskuru Miskiiy, or Friday Mosque, with its coral carvings and filigree work, is the nation’s pride and joy and has been a place of worship for more than 400 years.
While bikinis may be the order of the day in the resorts, this is an Islamic country, so it’s respectful in Male to cover up.
Family attractions in Male
The museum and the markets will be fun for more enlightened little people, but there is not a great deal for children to experience in Male.
The resorts hold plenty of attractions and kid’s clubs and warm shallow waters are perfect for little sea goers.
Day trips from Male
Male tends to be a day trip in itself from the tourist islands, but if your resort is a seaplane ride away, it may be impractical and expensive to do this.
Flight-seeing by seaplane is a great but expensive experience, same with fishing trips and diving.
Visits to ‘local’ islands are possible, organised by your resort. If you wish to travel independently outside Male and the islands of the government-created ‘tourism zone’, an Inter Atoll Travel Permit is required.
Restaurants in Male
Spicy Maldivian food reflects the influence of early settlers from nearby Sri Lanka and southern India, although ‘Western’ food is widely served in resorts. As you would expect from an island nation, fish is the staple.
Tea-shops are the usual way of eating in Male. You will be viewed with curiosity but expect to budge up and share your table nonetheless. Workers pop in for a range of ‘short eats’ – local sweets and savouries – washed down by tea. At dinner, these turn to spicy local curries.
As a Muslim country, alcohol is unavailable in the capital – but is on offer in all resorts.
Nightlife in Male
Nightlife is not the reason people come to Maldives. The Nasandhura Palace Hotel in Male is where many ex-pats tend to gather.
In the resorts, night fishing and beach BBQs are a common activity, while performances of Bodu Beru – a dance to drums – are lively and intoxicating.
Shopping in Male
This is no Oxford Street, but there are some bits and bobs to be found on and around Majeedhee Magu and Chaandhanee Magu, although it’s mostly imports from nearby Asian countries.
For something traditional, take home woven mats, models of traditional dhoni boats, or lacquer work. Have a look at the fish market on the northern waterfront, a hive of activity when the fishermen bring in their catch at the end of the day.
Avoid any sea jewellery you see for sale, such as coral, mother-of-pearl, black coral, seashell and turtleshell as these are all endangered species.
As it’s cooler at night, many shops will be open until 11pm, but they close five times a day for 15-minute prayer times.