The island is 1.7 km long and 1.0 km wide, but with more than 116,000 people crammed onto it, Malé is by some measures the world's densest city. The new island of Hulhumale, built (as the name says) between Malé and Hulhule (the airport island), is being reclaimed from the sea to provide some much-needed extra space.
Malé is occasionally dismissed by travellers as a mere transit destination with "nothing to do", and it is indeed not a party place. However, it does have a distinctive character of its own, with narrow streets, colorful houses, graffiti and a strong communal feel, and it may be interesting to stop a little longer and soak in the atmosphere if you've got time on your hands. The neighboring islands Hulhumale (artificial) and Vilingili are served by frequent and very cheap public ferries, and provide much quiter get-aways from the capital city. To see the "real" Maldives (i.e. the ones familiar from postcards) you have to get further away, of course.
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Malé's main street Boduthakurufaanu Magu, home to banks and most government buildings, runs across the coastline of the island. Roughly in the middle is the square of Jumhooree Maidhaan, a handy reference point since it has a giant flagpole visible from far away. From the flagpole extends a series of ten jetties running eastward, with jetty #1 (the Presidential Jetty) right in front of the square and jetties #9 and #10, used by the airport ferry, at the northeastern tip of the island.
What's in a name?
The city's name is alternately spelled Male' with an apostrophe, Malé with an accent and just plain Male. The first is correct — it's an abbreviation of Malei, the original name — but the second is popular among foreigners writing about the Maldives, as it both hints at the correct pronunciation and helps prevent confusion with the gender.
- 1 Male International Airport (MLE IATA also known as Malé International Airport, previously known as Ibrahim Nasir International Airport) (on the neighboring island of Hulhule). The airport has a good set of facilities, including bank, ATM, pharmacy, food court with free WiFi (30 min) and a left luggage service (US$6/normal size bag/day, $12/large size bag/day) located just outside the arrivals area. For more information visit the friendly information kiosk at arrivals.
Most visitors to the Maldives are met by travel agent reps right outside Customs, who then whisk them away to their resorts by speedboat or plane. If your destination is the city, turn right, cross the road and head for the public ferry dock. Ferries to the city take about 15-20 min and leave every 10-15 min during daytime (Rf.10 or US$1), every 30 min after midnight ($2). Another option is to take a taxi, be aware that many ask for up to US$15 fee to cross the bridge, even though the government forbids them from charging more than US$3 for that crossing.
You will not be allowed into the airport's air-conditioned departures area until flight check-in opens, usually 2-3 hours before your flight (check the monitors hanging above, a number next to your flight indicates the boarding counter number). Facilities "outside" include free showers, nursing room, pharmacy, stationary shop, a Bank of Maldives ATM (accepts Visa, Mastercard; gives rufiyaa only, no dollars), a help desk and 2 restaurants.
- Mariyaad (Right next to Departure). The Mariyaad runs the restaurant next to the departure terminal, and the restaurant inside duty free. The prices range from US$4 for a drink to up to US$12 for a pizza. Since it's next to the main 'traffic lane' of the airport (guests departing with boats come through in loads) and had its total seating area reduced by renovation (now there are shop cubicles right next to it), try to have a look at the other restaurant just right outside the arrival hall. In case weather is bad you're still better off here thought. US$5-20 each item.
- Aqua (From Arrival Gate turn right, just right outside RHS). The favourite location for locals and airport reps alike, this restaurant serves black tea for 1 rufiyaa only, as well as Hedika for Rf.2 a piece. Resembling more of a canteen, and plagued by long queues during the rush hours (07:00, 15:00) it is still the nicest place to enjoy the sunset or just to wait around. It features a lounge with air conditioning and free wifi, but confused staff and an even more confused menu (sorry, just Sprite, no Coke, ice-cream but only one type) don't justify the higher price (here you pay in US dollars only. Since these things can be expected to be sorted out in the future, this is the prime address in the airport to go to. 1 Rf. and up.
Male is small enough to walk around in an hour, and almost all sights are concentrated on the north shore, within a 15-min walk from airport ferry jetty (#9-10).
Public transportation in Male is available in taxis, which charge a flat Rf.20 plus Rf.10 for trunk usage. After 23:00, the taxi fare rises to Rf.30.
- Bus lines. 101, 401, 402 and 403. Services operate from 06:30 to 21:45. They all run in a circular route and the frequency is every 15 minutes.
Expect the buses to be crowded during rainy weather, and take the timings as a rough estimate, since traffic density weighs down heavily on them.
There are also ferries from the new terminal next to Jetty #10 to the new Hulhumale development every 20-30 minutes from 05:00 until 01:00.
- 1 Friday Mosque (Hukuru Miskiiy). Built in 1656 during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I, intricately carved with Arabic writings and ornamental patterns. Non-Muslims can ask nicely and get a tour for the upper balcony (depends on availability, tip expected). Free.
- 2 Kalhu Vakaru Miskiy. On the southeast corner of Sultan Park, it is one of the most historic mosques in the city.
- 3 Independence Square (Jumhooree Maidhaan; Republic Square), Boduthakururufaanu Magu. Malé's centerpoint is this little park on the north coast, marked by a flagpole with a giant Maldivian flag. Referred to as Ground Zero, this was the area where mutinying security forces and religious extremists brought about the resignation of the president in February 2012. It's also the focal point of every political demonstration in the capital, and hence has a heavy security presence buttressed by the police HQ in the Shaheed Hussain Adam Building next door. If you're feeling lost, there is an extremely helpful tourist map here with most of the major locations in Male marked.
- 4 Islamic Centre. Malé's best-known architectural landmark, just south of Jumhooree Maidhaan. The complex contains the largest mosque in the Maldives, topped with a golden dome and capable of accommodating 5,000 people. Visitors are welcome inside outside prayer hours, but no interior photographs are allowed. Free.
- 5 Maldives National Defense Force HQ (Bandaara Koshi, Bandeyrige), Ameer Ahmed Magu (off Independence Sq, opp Islamic Center). Emphatically not a tourist attraction, the sinister, windowless white bulk of the renamed National Security Service (the Maldivian secret police), topped with guard towers every few meters and strict admonitions not to photograph it, is an unmissable sight in central Malé and a reminder of the iron fist that has the country in a stranglehold.
- 6 Sultan Park and National Museum. Sa-Th 09:00-17:00. The sole surviving building of what was once the Sultan's palace is now the Maldivian National Museum, housing a scruffy, haphazard collection of royal regalia and old photographs, including three moon rocks and a faded Maldivian flag that went to the moon. At least there's air-con and some semblance of English explanation. Park free, museum US$3 or Rf.38.
- Ali Rasgefaanu Ziyaarai. Whoever is interested in a mausoleum of a sultan, or who wants to know how big the island of Maleé was before its lagoon was filled up and reclaimed for more space above sea-level, this location close to the Vilimale Ferry Terminal is always in good shape and gives a nice landmark from which to take photos.
- Hulhumale Island is in short boatride away. Boats leave from their own terminal, next to airport ferries (upstairs of terminal building is good restaurant with great harbour views!). Hulhumale is an artificial island where new buildings are rising rapidly, but currently it's quite empty and a kind of a countryside for Malé. There is also nice looking beach in the other end of the island from jetty. There are restaurants and cafes on the island.
- Vilimale is in short boatride away. It's the fifth ward of Malé (counts as part of the city) and was once a resort. When arriving by ferry, turn immediately left to come to the beach and some old bungalows. Beaches on the other side of the island feature strong currents, so beware, casualties are reported there every year. Compared to the bustle of Malé, this ward is much more relaxed.
- 7 Medhuziyaaraiy. The tomb of Abul Barakat, said to have introduced Islam to the Maldives in 1153.
- There is a small artificial beach on the east coast, about a ten-minute stroll from the airport ferry. It's not much compared to other beaches on the Maldives, especially as most locals bathe fully clothed, but there is some excellent surfing if you're experienced enough.
- Whale Submarine, H. Abadhahfehi Magu, ☎ . You may not see whales, but this 30-40 minute submarine trip will expose you to the ocean life just off the coast of Malé. Sit on the left hand side of the submarine for the best views and don't drink too much water before you leave-- there's no toilet on board! Operate everyday except Monday and Friday. The payment has to be made in US dollars and they only accept cash.
- Cruise-maldives.com, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Departing from Malé or Hulhumalé you can book in advance day tour and activities such as snorkeling & sandbank cruises, full day trip to luxury resorts, sunset dolphins cruises, fishing cruises, etc. You can also book a private safari boat and cruise among the Maldives for few days, book water sport activities and reserve budget private transfer to the resorts.
- Head to the Malé Market in the northern part of the city. Vendors energetically hawk their goods in this busy market. A must if you're spending a few days in Malé.
- 1 Fish Market. Just west of Independence Sq and with a cluster of fishing boats docked just opposite, this is where fish are brought, gutted and sold for local consumption. With pools of tuna blood running into the street, it's not exactly sanitary, but there's a good cafe upstairs serving the freshest fish around. Busiest in the afternoons.
- 2 State Trading Organization, Orchid Magu. State-run supermarket retailing mostly generic imported goods from India, Singapore and the Middle East. Not particularly exciting, but vastly cheaper than the resorts, and a good place to pick up Maldivian tuna and local snacks.
During Ramadan many cafes and restaurants are closed, or only open after sunset. The restaurant at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel (see Sleep) is open during the day.
- The Hive Café, Cypria building, Ground Floor, Boduthakurufaanu Magu (In front of Jetty no. 3), ☎ . The Hive Café offers the best burgers in town, with a variety of other pastry items and drinks.
- The Hive Restaurant, M. Nalahiyaage, Majeedhee Magu, Male' 20274, ☎ . Located on top of Beehive Nalahiya Hotel, a magnificent 360° view of Malé in addition to delicious international cuisines at a relaxed environment.
- Café Marine Drive. Enjoy great food at a reasonable price.
- Saffron Café, Boduthakurufaanu Magu (Near Hulhumale' ferry terminal.). A mix of wonderful international cuisines.
- 1 Jade Bistro, In front of jetty #8. Air-conditioned, pleasant coffee shop with Wi-Fi. They serve croissants, pastries and basic meals. Cappuccino US$2.50, Rf.20-30.
- Maarukeytu Hota (2nd floor of fish market). Local, busy and noisy Maldivian eatery full of fishermen from the market below. No English menu, but the staff are happy to help out. A serve of grilled fish, curry, rice and drinks won't cost more than Rf.30 or so. Rf.20-30.
- Olive Garden, Orchid de Magu St (walking distance from jetty 1). Pizza, pasta and the usual suspects, spiced up to Maldivian tastes — warn the waiter in advance if you don't like chili! US$5-15, Rf.50.
- Pool Side, Hulhule Island Hotel (on the airport island). Popular among locals and expats alike for steaks.
- Shell Beans. Popular sandwich shop. US$2, Rf.20-30.
- Thai Wok, One block from Jetty 6-7-8. Tasty, authentic Thai food. US$5-8, Rf.50.
- 2 FoodBank, Orchid magu (opp;MHA supermart), ☎ . 09:00-00:30. Some of the best seafood and local cuisine in town. European and Indian food also available. US$6-40.
- 3 Breakwater, Boduthankurufaanu Magu (right behind the artificial beach), ☎ . 08:00–00:00 daily. Open air café serving delicious local and Asian (especially Thai) cuisine with an eye for spice. Waitstaff are friendly but service can be slow; the wait is worth it, however, for the food and the beautiful seaside view. US$4-8, Rf.60-120.
- 4 Seagull Café, Fareedhee Madu (right across the street from Sultan Park's mosque), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sa–Th 09:00–00:00; F 16:00–00:00. A two-floor outdoor café with a large and decent menu. The real draw, however, is the gelataria, which serves the best ice cream on the island. Rf.50-120.
No alcohol is available on Male, even at the hotels, with the solitary exception of the Hulhule Island Hotel.
- Hulhulhe Island Hotel (HIH) (Jetty 1). 06:00 to 00:45. free.
Many visitors to the Maldives end up spending a night on Male out of necessity, as transfers to more far-flung resorts are generally only available during daylight hours.
Male's guesthouses are targeted primarily at travelling locals and do not always offer to air-condition. The price range is Rf.150-400 (close to 400, you should be getting a clean, though perhaps a bit rundown, room with air-conditioning). Walk in the streets looking for "rooms" or "rooms for rent" signs, postings on the walls advertising the same (with contact phone numbers provided), or ask the locals if they know a place renting rooms.
The cheapest hotels in Malé cost about US$50 for a single. If you are staying in Malé for more than one night, consider one of the splurge options for accommodation as budget and mid-range hotels have been known to be somewhat loud and dirty.
As of August 2016, you will find 9 hotels on the artificial airport island (Hulhumale) which tend to be cheaper, and you may expect a pleasant spotlessly clean beachfront room for US$50 or a bit more, for example at Relax Beach Inn.
It's a good idea to book before arriving in the Maldives as immigration will want to know where you are staying. If you are a tourist, tourist tax is added on top of the price.
- Luckyhiya Hotel, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Friendly budget option.
- [dead link] Fuana Inn, Hulhumale, ☎ . This guesthouse was opened in 2007 in the new Hulhumale development. 20 min from Malé by boat, but no direct access from the airport. US$50/75 single/twin.
- 1 Beehive Nalahiya Hotel, Shaheed Ali Hingun, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The hotels 42 rooms range from deluxe to suites and serviced apartments. Other facilities at the hotel include a lobby café, a conference hall, meeting room, a business centre and a roof top restaurant.
- [dead link] Candies, Dheefuram Goalhi, Henveiru, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Clean rooms and internet in every room makes Candies a good choice for those in Malé on business.
- Central Hotel, G. Sanoaraage, Rahdhebai Magu, ☎ . In the middle of Malé, the central hotel is a passable mid-range option.
- Kam Hotel, Roanuge, Meheli Goalhi.
- 2 Mookai Hotel, Kaimoo THS, H. Maagala, Meheli Goalhi, ☎ . Breakfast not included in the price. Nice swimming pool on rooftop.
- Nasandhura Palace. Built in 1981 and starting to be a little scruffy around the edges. Primarily a business hotel, with no pool or other holiday facilities. 10 min from airport by boat. US$120.
- Relax Inn, ☎ . Probably the cheapest hotel in Malé. One minute's walk from the ferry terminal. US$59/69 single/double.
Dress respectfully if visiting Malé. Men should wear at least T-shirts and shorts below the knee, while women should keep shoulders and legs covered.
Anti-government protests have broken out at various times in the past two decades, often turning into riots that were sometimes brutally suppressed by the government. Avoid participating in protests or political activism.
While foreigners have not usually been specifically targeted, a small bomb exploded in front of the National Museum in 2007, injuring several tourists.
Crime rates in Malé are low, although some advise not walking around alone after dark.
From Malé, resorts all around the Maldives pick people up and whisk them to their idyllic shores. If you are in the Maldives for longer than a few days, you should consider leaving Malé and checking out another island such as:
- Mahibadhoo the capital island of Alif Dhaal Atoll, 78 km (42 nautical miles) south west of Malé