The Maldives is renowned for pristine white beaches, year round sunshine and a plethora of luxury tourist resorts. In contrast to the rest of the country however, the capital of Male is one of the world's most densely populated cities. 140,000 people live on an island less than 6km2 but surprisingly Male doesn't feel crowded. Most of the buildings are no more than a few storeys high and it is very easy to walk around. Few tourists bother to make the short hop from the airport island of Hulhule across the water to Male, opting instead to relax at one of the nearby hotels. We think they're missing out. Male may be tiny but it's still worth a visit.
We arrived in Male by ferry, which dropped us at the harbour, the commercial focal point of the city. We looked around the main fruit and veg market. Braving the somewhat ripe aromas, we also entered the neighbouring market hall, strictly for purveyors of smoked fish. Given the smell, it was easy to see why this section was completely separate from the other produce. We didn't feel inclined to try any of the samples we were offered either.
Outside, the harbour was bustling. We watched fishermen land huge yellowfin tuna, which were promptly weighed and wheeled to the fish market across the road. Watching the fishmongers fillet the fish was impressive, especially when we saw the speed at which they worked and realised they still had all their fingers. However, having just spent a week diving with tuna, bluestripe snapper and other fish, it was depressing to see them piled high in crates awaiting sale.
Nearby Chandhanee Magu was packed with souvenir shops selling decorative pieces of coral and a variety of carved wooden ornaments. Several shop owners invited us in. It was a very unobtrusive invite and a simple “No, thanks” was enough for them to disappear back inside. We found the locals in Male genuinely friendly, with the occasional curious “Where are you from?” thankfully not followed by a sales pitch.
Grand Friday Mosque
Jumhooree Maidhaan, better know as Republic Square is a small harbourside park that is a popular hangout for locals. There we saw the largest Maldivian flag in the country and behind the square, the largest mosque in the Maldives. The Grand Friday mosque is a modern, pristine white building with a large golden dome. We were distracted from the mosque by a squad of soldiers marching past and followed them round the corner to see what was going on. They honoured a visiting admiral with trumpets and theatrical gun waving. Flags were then planted at a memorial to those who died during an attempted coup in 1988.
A Walk Around Male Island
With several hours to kill before our flight, we decided to circumnavigate the island of Male. By the artificial beach, we found a well sheltered area where a few locals were swimming. Although the area was relatively clean, we saw rats scampering around the rocks with a cat in hot pursuit. Further along, we passed the surfing beach where a few brave souls were riding some impressive waves. We also found the Tsunami Memorial, an elegant stainless steel sculpture that was dazzling in the tropical sunshine.
We finally saw some local women, who were noticeably absent elsewhere, spectating at their kids' swimming lessons. They were surprised to see foreigners in that part of town and greeted us warmly. At the next harbour, every boat owner seemed to be hard at work maintaining their vessel. The roadside there was lined with kiosks, each with their own tables and chairs but there were very few customers.
The Finest Sunset In Male
After all that walking, we wanted to relax with a cold drink. The Hotel Jen has a rooftop terrace, which is probably the best vantage point on the island and was a good place to watch the sunset. Since alcohol is illegal in Male, the best we could do was the peculiar tasting Near Beer. Labelled 'Bavaria', which is curious for a Dutch product, it did not taste remotely like beer.
Where To Stay Near Male
Hulhumale, a newly reclaimed island attached to the airport, is still developing with new hotels springing up by the beach. The accommodation here is generally more affordable than elsewhere in the Maldives and the proximity to the airport makes it a convenient place to spend a night. There are also a few hotels in Male.
Local Rules In The Maldives
If you do fancy a dip in the sea, be aware that swimwear is extremely conservative with most local women also keeping their heads covered.
Although it is possible to buy alcohol on the resort islands, any island on which Maldivians live is designated a dry area. On the airport island of Hulhule, the hotel does serve alcohol but hotels in nearby Hulhumale and on Male itself do not.
Male Travel Tips
From Male airport, take the public ferry across to Male island. The ferry is cheap, has regular departures and only takes around 10 minutes.
Most of the restaurants, coffee shops and hotels are in the main harbour area along with the post office and ATMs.