Most people land in the Maldives and head straight to the islands’ resorts or hostels the minute they land. Few actually venture to the capital city of Male (pronounced “ma-lay”) and those who do hardly spend more than a day here.
It’s such a shame, as the city island is pleasant and quirky: modern buildings stand amidst lively markets while swarms of scooters whisk through the narrow streets surrounded by the turquoise sea. The buzzing South Asian vibes here are quite a contrast to the laid-back atmosphere on the other Maldivian islands, but Male sure offers a chance to get a real feel for the Maldives — one away from the resorts and the beaches.
Here’s what we suggest doing in Male if you have two days.
The first 24 hours
VISIT: Republic Square or Jumhooree Maidhaan Start your day at Male’s centre, Republic Square, which is located on the north coast and marked by a flagpole with a giant Maldivian flag. It’s a great place to get your bearings as it’s probably the first thing you’ll see when you arrive by boat from the airport. This is a great place to sit, feed the pigeons and people watch.
VISIT: Grand Friday Mosque and Islamic Centre Right next to the square is the most prominent landmark in town. The Grand Friday Mosque is a modern mosque that opened in 1984. It is adorned with a beautiful golden dome that dominates the city’s skyline. Featuring a plain white facade, a golden-topped turret and marble interior, the mosque is the biggest in the country. The main prayer hall has the capacity for 5000 worshippers. Tourists can visit between 9 am and 5 pm, outside of prayer times. Men must wear long trousers and women a long skirt or dress.
VISIT: Old Friday Mosque, Hukuru Miskii Built in 1656 during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I, Hukuru Miskiiy is the oldest mosque in the country. The mosque is built with coral stone and features beautiful, intricate carvings and Quranic scriptures. One long panel, carved in the 13th century, commemorates the introduction of Islam to the Maldives. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque, but if you are respectful and well dressed, they may give you special permission.
RELAX: Sultan Park A short walk away is the Sultan Park, a public park on the southern side of the demolished Royal Palace grounds. This green area of Male gives a taste of the country’s tropical flora and also tells a silent story about the history of the city. The Royal Palace was razed to the ground except for one three-storey wing that still stands today and is abandoned in a corner of the park. The gardens became a public park and now form a quiet green oasis in the bustling capital, with ponds covered by water lilies and leafy trees filled with bird song.
VISIT: The Maldivian National Museum Located within the park is the Maldivian National Museum, home to a small collection of royal regalia and memorabilia. It used to be housed in the sole surviving building of the Sultan's palace, but has now moved to a new building in the park. Built by the Chinese government, the museum was officially opened and declared as the national museum on Maldives' Independence Day, July 26, 2010. The interior of the museum has been preserved from the days of the Sultanate, including the handwritten Qur'an engraved on the walls of the building. The entrance fee to the museum is US$3.00 or RF 38.00.
SHOP/EAT: SeaHouse After a day of wandering, kick back at SeaHouse, possibly the city’s most famous restaurant. When you come to Maldives, you have to try their seafood; tuna fish is the Maldivian favourite.
The Next 24 Hours
VISIT: Male Fish Market Get up early and head to the fish market just west of the Republic Square just in time to see the bustling space come to life. You’ll find a cluster of fishing boats docked just outside the market. This is where fish are brought, gutted and sold for local consumption.
SHOP: Main Street, Majeedhee Magu The main street of the city has the general hubbub of a capital city, so head to Majeedhee Magu if you’re curious about the main commercial district of Male, or if you need to stock up on gear or souvenirs. This road runs across the length of Male from east to west and it’s chock full of retail shops with items imported from South East and South Asia. Shops are generally open from 9:00 am for most of the day until 11:00 pm, except between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm and for 15 minutes after each Muslim prayer time.
VISIT: The Tsunami Monument Nearly all the Maldivian atolls were affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and Male was the hardest hit. More than 110 lives were lost in the capital. The Tsunami Monument is a reminder of the disaster. Its design alone is pretty unique and worth a visit. There are many small eateries nearby and it’s a popular place for the locals to hang out in the evening.
EAT: Symphony Lagoon For a sumptuous Maldivian meal head to Symphony Lagoon, which is operated by the oldest restaurant brand in the capital. Favourite dishes include the vegetable curry, grilled cuttlefish and Lebanese chicken with garlic rice. The menu is comprehensive, the Indian cooking is excellent and it boasts one of the best vegetarian selections in town.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in the Maldives encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.