Malé City Guide
Malé, the modern, densely built-up capital of the Maldives, is a far cry from the paradisical islands that the rest of the country is known for. Contemporary buildings with graffiti-covered walls and narrow, traffic-clogged streets define this compact city. It might be a mere stop on your way to exploring more tranquil spots, but Malé is well worth a visit if only for the fact that it has more landmarks and shopping outlets than any part of the country. Also, the capital will give you a better sense of the local culture than any resort.
With a territory of no more than 1.8 sq km Malé is a tiny capital, but more than 100 000 residents along with a constant influx of tourists make it seem quite densely populated. It will take you no more than an hour or two to walk around the island. Some of the major landmarks include the 16th-century Friday Mosque, which is built out of coral blocks and wood, and the Islamic Centre, the site of the largest mosque in the country. Non-muslims are welcome to enter both mosques but only after receiving permission to do so. The Maldivian National Museum, which occupies the former sultan's palace, is open to all. Its collection is mostly dedicated to history and thus displays all sorts of antiques, as well as some anthropological artefacts and skeletons of marine creatures.
Shopping in Malé might not be the most eclectic affair but you have more options here than on the other islands that make up the Maldives. On the northern end of the island a fruit and veg market provides a real feast for the senses and an opportunity to buy fresh produce. The nearby fish market is worth a visit. You can watch as the fishermen pull the daily catch out of their boats, after which they clean it on the spot under the gaze of shoppers. The seaside promenade in front of the fish market is a great place for sting ray watching and after picking your fish, you can join the crowd that gathers here in the afternoon to look at the stingray floating in the water.
You can easily find plenty of exotic souvenirs as the small shops throughout the city sell a variety of local handicrafts and lots of eye-catching items crafted from sea shells and coral. Keep in mind though that importing items made out of corals is considered illegal in some countries, so it might be best to check the laws in your homeland before buying anything. Take a stroll down the Majeedhee Magu, the main shopping thoroughfare on the island, and you will find a much larger choice of goods. There's virtually anything here from cosmetics and apparel to electronics and jewellery.
If you fancy a day trip you can easily hop on a boat to any nearby islands. Hulhumalé island, is just a stone's throw away from the capital. The entire island is man-made and while it's mostly residential, so not particularly exciting, it's worth visiting if only to see how advanced land-reclamation techniques have become. The Maldives are a Muslim country, so you won't find much in the way of entertainment in the capital, at least not nightclubs or any establishments serving alcohol. Local restaurants and cafés, however, will keep you well fed on sumptuous local dishes. Expect lots of Indian influences and fresh seafood.
Although it might lack the serenity or endless beaches of smaller islands, Malé is just as good for water sports as any other part of the Maldives. Surfing, scuba diving, snorkelling and swimming are all very popular. There is a small public beach on the island but the underwater activities offer far more unforgettable experiences than simply lying on the sand. In the translucent, warm tropical waters you can admire bright coral, fantastical fish and turtles. An underwater camera is something worth bringing along on a diving trip, so you can record some of the most beautiful sights on earth.