Islamic Centre, the largest mosque in the Maldives
Malé (މާލ), pronounced Mah-lay, is the capital of Maldives. The city occupies the entire islet of Malé and is located at the southern rim of North Male Atoll.
The island is 1.7 km long and 1.0 km wide, but with over 100,000 people crammed onto it, Male is by some measures the world's densest city. The new island of Hulhumalé, built (as the name says) between Male and Hulhule, is being reclaimed from the sea to provide some much-needed extra space.
Male's main street Boduthakurufaanu Magu, home to banks and most government buildings, runs along the north shore. 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. Technically, the first is correct — it's 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.
Male International Airport (IATA: MLE)  is located on the neighboring island of Hulhule. The airport has a good set of facilities, including bank, ATM, pharmacy, internet cafe and a left luggage service ($5/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 itself, turn right 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).
Note that 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. Facilities "outside" include free showers (bring soap and towel), a basic but cheap cafe, an overpriced but airconditioned restaurant and a Movenpick ice cream shop.
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 limited to roving taxis, which charge a flat Rf.20 plus Rf.5 per bag. There are also ferries from the new terminal next to Jetty #10 to the new Hulhumale development every 20-30 minutes from 5 AM until 1 AM.
Jumhooree Maidhaan, the heart of Male
- Friday Mosque (Hukuru Miskiiy). Built in 1656 during the reign of sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I, intricately carved with Arabic writings and ornamental patterns. Unfortunately non-Muslims are not allowed inside without prior permission. Free.
- Independence Square (Jumhooree Maidhaan). Male's centerpoint is this little park on the north coast, marked by a flagpole with a giant Maldivian flag. 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.
- Islamic Centre. Male'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.
- 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 recently 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 Male and a reminder of the iron fist that until recently had the country in a stranglehold.
- Sultan Park and National Museum. Sat-Thu 9 AM-5 PM. 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.
- 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 Male. There is also nice looking beach in the other end of the island from jetty. There are restaurants and cafes on the island.
- 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, ☎ +960 333 3939, . You may not see whales, but this 30-40 minute submarine trip will expose you to the ocean life just off the coast of Male. 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!
- Head to the Male 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 Male.
- 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.
- 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.
- Majeedhee Magu. A street running across the length of Male' from East to West. This is the main shopping area of the capital city where you can buy apparel imported from South East and South Asia. Shops remain 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.
- South West Harbour Area. The South West harbour area of Male' is lined with cafes popular with locals during all hours of the day. Here you will also find the ferry terminal to Villingili island, a satellite island of Male' City with a regular ferries departing every 5 minutes costing 3.00 MVR each way. Villingili island has the only natural beaches left in Male' city and is ideal for snorkeling.
- The Hive Cafe', Cypria building, Ground Floor, Boduthakurufaanu Magu (In front of Jetty no. 3), ☎ +960 334 6633. The hive Cafe' offers the best burgers in town, with a variety of other pastry items and drinks.
- The Hive Restaurant, M. Nalahiyaage, Majeedhee Magu, Male' 20274, ☎ +960 334 6633, . Located on top of Beehive Nalahiya Hotel, a magnificent 360 view of Male’ in addition to delicious international cuisines at a relaxed environment.
- Cafe' Marine Drive. Enjoy great food at the best prices.
- Saffron Cafe', Boduthakurufaanu Magu (Near Hulhumale' ferry terminal.). A mix of wonderful international cuisines.
- 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. Mafia ties. US$2, Rf. 20-30.
- Thai Wok, One block from Jetty 6-7-8. Tasty, authentic Thai food. US$5-8, Rf. 50.
- FoodBank, Orchid magu (opp;MHA supermart). 9am-12.30am. Some of the worst seafood and local cuisine in town. European and Indian food also available. usd6-40.
No alcohol is available on Male, even at the hotels, with the solitary exception of the Hulhule Island Hotel.
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 traveling locals and generally do not offer air-conditioning. The cheapest actual hotels in Male cost about US$50 for a single. If you are staying in Male 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.
It's good idea to book before arriving to 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, +9603315856, fax +9603340953, E-mail: email@example.com. Friendly budget option.
- Fuana Inn, Hulhumale, ☎ +960-3350610, . This guesthouse was opened in 2007 in the new Hulhumale development. 20 min from Male by boat, but no direct access from the airport. US$50/75 single/twin.
- Beehive Nalahiya Hotel, M.Nalahiyaage, Majeedhee Magu, ☎ +960 334 6633 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +960 334 5533), . The hotels 42 rooms range from deluxe to suites and serviced apartments. Other facilities at the hotel include a lobby cafe, a conference hall, meeting room, a business centre and a roof top restaurant.
- Candies, Dheefuram Goalhi, Henveiru, ☎ +960 331 0220 (email@example.com), . Clean rooms and internet in every room makes Candies a good choice for those in Male on business.
- Central Hotel, G. Sanoaraage, Rahdhebai Magu, ☎ +960-317766, . In the middle of Male, the central hotel is a passable mid-range option.
- Kam Hotel, Roanuge, Meheli Goalhi, .
- Mookai Hotel, Kaimoo THS, H. Maagala, Meheli Goalhi, ☎ +960 322 212, . 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, ☎ +960-3314531, . Probably the cheapest hotel in Male. One minute's walk from the ferry terminal. US$59/69 single/double.
- Traders Hotel (former Holiday Inn), Ameer Ahmed Magu, ☎ +960-330-0888 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +960-330-0790), . The newest and best hotel on Male, run by the Hong Kong based Shangri-La group. It's outfitted like a 5-star hotel... and priced to match.
- Hulhule Island Hotel, ☎ +960-333-0888, . Quite possibly the world's nicest transit hotel, this is located on the same island as the airport, with a swimming pool, its own strip of beach and complimentary transfers to Male. Not cheap though. US$250.
Dress respectfully if visiting Male. Men should wear at least T-shirts and shorts below the knee, while women should keep shoulders and legs covered.
Anti-government protests broke out in 2003, 2004 and 2005, all turning into riots that were brutally suppressed by the government, but things have been quiet since the elections and peaceful political transition of 2008.
While foreigners have not been specifically targeted, a small bomb exploded in front of the National Museum in 2007, injuring several tourists.
Crime rates in Male are low, although some advise not walking around alone after dark.
- United States, American Embassy 210 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, ☎ (94) (11) 249-8500 (fax: (94) (11) 249-8590), .
Traveling by boat in the Maldives
From Male, 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 Male and checking out another island.
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