Malé (މާލެ), pronounced Maa-leh, is the capital of Maldives. The city occupies the entire islet of Malé and is located at the southern rim of North Malé Atoll.
The island is 1.87 km long and 1.5 km wide, but with over 200,000 people crammed onto it, Malé is by some measures the world's densest city. The new island of Hulhumalé, in the Hulhulé (Airport island) lagoon has been 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, 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 Hulhumalé (artificial) and Vilimalé are served by frequent and very cheap public ferries, and provide much quieter 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.
Malé'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 (Republic Square), 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.
Velana International Airport (VIA) (IATA: MLE) is located on the neighboring island of Hulhulé. The airport has a good set of facilities, including bank, ATM, food court with free WiFi (30 min) and luggage storage service 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 seaplane. If your destination is the city itself, turn left and head for the public ferry dock. Ferries to the city take about 15-20 min for MVR.10 and leave every 10-15 min during daytime, every 30 min after midnight. Another option is to take a taxi or bus, beaware that many taxis ask for up to an MVR.100 fee to cross the bridge, even though the government forbids them from charging more than MVR.60.
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 nursing room, lounges, money exchange counters, ATMs and a help desk.
- Dhovemi Arrival Shop. (next to the arrival terminal exit gates). Offers a wide range of products including travel accessories, perfumes, cosmetics, watches and sunglasses. It also displays products from world-renowned brands like Mont Blanc and swatch. The Dhovemi arrival shop is targeted mainly to the passengers arriving at VIA.
- Waterfront Franchise Building. (opposite the Domestic Terminal). Hosts further leading brands such as Pizza Hut, Costa Coffee, KFC, Harvest Market and Secret Recipe. There's a remarkable view of the lagoon and the skyline of the capital city of Malé.
Malé 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 the airport ferry.
Public transportation in Malé is available in taxis, which charge a flat rate of MVR.25, MVR.60 Malé City to the Airport, MVR.75 between Malé and Hulhumalé. plus MVR.10 for trunk usage.
There are several buses that transport passengers from the airport to the adjoining island, Hulhumalé, every thirty minutes.
Greater Malé Transport Link (GMTL) is the public bus system operating on the Cinamalé Bridge, which charges MVR.10 to the interconnected islands (Malé, Hulhumalé, Hulhulé), GMTL Bus Service uses the Touchlink Card for cashless transactions which can be purchased for MVR.20. Not every bus may be able to hold luggage.
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 Hulhumalé ferry terminal to Hulhumalé and the Airport every 20-30 minutes.
Islamic Centre, the largest mosque in the Maldives
Jumhooree Maidhaan (Republic Square), the heart of Malé
- Friday Mosque (Hukuru Miskiy), 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.
- Kalhu Vakaru Miskiy (northwest corner of Sultan Park). One of the most historic mosques in the city.
- Republic Square (Jumhooree Maidhaan), Boduthakururufaanu Magu (Malé's centerpoint, on the north coast). This little park, marked by a flagpole with a giant Maldivian flag, was the area where the events of 7 February 2012 led to the resignation of the president. 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, marked with most of the major locations in Malé.
- Islamic Centre (just south of Jumhooree Maidhaan (Republic Square)). Malé's best-known architectural landmark. 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.
- Ministry of Defense HQ (Bandaara Koshi, Bandeyrige), Ameer Ahmed Magu, (off Republic Square, 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 Malé 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.
- Ali Rasgefaanu Ziyaarai (close to the Vilimalé Ferry Terminal). Whoever is interested in a mausoleum of a sultan, or who wants to know how big the island of Malé was before its lagoon was filled up and reclaimed for more space above sea-level, this location is always in good shape and gives a nice landmark from which to take photos.
- Hulhumalé is in a short bus or boat ride away. Boats leave from their own terminal, next to airport ferries (upstairs of the terminal building is a good restaurant with great harbour views!). Hulhumalé is an artificial island where new buildings are rising rapidly. There is also a nice looking beach on the other end of the island from the jetty. There are restaurants and cafes on the island.
- Vilimalé is in a short boat ride 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.
- Medhu Ziyaaraiy. The tomb of Abu al-Barakat Yusuf al-Barbari, 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 bath 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 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! edit
- Cruise, Backpackers Maldives Maldives Pvt', Malé, ☎ (+960)7702344 ([email protected]), . Maldives budget cruises operator for group and individuals, half day & full day excursions to sandbank, local islands, snorkeling trips, fishing trips. Long stay budget cruise holidays edit
- Local Market, on the Northern waterfront, a block away from the Malé Fish Market. Divided into small stalls, with each stall selling local products from the atolls. Here you will find different kinds of local vegetables, fruits, yams, breadfruit chips, bananas, and smoked and dried fish. edit
- Enzi, Ameenee Magu & Dhonadharaadha Hingun. Great place to by vacuum-packed tuna as bargain prices to take back home with you. About Rf20 for 500 grams. edit
- Fish Market. Just west of Republic Square 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. There's a Café upstairs serving short eats. Busiest in the afternoons. edit
- STO People's Choice Supermart, Orchid Magu, . State Trading Organization's 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. edit
- Majeedhee Magu. A street running across the length of Malé 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. edit
- South West Harbour Area. Lined with cafés popular with locals during all hours of the day. Here you will also find the ferry terminal to Vilimalé island, a satellite island of Malé City with regular ferries departing every 5 minutes costing 3.00 MVR each way. Vilimalé island has the only natural beaches left in Malé City and is ideal for snorkelling ing. edit
During Ramadan, many cafes and restaurants are closed, or only open after sunset.
- Khun Thai, 18 Chandhanee Magu (near Republic Square on the street with all the souvenir shops), ☎ +960 7875917, . Newly opened (Sept. 2014) Thai restaurant with a real Thai chef (a rarity in Malé). Food is excellent, a rival for Sala Thai, but at 1/3rd the price. edit
- 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. edit
- The Hive Restaurant, M. Nalahiyaage, Majeedhee Magu, Malé 20274, ☎ +960 334 6633, . Located on top of Beehive Nalahiya Hotel, a magnificent 360 view of Malé in addition to delicious international cuisines at a relaxed environment. edit
- Cafe' Marine Drive. Enjoy great food at the best prices. edit
- Saffron Cafe', Boduthakurufaanu Magu (Near Hulhumalé ferry terminal.). A mix of wonderful international cuisines. edit
- 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. edit
- 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. edit
- Pool Side, Hulhulé Island Hotel (on the airport island). Popular among locals and expats alike for steaks. edit
- Shell Beans, . Great place to have good food and drinks. Very centrally located right next to the jetty. Must try the frozen yoghurt, pastries and coffee. Service is really attentive. US$2, Rf. 20-30. edit
- Thai Wok, One block from Jetty 6-7-8. Tasty, authentic Thai food. US$5-8, Rf. 50. edit
- 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. edit
No alcohol is available on Malé, even at the hotels, with the solitary exception of the Hulhulé Island Hotel.
- Meraki Coffee Roasters, G. Blue Stream, Husnuheena Magu, Malé, 20116, Maldives (from corner of Hithaffinivaa Magu and Husnuheenaa Magu walk south for about 30 meters, it will be on your right), ☎ +960 963-7254, . 9am-11pm, Friday 2pm-10pm. Selection of small batch international coffees roasted on site and prepared in various ways and styles, all seemingly delicious. Some basic pastries, otherwise no food available. No WiFi. edit
Many visitors to the Maldives end up spending a night on Malé City out of necessity, as transfers to more far-flung resorts are generally only available during daylight hours.
Malé's guesthouses are targeted primarily at travelling locals and may not provide air-conditioning. The price starts at USD$20. Guesthouses can be rented through Airbnb.
The hotels in Malé City cost about USD$40 to USD$240 per night.
You will find many hotels on the artificial island Hulhumalé which tend to be cheaper, and you may expect a beachfront room for USD$31 or a bit more.
It's 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, +9603315856, fax +9603340953, E-mail: [email protected] Friendly budget option.
- Fuana Inn, Hulhumalé, ☎ +960-3350610, . This guesthouse was opened in 2007 in the new Hulhumalé development. US$50/75 single/twin. edit
- Kaani Lodge, Malé, ☎ +960 300-3626, . Kaani Lodge provides basic air-conditioned rooms with a flat-screen satellite TV. A rooftop cafe and free Wi-Fi in public areas are provided. The front desk operates 24 hours.Kaani Lodge is a great stop-over point for guests going to the Maldivian islands. From Malé Jetty, it is a 10-minute dhoni (boat) ride to Malé. edit
- Surfview Raalhugandu, Malé, ☎ +960 330-1005, . Surfview Raalhugandu is offering accommodation in Malé City. This property is set a short distance from attractions such as Villingili Ferry Terminal, Henveiru Park, and National Football Stadium. Hulhumalé Ferry Terminal is 500 m from the property. The rooms in the guest house are equipped with a satellite TV. edit
- Beehive Nalahiya Hotel, M.Nalahiyaage, Majeedhee Magu, ☎ +960 334 6633 ([email protected], 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. edit
- Candies, Dheefuram Goalhi, Henveiru, ☎ +960 331 0220 ([email protected]), . Clean rooms and internet in every room makes Candies a good choice for those in Malé on business. edit
- Champa Central Hotel, G. Sanoaraage, Rahdhebai Magu, ☎ +960 331 7766 ([email protected], fax: +960 331 7755), . In the middle of Malé, the central hotel is a passable mid-range option with banks, shopping centres and hospital within walk distance edit
- Kam Hotel, Roanuge, Meheli Goalhi, . edit
- Mookai Hotel, Kaimoo THS, H. Maagala, Meheli Goalhi, ☎ +960 322 212, . Breakfast not included in the price. Nice swimming pool on rooftop. edit
- 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. edit
- Relax Inn, ☎ +960-3314531, . Probably the cheapest hotel in Malé. One minute's walk from the ferry terminal. US$59/69 single/double. edit
- Hotel Jen (former Traders Hotel, Holiday Inn), Ameer Ahmed Magu, ☎ +960-330-0888 (fax: +960-330-0790), . Polished quarters in an upmarket hotel with a rooftop pool & dining, plus a spa & ocean views. edit
- Hulhulé 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 Malé. Not cheap though. US$250. edit
- Airport Beach Hotel, ☎ +960 335 4949 ([email protected]), . The Hotel boasts rooftop Swimming Pool, and Jacuzzi on beachfront overlooking the Indian Ocean. Transfer from Airport International Terminal takes approximately 15 min. Entertainment covers Fine dining restaurant, Excursions, Water sports, Game Fishing, and Diving. Among other facilities Salon and Spa, Business services and Corporate retreats, Events and Banquets. edit
Dress respectfully if visiting Malé City. Men should wear at least T-shirts and shorts below the knee, while women should keep their 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.
Roads can become traffic-congested, narrow and during the two monsoon seasons, roads can often become flooded in Malé.
Crime rates in Malé City 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), . edit
Traveling by boat in the Maldives
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.
The small island of Vilimalé (Villingili) is a short boat ride away, perhaps 20 minutes. Head to the southwest corner of Malé for the Vilimalé ferry terminal. On Vilimalé there is a real beach which is much less crowded than Malé's. There are two PADI 5-star dive centers in the island: Diver's Lodge Maldives and Moodhu Bulhaa Dive Centre. Moodhu Bulhaa is also a PADI Instructor Development Center.
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