Malé (މާލެ), pronounced Maa-leh, is the capital of Maldives. The city occupies the entire islet of Malé at the southern rim of North Malé Atoll.
The island is 1.87 km long and 1.5 km wide, but with more than 200,000 people crammed onto it, Malé is by some measures the world's densest city. The new island of Hulhumalé, built (as the name says) between Malé and Hulhulé (the airport island), is being 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 quiter 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.
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Malé's main street Boduthakurufaanu Magu, home to banks and most government buildings, runs across the coastline of the island. 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.
- 1 Velana International Airport (MLE IATA) (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 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, turn left, cross the road 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 a bus. Beware that many taxis ask for up to a MVR.100 fee to cross the bridge, even though the government forbids them from charging more than MVR.60.
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 (check the monitors hanging above, a number next to your flight indicates the boarding counter number). 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 City is available in taxis, which charge a flat rate of MVR.25, MVR.60 Malé City to the Airport, MVR.70 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.
- 1 Friday Mosque (Hukuru Miskiy). Built in 1656 during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I, intricately carved with Arabic writings and ornamental patterns.
- 2 Kalhu Vakaru Miskiy (northwest corner of Sultan Park). One of the most historic mosques in the city.
- 3 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.
- 4 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.
- 5 Ministry of Defense HQ (Bandaara Koshi, Bandeyrige), Ameer Ahmed Magu (off Republic Sq, opp Islamic Center). Emphatically not a tourist attraction, the sinister, windowless white bulk of the 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 has the country in a stranglehold.
- 6 Sultan Park and National Museum. Sa-Th 09:00-17:00. 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. There is also a collection of antiquities that showcase Maldivian history. Park free, museum US$3 or Rf.38.
- 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 short bus or boatride away. Boats leave from their own terminal, next to airport ferries (upstairs of terminal building is good restaurant with great harbour views!). Hulhumalé is an artificial island where new buildings are rising rapidly. There is also nice looking beach in the other end of the island from jetty. There are restaurants and cafes on the island.
- Vilimalé is in short boatride 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.
- 7 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 bathe fully clothed, but there is some excellent surfing if you're experienced enough.
- Whale Submarine, H. Abadhahfehi Magu, ☏ . 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! Operate everyday except Monday and Friday. The payment has to be made in US dollars and they only accept cash.
- Cruise-maldives.com, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Departing from Malé or Hulhumalé you can book in advance day tour and activities such as snorkeling & sandbank cruises, full day trip to luxury resorts, sunset dolphins cruises, fishing cruises, etc. You can also book a private safari boat and cruise among the Maldives for few days, book water sport activities and reserve budget private transfer to the resorts.
- 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.
- 1 Fish Market (just west of Republic Sq, 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.
- 2 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.
- Majeedhee Magu. 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. 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.
- 3 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 a regular ferries departing every 5 minutes costing MVR.3.00 each way. Vilimalé island has the only natural beaches left in Malé City and is ideal for snorkeling.
During Ramadan many cafes and restaurants are closed, or only open after sunset. The restaurant at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel (see Sleep) is open during the day.
- The Hive Café, Cypria building, Ground Floor, Boduthakurufaanu Magu (in front of Jetty no. 3), ☏ . The Hive Café offers the best burgers in town, with a variety of other pastry items and drinks.
- The Hive Restaurant, M. Nalahiyaage, Majeedhee Magu, ☏ . Located on top of Beehive Nalahiya Hotel, a magnificent 360° view of Malé in addition to delicious international cuisines at a relaxed environment.
- Café Marine Drive. Enjoy great food at a reasonable price.
- Saffron Café, Boduthakurufaanu Magu (near Hulhumalé ferry terminal). A mix of wonderful international cuisines.
- 1 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, Hulhulé Island Hotel (on the airport island). Popular among locals and expats alike for steaks.
- Shell Beans. Popular sandwich shop. US$2, Rf.20-30.
- Thai Wok, One block from Jetty 6-7-8. Tasty, authentic Thai food. US$5-8, Rf.50.
- 2 FoodBank, Orchid magu (opp;MHA supermart), ☏ . 09:00-00:30. Some of the best seafood and local cuisine in town. European and Indian food also available. US$6-40.
- 3 Breakwater, Boduthankurufaanu Magu (right behind the artificial beach), ☏ . 08:00–00:00 daily. Open air café serving delicious local and Asian (especially Thai) cuisine with an eye for spice. Waitstaff are friendly but service can be slow; the wait is worth it, however, for the food and the beautiful seaside view. US$4-8, Rf.60-120.
- 4 Seagull Café, Fareedhee Madu (right across the street from Sultan Park's mosque), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Sa–Th 09:00–00:00; F 16:00–00:00. A two-floor outdoor café with a large and decent menu. The real draw, however, is the gelataria, which serves the best ice cream on the island. Rf.50-120.
No alcohol is available on Malé, even at the hotels, with the solitary exception of the Hulhulé Island Hotel.
- Hulhulhe Island Hotel (HIH) (Jetty 1). 06:00 to 00:45. free.
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 do not always offer air-conditioning. The price start 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 a 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, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Friendly budget option.
- Sunny Suites Inn, Dhigga Magu, Hulhumalé, ☏ . 20 min from Malé by boat, but no direct access from the airport. Air-conditioned and pet friendly.
- 1 Beehive Nalahiya Hotel, Shaheed Ali Hingun, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The hotels 42 rooms range from deluxe to suites and serviced apartments. Other facilities at the hotel include a lobby café, a conference hall, meeting room, a business centre and a roof top restaurant.
- Candies, Dheefuram Goalhi, Henveiru, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Clean rooms and internet in every room.
- Central Hotel, G. Sanoaraage, Rahdhebai Magu, ☏ . In the middle of Malé, a passable mid-range option.
- Kam Hotel, Roanuge, Meheli Goalhi.
- 2 Mookai Hotel, Kaimoo THS, H. Maagala, Meheli Goalhi, ☏ . 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, ☏ . Probably the cheapest hotel in Malé. One minute's walk from the ferry terminal. US$59/69 single/double.
- 3 Hulhulé Island Hotel, Airport Main Rd, ☏ . Quite possibly the world's nicest transit hotel, this is 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.
Dress respectfully if visiting Malé. Men should wear at least T-shirts and shorts below the knee, while women should keep shoulders and legs covered.
Anti-government protests have broken out at various times in the past two decades, often turning into riots that were sometimes brutally suppressed by the government. Avoid participating in protests or political activism.
Roads can become traffic-congested, narrow and during the two monsoon seasons, roads can often become flooded in Malé.
Crime rates in Malé are low, although some advise not walking around alone after dark.
- United States, American Embassy, 210 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, ☏ , fax: .
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 such as:
- Mahibadhoo the capital island of Alif Dhaal Atoll, 78 km (42 nautical miles) south west of Malé