What to See in the Male
The greatest attractions of the Maldives are its white sand beaches, its fabulous diving and the splendid isolation of its coral islands. Almost all the bona fide tourist attractions are to be found in Male or on the North Male Atoll.
Approximately one-third of the Maldives' population lives in its capital city, Male. Male is a busy, crowded place, in direct contrast to the sleepy resort islands. You'll find skyscrapers in Male, but you'll also find shops and restaurants where you can catch a glimpse of what life in the Maldives is like for the people who actually live there. One thing you won't find in Male is beaches or palm trees. The city is encircled by seawalls made of concrete tetrapods to keep out the rising seas.
Here are some of the interesting sights you'll find in Male:
- Maldives National Museum: The Maldives embraced Islam in the 12th century B.C. For eight hundred years afterwards, the archipelago nation was ruled as a sultanate. The Maldives National Museum in Male is housed in the only part of the sultan's palace that is still standing. Exhibits include many of the sultan's possessions, including clothing, furniture, thrones, armor and photographs of the royal family. The museum also contains rare Buddhist statues and a cenotaph that dates back to the times when the Maldives was still a Buddhist nation.
- Maldives Grand Friday Mosque: The Grand Friday Mosque, also known as the Hukuru Miskiiy, was built on the foundations of a much older temple that faced west to catch the rays of the setting sun. Consequently, the structure does not face in the true direction of Mecca, and worshippers must make the necessary adjustments when they pray there.
The mosque itself was built 1656, and its blue and white minaret in 1675. Though its exterior is an unprepossessing façade of corrugated iron, the mosque's interior wall, made from coral stone carved with geometrical designs and Arabic script, is quite extraordinary. The mosque's interior also contains elaborate wooden carvings, including a 13th century panel depicting the Maldives' conversion to Islam.
- Mulee-aage: Directly in front of the Hukuru Miskiiy sits the Mulee-aage, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century as a home for the Sultan's son. It is an attractive palace with wrought iron gates and a charmingly friezed roof. Today, the Mulee-aage houses the President's offices.
Maldives Fish Market: Male's northern waterfront is the city's commercial center, and the site of its famous fish market. When fishing dhonis return with their catch every afternoon, the market becomes a hub of activity. These days, the catch is mostly tuna. There are other markets in the area as well that sell dried fish and fresh produce brought by dhoni from nearby atolls.
- The Esjehi Art Gallery: The Esjehi Art Gallery is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Male, a 19th century nobleman's palace. The finely carved wooden panels covering the walls of the building give some sense of what life was like in Male in bygone years. Today the building houses a small collection of contemporary Maldivian arts and crafts
Getting Around the Maldives
The 26 atolls of the Republic of Maldives spread out over the Indian Ocean for roughly 35,000 square miles. Although the Maldives is the smallest of all Asian nations in terms of its actual landmass and population, it is also the most dispersed. It takes a long time to get from one edge of the Maldives to the other.
The direct flight from London to Male, the country's administrative capital on the southern edge of North Male Atoll, takes approximately ten hours. The international airport is actually on the island of Hulhule’, a little over a mile from Male.
Once there, getting around the Maldives can be daunting. This is one reason why Maldives resorts strive to be all-encompassing experiences. Once you arrive at your resort destination, the logistics of getting out of the resort to explore are quite a challenge.
There is a municipal ferry between the airport and Male. Most resorts, however, pick up their guests at the international airport. Guests are transported to their resort destination either by seaplane or by speedboat. Seaplanes are small, and their cargo capacity is limited. Passengers and baggage are weighed before boarding, and if you're traveling with a lot of baggage, it may need to be transported by boat separately.
The atolls themselves consist of coral reefs and sand bars, which make the navigation of large ships problematic.
Most resorts are happy to plan day expeditions to nearby tourist attractions for guests, using the resort's own transportation options. Maldives tourists can also charter seaplanes at a cost of between £85 and £215. The only places where visitors are likely to travel on roads are in Male and within the southernmost atoll Addu. The natives travel mostly by motorcycle, but if you are traveling in Male, you will find plenty of taxis to take you to your destination.