Travelling to the Maldives? Spend a Day in Malé!
Walking the streets of Malé, I felt like I’d somehow slipped into another dimension: Everything was almost as it should be, but something felt off, like there was always a mystery waiting around the next corner. Just like an episode of Quantum Leap or Sliders, the atmosphere and feel of Malé is familiar but different, and is probably the most unique and interesting city I have ever visited.
Adding to the weirdness were the vast swathes of political propaganda posters and graffiti. There is an election coming up and they want everyone to know about it. It makes the streets explode with colour and it looks like a sci-fi style rebellion could break out at any moment.
A lot of people travelling to the Maldives never set foot in Malé, the capital, because the exotic, private island resorts pick them up straight from the airport and whisk them away by speedboat or seaplane. I feel you’d be missing something pretty special if you didn’t spend at least a few hours in Malé, not because it is filled with attractions (it isn’t) but because it is such a unique place.
Measuring only 6km2, Malé is tiny. There is one road that circles the coast, and the centre is a maze of thin streets and alleyways just waiting to be explored. We probably saw about 20 other tourists in the 4 hours or so that we walked around city, and almost all of them were on the coast, close to the ferry terminal and fish market. The fish market is the one true tourist attraction in the city and is definitely worth checking out.
The best thing to do is just start walking. You are never far from the coast, and while you may get lost in the rambling backstreets, a taxi to pretty much anywhere costs only $2, so it’s no big deal
There is a public beach in Malé, which locals refer to as the artificial beach. It’s kind of a weird site to see fully clothed people swimming, but it is a decent beach and looks like a good place to escape the heat. There are also some sizeable waves to be surfed and you can take a short ferry ride out to another island which apparently has a better beach.
I was really interested in all of the political propaganda and advertisements. After living in Singapore for 2 years, where political dissidence is nonexistent and the streets are free from graffiti, it was great to see the voice of the people displayed in such an eye-catching way. The pink party probably had the most signs and flags around town, but the yellow one would get my vote, purely because they played some cool dance music and had the more interesting signs.
Between the political advertisements, the trees and the tall buildings, Malé’s streets sometimes seem to be cut off from the outside world. There are generally shops at street level selling anything you might need, with people living on floors above. There was a real scarcity of restaurants, I guess they don’t get many tourists and most citizens cook their food at home. There were quite a few cafes and coffee shops, and the occasional supermarket, but the streets were refreshingly free from most Western fast food and shopping chains.
There are a few hotels in Malé but they’ll cost you. The one I stayed at was $95 a night and that seemed to be one of the cheapest in town. It looked like something you’d pay $10 for in Vietnam or Thailand, but it did the job.
Make sure you spend a day in Malé!
The people in Malé are pretty friendly but a bit indifferent to tourists. This is good because it means you don’t get hassled by touts at all, and you’re free to roam the streets in peace. As with most cities in Asia, you’ll see a lot of men just hanging out on street corners, and if you’re a woman you’ll be stared at a lot, but contrary to what I’d heard previously, Malé seems like a very safe place.
You’d be missing out on something kinda special if you didn’t spend a day in Malé. The private island resorts are great, and by all means don’t go to the Maldives without spending some time in paradise, but getting to know the heart of this unique country is a great way to start, or end, your once in a lifetime trip to the Maldives.
Have you been to Malé? Let me know if you enjoyed it!
(I know it shouldn’t be “spend a day in Male” – the title should have the é in Malé but my font wouldn’t let me do it, and I really like that font so I didn’t want to change it!)