Malé is the capital city of the Maldives and is by far the most populous of the islands in the country. Around 100,000 people, a third of the population, cram themselves onto this 2km by 1.2km island. The island is so small that it’s only 3.5 miles to walk all the way around the island and it only took us 45 minutes to do so. As a consequence, the city is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Every conceivable parcel of land has been built on, right up the edges of the island.
Usually when people visit the Maldives, they stay in one of the specially designated resort islands, which have a single hotel on each with no local population, and is the typical picturesque image of beach villas or over-water huts. Tourists rarely visit Malé except for a day trip or for transfers to the airport on the nearby island of Hulhulé, so very few foreigners get to see this city, but the experience could not be more different from the relaxing, luxurious lifestyle of the resorts. It also means that information specific to visiting Malé is hard to come by. Malé is busy, hectic and bustling, with hundreds of motorbikes and scooters rushing through the narrow streets, making crossing the roads interesting, and if not a little life-threatening.
We stayed in two hotels in our two weeks on the island. The first was the two star Luckyhiya in the north-east of the city and at 69USD per night, is one of the cheaper places to stay on the island. It’s a little hard to find down an alley, but, while it’s not the greatest standard, it’s not the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in either. Each room has air conditioning and wifi, although this is slow by British standards, but still usable, although there was a number of outages during our stay.
The second hotel we stayed in was the recently opened four star Somerset Hotel, which only opened in mid December, and is currently priced at 90USD per night for double rooms, and 180USD a night for deluxe suites, which is considerably cheaper than Traders, the other four star hotel on the island at 260USD for a double room. I don’t know if this is because it has only recently opened, or if this is their standard price.
Things I’ve noticed
Most people speak pretty good English, which makes getting around very easy. This is probably due to a combination of tourist, history as a former British protectorate and the introduction of teaching all classes in English in state schools. The people I’ve spoken with have been very friendly and helpful.
There are no dogs on the island. It took me a day or two to notice, but as soon as you do, it’s very obvious by their absence. As a Brit, the lack of dogs is unusual. It is illegal to import dogs into the country partly as a religious issue and partly to prevent ecological contamination. There are a number of wild cats in the city though.
A lot of the foreigners in the city seem to be ignorant of cultural sensitivities. While the dress code on resort islands is more relaxed, on inhabited islands, it’s considered appropriate to keep shoulders and thighs covered, with not see-through clothing, as a minimum. Unlike some Muslim countries, there is no need for women to keep their hair covered, as around 40% of the locals do not wear a head scarf. Public displays of affection are also recommended to keep to a minimum in public, although I have seen local couples linking arms. Also remember to be sensitive to local customs when visiting mosques or other religious sites. It is a different culture to most western cultures, but we are a guest in their country; it seems only right to attempt not to be rude and cause offence, if only so future tourists receive the same warm welcome we do.
You will not be able to drink alcohol in the country, as it is illegal, so don’t attempt to bring any into the country. The same applies with pornography, non-Muslim religious iconography and pork products. They will scan your luggage on your way into the country to check that you do not bring anything you shouldn’t. You will find some restaurants offering alcohol free wine and beer if you really can’t go without the taste, although I can’t comment on the quality. You will also see places offering beef bacon as a substitute if you have a craving.
While the local currency is the Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR), which is about 25 MVR to 1 GBP, 15 MVR to 1 USD or 20.7 MVR to 1 EUR, you will often find prices quoted in USD and is commonly accepted in many tourist friendly establishments, so you may want to bring a selection of US dollars with you. Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted. There are several ATMs in Malé where you can use your bank cards to take out rufiyaa. You should be able to exchange currency for US dollars in one of the many bank branches on the island. Many places quote their prices without sales tax, and will add an additional 10% service charge. You’ll also be charged a 8 USD tourist tax per person per night at a hotel, which will not be included in the quoted price.
As mentioned above, motorbikes are the favoured way of getting around the city. Sometimes it feels a bit like the number of bikes outnumber the residents. You can often see rows of bikes along the sides of many streets in the city. Walking around the city, you can generally expect to be given some sort of right of way, with motorcyclists taking note of you as you walk down the sides of the narrow pavement-less streets. Crossing the roads can sometimes feel a bit like taking your life into your own hands though. Just make sure you pay attention to which way traffic is coming and expect a bike to come hurtling around a corner at any second and as long as you don’t make any erratic movements, you should be fine. Given the numbers of bikes, the lack of observation of any sort of rules of the road (if there is any) and the fact that no one wears crash helmets, I’m surprised that there aren’t more crashes. There are taxis and a bus service, but given the size of the island, you might as well walk.
The only thing that outnumbers motorbikes here is smart phones. Seriously, everyone has them. And that includes the islands outside Malé. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Nokia 3310 in my entire 2 weeks here.
If you order a kurumba with your meal, don’t be surprised when a whole coconut turns up at your table. We’ve yet to find a restaurant that only specialises in Maldivian cuisine. Every restaurant seems to be either Indian, Chinese, Thai, and often a combination of the two, with western cuisine thrown in too.
Shops will close for half an hour or so during prayer time, so plan accordingly. In particular, most of the shops along the main shopping street of Majeedhee Magu will close between 7pm and 8pm.
If the idea of sitting on an island, surrounded by nothing by sand, sea and other people trying to relax for a week is your idea of a boring hell, then perhaps Malé would be a better place for you to visit.
Have you visited Malé? What did you think to the city? Do you have any thing you’ve noticed about the place? What have I missed? Let me know in the comments below.