A vacation in the Maldives most often translates to merely a luxurious retreat in a private island. Tourists usually head to the airport after a few nights’ stay in one of the country’s numerous sophisticated island resorts. But the more adventurous usually include in their itinerary a tour in the capital city of Malé—and it’s actually a worthy addition.
A city tour in Malé, preferably a DIY one, will let you experience the Maldivian culture which you will most likely not encounter in any island resort. You can get to mingle with the locals, experience local transportation, try out the local cuisine sans the hefty price tag, and visit places that are significant to the Maldivians. It is not difficult to tour Malé. The city is actually composed of 4 islands: Malé (same name as the entire city), Vilingili, Hulhule, and Hulhumale. Malé is the central part of the city and the most populous island in the Maldives. Vilingili is a tourist resort. Hulhule is also known as the airport island. Hulhumale is an artificial island that is being developed as a commercial and residential area. The typical tourist sites are within the city center in Malé and are close to each other.
Water transport is very safe and efficient in Malé. Large motor boats, called dhoni, are used to transport people and even motorcycles from Hulhumale or Hulhule to Malé and back. The boat service runs from early in the morning until midnight. Fare from the airport to Malé City proper and vice versa is cheap at 5.50 Rufiyaa (about $0.40 or 18 pesos) per passenger. Dhoni service is also available from Malé City to Vilingili, in case you haven’t gone to any resort yet and want to hit the beach without overspending. Private boats may also be rented for day tours in public islands and for different types of excursions. In Malé island, taxis are almost always available and will take you to any point in Malé for a flat rate of 20 Rufiyaa (about $1.30 or 60 pesos). But if you are staying within the city center, exploring sights by foot is very much possible. In Hulhumale, buses are available and pick up passengers in designated bus stops at regular intervals.
Obviously, Maldivian cuisine is mostly about seafood because of the country’s geographical make up and predominant religion, Islam. Because of its close proximity to India as well as the great impact of the West, Indian and Western influences can be traced in its cuisine. Fresh fruits are also to die for in the Maldives. I’ve eaten the best papayas and dragon fruits there. There is also a good number of restaurants in Malé City offering other types of cuisine—Thai, American, Indonesian, and Chinese, among others. My sister and I were able to try the food at Royal Garden Café. We had fish steak and fish kebab which both tasted very good.
With regard to tourist sights, a walking tour of the city center will take you to quite a number of important structures and landmarks. There’s the Grand Friday Mosque and Islamic Centre, the Old Friday Mosque, National Museum and Art Gallery, Tsunami Monument, the Republic Square, and the Mulee-aage or the Presidential residence. Or you may want to try surfing, ride the whale submarine or go for a dive. Since my sister and I had very limited time to tour around, we only managed to visit a few attractions.
I could say that the locals in Malé are friendly, accommodating, and helpful. It’s also a plus that many of them are conversant in English, making it easy to talk to them. There were several instances where my sister and I experienced the friendliness and helpfulness of the locals. One experience that I wouldn’t forget was when a Maldivian guy who stood beside us on a bus stop called up a cab driver on the phone to come pick us up and bring us to our hotel. It was raining heavily then; buses were not arriving and we were literally soaking wet. Probably sensing that we were tourists who looked a bit worried, he called up a cab driver to bring us to our hotel. He did not ask for anything in return of the favour he had done for us.
So, if you are planning a trip to the Maldives, you might want to consider allotting a day or two to visit Male to gain a different perspective about the country and not just be confined within its popular identity of lavish islands and extravagant water bungalows.