After spending our full seven days in the Maldives at a resort that occupied its own private island, I was acutely aware that I hadn’t really seen the country. The only glimpse of the main island we’d gotten was from a seaplane window, and the only shred of Maldivian culture we’d gotten was a musical performance at the hotel. So when we got the opportunity to tour Malé, the Maldives’ capital, before catching our flight, I insisted.
Malé is a tiny, crowded island; it’s just 2.2 square miles but boasts a population of more than 150,000. So while getting around can be a little slow, sights are close to one another, meaning you don’t need more than two hours for a roundtrip ferry from the airport and a full city tour. Plus, if your hotel is anything like ours and operates in its own time zone, you might just find when you arrive back at the airport that you have more time to kill than you thought!
FINDING A GUIDE
A staff member from our hotel shuttled us from our seaplane to the main part of the Malé airport and found tour guides for everyone who was interested. Don’t worry if you’re on your own, though—you’ll find plenty of available guides waiting just inside the airport, or you can ask a member of the airport staff to point you in the right direction if you’re really stuck.
PRICING & CURRENCY
Tours are free, but you’ll want to make sure you have cash—USD is fine—to tip your guide at the end of the tour. You’ll also need $2 in cash per person to take the ferry round trip from the airport to the city. And if you’ve got bags you want to ditch for the duration of your tour, you can store them at the airport for $6 per bag (which can be paid with a credit card).
As I mentioned, Malé is compact, so we were able to see a number of sights in a short period. My favorite was definitely the Old Friday Mosque—also known as Hukuru Miskiy—which dates back to 1656. It’s the oldest mosque in the country, and it features beautiful, intricate designs carved from coral.
Across the street sits the brightly colored Mulee-aage, the president’s official residence. And as we looped back around toward the ferry, we went by the Grand Friday Mosque—the country’s largest—as well as the president’s office and Republic Square.
Before heading back to the airport, we made a stop at Malé’s produce market, which was a another highlight. I always like to see what’s available and get a glimpse into how people shop and eat.
The only thing we opted to skip was the fish market, which would have been our last stop. After two hours, our carry-ons were getting heavy, and as a vegetarian, seeing dead fish is never really too high on my to-do list…
While the sights and history were interesting, the most interesting part of the tour for me was learning about Maldivian current events from our guide. There’s recently been a lot of political turmoil and civil unrest in Malé in particular, and our guide was willing to shed some light and offer his perspective on the conflict for us.
Despite the unrest mentioned above, we didn’t think twice about doing the tour and felt completely safe the whole time we were in Malé. Obviously, though, you should always keep an eye on the local news, be aware of your surroundings, and exercise your best judgment. For more info, check out the Maldives Travel Advisory from the U.S. State Department.
Would you visit Malé on a trip to the Maldives? If you already have, what did you think? Let me know in the comments! >>
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