Small, quaint, and densely settled, Malé (pronounced
'Mar-lay') is not spectacular, but quite unique as a
capital city. It's clean and tidy, with mosques, markets,
a maze of small streets and a certain charm all its
own. While it sometimes gives the impression of a sleepy
country town, there is new building work everywhere,
and the place feels like it will soon burst at the seams.
island of Malé is about 2km (1.2mi) long and
1km (0.62mi) wide, and packed to the edges with buildings,
roads and a few well-used open spaces. Officially, the
population is around 65,000, but with foreign workers
and short-term visitors from other islands, there may
be as many as 100,000 people in town - it certainly
feels like it. The size of the island has been more
than doubled through land reclamation projects and nearby
islands are used for the airport and other purposes.
There are plans to develop other islands to reduce the
pressure on Malé.
the city's modest attractions is the National Museum,
which houses untidy exhibits of the sultans' belongings
and a smattering of Thor Heyerdahl's archaeological
discoveries - many of the ancient stone carvings and
figurines are featured in his book The Maldive Mystery.
Near the museum is the pleasant Sultan Park, and the
imposing white Islamic Centre & Grand Friday Mosque
which dominates the city's skyline.
are over 20 other mosques scatttered around Malé,
some little more than a coral room with an iron roof.
The oldest is the Hukuru Miski, famed for its intricate
stone carvings. One long panel, carved in the 13th century,
commemorates the introduction of Islam to the Maldives,
while outside a graveyard holds the tomb of Abu Al Barakat
and the tombstones of former sultans.
sights include the Singapore Bazaar, a conglomeration
of stores selling some quality local handicrafts and
an assortment of Maldivian and imported tourist knick-knackery.
Also interesting are the shops selling home hardware,
marine equipment, fishing gear and general merchandise
for local villages. In the many small teahouses Maldivian
men enjoy 'short eats' (small snack meals), smoking,
chewing and talking.
has inexpensive food and accommodation, but nightlife
is confined to teahouses and a few western style restaurants.
A couple cinemas show Hindi epics and Hollywood blockbusters.
Malé's expatriates head to a nearby resort on
their day off.
This is the 'second city' of the Maldives, and the resort
here is the best base from which to visit traditional
Maldivian island communities. The Addu people are fiercely
independent, speak differently from folk in the capital
and at one time even tried to secede from the republic.
biggest influence on Addu's modern history has been
the British bases, first established on the island of
Gan during WWII, as part of the Indian Ocean defences.
In 1956, the British developed a Royal Air Force base
as a strategic Cold War outpost. The base had around
600 permanent personnel, with up to 3000 during periods
of peak activity. They built a causeway connecting Feydhoo,
Maradhoo and Hithadhoo islands, and employed most of
the local men. In 1976 the British pulled out, but many
of their employees, who spoke good English and had experience
working for westerners, were well qualified for jobs
in the soon-to-be-booming tourist industry.
development in Addu itself has been slow to start, but
a resort has been established in the old RAF buildings
on Gan and there are now reliable connections to the
capital in a new Air Maldives jet. The Ocean Reef Resort
is not a typical Maldives tropical paradise resort island,
but the old military base is a unique feature. Gan is
linked by causeways to the adjacent islands, and it's
easy and pleasant to get around them by bicycle, giving
unmatched opportunities to visit the local villages
and see village life.
The vast majority of visitors come to the Maldives on
package tours, staying at one of the 70-plus resort
islands. Most resorts are in the three atolls closest
to the capital - North Malé Atoll, South Malé
Atoll and Ari Atoll. There are a few other resorts on
nearby atolls, and these might be further developed
in the future. Judging by the brochures, all the resorts
are beautiful and are blessed with white sand, blue
sea and swaying palm trees, and they all promise great
diving. Despite their apparent similarity, however,
they differ considerably in their comfort, cuisine,
clientele, character and their suitability for various
excursions and activities.
quality of accommodation and food is pretty much related
to price - none of the Maldives resorts is bad, but
then none is exactly cheap either. Some have modern,
motel-style rooms, while others are more rustic, with
thatched roofs and sand floors. The larger, cheaper
resorts attract more young people, more singles, and
tend to be casual in style and full of people out to
have a good time. Smaller resorts are more intimate
and cosy, and may appeal to couples and honeymooners.
Some resorts cater more or less exclusively to certain
nationalities, notably Italian, German, French and Japanese
guests. All resorts offer scuba diving, but some are
known as hardcore divers' destinations. Note that some
resorts having better access to specific dive sites,
local Maldivian villages, or to the capital city than
Resorts and Hotels in Maldives
This solitary island in the middle of the Equatorial
Channel is something of an anomaly in the Maldives.
It is exceptionally fertile, producing fruits and vegetables
not grown elsewhere in the country, like mangoes, oranges
and pineapples. The people are said to be bigger and
healthier and to live longer than other islanders.
In South Nilandhoo Atoll, the island of Kudahuvadhoo
has one of the mysterious mounds known as hawittas.
They are probably the ruins of Buddhist temples, but
have not been thoroughly investigated by archaeologists.
Thor Heyerdahl explored the island, and commented that
its old mosque had some of the finest masonry he had
ever seen, surpassing even the famous Inca wall in Cuzco,
Peru. He was amazed to find such a masterpiece of stone-shaping
art on such an isolated island, though it had a reputation
in the Islamic world for finely carved tombstones.
Baa Atoll is famous for its handcrafts, which include
lacquer work and finely woven cotton felis (traditional
sarongs). The small, isolated atoll of Goidhoo has been
a place for castaways and exiles. The French explorer
François Pyrard, found himself here in 1602 after
his ship, the Corbin, was wrecked.