Malé is the capital of the Maldives, part of the Kaafu Atoll in the North Central Province. The island measures 1.7 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide, and with over 100,000 residents, is by some measures the world's densest city. A new island, Hulhumalé, in the Hululhe lagoon of Malé has been reclaimed to create some much-needed extra space.
Malé is sometimes dismissed by travellers as a mere transit destination with little of interest, however, the capital does have a distinctive character of its own, with narrow streets and colourful houses, and a strong feeling of community. While Malé is small enough to walk around in an hour, almost all its sights are concentrated on the north shore, within a 15 minute walk of the airport ferry jetty. The main street of Malé, Boduthakurufaanu Magu, on the north shore, is where the banks and most government buildings can be found. Roughly in the centre is the park square of Jumhooree Maidhaan, a handy reference point since it is marked by a giant flagpole bearing a giant Maldivian flag visible from a distance. This park square is the focal point for every political demonstration in the capital, which accounts for the heavy security presence strengthened by the police HQ in the Shaheed Hussain Adam Building adjacent to it.
From the square extends a series of ten jetties running eastward, with jetty 1, the Presidential Jetty, right in front of the square and jetties 9 and 10, used by the airport ferry, at the north-eastern tip of the island. Other forms of transportation on the island include roving taxis.
Malé's best-known architectural landmark is the Islamic Centre, just south of the park square. The complex is home to the largest mosque in the Maldives, and is topped with a golden dome and has a capacity for 5,000 people. Visitors are welcome outside of prayer hours, but interior photographs are not allowed. The Sultan Park and National Museum is the only surviving building of what used to be the Sultan's palace and is now the Maldivian National Museum. The museum houses a haphazard, unkempt collection of royal regalia and old photographs.
The Malé Market to the north of the city is a must for visitors spending a few days in the city. Vendors enthusiastically hawk their goods in this busy market and there are bargains to be found. The fish market, west of Independence Square is where you will find fish being brought, gutted and sold for local consumption. Upstairs, there is a good café serving the freshest fish around. Majeedhee Magu is a street that runs the length of Malé from East to West. This is the main shopping area of the city where you can buy imported clothing from South-East and South Asia. Shops often open from 9:00 am and close at 11:00 pm, with closures around dinner time and for 15 minutes after each Muslim prayer time.
There are a variety of restaurants to be found in the city and the south-west harbour area is lined with cafés that are popular with the locals. This is also where you will find the ferry terminal to Villingili Island, a satellite island of Malé City with a regular ferries departing every 5 minutes. Villingili Island has the only natural beaches left in Malé and is perfect for snorkelling.
There are other ample opportunities to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Hulhumalé Island is just a short boatride away. It is still quite empty and provides a kind of countryside for Malé. There is also pleasant beach at the other end of the island from the jetty, and also various restaurants and cafés. On Malé there is also a small artificial beach on the East Coast, while it is not really comparable to other beaches of the Maldives, there is some excellent surfing to be had for those experienced enough.
There are also dive tour operators on the island offering courses and packages to a variety of dive sites. Budget cruise operators offer excursions to local islands, and snorkelling and fishing trips from here also. A whale submarine is also available that takes you for a 30 to 40 minute trip off the coast of Malé. You may not see any whales but you will be exposed to a variety of ocean life, sitting on the left side will give you the best views.
For those staying the night in the capital there are a range of options from guest houses and budget hotels to mid-range and high end hotels. It may be worth spending a bit more if you are staying just a night as some budget accommodation may not have air conditioning or be of great quality. Some recommend staying in hotels on Hulhumalé instead if travellers are in transit especially.