Royal Island Maldives - Attractions

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.

The 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.

Among 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.

There 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.

Other 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.

Malé 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.

Seenu (Addu Atoll)
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.

The 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.

Tourist 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.

The 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 others.

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
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.

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