A few months back I was blessed with an opportunity to visit Maldives for a tournament. Even though this country is just an hour away from Sri Lanka, I had never been there before. I always thought Maldives was just another island with beautiful beaches but that all changed after I arrived in Male, the capital of Maldives.
THE PLANE RIDE
We decided to take the 1.05 pm plane as we wanted to see the view of Male in broad daylight, and it was the best decision that we ever made.
The flight to Male was a short 1 hour and 15 mins (wasn’t even enough time to watch a movie). Nevertheless, the great blue sky and the spectacular arial view of the Maldives kept us occupied. As we drew closer to Male, we witnessed a great deal of small islands almost everywhere. Later, I got to know that Maldives comprises of over 1,190 Islands ( damn that’s a lot)!
Regardless of all those Islands, the Maldives is illustrated as the smallest Asian country with only around 427,756 inhabitants. It is also the world’s lowest country, with even its highest natural point being the lowest in the world, at 2.4 metres (which basically means not to dig holes in your backyard). However, putting all those facts aside, Maldives is a MUST VISIT DESTINATION, and I’m about to tell you why.
We landed at VELENA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT on the island of Hulhule. This is the only international airport for the entire Maldives and this entire island contains just the airport. Once you land and step through immigration, you will just see the ocean. Yes, just the big blue ocean. No people, no houses and no roads, I stood still for about 5 minutes just staring at the ocean. You would’ve done the same. Why you may ask, and that is why pictures speak a thousand words.
I’ve seen the ocean many times, but never like this, the beautiful blue water sparkling in your eyes.
Never have I ever seen water so clean and clear.
The ocean was glistening, it was just so beautiful and calm. Trust me, it would’ve taken your breath away.
Now comes the fun part, we had to go to Male, the main island. At the airport you are given the choice of travelling in a speed boat or by ferry. What did you think we chose?
BEST RIDE EVER !!!!
The boat was so fast, it was literally flying across waves. Since it was our first ride it was pretty scary as the boat was bouncing so much and there is no back door, and all you can see is the vast ocean. So guys, seatbelts are a MUST OKAY?
MALE, THE CITY
After surviving the 15 minute speed boat ride, we arrived in Male, the capital of Maldives. We got picked up by one of the tournament organizers and he took us to the Male Youth Center where all foreign teams of any sport are housed at. What we noticed first from the cab ride was how small the roads were. Most of the time it was just one vehicle that could fit in a road. Secondly, what amused us was that Male was deserted, we did not see a single local on the street. This was extremely weird and led me to ask the cab driver the reason.
Well, we landed on a Friday, and apparently every Friday until 5 pm, Male is closed. Friday is prayer day. Maldives is a pure Islamic country and on Fridays, all shops, offices, and almost everything is closed. Since there was absolutely no one on the streets, we decided to stay in and start exploring the next day.
The next day was an entirely different story! The place that we were staying at was next to a football ground, and at exactly 6 am we started hearing whistles blowing. I was curious, so I decided to take a stroll early morning and it turned out to be pretty interesting,
In Maldives, 70% of the local guys have curly hair. Maldivians can be clearly differentiated from a Sri Lankan or an Indian. They have their own dialect in which they space out every word when speaking in English, which was also very new to me. And then there were the females, wearing “Burqas” ( a cloth that covers the head) and as it is a pure Islamic country, the women do not wear exposed clothing. However that does not stop them from having fun, I passed a futsal ground which was hosting a tournament for women and man those girls had some crazy skills.
Male is the mostly populated island in the Maldives, it’s the only island which is pretty hectic with buildings and many many sports arenas. The roads in Male are pretty small but its quite a maze, where if we were to drive a vehicle, we’d get lost. Nevertheless, the people always seem happy, there are shops every single corner and the food is pretty decent.
Artificial Beaches in Male
Male is just 5.8 km2 so we made sure we walked in each major direction. On each end we found an artificial beach.
As the name itself implies, it is a man-made beach and is a haven for the local people as well as foreigners. The reason for it being man made is that the Maldives government had made huge concrete pillars of sorts, and have dropped them about a mile from the beach. These rocks prevent huge waves coming into the island, while also acting as a barrier from big fish such as sharks. Thus, these beaches are safe to swim in, even in the dark ( which we did, and immediately regretted as the water was so cold).
THE MALE FISH MARKET
One major thing we loved about Male was the freshness of their sea food. Like no joke, it was so delicious.
When you walk towards the jetty side ( sort of like a harbour), you will come across the most important area in Male, which would be the Fish Market. The variety of the fish and the prices would astound anyone. It was very cheap compared to the prices in other countries, and also the fish were very fresh, directly out of the sea. No wonder that they eat more sea food than meat.
However, Male will be always remembered to us Sri Lankans for their indigenous food item, THE MALDIVIAN FISH! Most of us wanted to take this fish home, so we walked into a special hall inside the fish market called the Dried Fish Stall.
Now as we entered this hall, there were about 30 vendors with their fish in front of them, all speaking in Maldivian. The moment they heard us talk in Sri Lankan (Sinhala), all these vendors started to talk to us in Sinhalese as well. Keep in mind that when we asked each and everyone if they were from Sri Lanka, there was not a single person from Sri Lanka! Most of them were Bangladeshi, Indian or Nepali, and to pass boredom when they go out on their long fishing trips (sometimes lasting for months) they learn each other’s native languages.
They love to bargain and always try to sell us more than we want, and the Maldivian dry fish was of top notch quality. The fish market should be on your list for sure.
Male is quite strict in terms of rules, and doesn’t have much foreigners. For example, women aren’t allowed to wear skin revealing clothes when swimming in Male, and it is also pretty quiet at night. We heard from the locals, that there is an island close to Male known as HULHUMALE and according to them, that was the “happening” place in Maldives (exactly their words, not mine).
Hulhumale was said to have the best beaches in Maldives, and was also packed with diving and jet skies and much more fun activities. To travel from Male to this island, we took a short ferry ride of 25 mins, Maldivians use ferry rides like how we use buses. Once we got to Hulhumale, we were not disappointed at all.
Hulhumale is very much different from Male. It has more foreigners, it is less strict and mostly it is very beautiful. Hulhumale has so much natural beauty, and the beaches are so mesmerizing. There is a special beach in this island for exclusively for tourists, where you can only enter showing your passport. This is the only place, where women can wear bikinis and take a dip in the light blue ocean.
You also can find really good sea food cafes right next to the beach and an open barbeque area which anyone can use, where we just have to bring the meat and charcoal for fire. Moreover, you can find all the water sports here, from jet skiing to surfing, and beach is extremely clean!
So that ends my short stay in Maldives. I had to sum it up, but there are many many more beautiful places to visit, like the underwater restaurant and also traveling in a submarine.
Keep a note to yourself that ALCHOHOL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED in MALE, but not in most of the other private islands. All in all, Male was pretty decent and the beaches were amazing. Would I ever return ? Without a doubt !! Nothing beat that nice nap I took on the shore of the Hulhumale tourist beach.
If you want to have a really good time, I’d recommend traveling to a private island. If not, and you’re on a budget just to relax, Male and Hulhumale would be the ideal destination for you.
Till next time !
Rtr. Nichula Liyanage