In today’s post, Tim of UrbanDuniya is sharing his one day itinerary around Malé for less than $25. Tim is a talented writer, traveller, journalist, amateur photographer and teacher. UrbanDuniya is an online journal featuring independent and alternative news, reviews, opinion and discussion from four major cities across Australia and the Indian subcontinent. It was founded on values of community, quality and integrity, and offers a world of good living, great writing and striking photography. Besides, Tim is one of our favourite travel bloggers who always contributes to our guest posts and collaborative posts. We always follow his voyages across India and Australia, so if you have not heard of him already, make sure to visit his blog.
The Maldives and budget travel don’t usually go together, but it’s not impossible to see one of the world most stunning countries for less than $25 a day. The perfect coral reefs, incredible aquamarine waters, idyllic islands and surprising Indian Ocean culture are all more than enough reason to be among the select few who have journeyed to this country.
Your destination in the Maldives will probably be decided by availability of cheap accommodation – and that means location of CouchSurfing properties. There simply aren’t that many cheap places – either hostels or CouchSurfing locations – in this Indian Ocean archipelago of 300,000 people. CouchSurfing is not for everyone, and you should check that it is suitable for you before deciding to ride that wave.
Wherever you would like to stay in the Maldives, you will probably pass through the capital Malé at least once or twice. Given the concentration of people in Malé (one third of the nation’s population live here), plus the relatively cosmopolitan nature of the capital (relatively conducive to CouchSurfing), it’s actually quite likely that your CouchSurfing spot will be on this built-up speck in the blue.
Malé is not the world’s most happening city, and nor does it possess the stunningly exotic, Robinson Crusoe-esque aura of a resort island. However it does provide a jumping off point for exploration of other islands, and more than one guidebook has noted that it provides the best opportunity to interact with ordinary Maldivians and understand the local culture. It also hosts a couple of attractions, as well as some beautiful turquoise waters to dip into. So come along with us, while we show you how to see Malé, the Maldivian capital, for less than $25 a day.
Once you’ve figured out your accommodation – and you will probably find that CouchSurfing is the only option for less than $50 a night – it’s time to explore the Maldives’ tiny capital. At two kilometres across, and just one kilometre from north to south, it will be easy to see it all, as well as one or two of the neighbouring islands! Because the island is an oval shape, and the following tour runs in a circular fashion, you can start or finish it wherever you like, depending on where you’re staying. We’ve started from the airport ferry terminal, the drop off point for most arrivals.
At the airport ferry terminal, go tot he Sea View Cafe and fill up at the Maldivian breakfast buffet for 100 Maldivian rufiya – about US$6 – tuck into roshi (thin, flat bread), tuna salads and mild fish curry, along with coffee. Once you’re done, head on out to explore the capital! Turn right and head westbound away from the airport island, along the waterfront until you reach Republic Square (known as Jumhooree Maidan in the local Dhivehi language). This park is the focal point for public life in the capital and home to the country’s tallest flagpole, hosting the national standard.
At the back of the square, a paved laneway takes you past the Islamic Centre of the Maldives, which is better known as the Grand Friday Mosque. This is acts as a de facto national mosque for the country, and is a great place to witness the national faith in action (the Maldives is 100% Muslim). Remember to take off your shoes before entering, dress appropriately, and behave with due deference. At the corner of this lane way and Medhuziyaarai Magu, and just to your left is a large plaque in the wall, commemorating those who served and gave their lives during the attempted coup d’état in 1988. Directly across the road is Sultan Park, the location of a 16th century sultan’s palace which has long since been demolished. From here, you can turn left and on the next corner is the National Art Gallery, or more recommended is turning right and around the corner to the National Museum of the Maldives. Entry is Rf50 ($3), and the two storey exhibition is the world’s best collection of artefacts from the Maldives’ arguably underappreciated about culture and history.
History buffs can also scope out the who repulsed Portuguese colonisers in the 17th century. The humble stature of the tomb means that only dedicated Maldives enthusiasts seek it out, and even then access is restricted due to its location in the grounds of a small mosque. It’s located in the narrow streets behind the National Museum.tomb of Maldivian hero Sultan Mohamed Thakurufaanu
Make your way back to the front of Sultan Park where the plaque is, and walk eastbound along Medhuziyaarai Magu and you’ll pass Hukuru Mosque, a lovely coral stone construction on the left, typical of Maldivian mosques. You can discreetly view it out from the street, but non-Muslims need permission to enter; probably a measure to stop this humble religious site (which includes a graveyard) becoming a tourist attraction. Further along on the right is the rather residential-looking People’s Majlis, the Maldives’ centre of government.
Continue along in roughly the same easterly direction, taking whichever street you choose until you reach the eastern coast. Once you’re there, over on the right you’ll spot the unimaginatively named Artificial Beach. Here you can take a dip if you like, but remember to cover up – local women swim fully clothed, and men cover at least from the navel to the knees. Bear south, past the park, and you’ll see the Tetra Pod Monument on the right, dedicated to the Japanese-designed concrete breakwater system which has saved Malé from rough seas over the years. Diagonally across the road is the Tsunami Memorial, a reminder of the day when the Tetra Pods most proved their worth.
Once you’ve filled up, trace along Malé’s southern coast until you get to the South West Harbour. On the northern side of the harbour is the Villingili ferry terminal. Just across the road from this is the Sea House Cafe and Brasserie, where you can fill up on continental fare or ‘short eats’ (Maldivian finger food, like chicken and fish rolls) for under Rf 100 ($6). When you’re done, hop on a ferry to Villingili. (Rf 3: $0.20, takes 10 minutes, leaves every 15 minutes through the day). As the ferry cuts through the clear blue waters, don’t forget to look around and spot some other islands which seem to float among the shallow waves.
Villingili is a chilled out ‘suburb’ of Malé, and once the ferry docks you’ll notice the sharp contrast to the busy streets of the city centre. Take a walk around the island – you can’t get too lost here, it’s about 2 kilometres around. On the far side, you’ll spot Thilafushi, an industrial island ‘suburb’ across the sea. At times you might see some smoke rising from one part of the island – that’s Malé’s rubbish being incinerated at the island’s landfill facility – an intriguingly real but stark contrast to the typical image that the name ‘Maldives’ conjures up.
Spend the afternoon swimming at any of the beaches on Villingili – the Villingili Public Beach (facing Malé) is the most obvious option. Don’t forget to dress appropriately even while swimming, this is still the Islamic Republic of the Maldives.
After you’ve wrung the water from your togs and shaken the sand out of your hair, don’t forget to walk around to the western side of the island to watch the sunset over calm clear waters. When the last light disappears from the horizon, head back to the jetty and take the ferry back to Malé ($0.20).
Once back on Malé, walk back up around the west coast (i.e. – the one facing Vllingili) towards the market, and Dawn Cafe. Dawn Cafe, a small teashop frequented by locals, offers authentic Maldivian meals like fish curry for dinner, along with some subcontinental favourites like chicken biryani if you’ve had your fill of fish for the day. Dinner should come to no more than Rf 100 ($6, leaving you with just enough cash to drop by Seagull Cafe a a few blocks away, pick up a scoop of ice cream or two, and stroll cone-in-hand along the waterfront- the ultimate in Malé nightlife!