The Maldives is a tropical nation in the Indian Ocean composed of 26 ring-shaped atolls, which are made up of more than 1,000 coral islands. It’s known for its beaches, blue lagoons and extensive reefs. The capital, Malé, has a busy fish market, restaurants and shops on the main road, Majeedhee Magu, and 17th-century Hukuru Miskiy (also known as Friday Mosque) made of carved white coral.
Currency: Maldivian rufiyaa
Population: 345,023 (2013) World Bank
President: Abdulla Yameen
Official language: Dhivehi
1. Old Friday Mosque
This is the oldest mosque in the country, dating from 1656. It’s a beautiful structure made from coral stone into which intricate decoration and Quranic script have been chiselled. Visitors wishing to see inside are supposed to get permission from an official of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Most of the staff are officials of the ministry, however, and if you are respectful and well-dressed they will usually give you permission to enter the mosque on the spot.
Even though an ugly protective corrugated-iron sheet now covers the roof and some of the walls, this is still a fascinating place. The interior is superb and famed for its fine lacquer work and elaborate woodcarvings. One long panel, carved in the 13th century, commemorates the introduction of Islam to the Maldives.
The mosque was built on the foundations of an old temple that faced west towards the setting sun, not northwest towards Mecca. Consequently, the worshippers have to face the corner of the mosque when they pray – the striped carpet, laid at an angle, shows the correct direction.
Overlooking the mosque is the solid, round, blue-and-white tower of the munnaaru – the squat minaret. Though it doesn’t look that old, it dates from 1675. To one side of the mosque is a cemetery with many elaborately carved tombstones. Stones with rounded tops are for females, those with pointy tops are for males and those featuring gold-plated lettering are the graves of former sultans. The small buildings are family mausoleums and their stone walls are intricately carved. Respectably-dressed non-Muslims are welcome to walk around the graveyard; you don’t require permission for this.
2. National Museum
The National Museum may be a ferociously ugly building recently gifted by China, but it nevertheless contains an excellent and well-labelled collection of historic artefacts that serve to trace the unusual history of these isolated islands. Sadly the museum was broken into by a mob of religious extremists during protests against former President Nasheed in 2012, and its most precious items, some 30 ancient Buddhist coral stone carvings from the country’s pre-Islamic period, were destroyed for being ‘idols’.
The display begins downstairs with galleries devoted to the ancient and medieval periods of Maldivian history. Items on display include weaponry, religious paraphernalia and household wares as well as many impressively carved Arabic- and Thaana-engraved pieces of wood commemorating the conversion of the Maldives to Islam in 1153.
Upstairs is a display representing the modern period and including some prized examples of the lacquer-work boxes for which Maldives is famous, and various pieces of antique technology including the country’s first gramophone, telephone and a massive computer. Quirkier relics include the minutes of the famous underwater cabinet meeting held under President Nasheed in 2009 and an impressive marine collection, the highlight of which is the 6m-long skeleton of the very rare Longman’s Beaked Whale, which is yet to have been sighted alive in the sea.
3. Water Sport
Try some water sport at Maldives famous beautiful locations, such as Manta Reef or British Loyalty Wreck
Also called Madivaru, Manta Reef is at the end of a channel where powerful currents carry plankton out of the atoll during the northeast monsoon (December to April) – fast food for manta rays. Mantas also come to be cleaned. Reef fish include Napoleon wrasse, snapper and parrotfish, while pelagics such as turtles, tuna and sharks visit the outer reef slope. It’s for advanced divers only, and is great for snorkellers in the right conditions.
There has been concern in recent years that the overuse of this famous dive site is leading to a declining number of mantas coming here. Do ask your dive centre about this and follow their instructions very carefully to avoid contributing to further degradation.
The British Loyalty Wreck has a good covering of soft corals, and turtles, trevally and many reef fish inhabit the encrusted decks. This oil tanker was torpedoed in 1944 by the German submarine U-183, which fired through an opening in the antisubmarine nets at the entrance to Gan Kandu. The disabled ship stayed in the atoll until 1946 when it was towed to its present location and used for target practice by another British ship.
The 140m wreck lies in 33m of water with its port side about 16m below the surface.
4. Utheemu Ganduvaru
This small palace was the childhood home of Malidivian national hero Mohammed Thakurufaanu, who, alongside with his brothers, overthrew Portuguese rule in 1573. Visitors are escorted around the complex of buildings by a member of staff from the museum and are able to see the fascinating 500-year-old wooden interiors, including swing beds (used to keep cool in the heat), lamps that burn coco palm oil, elaborate wooden carvings and a large palm-thatch shed used as a sleeping room for guests.
5. Male’ Fish Market
If you wish to catch a glimpse of Maldivians’ daily lives, look no further than the Male’ Fish Market. This is the commercial epicenter of arguably the country’s most important industry—fishing. Here, the foot traffic peaks in the afternoon as fishermen from the entire country sail right up to the edge of the market and unload the daily catch. Tuna is the most popular fish for sale, but you’ll find some other types as well. Just an idea: You could pick up some fresh fruit and fish for dinner, if you have a facility to prepare a meal.
There is no set opening and closing times for market, but you’ll find the best selection in the afternoon and early evening. The Male’ Fish Market is located along the inner harbor on the north side of the island, just west of Republic Square.
Male’ is one of the world’s smallest capital cities—a wee one square mile. But, believe us, it packs in the people and some sights. You’ll most likely stumble onto Republic Square, which constantly bustles with life, and you should stop by the National Museum, which is housed in the former Sultan’s Palace. As you meander along the city’s thoroughfares, you’ll notice numerous mosques. And although you may want to venture inside, be cautious and polite: foreigners, particularly non-Muslim ones, are not welcome in some. In addition to the fascinating sights here in Male’, you’ll experience some (rather pungent) smells in the local fish market.
Male’ (and the island it envelops) is just a hop, skip and a jump from the island of Hulhule’, where the airport rests. Its proximity to Hulhule makes it easy and efficient to visit the city at the beginning or end of your visit.
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7. Maldives Victory
First, the title is very misleading. The Maldives Victory sunk in 1981 after hitting a reef—not exactly a successful voyage. But now, it is a rewarding accomplishment to reach this vessel. The dive site attracts scuba aficionados for its particularly challenging currents and the rich sea life—picture fresh coral and colorful fish—that have made the wreck a sight to behold.
The Maldives Victory rests below the waves on the Hulhule House Reef, which stretches between Male’ and Hulhule. Experts say this site is gorgeous year-round. And be sure to take one of those experts with you: Like we said, the currents here can be dangerous. Scuba diving excursions can range from very expensive to fairly reasonable depending on the necessary level of instruction, the amount of rental equipment, and transportation to and from the dive site. Be sure to check with your resort concierge for more details and to make arrangements for you.
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