Malé, Maldives: the biggest little city

Male total by Shahee Ilyas

Most boats cruising in Maldives find themselves in the capital, Malé, at some point. The capital sits not quite halfway down the “necklace islands” of Maldives. More than 100,000 people live here, nearly a third of the country’s population; it’s denser than Manhattan.

Most transportation is bike and motorcycle, but there are a silly number of cars for such a compact island.


Malé’s chandleries were one draw. They’re the best supplied we’ve seen since… well, let’s just say they’re the best we’ve seen in a very long time! No one shop has everything, but make the rounds and you can get pretty much anything you need. You won’t have to go far, because the whole island is only a little over two square miles of total area. Jamie was like a kid in a candy store.

He would like aaaalllll the 12v outlets, thankyouverymuch



The provisioning was another: this is a nation of coral atolls with the barest minimum of arable land, so most food is imported, and Malé is the hub where it all comes in. We bought eggs from India, rice from Thailand, spices from the US (do you know how hard it is to find sage?!), jam from France, and capers from Spain. I’m trying not to think about the carbon cost of that shopping basket.

The small shops in most Maldivian islands are pretty limited in their selection. Here, we could get beautiful produce at fresh markets along the waterfront.

Besides the contrast of construction and sterility, I love the fact that you can buy flavored chips of betel nut in the same aisle as cake mixes. Acceptable vices, right?


There’s a fish market right across the street from the harbor where dhonis pull in with their catch. Tuna is a Maldivian staple: a whole yellowfin goes for a little under fifty cents a pound. For about another dollar, you can have it filleted.


Malé is the easiest (and probably cheapest) place in Maldives for fuel, so we topped up on diesel and propane. It gets a little exciting when the diesel barge maneuvers close to Totem, but they had a good setup with a smart hose that gave us control of the fuel flow…making it all the more ridiculous and ironic when the barge team dumped about a half gallon of diesel into the ocean to flush it after we filled up (why?).


What I especially looked forward during our stopover in Malé was meeting up with a Maldivian travel blogger and surfer who got in touch over Facebook. Ni had reached out before we arrived in Maldives, offering warmth and hospitality. She helped orient me to this amazing country ahead of our arrival with information, pointers to resources and news sites. Even before we met, I liked Ni for her wanderlust, ocean health advocacy and environmentalism; she’s even more amazing in person! We met up a couple of times, on shore and on Totem; she and her friend Azzé took me to Thilafushi, “the garbage island,” but that’s a story for another post. I’m hopeful she’ll do a few miles with us on Totem someday.


Hanging out with Ni will be my enduring memory of Malé, but playing tourist was more fun than I expected. The kids’ favorite was the National Library. It’s just… a library, but it has a whole room of books in English, and it’s air conditioned. They would happily have moved in for the duration, I think. I was drawn to the cemetery around one of the very old mosques in the city, with intricate carvings in the coral tombstones. I’d love to have explored inside a little, but that takes special permission that I ran out of time to get.


Indian Ocean veterans and hopefuls alike know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website. Thanks for tossing change in our cruising kitty!

[Credit for top image: “Male-total” by Shahee Ilyas, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

2 Responses

  1. So cool that the Totem crew got to visit the Maldives and Male. I got to visit that country (when I didn’t even know that it existed beforehand) when I was in the navy on a Western Pacific deployment. It was awesome to go ashore and have a cultural exchange with sailors from the Maldives Navy and experience their island atoll culture. Some of my fondest memories from there are the beautiful sand beaches and the rich underwater reef aquatic life just feet away from the shore, then the city atmosphere all so close together in harmony.
    It’s definitely not cool seeing diesel go in the water

    1. Nate, very cool- especially getting to do the cultural exchange with the Maldivian Navy! What year were you here? I wonder if/how it’s changed.

Comments are closed.