Male', complete with its own artificial beach, swimming track, historic sites, and a spectacular skyline of candy-coloured skyscrapers, manages to be both an island and a city. Previously a sparsely populated island, Male' has evolved into a world-class city with all the modern facilities like schools, hospitals, restaurant. The resultant effect juxtaposes its islander roots and its forward-thinking attitude - a laid-back town with both quiet and fast lanes, of course the latter being more predominant.
The Hukuru Miskiyy, (Friday Mosque) built in 1656 contains finely fluted coral block walls, and intricately engraved beams; Mulee-aage, the current Presidential residence was built right before the First World War and overlooks the Friday Mosque; the Islamic Centre that was built in 1984 and has a lovely, geometric stretch of white steps leading up-to the grand mosque; the sultan park and national museum that are housed in the same compound, the latter consists of an intimate collection housed in a quaint building surrounded by trees; and the artificial beach, and swimming track, both ideal for a refreshing swim.
Another interesting aspect of Male' are the names of houses. From names that pay tribute to island culture, like 'Sea-Breeze', and 'Sunshine Lodge', there are also slightly eccentric variations, like 'Forget-Me-Not', and ‘Always Happy House’. A quintessentially Maldivian feature, it provides an amusing accompaniment to a walk around Male' and an insight into the mindsets of the Maldivian people.
The Male' surf point Raalhugandu and the artificial beach lie on the south-eastern side of Male'. The area comes to life in the late afternoons and evenings, with hundreds of Male' dwellers coming out to relax and enjoy the fresh sea air and the day's end. The surf-huts overlooking Raalhugandu, built by local surfers and residents of neighbouring houses provide a vantage point for watching the waves. Whether you are there to see the surfers expertly guide their boards over the waves, or the strong curls of the waves themselves, the sight will not disappoint.
Male' also hosts a wide range of shops that sell every imaginable good including supermarkets, chemists, electronics, books, clothes, footwear, and jewellery.
Notable shopping areas of Male’ include the two markets, one which sells local agricultural produce, and another that sells fish.
The local market stocks agricultural produce from all Maldivian islands. It is located on the northern side of Male', and distinguished by the sight of hanging clusters of bright yellow bananas throughout the market. The market is favoured by locals and expatriates alike, mainly because of the availability of fresh, local fruit and vegetable produce at inexpensive prices.
The fish market is located a mere two blocks away from the local market. The main feature of the market is its unmissable odour of freshly caught fish. Once your nostrils adjust to the strong smell, the market is a veritable delight of colour and energy. The best time to visit the fish market would be in the late-afternoons, when the local fishermen bring in their catch. Make sure you see the fish-cutters at work, with their practised blades slicing and dicing the fish neatly.
Slightly off the usual tourist track are the plentiful textile shops dotted around Male'. Favoured by local women who often get their clothes tailored instead of bought ready-made, these shops number in the hundreds and offer fabric of every imaginable texture, design and colour. Air-conditioned and well-maintained, these shops are well worth a visit if only to get a glimpse of local women in their element. Any tour guide will be able to point you in the direction of the larger textile shops, and you will come across a dozen stores on a walk along the main roads of Male'.
Male’ also has a range of bookstores, where you purchase stationery as well as a range of popular fiction, non-fiction and self-help books.
To take back memories of your holiday in a more material form, the souvenir shops on the northern end Chandhanee Magu provide the perfect outlet. Wooden ashtrays, turtle shaped salt and pepper shakers, shell necklaces and packs of playing cards, these shops offer kitsch of every kind and shape for the discerning traveler.
Open from early morning till 1 am in the night, the Male' restaurants aim to please. Menus ranging from Thai, Italian, Indian and other international, regional and local cuisine. They are served in a range of restaurants, from the cool air-conditioned bistros to the laid-back open-air cafes. For a truly Maldivian dining experience, try the fish, preferably while listening to the waves at a waterfront restaurant.
The local version of fast-food are served at what are known as Sai-Hotaas (teashops). In chatter-filled environment, these hotaas serve ‘short-eats’: a variety of (often deep-fried) sweet and savoury finger-food, mostly fish and coconut based, as well as local bread ‘roshi’ to be eaten with a variety of side dishes. Hotaas have a robust clientele, and serve food on communal tables. The atmosphere is extremely informal and should you want to engage in conversation with a friendly local, this may very well be the place to do so.
Cafés are big with the locals of ages and sexes in Male’. Over cups of steaming coffee, tea and hot chocolate, friends catch up on the day’s affairs and business deals are conducted. In addition to various beverages, cafés also serve snacks and smalls in an environment more tempered than that of the hotaas. Ranging from the cozy and air-conditioned to water-front and laid back, they are the perfect place to satiate a caffeine fix or to quench dry throats with a fresh juice.