Male is the bustling capital of the Maldives, often overlooked by tourists who head straight for the country's numerous resort islands. However, the packed city offers a glimpse of another side of the popular destination and is representative of everyday life in the Maldives.
Far from the tranquillity of the five-star resorts that pepper the islands, Male moves at a brisk pace as the centre of government and commerce in the Maldives. Brightly coloured buildings, business suits, and bazaars rather than beaches are the order of the day, and the independent travellers that do take a holiday in Male can sample cultural attractions such as markets, mosques, and museums in lieu of jungle hikes and watersports.
The best shopping in the Maldives is undoubtedly in Male, a city crowded with shops and markets. Most of the souvenir shops that cater to tourists are found in the business district, conveniently located close to the jetty where travellers arrive from the airport ferries. Another popular shopping district in Male is the Singapore Bazaar at the top end of Chaandhanee Magu, so-called because many of the products are imported from Singapore.
Most of the outdoor markets in Male are filled with fruits and vegetables rather than souvenirs, but it is enjoyable to spend a few hours browsing the colourful stalls. Though most countries' customs agents will confiscate coconuts and papayas, it is possible to buy some wonderful local spices, which are a popular souvenir from the Maldives.
Getting around in Male is relatively easy due to its small size. It is possible to walk around the entire city in about an hour, and most of the major attractions are clustered near each other on the north shore, about a 15-minute walk from the jetty. There is no public transportation in Male, but taxis are plentiful and relatively inexpensive.
A predominantly Muslim city, the bars and restaurants in Male are largely alcohol-free. The city is far from a nightlife hotspot. However, a holiday in Male is richly rewarding for travellers looking to see the true face of life in the Maldives.