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Male, North Male Atoll

Maldives, Asia: Islanders shop for produce at an outdoor market in the Maldives.
North Male Atoll
Maldives's insider take:

Those who tire of island life may want to head to Male (pronounced "MAHL-ee"). At one square mile, it's the world's smallest capital city. Don't set aside too much time: Even leisurely strollers will cover all of the sites in a few hours. Along the way, listen to the local language, Dhivehi, which encompasses elements of Arabic, Sinhalese, Hindi, and Indian regional dialects like Malayalam and Gujarati. Start at the waterfront near the main square called Jumhooree Maidan. Stroll along the main fishing harbor where dhonis unload their catch for the colorful fish market nearby. Seek out the National Museum in the former Sultan's Palace, which has 11th-century stone figures excavated by adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and rifles used to fight against the Portuguese in the 16th century.

Male is home to more than a dozen mosques. Gold-lacquered Grand Friday Mosque dominates the city's skyline, but Hukuru Miskiiy (Old Friday Mosque) is the city's oldest, dating from the 17th century. Built by Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar, it served as Male's main place of worship for almost four centuries. The coral-walled inner sanctums are hung with lamps and panels engraved with ornate Arabic writing. However, unlike at most mosques in the Maldives, visitors are not allowed inside. Wander instead among the elaborately carved coral headstones in the surrounding cemetery. Abu Al Barakat, the North African explorer who brought Islam to the Maldives in the 12th century, is buried here.

There are local restaurants for lunch, though none compare to the cuisine at top hotels. The Maldives is a strict Muslim country, so don't expect to find much alcohol in the capital. Boutiques along the northern end of Chaandhanee Magu are the best place in Male for souvenir shopping. Look for local handicrafts like seashell jewelry and artful replicas of traditional Maldivian sailboats, called dhoni, carved by locals from coconut wood.

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