An idyllic tropical dive destination, the Maldives is renowned for its beautiful atolls and diverse dive landscapes for all experience levels. Enjoy incredible marine megafauna encounters such as swimming with hundreds of feeding mantas, whale sharks and schooling hammerheads or simply surround yourself with vibrant reef life and delightful macro treasures.
Containing the most established dive areas in the Maldives, the Central Atolls offer an array of dive experiences and underwater landscapes for every preference. Famed for large pelagic encounters, Ari Atoll is a must-do for experiencing one of the world’s best destinations for mantas and whale sharks.
Imagine exploring over 100 miles of quiet atolls with pristine reefs, crystal-clear waters and few dive crowds. Add a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that hosts hundreds of feeding mantas, plus submerged pinnacles and numerous sharks for a taste of the incredible Northern Atolls.
Unexplored and pristine, the Southern Atolls offer unmapped dive sites and some of the most striking dive landscapes in the Maldives. The pelagic action is unbeatable thanks to the Southern Atolls’ deep waters, with mantas, stingrays, numerous reef sharks, whale sharks and even occasional tiger sharks passing by.
Diving in Maldives
On the top of any must-visit list for divers had to be the Maldives idyllic tropical archipelago. The tiny palm trimmed island and islets number in the hundreds, many home to unique marine events such as manta cleaning stations and whalesharks and hammerheads passing in the blue. The main island of Male has many dive centers and the other islands have mostly small dive resorts attached to the island’s accommodation. From these resorts, divers can usually head straight onto the house reefs diving or snorkelling, doorstep diving at its finest. These shallow dive sites are perfect for dive courses and training offering beautiful colourful life and calm conditions. Most of the dive resorts also offer boat dives to nearby sites giving experienced divers the chance to explore further afield. These are usually two tank dives which give divers the chance to see several dive sites in one day.
Dive liveaboards are also popular, offering the opportunity to explore the more remote atolls and experience the variety of marine life available in Maldives diving. The liveaboards in the Maldives offer everything from luxurious private suites with onboard spas, to simpler budget-friendly options. It is possible with a week or two-week liveaboard to visit the outlying atolls of Ari and Vaavu among others. These liveaboards depart mostly from Hulhumale near Male' city.
Best time to dive
The Maldives is a year-round diving destination although there are some seasonal variations which are worth noting. The Northeast Monsoon begins in December and continues until May, which give excellent visibility and strong currents which bring the bigger marine life to the atolls. Once this monsoon passes the wet Southwest Monsoon starts which means less current although there can be some slight swell and the weather is cooler. This is the best time to dive the western atolls, the cooler temperatures bring the hammerheads and grey reef sharks closer into the atolls. Hanifaru has a unique season dependant on plankton blooms near Baa Atoll attracting huge numbers of mantas and whalesharks from May until December. The same goes for Vaavu atoll where this is the peak season for spotting manta rays although they can be seen year-round.
Types of diving
Aside from long lovely days spent diving on the house reefs at the Maldives dive resorts the majority of the diving is drift diving from a boat. The currents are so that divers are usually dropped on a reef or wall and picked up down current from their starting point. This makes for easy exit and entry and an enjoyable drift on most dives.
Much of the Maldives is made up of atolls and uninhabited islands which can be accessed by local dive boat or from a diving liveaboard by tender. Many of the atolls are home to sizable coral reefs which are full of fish and crustaceans. Although in some areas swim-throughs and deep fast-flowing current channels are more common, these areas are more for those hoping to spot mantas, whalesharks and other pelagic life. Many divers come here to see the big pelagic life with large concentrations of mantas and whalesharks found around the atolls, these attract underwater photographers and wildlife enthusiasts in scores.
What to see
Mantas are the first to leap to mind when the Maldives is mentioned. These graceful giants can be found here often in substantial numbers close to the reefs and walls. The mantas come for the plankton blooms and stay for a wash at the cleaning stations found all around the Maldives archipelago.
Whalesharks usually stay a little further out but the wet season does bring them closer in, usually just a short swim out into the blue.
Huge shoals of fish such as tuna, snapper and barracuda are also found hanging around the reefs and walls which attracts dolphins and reef sharks over to the shallower waters. Turtles can be found all over the Maldives as well as eagle rays over the reefs feeding.
Best places to dive
With two wrecks and a concentration of big pelagics such as mantas, whalesharks and hammerheads, Ari Atoll is one of the best-loved atolls of the Maldives. The atoll is almost forty kilometres long and home to a wide range of dive sites made up largely of channels in the bottom through which a great deal of marine life passes. There are two wrecks at Ari Atoll a freighter and a fishing trawler that was sunk as an artificial reef. The topography is unusual as there are not the typical sheltered walls or reefs but rather the channels through which the current runs quite fast. The makes Ari more suitable for advanced divers who are comfortable diving in current.
One of the least populous of the inhabited Maldivian islands, Vaavu is slightly less protected from the effects of the monsoon and so experiences strong currents. This makes it less suitable for beginners and those doing dive courses in the Maldives. It does, however, attract mantas and whalesharks to the atoll as well as dolphins.
Protected by UNESCO as an area of special interest Baa Atoll is home to an impressive array of marine life. This includes a rainbow of reef fish as well as plentiful pelagic life with whalesharks and mantas known to spent time close to the overhangs and you can easily spot turtles hanging out in the swim-throughs. The atoll has a smaller number of dive resorts than some of the other atolls and is surprisingly peaceful for diving despite its beauty. The conditions are usually excellent and current not too strong which makes it perfect for dive courses and beginner divers.
Rasdhoo, Alif Alif Atoll
Only a short distance from Ari Atoll, the Rasdoo Atoll gives divers their best chance to see schools of hammerheads. The hammerheads are usually found at the point of Rasdoo where if you can tear your eyes away from the sharks you might also see tuna and sailfish as well as beautiful reef fish and shoals above.
Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll
To the north of Baa Atoll, Hanifaru Bay has two beautiful marine protected dive sites. The area is a nursing ground for grey reef shark and rays and also close by is the congregation of mantas and whalesharks in the plankton bloom. It is possible to book a snorkelling trip to see these huge numbers of pelagics in advance with a diving liveaboard. It is worth bearing in mind that the number of visitors is restricted each day and a permit must be attained in advance.