Diving is one of the truly unforgettable impressions that you can enjoy on Maldives.
Maldives is a unique place where everyone can find the best conditions of diving according to his abilities. The beginners may try to dive in special sites with gently sloping hills inhabited by colorful corals, tropical fish, manta rays, sea turtles, and sharks.
- Geography of Maldives
- The general information about diving
- Dive sites of the Maldives
- Best time to dive in Maldives
- The marine life of Maldives
- Dive from a liveaboard, a resort island or a local island?
Geography of Maldives
The Republic of Maldives is a coral archipelago located in the hub of the Indian Ocean to the South-West of India and Sri Lanka. It consists of 26 individual atolls and stretches for about 900 kilometers from north to south. The equator divides Maldives near the Addu Atoll.
Maldives is a chain of almost 1200 islands most of which are uninhabited. Approximately 200 islands are inhabited by the local people and another 150 islands are fashionable resorts.
The Maldives capital Malé stretches 2 km in length and is 1,2 km in width. It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
General Information about diving
Visibility varies from 15 to 50+ meters. The turbid waters attract manta rays, big shoals of fish and in some cases whale sharks.
The water temperature is 26-30°C all year round.
The climate is tropical and hot with plenty of sunny days with an average temperature of 25-33 around the year. You can dive at any season of the year but from April to October the monsoon brings a large amount of precipitation. (from April till June it rains the most) However heavy storms are unusual here.
The marine life. Maldives house about 1100 fish species, 400 muscles and 83 varieties of echinoderms including manta rays, grey reef sharks, snipers, parrot fish and etc.
The average diving depth is 15-30 m.
The required level of certification is Advanced Open Water.
Types of diving in Maldives
The underwater relief of Maldives is very varied. It offers many different types of diving and different regions of the archipelago offer different experiences. So let’s see the relief in detail.
The famous Maldivian channels are effectively natural canals connecting the ocean and the interior waterways of the atolls. The width of such channels usually varies from 100 to 400 meters and they’re 30-40 meters in depth. The currents generated by the water entering and exiting the atolls are known to be very strong and to attract sharks and eagle rays. It should be better to hang with a diving hook on the bottom of Kandu. It happens that a very strong current can even pull out the regulator from your mouth. The best channels that I’ve tried are Fotteo and Golden Wall, Vaavu Atoll. It was during my Azalea Cruise diving trip.
Faru is a reef that surrounds the atolls. It is often just below the surface or can reach a few meters deep. It often sticks out during the low tide. Faru diving is often a drift-dive. The most interesting sites to my mind is Madivaru Corner, near Rasdhoo. There I dived twice (during my daily diving trip to Rasdhoo).
Giri and Thila
Giri is separate from the island reef the summit of which can be seen from the surface. Thila generally has a submerged summit between 15 and 30 meters. Giri pinnacles are accessible to all divers whereas thilas are often reserved for the more experienced divers. The best example of giri is Kuda Giri Wreck, Maafushi (as you can see on the map above).
Best time for diving in Maldives
Many divers ask “What is the best diving season in the Maldives?” First of all you must understand that Maldives has only two seasons: the north-east monsoon and the south-west monsoon. The word monsoon in this context does not mean torrential rain, quite the opposite in fact!
During the north-east monsoon (known as the dry season which occurs between the end of December till the end of April) trade winds originating in the Indian subcontinent carry rich ocean waters towards the archipelago’s coast. It’s mostly sunny during these days. The ocean is calm and there’s no wind almost. The visibility is 50+ meters in the eastern part and 25 in the western. The water is very clear to the east and a phenomenon called the ‘upwelling’ carries with it a significant quantity of plankton. This plankton is the foundation of the food chain that in-turn feeds all manner of marine life from the smallest of creatures to the most majestic of manta rays.
That’s why you may find plenty of different marine creatures in the eastern part especially at the entry of kandu channels: gray sharks, whitetip sharks, eagle rays, napoleon fish, etc. During this time manta rays return from the west to the so-called clearing stations. It’s a unique opportunity to see the underwater dances of these sea giants.
The south-west monsoon starts at the end of May and ends at the beginning of November. As you may already have guessed it brings lots of rains. During this time the marine life is more active in the west part of Maldives. The visibility is great during May-July and later the water starts to get turbid due to the plankton brought by the current.
So from August to November is the best time to see manta rays. The most impressive is Hanifaru Bay marine reserve during this time, you can see up to 200 manta rays! I was lucky to see “at least” 60-70.
It should be mentioned that it’s allowed only to snorkel there because the diving is prohibited since 2012. What is more south as well as the deep south is not the best place for a liveaboard diving at this time of the year.
The north-east monsoon from December to April is for many reasons the most popular season for diving in the Maldives. Certainly, the risks of a quick downpour are less but still. The prices at this time of the year are significantly higher. However you should expect a greater rainfall during the rainy season but despite this, the diving experience is not at all compromised, far from it.
During the past years, a seasonal climate shift is observed not only on Maldives but all around the globe. That’s why you cannot state that January will not have rains at all. As well as you may not be sure about a number of sunny days in June. The sea temperature varies little from season to season and is usually between 26°C and 30°C. (except from the deep south where the temperature can go down to 24°C during the north-west monsoon).
Marine life of Maldives
It is impossible to start this section in any other way than to dive straight into what every visitor to Maldives wants to see: manta rays and whale sharks.
Maldives is a home to the largest population of manta rays (Manta alfredi) in the world with an estimated 5000 to 7000 individuals! It is equally possible to come across manta alfredi and manta birostris in exactly the same place. Anyway, they are slightly different.
You may see manta rays almost everywhere in any atoll. They even come almost every day (especially during the monsoon) to the clearing station which is just next to the capital Malé.
Besides manta rays, it is possible to see the biggest fish in the world – whale shark (Rhincodon typus). It sizes from 6 to 7 meters. So far more than 200 whale sharks have been identified and are regularly seen according to the data by provided by Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme.
They will generally be observed to the south of the Ari Atoll ( the islands of Dhigurah, Sun Island Resort and Spa, Holiday Island resort and Spa) and Addu City Atoll. Till 2013 it was possible to see these sharks in Hanifaru Bay but since then it’s quite a rare thing (1-2 times a season). But for sure you’ll witness these sharks only in South Ari Atoll. And it is possible to go snorkeling and diving there.
Apart from seeing whale sharks and manta rays diving on Maldives is a veritable feast of many different species such as gray reef, whitetip, nurse, thresher, hammerhead and even tiger sharks. Though the former is the second largest predators after the white sharks, nobody is reported to be hurt on Maldives. Mostly sharks appear in the kandu channels. But you may see baby sharks even from the shore.
But let’s talk about hammerhead sharks. They’re hard to meet as you need to dive 5-10 minutes before the sunrise in the deepest part of the ocean. If you’re quite lucky you’ll see from 1 to 3 of them. The most popular site to see these sharks is near Rasdhoo. But it probably depends on a season because people tell quite controversial things about this place.
Here’s a list of the sites where hammerhead sharks were seen lately:
- Fotteyo, Vaavu Atoll;
- Dhiyamingili, Thaa Atoll
- Rasdhoo, North Ari Atoll
- Miyaru kandu, Vaavu Atoll
- Gemanafushi Beyru, Gaafu Alif
- Huvadhoo atoll
Unfortunately most of these sites are available during diving safari only.And
And finally, let’s talk about night diving with sharks. The most popular site for this activity is believed to be Alimatha Jetty, Vaavu Atoll. It’s located near Alimatha Aquatic Resort. Here you may meet a lot of nurse sharks which swim so close that you can even touch them! But the biggest disadvantage of this place is that it is too popular and attracts plenty of divers. So there could be up to 50 divers at a time!Among more than 600 species of exotic
Among more than 600 species of exotic fishes you may spot barracuda which is usually coming up in shoals, tuna, napoleon fish, parrot fish, the variety of moray eels, lion fish and many others.
There is also no lack of smaller marine life and those who delight in the smaller species will find many creatures that you would normally expect to find elsewhere in the world. Ghost pipefish, harlequin rasbora and halimeda hide discretely amongst the coral waiting for divers to discover them; the same goes for leaf fish and frogfish.
It is also quite common to unearth some magnificent species of nudibranch and flatworms, many of which are widespread in the region.Besides manta rays, you may also see mobula rays, eagle rays, sting rays etc. The former are usually fed near resorts and even on the local islands sometimes. You may dive with a great amount of sting rays at a site between Hulhumale (the airport island) and Sheraton Full Moon. Although it’s clear that they come to be fed there still it’s a very impressive experience!
You may dive a lot of sting rays at a site between Hulhumale (the airport island) and Sheraton Full Moon. Although it’s clear that they come to be fed there still it’s a very impressive experience!
Diving from liveaboard, island-resort or local island?
If you would like to dive on Maldives, there are several options available to you: the liveaboard, known locally as a “safari boat”, staying and diving from an island hotel (resort island) or opting for a guest house on a local island with a diving center. Let’s consider advantages and disadvantages for all of the options.
If diving is the main reason for your trip to the Maldives then I strongly advise you to choose a liveabord.
My personal experience you may read here.
Today liveaboards are extremely comfortable and many are akin to floating hotels with all possible facilities.
You will be able to visit the perfect dive site at the ideal time for the given sea conditions and seasonal variation. Each dive will be different and you will be able to dive up to three times or four times a day (when you have a night dive) and you’ll be able to admire all the beauty of the marine life being left to yourself. All the dives will take place in different sites so definitely they’re going to be varied.
You may choose out of 20 different routes which go mostly through the central part: North Malé, South Malé, Vaavu, Ari Atoll. But several routes lie to the south (Thaa Atoll, Gaafu atoll and further) and to the north (usually Baa и Raa Atolls).
Usually liveaboard lasts for 7 nights, but also you may do a longer trip for 10 days and the longest one is up to 14 days. The longest trip starts in в Hanimaadhoo (north) and finishes in Addu City (deep south).
Besides diving experience, you will also get to visit some of the resort islands and dine on a sandbank or an uninhabited island somewhere in the middle of the ocean.
If you choose liveaboard diving I recommend that you gain some diving experience of at least 30 dives and have a certificate not lower than PADI AOW before you come. That is because many of the dives will take place in currents and in waters about 25-30 meters deep.
As for the disadvantages, this experience can end up quite pricey. It costs about 1800-2200$ per person for a 7-day trip on a nice boat. The cheapest possible is around 1200$
Diving from Island Resorts
If diving is not necessarily the sole purpose of your holiday then you will probably be better placed at an island resort where a large variety of activities will be on offer such as water sports activities, fishing, visiting local and uninhabited islands, etc. This way you can pick and choose when and how often you dive.
The dive guides in the hotels will be very knowledgeable about the local dive sites. In terms of safety, these island hotels also have very high safety standards, with onsite medical services and effective medical evacuation plans. The staff are trained to provide first aid if any incident happens during diving (even decompression chambers are installed on some of the resorts).
The obvious disadvantage of diving from these hotels is the limited number of dive sites that you will be able to dive. And moreover you will be not able to dive when the conditions at these sites are far from optimal.
The second disadvantage is the price. If you compare it with the price for a diving at a local island or a liveaboard it will be 1,5-2 times higher while you also may visit the same site staying at the local island or from a liveaboard.
Diving from local islands
Diving from a local island in the Maldives is the cheapest. Over the past few years, a new market has developed offering visitors an alternative low-budget holiday. Guest houses and small local hotels with modern dive centers started to appear.
Now diving is much more affordable. Guest houses offer the activities and infrastructure that a luxury resort provide and at more considerable prices. So it’s important to plan your trip beforehand if you’re eager to save plenty a lot.
The obvious advantage of the local island diving is that it’s cheap and affordable.
What is more you are given the opportunity to see the life of the local people. Of course you should be ready to respect their laws and traditions. The Maldivian people are very open-minded and friendly with tourists, they’re eager to help and tell their guests about their island.
You’ll be limited with the choice of diving sites while visiting a local island as well as staying at a resort. However, you may choose from a variety of different dive centers where usually international instructors are working.
Every local island has its tourist infrastructure and a hospital where you can receive first aid. When more serious accidents happen the patient is sent to Malé.
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