A group of 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean showcasing over 1190 coral islands, the Maldives has become one of the top tourist and scuba diving destinations around the globe. From swaying coconut palm trees and crystal clear lagoons to white beaches, this island nation has it all. But what really sets the Maldives head and shoulders ahead of other diving hotspots is its abundance of marine life.
Thanks to the Indian Monsoon Current that carries deep, nutrient-rich water and sweeps along the island country, the sponges and soft corals that cling to the rock sides are nourished – making the Maldives’ waters an excellent home to magnificent and exotic marine creatures such as manta rays, white-tip and hammerhead sharks, barracudas, moray eels and many more.
And when you throw in the country’s warm, welcoming culture, Liveaboards, and some of the best luxury resorts around the world into mix, you’ve got the makings of an unforgettable scuba diving vacation.
Snorkeling or scuba diving in shallower, near-the-shore Maldivian waters is very good. However, the water’s visibility as well as the chance of encountering a large and awe-inspiring marine animal increases as you head to the outer atolls.
For thrill-seeking divers, Lhaviyani Atoll’s Kuredu Express won’t disappoint. The delight and rush of fast-flowing waters are enjoyed by divers and a host of underwater species.
The diversity of marine animals found in the Lhaviyani Atoll is nothing short of impressive. Spotted eagle rays, crowds of sharks, schools of banner fishes and tuna, graceful manta rays; you could find all of them easing into the current of this popular Maldivian dive site.
Experienced and knowledgeable divers have been frequenting the Ari Atoll for a long time now – and for good reason. The atoll’s marine life just keeps on coming and growing.
It’s not at all unusual to dive and find yourself in the company manta rays, hammerheads, and reef sharks. However, keep your eyes peeled for other relatively rare marine species like the giant frogfish, humphead wrasse, groupers, and sweetlips.
South Ari Atoll
The South Ari Atoll is home to numerous impressive dive sites like the Broken Rock, Vakarufalhi Beru Thila, and more; but of all these diving hotspots, the Kudarah Thila, which was designated as a protected marine area in 1995, is the most famous.
Small yet magnificent, this reef is teeming with soft corals and fish life just like any dive site in the Maldives. To make your dive unique, it’s highly recommended that you explore the arch on the reef’s west side reef and check out the pair of steep, large overhangs on the eastern region.
The Banana Reef
Just to the west of Club Med and within Kuda Kalhi is the first ever dive site to be discovered in the Maldives which still remains to be one of the best – the Banana Reef.
The abundance of underwater life within the Banana Reef is just unbelievable. Within the caves in the region, you will find all sorts of exotic fish species like the grouper fish, puffer fish, wrasse, and fusilier; and thanks to frequent fish feeding, many of these fishes have become quite tame.
On the north eastern end of Banana Reef, you’ll be treated to the sight of picturesque terrain created by nature itself. Massive caves, steep overhangs, grand rock faces, and seemingly bottomless gutters are all to be found in this region of the dive site.
Explore the Vaavu Atoll to get up-close and personal with deep sea creatures. From May to July, divers survey the depths of the atoll for manta rays. During the rest of the year however, you will find white-tip reef sharks, barracudas, snappers, and trevallies competing for space and food. You may also encounter grey-reef and hammerhead sharks as the deep channels rinse the reef with fast-moving currents.
Aside from a diverse roster of sea creatures frequenting the place, the Vaavu Atoll also holds the largest unbroken barrier reef in the country. The Fotteyo Falhu boasts a length of about 50 km (30 miles). To make the most out of your dive in Vaavu Atoll, taking a liveaboard is highly recommended.
North Male Atoll
North Male Atoll’s southwest corner is home to the ‘strange yet wonderful.’ Sneaky leaf scorpion fishes, nudibranchs noted for their bright, extraordinary colours, flatworms and other tiny reef fishes are all to be found doing their thing there.
For savvy divers looking for a fun but challenging time underwater, the Okobe Thila is a diving hotspot to check out. This advanced dive site is made up of 3 main sections whose length ranges from 10 meters (30 ft) to 50 meters (165 feet). Dive profiles in the Okobe Thila usually spiral up around the reef, balancing the effects of the ever-present current.
The Okobe Thila isn’t the easiest of dives; however, scuba divers who take up the challenge often spot schools of banner fishes, spotted stingrays, and nurse and white-tip sharks along with the healthy coral life.
If the Okobe Thila is frequented by divers looking for an exciting time underwater, the Lankanfinolhu Faru is where manta rays go when they need to get rid of parasites and shed off dead skin. It’s a cleaning station and the manta rays seem to like it as evidenced by their numbers. The strong current in the Lankanfinolhu Faru keeps the healthy reef well-fed – creating the perfect conditions for marine life to thrive.
South Male Atoll
South Kaafu, also known as the South Male Atoll, isn’t as touristy as the northern region of the country. However, it has its share of premier dive sites such as the Kandooma Thila, Embudhu Express, and Cocoa Corner.
Looking like a 250-meter teardrop, many have considered the Kandooma Thila, with its remarkable landscape and abundant marine life, as one of the region’s best dive sites. Both the western and northern coasts of the Kandooma Thila are teeming with soft corals and schools of traversing red bass and big-eyed trevally. On the northeast end, however, is where much of the excitement is. Here, divers can get a closer look at grey and white-tip sharks as well as eagle rays.
Like the Okobe Thila, the Embudhu Express is a hotspot for advanced divers who have good drift diving skills. Usually, the dive profiles start off the reef and glide all the way to the Thila – using the drop off as a reference point as divers flow with the current. Dive the Embudhu Express and you’re almost guaranteed to encounter barracuda, tuna, big-eyed trevally, white-tips and grey reef sharks. For an even more thrilling dive at the Embudhu Express, it’s best to ride the strong ingoing current.
Cocoa Corner… there are many ways to explore and enjoy this Maldives dive site. As they maintain a depth of 25 to 29 meters, divers swim across the current while keeping their position parallel to the edge at 40 meters. This does a good job of giving a natural reference to the divers – allowing them to maintain the correct position and preventing them from going too far inside the channel as they cross to the Thila.
The dive site’s Thila is situated right in the center of the channel, which is about 15 meters from the edge. Once there, you can expect running into grey reef sharks doing their thing, like females patrolling the edge of the channel with their offspring swimming along with them.
Language: Dhivehi Language, but English is widely spoken
Currency: Maldivian Rufiyaa
Dive Season: All Year Round
Air Temperature: 26°-32° C (79°-90° F)
Water Temperature: 27°-29° C (80°-84° F)
Visibility: 15 – 40 Meters
Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced