More than 1,000 islands make up the Maldives archipelago, making it difficult for the traveller to reach this dream destination. To help you, we offer a series of themed articles on the Maldives to help you find your ideal hotel island. Today, we take you to the depths of the ocean…
It is estimated that almost half of the tourists staying in the Maldives come with the intention of diving or snorkelling. All the more reason to give here some indications on the “best” places to observe fish and corals.
The Maldives is famous for its transparent waters, rich underwater ecosystem and the colourful beauty of the corals and fish. There are more than 2,000 reefs and as many species of fish.
Most of the resorts have dive centers, some of which are certified (PADI). They organize trips in the lagoons or in the ocean in dhoni (boats).
– Snorkelling (or free diving) requires no special training. This technique consisting of floating on the water with mask, snorkel and flippers simply requires knowing how to swim and breathe through the mouth. Beginners (children from around 10 years old) will be content to stay on the surface in quiet lagoons; the more experienced will snorkel to get close to coral reefs and fish, or go beyond the barrier. A piece of advice: always wear a T-shirt, otherwise there is a risk of serious sunburn on your back!
– Scuba diving is obviously more technical and cannot be improvised. But the diving centres of the resorts can give a baptism to beginners and diplomas to the others, while the regulars will be able to appreciate for a long time the richness of the Maldivian seabed. These centres are all supervised by instructors who will know how to help the divers progress. Remember to take your certificates and a medical authorization to practice.
Other information and general advice: stay hydrated (in water!); do not touch (fragile) corals and molluscs, nor try to catch fish; be careful with the strong currents, which are frequent.
The best time to dive is from January to April, when the sea is calmer and visibility is high (up to 30 m).
Decompression chambers exist on the following resort islands: Bandos (Male), Kandoludhoo, Kuramathi (Alifu Atoll), Kuredu (Lhaviyani Atoll), Shangri-la Villingili (Addu Atoll) and Sun Island.
North Male Atoll
No need to go to the far end of the archipelago and its 26 atolls to enjoy diving! 35 websites are officially listed on the North Male Atoll, including six near the capital. HP Reef is one of them, it is a 100 m long barrier reef with coral outcrops, caves and crevices. Okobe Thila – in the Maldives, we call thilas, or giris, the atoll’s shallows, rich in animal life – consists of three reefs, each with a very large variety of fauna. The spot of Furana Thila has caves where sharks can be observed. We told you about it in a previous article, Banana Reef is the first diving website explored in the Maldives and remains one of the most popular. It is not yellow (!), as its name suggests, but multicoloured, with an amazing population of colourful fish (squirrelfish, bannerfish…). Its depth varies from 5 to 30 meters, with several shoals and overhangs. Manta fans will go diving on the well named Manta Point. The rays, almost at… stop, are cleaned of their parasites by small fishes, above coral concretions.
Hotel Bandos has the most famous and complete diving centre in the Maldives. It is highly recommended for those who wish to stay in the North Male Atoll.
South Male Atoll
Twenty-five websites have been identified, easily accessible from the capital. Pelagic fish and polychrome corals are frequently observed. Among the spots are Cocoa Corner and Kandooma Thila, two kandus (passes) that border the island of Kandooma and are the best shark observation points around Male. Divers will encounter grey reef sharks and jackfish flocks.
Vaadhoo Caves, on the eponymous hotel island, offers a 70 m deep drop off. On the way down, you can observe corals and gorgonians, scorpion fish, parrotfish, surgeon fish and even some rather shy turtles. At Guraidhu Kandu, we will see grey and white tip sharks, eagle rays, barracudas, jacks… With a bit of luck, we will also see hammerhead sharks.
The other famous spots of the South Male Atoll are Ranikan (rare lion-fish, leaf-fish and mantis shrimps), Nassimo Thila, Girifushi Thila and Lion’s Head.
With an excellent value for money, Hotel Biyadhoo is ideal for budget guests who wish to enjoy scuba diving on a full board basis.
Situated to the west of the South Male Atoll, it also offers a large number of popular websites thanks to its pelagic fish, colourful reefs and easy access from Male. The dives are particularly spectacular from January to April when the dominant currents form a dynamic west-east flow, conducive to animal observations on the eastern side of the atoll. In May and December, the mantas migrate from east to west (and vice versa), according to the changes in currents and winds that are frequent during this period. Perfect for observing!
One of the websites is Barabaru Thila, to the south of the atoll, with its two circular shoals covered with corals and fish. Also on the menu: tuna, turtles and sharks. Hukurudu House Reef, 3 to 20 meters deep is a good website for beginners. Its sandy floor is home to rays and sharks, gunfish and snappers.
Finally, Dhigurah Island, at the extreme south of the atoll, is not only home to one of the largest beaches in the Maldives but also to spectacular whale sharks. Sometimes you are lucky enough to see some splendid swordfish sailing boats.
With dive websites located in the direct vicinity of the hotel, the Gangehi will be your ideal dive spot.
Head for this atoll located southwest of the previous one, which has four to five renowned websites. The most famous is undoubtedly Fotteyo Kandu. Formed of overhangs, caves and corridors, this pass to the north-east of the atoll is home to exceptional underwater life and rare corals. Almost all the fauna is represented here, but we will have the chance to watch for groupers, manta rays, jacks, eagle rays, sometimes dolphins and “worrying” hammerhead sharks. In the north-east too, Miaru Kandhu offers its share of pelagic fish, grey and white tip sharks. Direction the south of the atoll and the spots of Vattaru Kandu and Rakeedhoo. The first, a desert island, is an underwater Noah’s Ark where, depending on the season, you can discover manta rays, stingrays, tuna, barracudas, sharks… The second, deeper and filled with small cavities, delivers scurf fish, trunks, purses, angelfish and balloons, triggerfish, groupers and sharks.
The atolls of the Deep South
Come on, we’re going deep south, towards the equator! At least six atolls are known to divers and there are plenty of corals and passes frequented by barracudas and sharks. On the atoll of Thaa, which is generally deserted, the pelagic fish are king and the visibility is exceptional. On the programme of the website named Olhugiri Kandu: eagle rays, tunas, jacks, napoleons and white tip sharks. Addu Atoll, the southernmost of the six, was home to an English military base during the Second World War. The wreck of the oil tanker British Loyalty, scuttled by the British after being hit during a Japanese offensive, is home to numerous corals, turtles and jacks. Also to be seen at Addu, the Utturu Kandu website, a spectacular and deep pass, a real underwater animal crossroads. Four other atolls can be visited in bottles: Laamu, Foammulah, Gaafu Dhaali and Gaafu Alifu. The last two are famous for being home to the largest corals in the world!
Atolls Baa and Raa
Two “twin brother” atolls, this time located in the northern part of the archipelago. A dozen large diving websites are listed there, most of which have been exploited for barely 20 years. It is difficult to mention them all here, but among the best, it is absolutely necessary to discover those of Baa, which became a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2011. On the 75 islands of the atoll, a dozen are home to hotels and resorts. Baa is home to more than 250 species of coral and 1,200 varieties of fish (manta rays, sharks, flying fish…), as well as five species of sea turtles among the seven in the world! An abundance of wildlife to be seen for example on the Digalihaa Thila, Muthaafushi Caves, Dhonfan Thila, 12.5 Thila or Neliwaru Thila websites. In Raa, divers will go to the two websites Vaadhu and Maagandu Thila.
Let’s finish with this atoll located “in front” of Raa and Baa, in the east. It is a destination for rather experienced divers, with 7 to 8 websites reputed to shelter what in the specialists’ jargon is called “big”: eagle rays, grey sharks, white tip sharks… It also shelters two boat wrecks placed side by side, an original artificial reef adopted by corals and fish. The island of Kuredu is very well known because it is a seaside resort, with some pleasant underwater spots. Its coral reef is populated by manta rays, turtles, sharks and groupers. To see in particular on the website of Kuredu Caves. In Hurawalhi, in addition to scuba diving, you can also dive… feet dry, in the largest underwater restaurant in the world, located under the resort of the island! Other websites to visit: Miaruvani Thila, the spectacular Felivaru Kandu Pass (tuna, eagle rays…), South Maagiri (scorpion fish, moray eels…) and the wrecks of Felivaru.