Widely regarded as one of the world’s top scuba diving destinations , the islands of the Maldives offer a wide variety of unbelievable marine life amid some of the most incredible tropical scenery on the planet.
The Republic of the Maldives has been a popular destination among high-end, luxury-seeking travellers and scuba enthusiasts from all over the world for a long time .
Landscapes here are spectacular – the white sand beaches, lush tropical plant life and crystal-clear blue waters evoke thoughts of glossy travel brochures. It’s little wonder this is a popular choice among discerning honeymooners from around the world.
Located in the Indian Ocean, off the southwest corner of India , this tropical republic consists of 26 atolls comprising over 1,100 islets that are laid out across 90,000 square kilometres of water .
Less than 1% of this sparsely-populated exotic nation is made up of land, making for endless scuba diving opportunities.
Those who decide to venture into the underwater world of the Maldives are greeted by an array of spectacular coral formations and a dazzling selection of marine life that includes whale sharks, manta rays, sharks and napoleon wrasse, to name just a few of the bigger animals .
The additional variety of smaller, reef-dwelling fish and macro creatures make the Maldives experience as varied as it is beautiful .
What to Expect from the Maldives Diving Experience
While the noteworthy beauty of the country and the wide variety of marine life are reason enough to go diving in the Republic of the Maldives.
The main attraction for most divers is the ability to get up close and personal with some of the largest, most impressive underwater animals in the world, all in one place.
In fact, many divers return year after year to discover more of this amazing underwater world. In a way, scuba diving in the Maldives is like going on safari in Kenya; whenever you go on safari.
You are hoping to see the “Big Five” – a lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros – but your chances of actually seeing all these animals during the same holiday is highest in Kenya.
Well, the Maldives is the aquatic equivalent to Kenya, only here the Big Five are the whale shark, manta ray, grey reef shark, white tip shark and napoleon wrasse.
Strong currents around these islands make the Maldives a challenging place to dive, with many of the dive sites recommended only for advanced divers.
However , many of the dive centres throughout the country offer beginner scuba diving lessons and there are some sheltered dive sites appropriate for beginner divers.
If you want to enjoy the best the Maldives has to offer , however, it’s good to come here with a minimum of 40 dives under your belt and to be prepared for the strong currents.
Many of the sites here call for fast descents down lines and parachutes to ensure safe ascents. Dive guides and boat guides in the Maldives know the many dive sites very well and are able to effectively identify dive conditions and currents before anyone enters the water .
Furthermore, comprehensive briefings are given before each dive, ensuring maximum preparation for all involved .
When and Where to Dive in the Maldives
Scuba diving in the Maldives is possible throughout the year , although exactly where you will dive depends on the time of year in which you visit.
There are two main seasons in the Maldives; the Northeast Monsoon season (December to April) and the Southwest Monsoon season (May to November).
The Northeast Monsoon season is characterised by drier weather and the currents run from the North East to the South East of the archipelago.
The water is warm (about 28ºC) during this season and the best visibility can be found on the eastern side of the Maldives.
If you’re diving in the Maldives during these months there are a few Maldives dive sites that you really shouldn’t miss.
Fotteyo Kandu has been graded among the best five dive sites in the world. Positively brimming with exciting marine life, Fotteyo Kandu dive site is subject to strong currents, so divers should be prepared for a challenging dive.
Nevertheless, the sight of grey reef sharks, midnight snappers, jacks and tuna amid stunning coral formations should make this dive worth the effort.
If you are lucky enough to catch an early morning dive here , you might find a group of scalloped hammerheads that tend to move up to shallower waters every morning.
Be careful: Titan Triggerfish have claimed a patch of Fotteyo Kandu as their mating ground and can be extremely territorial.
It’s best to give these feisty creatures a wide berth because despite their pretty colours, they can, and will, be quite viscious to scuba divers .
Lankanfinolhu Faru, or Manta Point, is another highlight of the eastern Maldives, thanks to the many manta rays that visit to take part in a cleaning ritual here.
To see a manta ray at one of the several cleaning stations in the Maldives is to witness an amazing symbiotic relationship.
As a filter feeder, the manta ray’s gills become filled with the plankton that does not make it into the ray’s digestive system.
Fortunately, there are many small fish that feed on plankton, so when the manta ray swims up from the colder deep waters, the other fish swim through its gills, clearing the plankton.
As long as divers hang out quietly around the manta rays, these friendly creatures will be undisturbed and you will have front-row seats to this amazing natural spectacle that lasts around 20 minutes.
Despite visibility being better on the eastern side of the Maldives during the Northeast Monsoon season, divers hoping to encounter whale sharks and manta rays – and let’s face it, who isn’t?
– Should venture over to the western side of the archipelago, where chances are higher. While it depends on the season , whale sharks are usually found around the Baa Atoll and Ari Atoll.
If you’re visiting the Maldives between May and November, you can expect scuba diving and climate conditions to be a little different.
Luckily, the Maldives doesn’t experience the same intensity of monsoon rainfall as other Asian countries, so while you are going to encounter more rain during these months, it is unlikely to be enough to spoil your holiday.
In contrast to the Northeast Monsoon season, water temperature during the Southwest Monsoon season is a little lower and the visibility is better on the western side of the atolls.
There are so many excellent dive sites on this side of the archipelago, but the finest would have to be Hanifaru and Maaya Thila.
Recently featured in a National Geographic documentary entitled “Feeding Frenzy”, Hanifaru is one of those unforgettable diving experiences .
Between May and November, a unique pattern of currents brings plankton up from the deeper waters to the surface.
The plankton then shies away from the bright light at the surface and dives back toward the deep, creating a swirling mass.
The increasing plankton levels mean absolute paradise to manta rays and whale sharks, who gather here to feed.
Manta rays sometimes exhibit the bizarre conduct of “chain-feeding”, by which they hold on to another mantas tail and make a chain.
When more than 50 mantas are “chained” together, their chain begins to spin wildly. At Hanifaru Bay, there are often more than 200 enormous manta rays chain feeding erratically, bumping into each other, making for a truly unforgettable underwater experience.
Add to this the presence of several whale sharks – sometimes more than 10 – all attracted to the plankton, and you begin to understand why the Maldives is one of the world’s premier scuba diving destinations.
Maaya Thila is a renowned dive spot both for daytime and night diving. Many liveaboard guests choose to dive this site on multiple occasions and at different times during the day because the fauna here is so rich and it seems like every time you descend here, a whole new world is waiting for you.
At night, Maaya Thila is a hunting ground for grey reef sharks and barracudas that are found prowling around the coral.
This is also the time when the moray eels come out of their crevices and octopus and stonefish lurk at the top of the reef. In day, by contrast, the moray is back hiding in the rocks.
The grey reef sharks and white tips are still present, but they are not hunting now. While the sharks pose no threat to divers by day or by night, you will no doubt feel more comfortable getting close to them during the day.
Resort or Liveaboard
There are two options when planning your dive vacation in the Maldives: the resort or the liveaboard. The Maldives’ resorts are renowned throughout the world for being luxurious hideaways, perfect for celebrities looking to escape the paparazzi or newlyweds looking to enjoy an ultra-romantic honeymoon.
Nearly all of the 94 resorts have their own dive shop , but these resorts are typically very expensive (due in part to a government regulation that all private island resorts must offer 5-star accommodation).
And all-inclusive packages seldom include scuba diving, so a diving holiday with several dives a day, plus the cost of your accommodation and flights can get very expensive.
Many divers choose the liveaboard option – there are about 150 diving vessels operating in the Maldives – which offer packages that include food and accommodation on board the boat as well as several dives each day.
This tends to be a far more budget-friendly way to dive in the Maldives, and you get the added benefit of being surrounded by other scuba divers throughout the holiday as well as the ability to visit far more dive spots because you don’t have to return to the same spot every night.
Just like the resorts, liveaboards come in a range of styles and to suit a range of budgets.
Maldives Diving – Fast Facts
- Weather: Hot, tropical climate. Temperature rarely drops below 25ºC. Most rain comes in June and July.
- Water Temperature: 26º – 31ºC (year-round average)
- Visibility: 27 metres (year-round average)
- How to get there: There are non-stop flights from the UK, Italy, Germany and Austria. Flights from Athens to Male connect in United Arab Emirates or Qatar.
- Cost: Each dive from a resort-based dive centre costs around USD $50 (the price depends on the resort). Liveaboard vacations start from around USD $1,200 for a 7-day cruise, including accommodation, meals and 2 or 3 dives per day.
- Currency: Rufiyaa (Rf), but US Dollars are widely accepted at resorts and on liveaboards, as are major credit cards.
- Time Zone: GMT + 5
- Language: Dhivehi is the local Maldivian language, but English is spoken by almost all dive guides. Many guides also speak German, Italian and French.