Everything you need to know about scuba diving in the Maldives
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The Maldives is an archipelago comprising some 1,200 islands, only about 200 of which are inhabited. With 26 atolls, coral reefs and coral islands in the archipelago, it’s no wonder this remote destination in the Arabian Sea is famous for its world-class scuba diving.
Ready to plan that bucket-list trip to the Maldives? Visit TPG’s Maldives destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while you’re there.
Diving is an incredible way to see an entirely different world, and it’s one of those skills I think every traveler should have in their back pocket — if they’re comfortable diving deep below the surface of the sea, that is. There’s an incredible sense of calm that washes over you once you’re floating at least 10 feet down, seeing environments and wildlife that your land-loving friends will never know. Plus, diving is a great activity for travelers who enjoy more active vacations, rather than relaxing in a lounge chair by the pool all day.
Here’s what you need to know about diving in the Maldives, including when and where to go, what you’ll see and where you should stay for the experience.
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When to dive in the Maldives
The Maldives have a tropical climate, and water temperatures range from 80 to 86 degrees year-round, making the diving good nearly any time of year. That said, the absolute best time to visit the Maldives for a scuba trip are between the months of January and April, when the weather is dry and warm and visibility is best.
May through July are often considered the months when the weather is most unsettled and divers could encounter reduced visibility. The period between August and November is the best time of year to see “big” sea creatures such as manta rays and whale sharks, because of an increase in plankton in the water due to currents caused by the southwest monsoon.
In December, divers can expect a fair amount of wind and rain, possibly affecting visibility.
Related: Best times to visit the Maldives
The Maldives is host to a variety of diverse dive environments, including reef dives, drift dives and wrecks that provide opportunities for divers at any skill level.
Diving in and around the atolls, you’ll find rock pinnacles, called thila, as well as underwater structures such as caverns, overhangs and swim-throughs. Wreck diving in the Maldives is usually less about the wreck itself and more about the artificial reefs that have formed around the sunken structures.
There are a number of channels in the Maldives, too, where the atolls meet the ocean. Because of the currents that run through these areas, they are the perfect spot for drift dives where the strong currents bring in larger marine life like sharks, tuna and mantas.
Lastly, you’ll find lagoon environments on the interior of the atolls. They’re mostly protected from the current and are usually fairly shallow, making them good locations for practice dives and diving classes.
Where to dive in the Maldives
There are dozens and dozens of dive sites in the Maldives, these are a few of our favorites:
Known for its clear blue waters and accessibility, the Ari Atoll is home to many of the best dive sites in the Maldives. Maaya Thila, for example, located on the southern end of the atoll, consistently ranks as one of the best sites in the area. The pinnacle starts about 20 feet deep and stretches down to 100 feet, and the area is home to marine life such as barracuda, stingrays and more. Those diving after sundown will likely get to experience a reef shark feeding frenzy.
The Baa Atoll is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with dive sites for both beginners and advanced divers. Divers should have the opportunity to see the ever-popular manta rays and whale sharks, as well as marvel in the atoll’s overhangs and swim-throughs.
The Dhonfanu Thila site is one popular swim-through. Around 82 feet deep, divers can enter the narrow swim-through and ascend to its exit just under 60 feet below the ocean’s surface. Hanifaru Bay is one of the few places in the world where whale sharks congregate to mate and where divers can dive with masses of manta rays.
This particular atoll is known for the rare shark species that frequent the area. Lucky divers may have a chance to encounter tiger sharks, thresher sharks, whale sharks and even hammerheads.
Being one of the Maldives’ most southerly atolls, many of the dive sites here are still being explored and are better suited for more advanced divers.
The Male Atoll is divided into two sections: the North Male Atoll and the South Male Atoll. The North Male Atoll is one of the most visited dive areas in the country, while the South Male Atoll tends to be slightly less trafficked.
On the South Male Atoll you’ll find Cocoa Thila, a pinnacle that stretches over 1,000 feet long and nearly 100 feet deep. Due to the area’s strong currents, this site is better suited for experienced divers but offers a wide variety of marine life.
The Vaavu Atoll offers excellent channel diving for divers of all levels. One of the most notable sites in the atoll is Fotteyo Kandu, a channel with a number of large overhangs and caves (often referred to as one of the best dive sites in the world).
For a more in-depth look at dive sites in the Maldives, check out the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) travel site.
What you’ll see
Due to the consistent water temperatures, larger marine animals such as turtles, reef sharks, mantas and whale sharks can be found throughout the year. In fact, spotting many of these (somewhat) elusive creatures is usually more dependent on factors like the tide, sunrise and sunset.
Here’s a calendar from PADI that indicates the best viewing times for many of the popular marine life:
Basically, you’re likely to see common dolphins; turtles (hawksbill and loggerheads); manta and eagle rays; and whitetip reef sharks every month of the year.
Hammerhead sharks are most likely to be seen between December and April, with some sightings possible between May and November. Leopard sharks can be seen every month except June and July.
Your best chance of seeing whale sharks is between February and November, and stonefish sightings are possible between December and April.
The best Maldives resorts for diving
With over 130 resorts to chose from, there’s no shortage of places to stay in the Maldives. But not all of the hotels cater to divers, so you’ll need to plan accordingly.
Popular resorts with dive packages include properties like Oblu by Atmosphere at Helengeli, the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa and Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru. The good news is there are accommodations to fit nearly any budget, as these dive resorts from the super basic (from $150 per night) to the extremely extravagant (costing upwards of $5,000 per night).
Even if the resort you chose doesn’t provide diving opportunities, you should be able to arrange dive excursions through nearby resorts and dive shops.
Liveaboard dive vessels
You may also choose to stay on a liveaboard dive vessel during your trip. Liveaboards offer divers the ability to maximize their time below the surface and to experience more remote locations that aren’t accessible as day trips.
Well-rated liveaboards include the Ocean Divine, Nautilus One and Maldives Grandezza. Depending on the boat, you can expect to pay anywhere from $150 per day to over $1,200 per day.
While this might sound expensive, consider that traveling around the different islands in the Maldives can get quite expensive given the distances and modes of travel, including seaplane and speedboat. If you’d like to visit a variety of dive sites and travel to more remote areas, a liveaboard is the way to go.
Where to stay with points
There’s no question that visiting the Maldives is an expensive endeavor — whether you’re paying cash, using travel rewards or doing a combination. Luckily, there are plenty of chain hotels to choose from where you can use points to help offset the cost of your trip, including hotels from Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and IHG.
There are, of course, plenty of nonchain hotels, too.
If you’d rather book with an independent hotel, consider using a card with a purchase eraser like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Or, take advantage of a pay-with-points redemption option like those you’ll find on the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Snorkeling, fishing and surfing in the maldives
Much like the dive sites in the area, some snorkeling excursions can be done right from the shore, while others require a boat ride.
If you’re visiting the Maldives and want to do a lot of snorkeling, be sure to choose your accommodation accordingly because not all of the islands in the Maldives have easy access to snorkeling. The W Maldives is one good choice, as it’s known for its house reef and you can snorkel right from your villa.
Surfers will also find a lot of fantastic opportunities to catch a wave (or 10). The Huvadhoo Atoll is known as the spot with the best surf conditions. Although conditions will vary throughout the archipelago depending on the time of year, in general, surf conditions are best April through October.
Lastly, the Maldives is known as one of the best big game fishing destinations in the world. Thankfully, the country enforces strict fishing regulations in order to maintain the fish populations that support the livelihood of the locals, but there’s still an abundance of fishing charters and tour operators to take tourists out to try their hand at an impressive tuna, wahoo, barracuda or swordfish catch.
Regardless of what your favorite activity might be, if you do decide to plan a trip to the Maldives, there’s no doubt you’ll fall in love with this incredible island nation.
Featured image by Lotus_studio/Shutterstock.
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