The Maldives are (or should be) on every diver’s to-do list. With its perfect white sand beaches, warm water, and stunning marine life, it is absolutely one of the best dive vacations out there. Before you book a trip to this excellent Indian Ocean island nation, here are 5 things you should know on the best time to go, the best areas for diving, and what to expect underwater.
1. Best Times to Dive in the Maldives
The Maldives lie on the Equator and extend ±4° north and south. This location is dictated by two seasons: the warm, beautiful, calm season, and the warm and slightly stormier monsoon season. That is, the climate is dictated by the direction of the wind, which creates two seasons lasting 6 months each.
During “high season”, from November to May, the winds blow from east to west, which brings nice weather, very little rain, and calm seas.
During “low season”, from June to October, the winds blow from west to east, bringing more rain and choppy seas.
Keep in mind that both seasons are fairly good times to travel, and heavy rain falls only when the monsoon changes: between November and January for high season and between May and July for low season.
For the best chances of seeing the sea life that Maldives is famous for (mantas and whale sharks), travel to Ari Atoll in the west during high season and to Baa and Raa Atolls in the north in low season.
Note that when diving to see mantas and whale sharks, visibility may be low because of the plankton that attract these animals and cloud the water. However, other sea life can be seen year-round, including sharks, tunas, rays, and small, colorful animals like nudibranchs.
2. Best Diving Areas in the Maldives
Ari Atoll is the most famous area for diving, and it is quite close to the main airport. You can reach the atoll’s breathtaking resorts and beaches within 30 minutes by seaplane and enjoy the underwater world there. If you prefer to stay in a resort, I highly suggest finding a hotel in the central part of Ari Atoll, as the daily diving tours from there reach some of the most stunning dive sites in the area.
If you are feeling more adventurous, Baa and Raa Atolls are less developed and still offer amazing sea life, and if you don’t have much time to spend in the country, I suggest checking out Male Atoll, the most popular tourist destination. Most resorts in Male are easily accessible by speedboat.
By far the best diving experience is on a liveaboard, which will take you to the best dive sites throughout an atoll (or two). Sud-Ari tours in the high season are a great choice, and North Baa tours in the low season are also recommended.
3. Types of Dives
There are three main types of dive sites in the Maldives. Choosing the best dive site depends on your location, the weather conditions, the current, and your experience level.
Kandus (or Channels)
Kandus are the most famous type of dive site. The Maldives are an archipelago of around 1,200 islands, which are grouped together in atolls. Inside an atoll, the maximum depth is approximately 40 meters. But, as soon as you leave the atoll, you find yourself smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean and the depth drops radically.
When the current changes direction, water flows either into or out of the atoll, creating “incoming” or “outgoing” currents. At the atoll borders, there may be an island or a channel between two islands where the water flows through, which are the kandu. In these drift dives, depending on the current, you either start on the edge of the atoll and drift in with incoming current or start inside the atoll and follow the wall with the outgoing current. Here is where you are likely to spot big pelagic fish like sharks and tuna (especially toward the edges of the channels).
Thilas (or Seamount)
The best term for describing these dive site formations is that they look like “underwater islands”. Thilas are coral formations of various sizes that emerge from the bottom, creating underwater islands. Thilas are located either inside an atoll (meaning less current and more time to explore and look at the coral and other sea life that live among it), or in the middle of a kandu, where water enters or exits the atoll. The latter thilas are typically great dive sites rich with big pelagic fish, smaller creatures, and nice overhangs full of soft coral.
Depending on the formation and depth, thilas inside the kandu can be challenging to dive because you often have to dive 20–25 meters down smack in the middle of the current. If you get washed over the thila or hit the ocean, the sea life practically disappears and you’ll have to abandon the dive and start over.
Every island has its own house reef. Depending on the location of the island, it may be a standard wall dive (if the island is inside the atoll) or on a kandu (if the island is toward the edge of the atoll).
House reefs may be beautiful or boring, depending on the island. There are probably better chances of a good house reef dive toward the outskirts of the atoll, but read the reviews and contact the local dive centers for more information.
Besides the three main dive site types, lagoons are not really dive sites but they are often used for training because they are protected from the current. Most of the islands have a lagoon that is created between the sandy island and the external reef. Some are larger than others, but they usually are all sandy and lack marine life.
4. Diving Conditions
The reason why the Maldives are so perfect for diving is because they sit in the middle of the Indian Ocean and are characterized by strong and steady currents, which bring nutrients that help corals grow and lots of food for small fish to eat. These attract the big pelagic fish, and so you get the full range of a healthy food chain.
Diving in a thila that is exposed to the current clearly shows the difference between the side where the current hits and that shielded from the current. Sea life is found where the current hits and the magic happens. This is where you want to dive or at least start your dive.
All dives are shallow. In the Maldives, dives are limited to about 30 meters, and the maximum depth inside the atoll is only about 40–45 meters.
5. Dive Operators
Day-to-day operations differ among dive centers, but some characteristics are common in all decent resorts.
The Maldives is where you go to be pampered. Dive centers usually organize two to three dives a day. Some operators use speedboats to reach distant dive sites, but most of the diving is done on Dhoni, the local, traditional, and comfortable Maldivian boat.
Dhoni are wooden boats about 10 meters in length that sail slowly but surely in the warm waters of the Maldives. The whole lower deck is reserved for the dive area, where divers or staff keep and prepare equipment and where you drop into the water. The upper deck is for relaxing. It can take up to 1 hour to reach a dive site, but these boats are perfect for the ride: get your tan on and grab a refreshing drink.
Before every dive, the guide checks the current and then the group drops in. This is usually the only moment where you need to be careful and do things quickly: as I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to drift too far and miss the dive site! Otherwise, the journey is a relaxing one — enjoy the incredible underwater landscape and have a great time.
When you resurface from your dive, the crew will drop you a ladder and help you back up onto the Dhoni. Delicious fresh fruit is usually served on the trip back, and it’s practically heaven.
White sand, colorful marine life, and strong currents await you in the Maldives, a must-see as it hosts some of the best dive sites in the world. Remember to choose locations and dates that boost your chances of diving with whale sharks and mantas, as these are some of the most amazing creatures you’ll ever see underwater.