The Best Diving in the Maldives

Beach and reef

Head to the Maldives to experience the sunny side of life, and drift among its channels where you’ll encounter gentle manta rays and gigantic whale sharks. Alternatively, patrol its colorful reefs to find freaky frogfish and vibrant nudibranches. Whether you like large pelagics or macro critters, the Maldives has a dive for you.

The Maldives in Pictures

A collection of photos of the Maldives both over- and underwater.

Marine Life in the Maldives

Marine Life in the Maldives varies dramatically depending on the location and time of year. Its known for manta and shark action as well as schooling fish and big pelagics. Multi-colored coral reefs and over 2,000 species of reef fish are also found in this diverse archipelago, including the tropic-colored fish, like parrot fish, butterfly fish, lionfish, and others.

Ari Atoll, one of the most visited destinations in the Maldives, hosts some of the best dives of the country. Its reefs are vivid and healthy. In the south, around Sun Island whale sharks are spotted regularly and manta rays appear throughout the west coast during the dry season. Grey reef, whitetip and nurse sharks are also found on many dives.

Male Atoll, consisting of North Male and South Male, is a popular and easily accessible place to do some great diving. Multi-colored reefs, manta feeding stations, and shipwrecks are just a few of the things to be seen in this area.

Baa Atoll, in the west, has some of the most remarkable manta ray experiences you can imagine. All sorts of feeding activity happen during the wet season.

In the deep south, around Formula, you are ensured to encounter big pelagics like tiger and hammerhead sharks during the dry season.

Dive Conditions in the Maldives

The Maldives is a chain of 26 atolls dotted in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Indian and Sri Lankan coasts. Because of the channels, passages, and pinnacles of rock between the atolls, there are currents throughout the Maldives, bringing rich nutrients and attracting an abundance of life. Most dives are, therefore, drift dives and are suitable for beginners and advanced divers.

If you stay in a resort on one of the many islands, most diving is done on Dhonis – traditional Maldivian fishing boats. If you want to experience all the diversity of the Maldives, though, then a liveaboard is the way to go. Generally, the northern atolls have good reefs and better macro life, while the southern areas are where all the shark action is. Since the atolls cover a large area, liveaboard diving will give you the opportunity to see more of what the Maldives has to offer.

Thillas are deeply submerged reefs found in the midst of the atolls whose depths can start at 80m and rise to 15 and 5m shy of the surface. Commonly, Thillas will have a cave or overhang system at 15-20m which makes for outstanding diving. Just as impressive are the kandus, or the broad channels between the atolls. These channels vary in depth and breadth and diving in the kandus brings you into contact with both pelagic fish and reef life.

The Maldives are famed for their turquoise lagoons. Each island has its own lagoon which and they are mostly shallow and sandy. They are also protected from currents making them an excellent place to learn to dive.

Best Time to Dive in the Maldives

Diving is possible all year round in the Maldives. Being just north of the equator, it’s tropical and hot all year round, with a wet and a dry season. The wet season is June to November and the dry season is December to May, with the best time for diving being January to April. Plankton blooms in May can reduce visibility but bring out the big boys and there is a good chance of seeing manta rays and sharks.

Air temperature is 26 to 32 C (78 to 89 F). Water temperature ranges from a pleasant 28 to 30 C ( 82 to 86F), with the warmer temperature being between March and June.

Visibility is excellent, between 15 and 40m depending on the season. The best visibility is usually in the dry season.

There can be very strong currents in the channels and most of the dives here are drift dives

Best Dive Sites in the Maldives

Maaya Thilla (North Ari Atoll)

Maaya Thilla offers breathtaking dives with drop-offs, coral outcrops, swim-throughs, and a plethora of marine life to spot – especially in the big cave on the north side. From white-tip reef sharks to soft corals and gorgonians, Maya Thilla is a spectacular dive site.

Mushimasmengili Thilla (Center Ari Atoll)

Also known as Fish Head or Shark Thilla, this is one of the most famous dive sites in the Maldives and for good reason. Here you can ride the sometimes strong currents with grey reef sharks, big snappers, tuna and jackfish, fusiliers and giant trevallies. There are also numerous caves where all sorts of critters reside.

Sun Island (South Ari Atoll)

If its whale sharks you’re after, then Sun island is the site to dive. The Indian Ocean proper extends out from the southern shore of the island. Here, on a 5 to 10 m (15 to 30 ft) plateau is the place for an encounter with these gigantic, gentle creatures.

Hanifaru Bay (Baa Atoll UNESCO site)

In the central western Maldives lies the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO Reserve site and home to the biggest set of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. Hanifaru Bay is famed for being a nursery ground for grey sharks and a whale shark breeding ground. Reef manta ray feeding frenzies, a sight to behold, can also be observed here at the right time, between May and December. The reefs in this area support a diverse range of sea life including around 250 species of both stony and soft coral, and 1,200 or so reef fish.

Fuvahmulah (Deep South)

For some quieter, wilder diving the deep south atolls are the place to dive. The Deep South is considered anywhere South of Male with the star of the show being the Fuvahmulah Atoll. A tiny single-island atoll in the middle of the ocean, it is a unique dive site that attracts pelagics and is a tiger shark sanctuary. It’s the best place to see these magnificent macropredators as well as hammerheads, silky sharks, thresher sharks whale sharks, oceanic white tips, and large pelagic fish.

Aquarium (North Male Atoll)

The well-named and sheltered Aquarium dive site is on Huravalhi island and is suitable for beginners and advanced alike. With its coral outcrops and a nice drop-off, marine life is abundant. Here you will see schooling blue striped snappers, octopus, hawksbill turtles, Napoleon wrasse, butterfly fish, oriental sweetlips and so much more. It’s also where the guitar sharks hang out and one of the best sites in the Maldives for night dives.

Alimatha Resort House Reef, Vaavu Atoll

On the eastern edge of the Maldives lies the Vaavu Atoll, home to Alimatha Island and its sublime reefs. As house reefs go, it doesn’t get much better than this. This stunning dive location is on the governmental list of protected dive sites. Sea life abounds and you are sure to spot some grey nurse sharks, plenty of stingrays and a multitude of reef fish and coral. A sublime site for night dives.

Broken Rock, South Ari Atoll

The unique topography of Broken Rock makes it one of the most well-known dive sites in the South Ari Atoll. The name hails from a split in the reef that forms a canyon and is adorned with large fan coral, gorgonians and bright-colored sponges. Expect to see Napoleon wrasse, turtles, lion and scorpion fish, and various soft coral. Look out for the many species of moray eel that can be found lurking in the holes and crevasses of the canyon walls.

Kuda Rah Thila, South Ari Atoll

Another top dive spot in the Maldives is on the South Ari Atoll. This small reef has a multitude of vibrant soft corals, some overhangs overflowing with yellow daisy coral and an awesome archway, suitable for intermediate divers. The resident schooling blue striped snapper fish, turtles, and Napoleon wrasse will keep you entertained and, if you are lucky, a white tipped reef shark or two might show up.

Five Rocks, South Ari Atoll

Five Rocks, as the name suggests, is the site of five massive pieces of a pinnacle that have been split over time. Like five fingers protruding from the sandy floor, its a chosen destination for photographers wanting to capture the dramatic topography. Plenty of overhangs and strong ocean currents bring out the reef fish including red-tooth triggerfish and stingray while white-tip reef sharks cruise the deeper slopes of the 5 rocks. Swirling above in the blue are jackfish and fusiliers by the hundreds and the pinnacles are covered in sponges and soft coral.

Miyaru Kandu, Felidhoo Atoll

This protected area consists of a deep Kandu (channel) where you will meet much marine life and strong currents. The site abounds with caves lined with black and whip coral, reclusive moray eel, great groupers, and a myriad glassfish. During monsoon season there is a very good chance of spotting grey reef sharks, hammerheads and a large variety of fish just at the channel’s edge. In fact, Miyaru means “shark” in the local Dhihevi language.

Kuredu Express, Lhaviyani Atoll

North of the capital, Male, lies the Lhaviyanio Atoll and Kuredu Express is one of its most famous dive sites. The great terraces descend to a sandy bottom and the strong currents ensure a glut of ocean life such as grey reef sharks, ray, schooling barracuda and jackfish, large tuna, collared butterfly fish, humpback snappers, and leaf fish to name just a few.

How to Get to the Maldives

It’s easy to fly into the capital Male, from where you can take a speedboat, a seaplane or a domestic plane to the various islands. The international and domestic airport is actually on Hulhule Island, a quick ferry or car ride away from Male city. Liveaboards normally depart from this island, but to the dive the deep south you might need to take an internal flight to your liveaboard.

Good to Know

The Maldives archipelago is the world’s lowest country and is situated on the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, a huge underwater mountain range in the Indian Ocean. It is a popular and luxurious tourist destination among honeymooners and scuba divers. Seaplanes are the best, and sometimes only, way to get around the Maldives.

Each island has its own resort and the majority of these have Diving services. For a more authentic experience away from the resort life, budget-friendly fishermen’s guest houses are available on some islands.

The Maldives also offers good surfing. There is more than enough swell from April to October to keep surfers happy.

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