Boasting whale sharks, manta rays and superb liveaboards, the 26 paradisiacal atolls of the Maldives offer scuba divers an unforgettable experience.
Most of the diving in this paradisiacal island nation is defined by pinnacles (thila) and channels (kandu). These are created by the unique topography of the atolls. Pelagic marine life is enticed through the current-swept channels and congregates around the coral-lined pinnacles. Whale sharks, manta rays, eagle rays and hammerheads are frequent visitors.
Because of the geographical nature of the 26 atolls, most divers find liveaboards are a necessity in order to access the best of the country’s sites.
When to Dive in the Maldives
Diving in the Maldives is possible year-round with little variation in conditions. However, if you want to find the perfect conditions, travel between February and April.
Northeast Monsoon - Dry Season
From December to May, the northeast monsoon brings blue skies and a lack of wind. This is the best time of year in terms of visibility, which can often reach more than 30 meters on the eastern sides of the atolls. Because of current movement, it’s better to dive the western atolls during these months as well. Manta rays tend to favor the west side of the atolls and reef sharks are found on the east side during the northeast monsoon. Finally, December to May sees the strongest currents of the year.
Southwest Monsoon - Rainy Season
From June to November, the currents reverse themselves. During this time of year, you’ll find the best diving conditions in the eastern atolls and on the western side of the atolls. This is also the rainy season and you can expect rougher seas and higher winds. However, you’ll still enjoy long periods of sunny skies each day.
Keep in mind that the seasons are becoming less predictable every year. Furthermore, marine life sightings in the Maldives do not seem to be affected by seasonal changes.
Where to Dive in the Maldives
Diving is possible in nearly every Maldivian atoll. However, the most popular regions for scuba divers are the Ari, Vaavu, Male and Addu Atolls.
Known for its luxurious liveaboards, whale shark and manta ray encounters, the Ari Atoll offers a magnificent introduction to diving in the Maldives.
North Malé Atoll
As the most accessible atoll in the Maldives, the North Malé Atoll is popular among scuba divers and famous for its variety of underwater landscapes.
South Malé Atoll
Kandus, or channels, are the predominant underwater feature in the South Malé Atoll, attracting sizeable schools of fish and a ton of pelagic action.
The undevelopment paradise known as Vaavu Atoll features not only prolific marine life but also the longest, unbroken barrier reef in the Maldives.
With vibrant reefs, shipwrecks and high-speed channels, Lhaviyani Atoll has earned its position as one of the top Maldivian atolls for scuba divers.
Raa Atoll is considered to have the most colorful underwater environment in the Maldives due to its shallow, soft coral-covered thilas, or pinnacles.
Home to the famous Hanifaru Lagoon, hundreds of manta rays and whale sharks regularly descend on Baa Atoll to mass feed in a spectacular display.
Located in the far southern region of the Maldives, Gaafu is the second largest atoll and home to steep drop-offs and caves waiting to be explored.
Breathtaking above and below the water, Addu Atoll features both pelagic-filled drifts as well as brilliant, turquoise lagoons, perfect for beginners.
Famous for its adrenalin-inducing hammerhead dive, the pinnacles of Rasdhoo Atoll are magnets for both pelagic life and adventurous scuba divers.
Dive Sites in the Maldives
The Maldives are packed with breathtaking sites, making it difficult to pick a few for this list. No matter where you find yourself, you are sure to have an amazing underwater experience.
Among the most popular sites are Broken Rock and Kudarah Thila in South Ari Atoll. Both feature fascinating swim throughs. There are also Okobe and Kandooma Thila in the Male Atolls which are famous for their gorgeous pinnacles and prolific marine life. Finally, Fotteyo Kandu in Vaavu Atoll and Kuredu Express in Lhaviyani Atoll are worth going out of your way for. These channels offer amazing pelagic encounters.
Snorkeling in the Maldives
Because of the clear visibility in the Maldives, snorkelers are treated to dazzling displays. Whereas divers focus on pinnacles and channels, snorkelers will want to stay inside the protected island lagoons. It’s also possible to take advantage of manta ray and whale shark excursions from above.
What to See in the Maldives
The Maldives are as famous for their pelagic marine life as they are for their luxurious liveaboards. Divers can look forward to encounters with whale sharks and mantas which are often found in the channels between islands. Hammerheads can be found near many of the thilas, especially in Rasdhoo Atoll. To round out the pelagic species, eagle rays and reef sharks are common visitors to many of the country’s dive sites.
There’s much to love about the reef life in the Maldives too. Giant moray eels, Napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, sweetlips and jacks regularly don dive reports from the area.