Diving in the Maldives- tips you should know before planning a trip there

Diving in the Maldives- tips you should know before planning a trip there

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If you open a satellite map of the Indian Ocean and look at its northern part, a bit left from India, you will see them- a chain of 26 atolls in the deep ocean blue. They are the Maldives- a dreamland for many tourists and more adventurous travelers. Here you can find another stunning tropical paradise, one of the best in the world. But let’s go diving in the Maldives to see what is below the blue surface!

About the Maldives

A long underwater mountain rises from the depths of the Indian Ocean called Chagos-Laccadive Ridge. It partially reaches the surface like a plateau, forming islands, islets, and sandbars, grouped in three archipelagos- Laccadives, Maldives, and Chagos. Of them, the Maldives is the largest one.

The Maldives consists of 1192 tiny pieces of land, organized in 26 atolls in a long double chain. This chain is about 871 km (541 miles) long, and 130 km (81 miles) wide. This is the lowest country in the world, with the highest altitude of 1,5 m (4.11 ft).

It is how most of the Maldives look like from above
It is how most of the Maldives look like from above

The atolls

They are coral rings of sandbars, islands, islets, and shoals, with a large shallow lagoon in the middle. Most of them are sparsely populated, and many pieces of these atolls are uninhabited. The vast spaces of shallow, crystal clear waters, the deep blue sky, and the tiny lands with tropical vegetation create fantastic heavenly landscapes.

But what is underwater? This landscape creates a temptation to dive under the surface. What we can discover there?

The underwater world of the Maldives

This is a coral land, an archipelago of atolls. So, you can expect a coral-reef type of marine wildlife. And indeed, here you can see some of the richest coral ecosystems in the world. Unfortunately, it used to be rich, but due to global warming and its consequences, a part of the corals have died, and the ecosystem in such places is damaged. Anyway, there are still a lot of places where the original underwater landscape is still preserved.

So, here you can see a lot of marine creatures. Besides the diverse colors and shapes of life in the fields of coral, here you can also see whale sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins, reef sharks, moray eels, and more.

Plenty of colors underwater
Plenty of colors underwater

Diving in the Maldives

If you go to the Maldives, you would enjoy experiences like walking in shallow waters as in “Interstellar” (but of course, much sunnier, brighter, and happier). You would enjoy swimming, relaxing, and even snorkeling in the crystal clear water of the spectacular beaches. And you would also enjoy the exotic local culture, food, and customs. But no journey to the Maldives would be full if you don’t dive into the fantastic underwater world.

You can go diving in the Maldives in two ways. The first way is to arrange a day scuba diving trip from your place to stay to certain diving spots in the area. And the second way is joining a liveaboard tour.

A short scuba diving tour is cheaper but with limited opportunities. You can go diving by boats that a resort or diving center provides, or just go snorkeling in the nearby shallow waters.
Liveaboard is more expensive but allows you to visit many more diving spots on an adventurous expedition. By joining such a tour, you can reach some really pristine and remote places, somewhere “at the end of the world”.

Diving spots in the Maldives

There are hundreds of diving spots in the Maldives. They can be divided into three types, distributed around the whole archipelago.

Types of diving spots

The diving spots in the Maldives differ by the type of underwater terrain and their location.

  • Kandu channels. These are channels that connect the interior of the atolls with the outer ocean. They are characterized by strong currents and are rich in marine creatures that prefer moving water. Usually, they are not deeper than 30 m.
  • Thilas and Giris. These are pinnacles that rise inside the atolls, usually surrounded by rich coral fields full of marine wildlife. Here the waters are calm, so the wildlife is different.
  • Farus. These are other types of reefs at the outer side of the atolls, on the steep slopes toward the ocean abyss. They are also rich in marine wildlife, but also they provide a fantastic, otherworldly experience like “flying” over the abyss.
Deep and shallow waters
Deep and shallow waters

Diving areas in the Maldives

All of these diving spots can be found around the whole archipelago- from the northernmost Ihavandhippolhu Atoll to the southernmost Addu Atoll, and can be divided into three areas- Northern, Central, and Southern (although this division is only for reference, not geographically distinctive). Respectively, there are resorts and diving centers in each of these areas, starting points to the nearby diving spots.

Find diving spots on the map!

Central Maldives

This is the most visited part of the Maldives because it is around the capital Male. It consists of three parts: Kaafu (the eastern part, with North Male and South Male atolls), the large Ari Atoll in the west, and the smaller Vaavu (Felidhu), Nilandhe, Faafu, Meemu, and Rasdhoo (in the north) atolls.

Here are the most popular diving spots in the Maldives, and in general, this is the most touristy area in the country, with most resorts, liveaboards, and other types of tours.

Diving spots in Kaafu

These are the nearest spots to the capital Male, so they are easily accessible from there. The most beautiful and impressive of them are Kandooma Thila, Banana Reef, Cocoa Thila, Rainbow Reef, Embudhoo Kandu, Nassimo Thila, as well as the mysterious Victory Wreck.

Diving spots in Ari

Ari is one of the largest atolls in the Maldives. Here you can find the most popular diving spots in the whole archipelago, crowned by the famous Maaya Thila, one of the Top 10 dive sites in the world. Besides it, the other prominent diving spots include Fish Head, Bathala Thila, Broken Rock, Five Rocks, Manta Point, Kuda Giri Wreck, and Sun Island.

Other diving spots in Central Maldives

The other, additional islands in the central part of the Maldives also include some famous diving spots, destinations for many cruises, and liveaboards. In Vavau (Felidhu), you can enjoy Alimatha Jetty, Miyaru Kandu, and Fotteyo Kandu.

And in the small Rasdhoo Atoll, you should visit Hammerhead Point, where you can meet the weird hammerhead sharks. The other atolls- Nilandhe, Faafu, and Meemo also offer some less popular, but still very spectacular diving spots.

Meet a Manta Ray
Meet a Manta Ray

Northern Maldives

This territory includes all the atolls that are north of Kaafu and Ari (with Rasdhu), a bit separated from the central atolls. It is more remote and less-visited due to the longer distance from the capital Male. The northern atolls consist of Lhaviyani, Baa, Raa, Noonu, the northernmost Ihavandhippolhu, and a few smaller atolls and islands.

The most popular of them is Baa Atoll. Although it is far less visited than Ari and Male, it is still more touristy than the other atolls. Here you can enjoy places like Hanifaru Bay (a protected area with restrictions for diving), the weird terrain of Maavaru Kandu, Dhonfanu Thila, and more.

The other atolls are even more remote and offbeat, that’s why they are worth visiting for those who seek adventures. Fenfushi Giri in Raa Atoll is a fantastic pinnacle that sometimes appears over the water surface. In Noonu Atoll, Orimas Thila is the best place to see sharks, and Christmas Rock is a feast of fish on an otherworldly terrain.

Southern Maldives

Like the northern atolls, Southern Maldives is much less touristy and remote. Two of the atolls geographically are closer to the central part of the archipelago- Laamu, and Thaa but are still less visited by most of the tours and liveaboards. And the rest of them, located south of the “double chain” are single atolls, more separated from each other.

In Thaa Atoll, the most spectacular diving spots are 7-Up, and the points with stronger currents are Gorgonian Garden and Brand’s Hatch. Fushi Kandu in Laamu Atoll is an amazing channel because it is shallower than most of the other channels. If you are looking for sharks, Vadhoo Thila and Maarenhaa Kandu offer some of the best opportunities in the whole Maldives.

Further south, we cross the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere. Here is the extreme South of the Maldives. The small Fuvahmulah Atoll is also called “Shark Island”, and is another great place to see these creatures. Finally, Addu Atoll is the last one. Here is the biggest wreck in the country, called British Loyalty- a ship, torpedoed during WW2, as well as a few more amazing marine wildlife spots.

Colors and shapes from a coral reef
Colors and shapes from a coral reef

Diving resorts and centers in the Maldives

So, a cheaper way to explore some of these fantastic places is to choose an atoll and stay there. There are resorts, bungalows, homestays, and other accommodation places on every atoll. And many of them provide local boat tours to the nearby diving spots. The problem is that their tours are short and only within the atoll that you stay (or just a part of it, if the atoll is too large).

Most of the places to stay are quite expensive. This is the reality- the Maldives is supposed to be a destination for rich people looking for luxurious vacations. But if you are a budget traveler, you still can find something. Although your place to stay will be not so special, after all, your goal is nature, not the bed in the room.

Check Maldives accommodation on Agoda!

Check Maldives accommodation on Booking!

But, if you want to try more diving spots in different atolls, you have to move from one resort or city to another. However, a much better (although more expensive) way is to join a liveaboard tour that will guide you to various places in a well-designed itinerary.

Liveaboards in the Maldives

There are a lot of liveaboard tours in the Maldives. Currently, there are 47 boats that you can find in the Liveaboard search engine. Most of them offer tours during the whole year, and most of them are focused on the central part of the archipelago. But you still can find liveaboard tours that can guide you to the extreme north or south, and some of the remotest diving spots in the country.

The best liveaboard tours in the Maldives

How to choose which liveaboard tour is the best for you? Usually, we look at the boat design (what the boat offers for the passengers) and the service quality, as well as the safety. But another important feature is the route- where the boat would guide you.

Do you want to enjoy luxury like a king, but visit only a few places around Male? Or do you want to reach the remotest and most adventurous spots, but by a boat with lower quality? So, here we try to identify the best balanced liveaboard boats in the Maldives.

Emperor Explorer Liveaboard

If your goal is first to explore the central part of the Maldives, your best choice is a boat from the “Emperor” family. It includes Explorer, Serenity, Leo, Voyager, Atoll, and Virgo. All of them offer a certain route around the Central Maldives, called “Best of the Maldives”, with Male as starting and ending point. This route includes North and South Male, Ari, Vavau, and Rasdhoo atolls, and is really focusing on the best diving spots there.

Let’s focus on one of the “Emperors”- Emperor Explorer as an example. It is a luxury yacht with 13 cabins for 26 guests. There are a lot of social and dining areas- an open-air deck terrace, a saloon with TV and sofas, and an al-fresco dining area. In addition, it has all the necessary spots for diving activities preparations.

Emperor Explorer
Emperor Explorer

Besides the “Best of the Maldives” itinerary, the “Emperors” also offer an itinerary to the northern islands, called “Hanifaru & North”. And both journeys are combined with high-quality service.

Check for availabilities in Emperor Explorer boat!

Eco Blue Liveaboard

This boat’s name is not randomly chosen. The whole service on Eco Blue is focused on eco-preserving. Drinking water is produced onboard from the ocean, you will also use eco-friendly shampoo and biodegradable bamboo straws.

It is a luxury yacht with 11 cabins for 20 guests. Similar to the other boats, it has a nice open-air deck, a dining room, and a lounge with entertainment.

Eco Blue
Eco Blue

Eco Blue offers various itineraries across the whole archipelago. It can guide you around the central atolls, and around the northern atolls (usually during summer). But the longest and most adventurous tour is to the extreme south (“Deep South” route), connecting the southernmost city of Gan to Male. A special offer is the “Family Cruise with Kids”, offering a lot of fun activities besides diving.

Check for availabilities in Eco Blue boat!

Carpe Diem liveaboard and its sisters

These are three boats of a series owned by Carpe Diem Maldives Pvt Ltd., a company that also owns Carpe Diem Beach Resort and proceeds to develop. They offer itineraries around the whole archipelago of the Maldives, and their three boats are of the highest quality in design and service.

Carpe Diem is their first boat. It is a Flagship yacht with 10 cabins on three decks, and its social areas are also spread in the same decks. Carpe Vita is the second boat, starting its service in 2011. It is quite similar to its sister but just slightly larger. And Carpe Novo is the newest and the largest of the Carpe Diem fleet, offering 12 cabins for 22 people.

Carpe Diem
Carpe Diem

All of the three boats travel to the best diving spots in the Maldives, from the far North to the far South, so you have plenty of choices. Probably the “Pearl in the Crown” is the Carpe Novo’s Deep South itinerary, leading you to meet Manta Rays, Hammerheads, and Eagle Rays. And all of them are focused on the perfect luxurious quality at the lowest possible price.

Check for availabilities in Carpe Diem boat!

Scubaspa liveaboards

This is another amazing fleet, consisting of two boats- Scubaspa Yin and Scubaspa Yang, following the well-known Chinese symbol. These boats are luxury yachts, designed like “floating resorts”. This is because their goal is not only a normal liveaboard tour for divers but also a cruise for non-divers.

The Scubaspa sisters are larger than the average liveaboard boats and provide 10 cabins and 9 suites for 40 guests (divers and non-divers). As their name suggests, they are focused not only on diving, but also on various kinds of spa activities- spa treatments, yoga, gym, jacuzzi, and more. They also have a restaurant, a BBQ area, a social area, and a well-equipped place for diving preparations. In addition, they are also diving centers, providing PADI diving courses.

Scubaspa Yang
Scubaspa Yang

The itineraries of Scubaspa are focused mainly on the Central Maldives- Ari, North & South Male, Vavau, and Rasdhoo. But in February and March, they also arrange tours to the Deep South for advanced divers.

Check for availabilities in Scuba Spa boat!

Blue Force One Liveaboard

This boat is a member of another liveaboard fleet. While Blue Force Two and Three float in the Red Sea, Blue Force One is wandering around the Maldives, on routes around the Central and the South of the archipelago.

It is a luxury yacht with 10 cabins for 20 guests- divers and non-divers. There are three outdoor decks, two jacuzzis, a living room with a TV, and a disco room for parties. The boat also offers some additional activities like kayaking, surfing, and stand-up paddleboarding.

Blue Force One
Blue Force One

The routes of Blue Force One are focused on the Central atolls of the Maldives, so this boat can be an alternative option to many other liveaboards. But the high service quality makes Blue Force One stand above most of them.

Check for availabilities in Blue Force One boat!

Soleil 2 Liveaboard

This boat is one of the Blue “K” Safari’s fleet- Dolphin, Soleil, and Soleil 2. While Dolphin is designed mostly for fishing cruises, and Soleil is the earlier liveaboard boat, Soleil 2 provides the best liveaboard experience, with the highest quality.

Soleil 2 is a luxury yacht with 14 cabins for 28 guests. It has also an air-conditioned saloon with a TV and entertaining system, two dining areas- an indoor and an outdoor, as well as a spacious sun deck.

Soleil 2
Soleil 2

The routes of Soleil 2 guide you across the whole of the Maldives. There are itineraries for the Central atolls, as well as for the far remote northern and southern offbeat diving spots. The whole diving experience is managed by professional instructors.

Check for availabilities in Soleil 2 boat!

Sachika Liveaboard

Sachika is a beautiful yacht, designed with 10 cabins for 22 guests. It includes also a spacious air-conditioned saloon with a TV and entertaining system, a sun deck with a Jacuzzi and shower area, a lounge bar, and a restaurant. And the dive crew consists not only of professional instructors but also of Marine biologists who can turn your diving experience into a scientific “Discovery Channel” expedition.

Sachika
Sachika

The routes of Sachika are focused not only on the Central Maldives but also on the offbeat North and South. One of their best trips includes North & South Male, Vavau, Meemu, Thaa, and Laamu atolls, to the most amazing marine wildlife spots.

Check for availabilities in Sachika boat!

Theia Liveaboard

This is a liveaboard that offers some very interesting routes that most of the other boats don’t go. And this is what makes Theia more special than others. In addition, these activities are combined with luxury and high-quality service.

Theia is another luxurious yacht, designed with 10 cabins for 20 guests. It has also an outdoor dining area, a “Sky Bar” for relaxation, and an air-conditioned saloon with a TV and entertaining system.

Theia
Theia

One of Theia’s most interesting routes includes the eastern atolls of the Central Maldives, starting from Male, and guiding you to the northern atolls Baa and Lhaviyani, also to some quite off the beaten spots, turning your liveaboard tour into an exciting expedition.

Check for availabilities in Theia boat!

There are many other liveaboards in the Maldives. Some of them are with a bit lower quality, others are probably good, but they are quite new with too few reviews yet. However, the following also deserve mentioning: Nautilus Two, Ocean Divine, Ocean Sapphire, Princess Rani, and Princess Dhonkamana.

Maldives diving and exploring tips

All of the above is great, but let’s take a look at some important tips that you need to know before you go for an adventure in this stunningly beautiful paradise.

Seasons

Before planning a diving trip in the Maldives, you have to consider the season, and it depends on your preferences.

There are two seasons in the Maldives: dry and wet. The dry season is from November to April, and the wet season- is from April to November. Both of them have pros and cons.

The weather during the dry season is better, rains are rare, and the transparency of the water is higher. However, this is the high season, many cities and resorts are more crowded, and the prices are higher too.

On contrary, the wet season is rainier, sometimes with short thunderstorms. Currents and winds are stronger, and there are some higher swells good for surfing. Water is a bit less transparent, but marine wildlife is richer. Also, prices are a bit lower and in general, there are fewer people.

Diving skill requirements

Here, in the Maldives, you can find everything for everyone who wants to go diving. Some diving spots are proper for everybody, but other spots are only for advanced scuba divers. Since the Maldives are a world-class diving destination, here you can find a lot of diving centers, offering courses and PADI certification.

Concerning the liveaboards, some of the tours require PADI certificates, while others allow all types of passengers, including non-divers. On such liveaboards who will dive and who not depends on the diving spot- is it difficult or easy.

In general, all the liveaboards are accompanied by dhonis, some with zodiacs- small boats that transport scuba divers to the exact points for diving, with all the necessary diving devices and facilities. Many of them also provide Nitrox bottles (nitrogen and oxygen) for those who can use them.

Meet a turtle underwater
Meet a turtle underwater

How to reach the Maldives

The Maldives is a popular tourist destination and the visa requirements for most of the countries are tourist-friendly. If you have a valid passport more than 6 months before expiration, you can obtain a 30-days free tourist visa. For more details, take a look here.

The only traditional way to reach the Maldives is by plane. There are international flights not only to the capital Male but also to Gan from Sri Lanka. Once you arrive there, you can explore the archipelago by local ferries, by domestic flights to the main cities, by private boats (quite expensive), or by cargo boats. The alternative way is by joining a liveaboard tour.

Check for transport options to Male!

Yes, it is possible to reach the Maldives by private yacht, but it requires special permits that are quite expensive. Another option is to do it by cargo transport from India or another country. International cruises visit the Maldives too, but the archipelago is not their final goal, so they stop here just for a too short time. No other international public sea transport is currently available.

Finally, take a last look at the map. The archipelago of the Maldives looks like a small “galaxy” of islands in a vast blue “space”- the Indian Ocean. Visiting and exploring this “galaxy” is definitely not cheap, but penetrating deeper into this paradise on land and underwater can be a life-changing experience.

Take a look at this video for more impressions from the Maldives:

Check some travel books about the Maldives:

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A guide about diving in the Maldives, including the basic overview, the diving areas and their best diving spots, and the best liveaboards. A guide about diving in the Maldives, including the basic overview, the diving areas and their best diving spots, and the best liveaboards.

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