We can all picture the topside images of the Maldives with sun-drenched white sand beaches, gently lapped by the clear turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. For scuba divers however, there is another equally alluring world waiting to be discovered beneath the waters' surface.
Liveaboard diving cruises in the Maldives mean discovering dense populations of fish, exploring caves and caverns festooned with colour, investigating wrecks teeming with marine life, and diving over pristine coral landscapes as good as you will find anywhere.
Although the Maldives is a very popular destination for honeymooners, the diving is not ideally suited to absolute beginners since many of its world class sites tend to be drifts. However, those with a few dives under their belt, a reasonable amount of buoyancy control, and a level of comfort with current, can enjoy some of the most breathtaking sites imaginable.
The current that prevails at many of the dive sites visited by the liveaboards exists thanks to the unique geography of the country. The island chain is in fact a series of volcanic craters rising just above sea-level. This means that water is diverted in and around the atolls, sometimes squeezing through narrow channels and gathering pace in the form of currents. The currents bring in nutrients which nourish the abundance of marine life in this oceanic oasis such as parrotfish, snappers, Napoleon wrasse, sweetlips, tuna and jacks.
Ari Atoll is widely accepted as being the leading atoll for scuba diving in the Maldives. There are sites scattered all around Ari Atoll and they provide the full range of underwater adventure, meaning there is something for everyone. It also means that the atoll is ideally suited for liveaboard tours. The innumerable underwater pinnacles that typify the diving here are hotbeds of marine life, and you can expect to see greater fish density in this location than other parts of the country.
Often the first thing people think of when they consider a Maldives diving safari is sites full of sharks, including whale sharks and hammerheads, and manta rays and, although there are many good sites for these elsewhere in the island chain, it is Ari Atoll that can lay claim to many of the best. Maaya Thila is one of Ari's typical pinnacles surrounded by an outrageous amount of marine life. Diving here is like jumping into the most populated aquarium imaginable. Fish Head is another populous pinnacle where sharks can be present in big numbers; and if sharks are your thing then an early morning dive at Hammerhead Point simply must be on your agenda.
Other dive locations at Ari Atoll that you can visit include Broken Rock, Fesdu wreck and Kudarah Thila. For more detailed information, visit our Ari Atoll diving website section.
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North Male is an area of the Maldives that is quite sparsely populated but has a great concentration of dive sites. However, as with the country generally, the sites are well spread and best visited by liveaboard.
Sites in the area frequented on diving safaris tend to have topographical features such as caves, drop-offs and reefs. It is also one of the areas that can boast places that feature pristine coral coverage; something that thanks to El Niño cannot genuinely be said of certain other parts of the country. Manta point is a cleaning station not to be missed, while the famous Girifushi Thila is a visual assault of riotous colour and marine life.
Other sites you are likely to enjoy in North Male include The Maldives Victory, Lion's Head and Okobe Thila. For more detailed information, visit our North Male Atoll diving website section.
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South Male is considered to be one of the best diving areas in the Maldive Islands due largely to the currents which gush through the channels and therefore support an astonishing number of marine creatures.
Scuba divers do not come to South Male to look for pristine hard corals but rather to investigate colourful caves and overhangs, be surrounded by vast schools of reef fish, spot large pelagic fish and marvel at the variety of colourful soft corals. Cocoa Thila is quite typical of a South Male dive site, where you can hover in an overhang sheltered from the current and check out the rays, sharks and schools of fish enjoying the current. Guraidhoo Kandu South is a site that supports the great abundance and variety of life that makes South Male a great area to dive in.
Other sites you will explore when your liveaboard trip takes you to South Male include Kuda Giri Wreck, Vadhoo Caves and Medhu Faru. For more detailed information, visit our South Male Atoll diving website section.
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The Southern Atolls cover a vast area which is still largely unexplored. Liveaboard charters provide access to the most pristine and undisturbed spots. Each trip is a pioneering adventure, discovering new sites to add to an ever-growing list of 'must do' dive sites. This area of the Maldives is probably the best for reef shark encounters and high numbers of schooling fish.
A large variety of coral formations cover the walls of channels and submerged pinnacles which are populated by a multitude of brightly coloured reef fish. The Southern Atolls are by far the best area in the Maldivian archipelago for diving with manta rays, eagle rays and stingrays. Whale sharks can be found here all year round. Medhufushi Thila at Meemu Atoll is a perfect case in point.
Other Southern Atolls spots of interest are 'Mantas and More' at Meemu Atoll, Fushi Kandu at Laamu Atoll to see whitetip reef sharks, Bodu Miyaru Kandu and Fotteyo Kandu at Vaavu Atoll for grey reef and hammerhead sharks, and Gorgonian Garden at Thaa Atoll for a night dive. For more detailed information, visit our Southern Atolls diving website section.
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While the majority of Maldives liveaboards tend to focus on the areas around North Male, South Male and Ari Atoll, there are some excellent diving opportunities further north in the atoll chain. The northern atolls of Lhaviyani, Baa, Raa and Noonu promise a very different experience from further south and one that is considered by many to be superior.
The most obvious benefit of diving in the north is the lack of other boats. There is no competing for space here or rushing to be first on a popular site. Instead you are often the only liveaboard vessel in sight.
Underwater you can expect giris and thilas teeming fish. Most sites feature swim-throughs and overhangs sheltering schools of fish and some beautiful soft corals. You will be in one of the best places for scuba diving with manta rays if your safari takes in Baa Atoll. Elsewhere you can expect many other rays and at least one excellent shark dive. For more detailed information, visit our Northern Atolls diving website section.
Visit our liveaboards section to explore your options for Northern atoll dive trips.
In an area that can only be fully explored by liveaboard, the Far North Atolls offer peaceful almost guaranteed interactions with numerous manta rays, leopard sharks and even whitetip and blacktip reef sharks. You will dive in a variety of conditions including still, sheltered waters as well as exhilarating drift dives in current flowing around submerged boulders, blanketed with healthy hard and soft corals.
You will experience some of the most beautiful wall dives around, populated with nudibranchs, moray eels and lobsters hiding in the crevices. Brightly coloured fusiliers and myriad other schooling fish will dash around you in often magnificent visibility of up to 30 metres.
There are also opportunities for cave and wreck diving so the far north has something for everyone, particularly the more experienced divers and those who wish to stay away from the crowds. For more detailed information, visit our Far North Atoll diving website section.
Explore your options for: Maldives liveaboard cruises.
The Maldives can be dived year round, with our recommended periods being from December to May for most divers. Outside of these times, it may be difficult to get a confirmed trip departure.
Water temperatures vary from their lowest level of 26°C in February and July, to their warmest of 29°C in April, May and September; other times of the year being between these temperatures. December to March is the period that has the best visibility.
May to November is when the southwest monsoon brings rougher seas, cloud and wind, with the official rainy season being June and July (raining 3-4 hours per day). During this period the weather is less reliable but it is still possible to get periods of dry weather and calm seas.
The larger marine creatures of the Maldives are not seasonal visitors: you can see hammerheads, mantas, whale sharks, reef sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse all year round.
Whenever you decide to come, please note that liveaboard diving trips in the Maldives are very popular and you need to plan ahead to make sure you get the cruise that you want. We recommend that you book at least 6 months in advance. The best dive safari boats become fully booked many months prior to the departure date and late availability is very rare.
Great for: Large animals, drift diving, underwater photography, value-for-money, beginner and advanced divers
Not so great for: Non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 15 - 40m
Currents: Can be very strong
Surface Conditions: Usually calm but can be choppy in southwest monsoon
Water temperature: 26 - 29°C, as low as 24°C in far south
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >200
Recommended length of stay: 1 - 3 weeks
Operator websites: Werner Lau