Although the Maldives central atolls are where most liveaboard cruises focus, the abundance of marine life in the Maldives is spread throughout the country. This scattered archipelago is home to innumerable channels between atoll islands washed by nutrient-rich current. It is little wonder that an astounding array of marine life is found here enjoying such bounty. Schools of sweetlips, snappers and jacks can be seen throughout the country, hanging in the water column and facing the current
Scuba diving in the Maldives means enjoying drift dives and pinnacles, lagoons and wrecks, caverns and reef flats. Thanks to the current, you will see a proliferation of soft corals, huge gorgonian fans, bright pastel-hued sponges. Big-name encounters are likely with manta rays and whale sharks, plus various other shark species and meaty pelagics.
If you are prepared to venture a little further than 95% of all scuba divers who visit the Maldives, the rewards can be great. Firstly, you may be the only liveaboard boat in the area. At times in the busy central atolls there can be several boats, some full of snorkelling daytrippers chasing each other around, looking for a whale shark near the surface. So you may appreciate the solitude of the outer atolls. The more remote reefs also benefit from less diving and much-reduced impact from the smaller human population.
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 spots 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 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 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. [More details on these dive sites: Southern Atolls].
While the majority of Maldives liveaboards tend to focus on the central areas, there are some excellent diving opportunities further north in the Northern Atolls. 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.
The Northern Atolls are home to reefs with an amazing abundance of fish life, perhaps more numerous and larger schools than you will see diving the central atolls. Baa Atoll is famed for its manta rays and whale sharks, while Noonu Atoll is one of the best sites for grey reef sharks. [More details on these dive sites: Northern Atolls].
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. [More details on these dive sites: Far North Atolls].
Maldives Southern Atolls - If you are keen to get away from the vast majority of divers and dive boats in the Maldives, then you may wish to consider a cruise to the Maldives Southern Atolls. This will allow you to embark on a liveaboard cruise taking in such awesome and uncluttered atolls as Laamu, Meemu, Thaa and Vaa.
Normally these cruises will be for 7 nights’ duration. Some of these cruises may be accessed from Male (although these will also dive central sites) while others will involve a domestic seaplane transfer.
Maldives Northern Atolls - These tours may include atolls like North Male, Lhaviyani, Noonu and Baa Atoll, which is home to the manta-haven of Hanifaru Bay.
These liveaboard safaris are normally for 7 nights’ duration and will depart from North Male, so no internal flight is required.
The Maldives is a year-round destination with water temperatures seldom moving beyond the 26-29°C range, except in the far south where the water temperature can drop to 24°C during the northeast monsoon.
Northern Maldives Atolls trips run throughout the year except for June. The exception to this is at Hanifaru Bay, usually between August and November, when hundreds of manta rays and some whale sharks gather on the eastern side of Baa, where vast plankton fields accumulate. The area has been declared a marine reserve and current regulations permit snorkeling only for a maximum of 60 persons at a time.
Cruises to the Southern Maldives Atolls operate all year round. June and July may be a little wet with December to May considered ideal. The Far North is dived all year except for June and July, with September to November being generally considered the best time for manta rays.
Ports of Departure and How to Get There
Some liveaboard boats that venture a little south or a little north, but also dive some central dive sites, can operate in and out of the port of Male. On such cruises you will be met at Male international airport by liveaboard staff. This is true of Maldives Northern Atolls cruises.
All other tours of the Outer Atolls depart from ports remote from Male and will require an internal flight. Domestic flights can be booked with the airlines Maldivian and Flyme. The experience of a seaplane flight over the atolls is unforgettable and should be seen as a bonus rather than an inconvenience. You will also fly back to Male at the end of your vacation.
Maldives Southern Atolls liveaboard cruises depart from Medhufushi and, as there is an airport on the island, a return flight from Male to Medhufushi makes it easy to reach. Maldives Far North Atolls trips use the ports of Hanimaadhoo and sometimes Dharavandhoo. More information on: how to get to the Maldives.
We recommend you take out insurance to cover diving and travel activities, including trip cancellation. See our insurance programme for a competitive quotation:
Places to Stay
If you plan on staying in the Maldives before or after your diving safari, you can find a wide range of accommodation options at hotelscombined.com, our affiliated hotel reservation specialists. Browse their website, use their on-line chat to raise your queries, and when you're ready simply use your credit card to make your booking:
All bookings are supported up by their 'Low Price Guarantee' to ensure you get top-dollar value for money.
Note: if you have a few hours to kill in Male before or after your liveaboard charter, then you may wish to book a day room at a hotel in Male or on Hulhule Island (where the airport is located). You can shower, store your luggage, and be free to explore the area.