The Maldives is renowned for its stunning beaches, azure – calm seas, wonderful – temperate climate, stunning hotels, and incredible flora & fauna.
The Maldives is a magnet for divers and snorkellers drawn by the fantastic underwater life that is there to be explored. With brightly coloured coral to sharks and turtles to sqaudrons of manta rays, Maldives has it all. Many hotels have their own “house reefs” where guests can explore the sea life without leaving the property. Every resort will have a dive centre where you can hire equipment and train to become a certified diver. Maldives is peppered with dozens of dive sites only accessible by boat or seaplane. From reefs to ship or plane wrecks, these sites are home to a fantastic array of underwater species …
The BusinessClass.com guide to some of the best dive sites in Maldives:
Rasdhoo Madivaru – Ari Atoll
Diving experience: beginners or advanced Nearest resorts: LUX* South Ari Atoll
Rasdhoo is located 58 kilometres west of the Maldives capital Malé and is the capital of the Alif Alif Atoll – more commonly known as Ari Atoll. The Atoll consists of the inhabited island of Rasdhoo, two private island resorts and two uninhabited islands of Madivaru and Madivaru Finolhu. With only two seasons in the Maldives, the best time to go is during the Northeast monsoon – January to April, being the dry season with blue skies and calm winds. The Southwest monsoon – May to November brings stronger winds, cloudy skies and rougher seas. There are three main ways to reach Rasdhoo Atoll – seaplane, speedboat and public ferry from Malé, which takes around 2.5 hours. Rasdhoo Madivaru is a channel located at the intersection of Rasdhoo and Madivaru islands. This horseshoe-shaped reef is a spectacular dive site containing healthy corals and a large sand patch at 26 metres. Suitable for beginners or advanced divers, Madivaru Reef presents a wall on the outside reef to the ocean's deep blue and is perfect for an easy drift dive on the small to medium currents. A rich selection of wildlife can be found here, from corals to many fish species, including sharks and other large fish species. The coral blocks are home to blue ribbon eels, mantis shrimps and moray eels. Leaf fish, eagle rays, dogtooth tunas and humphead wrasses could be encountered diving the wide, sandy area on the west side of the reef. Catch a seasonal outgoing current for a chance to see Manta rays. Madivaru Corner is a channel dive offering beginners to advanced divers’ medium to very strong currents, and spectacular overhangs at between 26 and 30 metres, before reaching a breath-taking 200-metre drop-off. Expect to see almost anything here, from micro pelagic species to grey and white-tip reef sharks, stingrays, eagle rays, large groupers, shoals of barracuda, napoleon wrasse, jackfish, and turtles. You might even see hammerhead sharks. These dives are accessible year-round.
Fish Head – North Ari Atoll
Diving experience: novice to intermediate Nearest resorts: W Maldives
Mushimasmingili Thila, also known as Fish Head, is one of the most beautiful diving spots on the North Ari Atoll. Now a marine reserve, the reef’s name comes from fishers only landing the heads of their catches due to the ravenous sharks that inhabited the waters. Sadly, due to the demand for shark fins, the number of reef sharks declined post-eighties. However, since 2010, it has been prohibited to fish for sharks, and it is once again possible to see a shiver of bustling sharks in a single dive. The reef is shaped in the form of a circular plate at depths of between 10 and 14 metres, while the walls of the plate descend to around 35 metres with large and small overhangs and numerous caves. Suitable for novice to intermediate level divers, access to the dive site is gained from a boat. Marine life thrives here. You’ll find an abundance of grey and whitetip reef sharks patrolling the depths beneath vast schools of fusiliers. Tuna, turtles, bluestripe snappers, jackfish, surgeonfish, blue tang, mackerel, stonefish and trevallies are also commonplace. A few lucky divers will glimpse the rare sight of an elusive resident guitar shark. Another feature of the dive is a nearby 30-metre wreck named Fesdhoo. Starting at a depth of 12 metres and encrusted in soft and hard corals, Fesdhoo wreck is home to moray eels, lionfish, Napoleon wrasse and smaller fish, including glassfish, anthias, butterflyfish, blennies and batfish. Divers can also find larger fish, including eagle rays, barracudas and frogfish. Although it is possible to dive year-round, the best period to visit is from December to May, when visibility at the wreck can be up to 24 metres, and water temperatures remain at a steady 28 – 30 degrees centigrade.
Bathalaa Maagaa Kan Thila – Ari Atoll
Diving experience: intermediate to advanced Nearest resorts: LUX*
Ranging from depths of 4 to 30 metres, the Bathala Thila dive site located in the Baa Atoll is around 300 metres long and 20 metres wide. The top of the reef is flat with a drop off on either side. Bathala Thila is just a short 5-minute boat ride from the main resort of Bathala Island and is also close to Maaga Thila, Fish Head and Maaga Thila. This small thila offers an abundance of wildlife with beautiful coral and some interesting caves and overhangs, home to moray eels. The inner side of the reef has a flat and sandy bottom at a depth ranging between 9 and 35 metres. With its location at the edge of the atoll, marine life is active, and this is a lively hunting ground, especially when the current increases in strength. Divers can expect to see reef sharks, nurse sharks, Napoleon wrasse, giant trevallies, fusiliers, leaf fish, batfish, shrimp and anemones. Go to the top of the reef for coral life and watch manta rays, eagle fish, dolphins and turtles. Bathala Thila is also home to clownfish, porcupinefish, groupers, large schools of snappers, Moorish idol, jackfish, barracudas and huge tuna. Large schools of grey reef sharks can be found hovering where the reef meets the depths of the ocean at about 35 metres. The current can be strong here, and novice divers should avoid this dive site in these conditions. The best time to dive is between January and April, when the conditions are at their best with clear waters.
HP/Rainbow Reef – North Malé Atoll
Diving experience: advanced only Nearest resorts: One&Only Reethi Rah
HP Reef, also known as Rainbow Reef and Girifushi Thila, is located in the North Malé Atoll south of Girifushi Island and is regarded as one of the most colourful dive sites in the North Malé Atoll. The south side of the reef is filled with remarkable outcrops, blocks, boulders, ledges and crevices and an abundance of brightly coloured soft coral, benefiting from the rich flow of nutrients provided by the flowing currents. The northwest side forms a large outcrop of rock separated from the main reef by a sandy channel. Dive down to a large cave featuring a narrow vertical swim-through named the ‘chimney’ reaching a height of 25 metres. The nutrient-rich currents provide a perfect habitat for the plethora of spectacular bright blue, orange and yellow corals, including gorgonians, sea fans and sea whips. Expect to see an astonishing variety of small fish, including many species of angelfish. Large schools of barracudas, dogtooth tuna, bigeye trevally, bluefin jack and rainbow runners cruise the reef. You’ll also find eagle rays, grey reef sharks and yellowback fusiliers. The reef is located between Girifushi and Himmafushi and is reached by speedboat in around 15 minutes. Although this is a year-round diving destination, the best time to visit is between October and April. However, underwater currents can be strong at all times, and so is this dive recommended for advanced level divers only. The National Security Service controls the waters, and diving is prohibited when red flags fly from the jetty.
Emboodhoo Thila – South Malé Atoll
Diving experience: advanced only Nearest resorts: COMO Cocoa Island
The Emboodhoo Thila in the northwest of South Malé Atoll is approximately 45 minutes away from Malé by boat. Emboodhoo Canyon in the middle of the northern reef refers to the area of reef inlet formed by a section of reef breaking off the main Emboodhoo Faru reef creating an 18-metre-deep canyon bursting with colourful and abundant fish life, including banks of fusiliers, jacks, soldierfish and snappers. The reef has numerous small overhangs and caves to explore, but watch out for the moray eels lurking in the crevices. The famous Emboodhoo Express is the name of the channel entering towards Emboodhoo Island Resort and is a protected marine environment. The channel has a maximum depth of 30 metres and is known for its strong currents of up to 5 knots, lending itself as an action drift dive site for more advanced divers only. Start the dive on the outside the channel and descend to the depths of around 30 metres to see whitetip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, Napoleons, trevallies, rainbow runners, surgeonfish, eagle rays, stingrays, groupers, barracudas and the occasional hammerhead. The best time to visit Emboodhoo Thila is during the Northeast monsoon, between January and April, being the dry season with blue skies and calm winds.
Kandooma Thila – South Malé Atoll
Diving experience: advanced only Nearest resorts: Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
Kandooma Thila is regarded by many as the best and most beautiful dive site in South Malé Atoll. Located north of Kandooma Island, this impressive 300-metre-long teardrop-shaped pinnacle lies at the bottom of a channel with the top of the reef at a depth of 12 metres, descending to around 40 metres on all sides. Teeming with life, the top of the reef is rich in hard coral growth, eagle rays, royal angelfish and green turtles, while the northern and eastern sides offer divers numerous interesting overhangs adorned with beautiful soft corals. The west edge of the thila is called Jack Corner with a wide overhang and is best visited during strong outgoing currents when large schools of grey reef sharks, whitetip sharks, groupers, barracudas, Napoleons, jacks and trevally can be found lurking. This reef is the place to come for shark action, and between 2000 and 2009, this location was ranked the world's 10th best for shark diving. Beneath Jack Corner, at around 23 metres, is a cave containing snapper and bigeye trevally. The site's main attraction is during outgoing currents, when most sharks can be found around their cleaning station in the northeast corner of the pinnacle at a depth of more than 30 metres. Although this dive site is accessible year-round, the strong currents can make conditions challenging, and it is only recommended for advanced level divers for this reason.
Kuredu Express – Lhaviyani Atoll
Diving experience: advanced only Nearest resorts: Four Seasons Resort at Landaa Giraavaru
Kuredu Express in the Lhaviyani Atoll is one of the most famous dive sites in the region and can be reached in around ten minutes from Kuredu or thirty minutes from Komandoo. The Express gets its name from the variable currents that can flow here – sometimes powerful, sometimes slight, but often quickly changing. As a result of the changing currents, diving Kuredu Express can throw up a variety of marine encounters making this one of the more stirring dive sites in the atoll. This dramatic site is made up of a sandy channel leading to the corner of the reef with large terraces that step down at different depths. There are two large overhangs on the outer reef framed by the big blue, and the area is packed with grey reef sharks, eagle rays, large dogtooth tuna, Napoleon wrasses, black snapper, stingrays, barracudas and vast schools of jacks and trevally. The Express is renowned for having one of the largest shark populations in the Lhaviyani Atoll, and on rare occasions, divers can encounter hammerheads. There are also two large bays on the outer reef containing brightly coloured soft corals, collared butterflyfish, humpback snappers and leaf fish close to the top reef. Access to Kuredu Express is by boat, and the dive site is suitable for novice level divers – starting at 5 metres from the top reef and dropping down to around 30 metres.
Fottheyo Kandu – Vaavu Atoll
Diving experience: intermediate to advanced Nearest resorts: Conrad Maldives
Fottheyo Kandu on the Vaavu Atoll is considered one of the best dive sites in the world. Located at the most eastern point of the Maldives, Fottheyo Kandu gets its name from the channel connecting the ocean to the uninhabited island of Fottheyo. This largely untouched dive site is a diver’s paradise and home to abundant marine life and spectacular coral structures. The narrow channel has swim-throughs, interesting caves between 25 and 40 metres, and dramatic overhangs covered in bright coloured soft corals with black coral bushes found at lower depths. Access to the dive is from a boat, and currents can be medium to strong. It is suggested to start the dive at the outer corner of the channel in the open ocean at a depth of around 22 metres. Plan your dive for sunrise and hook in for the opportunity to see hammerhead sharks at 30 metres. You will also see schools of grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, black tips, eagle rays, Manta rays, potato groupers, giant tuna and large schools of snapper and trevally. Drift inside the channel to enjoy the stunning caves and overhangs as schools of sharks and eagle rays pass nearby. The healthy coral attracts many fish species, including barracudas, swordfish, triggerfish, blue surgeonfish and turtles. It is also possible to see a large group of dolphins in the channel towards the end of the day. This site is also perfect for snorkelling.
Maaya Thila – North Ari Atoll
Diving experience: beginners Nearest resorts: W Maldives
Maaya Thila lies 8 kilometres from the island of Ukulhas in North Ari Atoll and 3.4 kilometres from Maayafushi Island and is a marine protected area. The flat pinnacle plateau starts at around 6 metres with walls that drop away in layers to 30 metres with blocks, caves and rock overhangs. The top of the thila is covered in vibrant soft coral reef, gorgonians, sea fans and is teeming with marine life such as batfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, lionfish, stonefish, scorpionfish, clownfish and great barracuda. While its larger base diameter, approximately 100 metres wide, attracts the bigger fish. The site is accessible to beginners year-round but is most famous for its night dives when the depths of the thila come alive with mass hunting whitetip sharks and exciting action from giant trevally, grey reef sharks and stingrays. With a supporting cast coming from moray eels, sea turtles, octopuses and ghost pipefish, this night dive will live long in the memory. It is so good at night; the thila can become overcrowded with divers; however, the curious fish can be attracted by the diver's lights and come in even closer. Expect to see schools of fusiliers and surgeonfish, Moorish idols, triggerfish, blue face angelfish and blue-hippo tang. Regardless of experience, a night dive at Maaya Thila will prove an unforgettable experience. The currents can range from slight to strong, and entry to the waters can be made anywhere on the site.
Vaagalibodhu Thila – South Malé Atoll
Diving experience: all levels Nearest resorts: Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
Vaagalibodhu Thila is a 250-metre-long square-shaped pinnacle lying in the Vaagali Channel to the northwest of Vaagali Island in the South Malé Atoll. The nearest resort is Rannalhi, just 15 minutes away by boat. Vaagali Thila starts at around 5 to 10 metres, making it a perfect dive site for all levels. It drops away steeply to a sandy bottom at about 30 metres, with overhangs and stony corals on the outer surface edge of the reef. This abundant marine life habitat is home to rare red anemone, lobsters and honeycomb moray eels. The top of the thila attracts large Napoleons, bannerfish, and large schools of fusiliers. Incoming currents attract the grey reef sharks, whitetips, eagle rays, stingrays and barracudas. It is also a great spot to see Hawksbill turtles. The best diving is on the north side, where you’ll find small caves at around 15 metres and a big one at about 26 metres deep. Here, you’ll find exquisite soft coral, black coral and brightly coloured oriental sea whips living inside. Also, expect to see yellow and five-line snapper, red tooth triggerfish, mackerels and huge yellowfin tunas. The outside of the reef is also where to find grey and whitetip reef sharks cruising the incoming currents. The south wall of the thila is home to incredible coral life, along with leaf fish and Halimeda ghost pipefish. Currents range from low to strong, with diving suitable for all abilities.
Fuvahmulah (Tiger Zoo) – Fuvahmulah Atoll
Diving experience: all levels Nearest resorts: Raffles Maldives
Fuvahmulah is a tiny atoll located between Huvadhoo Atoll and Addu Atoll and is the closest to the equator of all Maldivian islands and reefs. Nicknamed the ‘Maldivian Galapagos’ for its unique habitat, there is no other place in Asia, let alone the Maldives, in which divers can encounter seven types of sharks in a single day. Fuvahmulah has over 20 dive sites, but it is one particular site that draws visitors in the thousands – Tiger Zoo, discovered in 2017 and named because of the opportunity to see tiger sharks year-round. These imposing apex predators are usually found in deeper water. However, when the harbour and local fish market were built in 2003, all fish waste was dumped back into the waters around the harbour, drawing the tiger sharks in from the open ocean. There is now a guarantee of seeing dozens of them in the same dive at Tiger Zoo. The entrance to the harbour is about 10 metres deep with a drop off to around 65 metres. The local dive school induce the tiger sharks to the shallower waters with fish waste from the market, and divers sit back on the sandy floor and watch the spectacular show unfold. Besides tiger sharks, divers will have the chance to encounter thresher sharks, great and scalloped hammerhead sharks, oceanic whitetips, mola molas, oceanic mantas (during April) and magnificent whale sharks as they pass on through. Safety is paramount at Tiger Zoo, and night diving is prohibited.
Lankan Reef – North Malé Atoll
Diving experience: all levels Nearest resorts: Four Seasons Resorts at Kuda Huraa
Lankan Reef is located on the southeast outer reef of Lankanfinolhu Island in the North Malé Atoll and is renowned as a spectacular seasonal manta ray cleaning station at Lankan Manta Point dive site. This large block of coral attracts the majestic and graceful manta rays during the southwest monsoon season, which runs from May to November. However, the best time to visit is between August and November, when visibility is best. The manta rays queue up to use the cleaning services of the wrasse living there. This beautiful dive site is easy to access and suitable for all dive experience levels. The rocky coral reef gently slopes away from 5 metres to 30 metres or more, where big fish such as whitetip reef sharks, large tunas and jacks can be found. The interesting landscape reef has cervices, cracks, walls and hard corals, home to octopuses, moray eels, lobsters, mantis shrimp and scorpionfish. Drift southwards in the current with the reef on the right-hand side, and in time, the manta cleaning stations appear up ahead at depths of between 10 and 18 metres. It is essential to stay below and away from the cleaning stations without crossing them to avoid scaring the manta rays off. While elegant manta rays are the main attraction here, other regular sightings include humphead wrasse, barracuda and hawksbill turtles. Lankan Reef is a popular dive site, and can become crowded with divers.
Park Hyatt Maldives (House Reef) – North Huvadhoo Atoll
Diving experience: all levels
The Park Hyatt Maldives house reef is located in North Huvadhoo Atoll, being one of the Maldives' most southern atolls, around 400 kilometres from Malé International Airport. A 45-minute domestic flight to Koodoo Domestic Airport, followed by a 20-minute speedboat ride, brings guests to the pristine private island location, 10 kilometres away from its nearest neighbour. Hadahaa Island is just 55 kilometres north of the equator and is covered in lush vegetation and surrounded by spectacular marine life accessible directly from the beach. The house reef is located in the island's northwest; however, spectacular snorkelling and diving are enjoyed almost halfway around the island. The untouched, healthy coral reef is just 50 metres from the white sand beach, and its features include plenty of boulders, branching and table corals. Guests staying in the Park Water Villas need only descend the private ladder of their accommodation to enjoy the spectacular marine habitat. Hadahaa house reef is regarded as one of the very best in the Maldives, with the hotel offering stay and dive packages. The crystal-clear turquoise waters are home to a remarkable variety of aquatic life, and some highlights include glassfish, fusiliers, parrotfish and batfish. Octopuses, black and whitetip reef sharks, eagle rays and dolphins can also be spotted on occasion, while night dives bring sightings of shrimps, nudibranch and scorpionfish. The house reef is perfect for all levels of diving experience, and with more than 30 other pristine dive sites within easy access by boat, this is a genuinely fabulous dive destination.
Four Seasons Explorer
Diving experience: all levels
What better way to sail around the string of beautiful Maldivian islands than on a luxury craft and what if that craft was operated by a luxury brand, guaranteeing exceptional service standards and experiences? Well, welcome to Four Seasons Explorer, in essence, a luxurious boutique resort afloat. Sail around the five Maldivian atolls with “every day an aquatic adventure” on this sleek three deck catamaran, accommodating up to just 22 guests in ten state rooms and one spacious Explorer Suite. With a staff to guest ratio of one to one, this is on-board living at an elevated pace with three, four and seven-night itineraries available cruising between the two Four Seasons Maldives resorts of Kuda Huraa and Landaa Giraavaru or private charters where the itinerary is of your own making. Facilities on board are similar to those at a land-based resort albeit on a smaller scale – there are two bars; a restaurant with indoor and al fresco dining; a spacious lounge for relaxation; a library; an extensive dive deck and two sun decks. Activity-wise, there is an on-board spa therapist with a treatment area on the upper deck, a marine biologist to talk you through the marine environment and a PADI 5-Star Dive Centre offering a minimum of three dives a day as part of the all-inclusive itineraries. They can arrange a variety of water activities including snorkelling; kayaking; waterskiing; wakeboarding; windsurfing; fun tubes and island excursions galore.
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*Park Hyatt Maldives reef photo sourced from Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa. All other photos sourced from COMO Hotels, Maldives