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Some of the world’s best scuba diving can be found in the Maldives. But which are the best atolls for diving and marine life?
With 26 individual atolls, vast cobalt-blue lagoons and idyllic tropical islands with fringing coral reefs – the Maldives is a diver’s paradise. But there are so many remote destinations, world-class dive sites and inspiring underwater experiences to be found, it’s hard to know where to start - so we’ve narrowed it down to help you out. After much deliberation, our team has finally agreed on the best dive sites in the Maldives. Read on to discover our favourites.
This impressive underwater pinnacle is much-loved for its abundance of overhangs. Napoleon wrasse and stingrays can often be found sheltering underneath while jacks, tuna, and even dolphins, hunt just meters beyond. And, aside from all this big stuff, petite fire gobies and fairy basslets provide bursts of tropical punch-like colour.
Reethi Thila is the ultimate example of a typical Maldivian dive site. This submerged pinnacle is peppered with cracks and overhangs that play host to an impressive variety of species. In fact, this site boasts such a huge density and diversity of life, even true fish geeks may struggle to complete their logbooks.
Justifiably one of the Maldives’ most famous destinations, the now legendary Hanifaru Bay delivers jaw-dropping manta rays and whale shark encounters year after year. Visitors can snorkel amongst dozens – if not hundreds – of manta rays as they swoop and role through plankton blooms like hungry synchronised swimmers.
The protected marine sanctuary of Dhigala Haa has become a firm favourite for shark spotting, with a handful of grey reef sharks often seen at the same time. Several small caves and overhangs also provide shelter for schools of fish, and snapper, jacks and barracuda can usually be seen in the blue.
As the name suggests, this dive site can be fast-paced and utterly furious – a must for advanced divers. Looking across the sandy channel, divers can see all manner of pelagic species, including grey reef sharks, eagle rays, tuna, jacks, barracuda, and more. A couple of sheltered bays also provide a welcome rest with plenty of healthy coral growth.
With a vessel’s bow thrusting from the surface like a breaching whale, this dive site is instantly recognisable. The protruding hulk entices divers and snorkellers alike, while an adjacent wreck lies 30 metres below – providing plenty of opportunity for deeper exploration. Currents have encouraged a healthy coral covering and this site plays host to beautiful schools of reef fish, as well as Napoleon wrasse and pelagics like nurse sharks and grey reef sharks.
Offering several cleaning stations in one place, this site is famous for delivering consistent encounters with large numbers of manta rays. And, during the right season, divers can also witness rare cyclone feeding behaviour as the rays scoop up mouthfuls of plankton in perfect unison. Whitetip reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse and barracuda can also be seen.
Girifushi Thila is known by several names, including Rainbow Reef, due to its dazzling display of decorative corals. In fact, this site is also playfully referred to as the soft coral capital of the world. Lying in a protected channel between islands, this tower of boulders has created a jumble of caves, cracks and crevices, including a 25-metre vertical swim-through known as The Chimney. Grey reef sharks, eagle rays, tuna and barracuda all call this thila home.
Located in the protected Guraidhoo Channel, Guraidhoo Corner is a fantastic dive site boasting immense diversity and washing machine-like currents. Schools of reef fish are common, as well as tuna, trevally, and plenty of groupers. An iconic friendly Napoleon wrasse is a favourite among many visitors and both grey and whitetip reef sharks can also be seen.
In perfect conditions, Cocoa Thila is arguably one of the finest dive sites in the Maldives. With the right current, divers can drift purposefully along this 400-metre pinnacle, gazing at tuna, trevallies, and eagle rays which hunt beyond the drop-off. Grey reef sharks can also be found patrolling the area. Divers will welcome several sheltered caverns which provide a much-needed break from the current.
With rapid drop-offs plummeting to depths of 200 metres, this world-famous dive site is one of the few remaining places offering close-up encounters with hammerhead sharks. Watch sparkling plankton illuminating your descent as you drop in at sunrise and lie in wait for schools of hammerheads to arrive from the depths. An experience you won’t soon forget.
Rasdhoo Madivaru is a horseshoe-shaped reef featuring a complex tangle of overhangs, cracks and crevices – a stunning backdrop for some incredible action. A dive here can turn up anything including grey and whitetip reef sharks, manta rays, eagles rays and stingrays, and schools of barracuda, trevally and jacks. Silvertips, hammerheads and guitar sharks can also occasionally be seen as well as dolphins feasting on garden eels!
One of the most popular dive sites in the Maldives, this bustling thila frequently ranks as one of the best places to dive on planet earth. While there is plenty to see in the shallows, including nudibranchs, frogfish and octopuses, the real highlights here cruise at depth. Schools of hungry trevally, patrolling grey and whitetip reef sharks, squadrons of eagle rays, and solitary guitar sharks can all make appearances.
Fesdhoo lagoon is home to one of North Ari Atoll’s most unique underwater experiences. In these shallow, protected waters, a small population of manta rays congregates beneath the lights of liveaboards at night. Divers can hover above the sand as the mantas swoop and barrel-roll between them. And, if you’re really lucky, you might witness the mantas performing their rare cyclone feeding behaviour!
Also known as the Kudhimaa shipwreck, and intentionally sunk in 1998, this site is a haven for underwater photographers thanks to its plentiful macro life. Frogfish, ghost pipefish, and nudibranchs are all common attractions. The wreck sits upright and intact with areas of exploration ranging from 12 to 30 metres in depth. Its propeller, wheelhouse, and coral crusted exterior also offer excellent opportunities for wide-angle photography.
One thing’s for sure, in South Ari, you’re never far from a whale shark, and the atoll is undoubtedly best known for its epic encounters with this incredible creature. And, located within the South Ari Marine Protected Area, in the far south of the atoll, there’s no better place to find these huge sharks than Maamigili. In fact, Maamigili offers near-guaranteed whale shark sightings throughout the year and lucky visitors can swim alongside them as they meander gracefully above the reef.
Easily one of the best sites in Vaavu, if not the entire Maldives, Fotteyo Kandu features plenty of the region’s iconic overhangs. Between 25 and 40 metres, divers can also find a series of caves that have been well colonised by colourful soft corals – a paradise for photographers. This narrowly-carved channel attracts large schools of trevally, jacks and tuna and the outer reef plays host to grey reef sharks and passing hammerheads.
Famed for its regular feeding frenzies, Alimatha Jetty is a must for many divers. But, even as the sunlight dips behind the waves, this site still has plenty to offer. Night divers can find nurse sharks and whiptail rays resting on the sand, as well as blacktip sharks and giant trevally hunting in the inky-black darkness. Beautifully illuminated by the jetty lights, a night dive here can be a dream for underwater photographers.
Likely the only site in Asia boasting guaranteed tiger shark sightings every day of the year. Although only discovered in 2017, it is believed the sharks have been feeding on waste from the fish market for many years. On some days, divers are greeted by dozens of these impressive creatures, often measuring up to five metres long!
Unlike other Maldivian atolls, there are no reef mantas in Fuvahmulah. Instead, this atoll boasts 80% of all oceanic manta rays sightings throughout the entire country. Farikede is a shelf plateau extending out from Fuvahmulah’s southernmost tip at a depth of around 40 metres. This site is, without a doubt, one of the best in the Maldives to encounter these incredible creatures.
At 134 metres long, and weighing almost 6,000 tons, the British Loyalty is the largest wreck in the Maldives. The body of the vessel lies between 15 and 35 metres and is covered in a variety of table corals, soft corals and Gorgonians. Several large openings provide a glimpse into the vessel’s past life, and a couple even punch straight through, revealing the blue beyond.
On the northeast tip of Addu Atoll, the reef drops away to a plateau at around 30 meters deep. Handfuls of grey and whitetip reef sharks patrol this sandy bed, earning it the name Shark Hotel. Beyond the plateau, the reef drops-off yet again, reaching depths of over 60 metres. When the visibility allows, larger sharks can be seen circling in the deep.