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Best Places to Dive with Manta Rays in Asia


13 February 2018, by Matthew Oldfield

Diving with manta rays must rank as one of the most awe-inspiring and exciting underwater experiences for any diver or snorkeler. These incredible animals combine grace, elegance and power, with a notable intelligence and inquisitiveness - in fact it has recently been shown that manta rays have the highest brain-to-body-mass ratios, and the largest brains of all fish. Witnessing groups of these animals feed in synchronised twists and turns, or barrel-roll through clouds of plankton, and it is easy to appreciate why these animals are the star attraction at many dive destinations throughout Asia.

Read on and discover ZuBlu’s carefully selected Top 5 destinations to dive with manta rays in Asia - from the world-famous Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives, to Bali, Sangalaki and Komodo in Indonesia, these destinations are sure to provide you with an incredible underwater manta experience.

TOP MANTA RAY DESTINATIONS

1

HANIFARU BAY, BAA ATOLL, MALDIVES

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Snorkeling amongst the feeding congregations of manta rays and whale sharks at Hanifaru Bay is one of the Maldive’s best known underwater experiences - and quite possibly one of the most exciting of all manta encounters. There are few places in the world where visitors can get so close to so many rays, swimming alongside them as they barrel-rolling and ‘fly’ in formation through the dense plankton - a behaviour that has become known as cyclone feeding. Located close to the south-eastern edge of the atoll, a 1,300m section of keyhole-shaped reef acts like a funnel, concentrating both currents and any plankton in the water which in turn attracts filter-feeding giants - the schools of manta rays and whale sharks. Conditions and currents have to be just right for feeding aggregations to occur - it is not a daily event - and the best season to witness this extraordinary natural phenomenon is from late July to early October, although it can occur as early as March and as late as December.

Hanifaru Bay was declared a Marine Protected Area in 2009, then incorporated into the Baa Atoll UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2011. Diving is no longer permitted in the bay - you can only snorkel with the manta rays and whale sharks - and to keep any disturbance to a minimum, strict guidelines for visitors have been put in place. Visitors must purchase tokens prior to their visit with all proceeds going towards the Baa Atoll Conservation Fund and the future of the incredible manta congregations of Hanifaru.

  • Great for: Snorkeling amongst groups of manta rays and even whale sharks as they feed on a plankton ‘soup’.
  • Best time to visit: For the best chances to witness a feeding congregation, we recommend visiting from late July to early October.
  • Best place to stay: Join one of the Manta Trust citizen-science expeditions and assist with vital research on manta rays or stay at one of the many great resorts that ZuBlu partner with in Baa Atoll. Get in touch to book your Hanifaru Bay experience.

Image courtesy of Scubazoo.

Learn more about conservation at Hanifaru Bay.

View Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll, Maldives
2

FESDU LAGOON, NORTH ARI ATOLL, MALDIVES

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At Fesdu Lagoon in North Ari Atoll, divers can witness a breathtaking display by feeding manta rays in only 15m of water, right off the back of their liveaboard. A small population of manta rays have learnt that plankton is attracted to and concentrated by the lights of the liveaboard boats that moor in the lagoon overnight - perfect feeding conditions for the manta rays, and even better conditions for an amazing manta dive! Within an hour or so of mooring at sunset, rays start to appear and begin barrel-rolling right beneath the boats as they attempt to gorge themselves on the plankton.

Dive operators take advantage of this behaviour and now run a legendary night dive. Divers take their place within a ring of torches that are arrayed upwards into the water, creating a pool of light that attracts the plankton and the manta rays. Divers simply sit back and watch the spectacular show unfold as the majestic rays swoop, roll and tumble between the guests - often only inches away. This experience is only accessible by liveaboard as a constant source of light is needed to attract the plankton in large enough concentrations to bring in the manta rays and is best during the northeast monsoon - January to April - when the winds and currents push plankton to the western side of the Maldives.

  • Great for: Groups of manta rays feeding in the lights off the back of liveaboards.
  • Best time to visit: Year round, best from January to April during the Northeast monsoon season.
  • Best place to stay: Accessible only by liveaboard. Get in touch to book your Fesdu Lagoon experience.
View Fesdu Lagoon, North Ari Atoll, Maldives
3

KOMODO NATIONAL PARK, INDONESIA

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Komodo is justifiably famous for its incredible landscapes, biodiversity and, of course, its dragons, but the park is also an exceptional destination for regular sightings of manta rays throughout the year. In the south of the Komodo National Park, the cold, nutrient-rich upwellings that are so prevalent here create blooms of plankton when the cold water hits the sunlit shallows - perfect feeding conditions for manta rays. As such, the south is home to Komodo’s best manta site at the aptly named Manta Alley. Here large numbers of rays gather to feed on the plankton and visit a series of cleaning stations dotted along the reef. Whilst such large gatherings can never be guaranteed, divers can often witness squadrons of mantas feeding in unison, or get up close and personal with a ray as it hovers over a cleaning station.

The north of the park is dominated by warm, clear water and the marine life and habitats are both typical of reefs throughout Indonesia. And for those that still need their manta fix, Karang Makassar close to Batu Bulong and Tatawa is well known for congregations of rays that gather along the reef when the conditions and tides are perfect. The reef here is not the prettiest, but when the tide is running, all eyes are on the groups of manta rays that congregate here.

The north can be dived year round as the sites are sheltered from any rough seas that can impact the south whilst the south is best dived from October to December when the cold water and calm seas create perfect condition.

  • Best for: Diving with groups of manta rays at Manta Alley in the south and Karang Makassar in the north - Komodo’s most reliable manta dive sites.
  • Best time to visit: October to December for the south, March to October for the north.
  • Best place to stay: Book a trip onboard Wicked Diving’s Komodo liveaboard and explore both the north and south of the incredible Komodo National Park. Get in touch to book your personalised experience.
View Komodo National Park, Indonesia
4

SANGALAKI, KALIMANTAN, INDONESIA

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The diving around the islands of the Derawan Archipelago has something for everyone - from ‘muck’ and critters around Derawan and stingless jellyfish at Kakaban, to schooling fish, sharks and beautiful reefs around Maratua. However, for many people it is the the manta rays of Sangalaki that are the highlight of a trip to the area. Sangalaki’s rays are thought to be resident year round although they will come and go according to their own schedule and sightings are never guaranteed. However, divers have a very good chance of encountering these incredible animals at several sites along Sangalaki’s north and northeastern reef. Here a series of sand channels funnel the prevailing currents and concentrate any plankton in the water, creating perfect feeding conditions for the manta rays that simply cruise along at the surface, hoovering up their food. Visitors can drop in using a snorkel and mask and drift amongst the rays as they go about their business. There are also several cleaning stations at bommies along the reef where divers can also watch as the rays use the services of small cleaner wrasse and other fish that remove parasites and debris from their skin.

Sangalaki is also home to many turtles which nest on the island, as well as whale sharks that feed around nearby fishing platforms known as ‘bagans’. Given its location so close to the equator, the wet and dry seasons prevalent in much of Indonesia have less impact around Sangalaki and the island can be dived all year round. However for the best weather we would recommend visiting between March and October when there is little rain, and timing you stay for the dark of the new moon for the best chance to see whale sharks as well as the manta rays.

  • Great for: Snorkeling and diving with resident rays at Manta Avenue and Manta Parade.
  • Best time to visit: Year round, but the best weather is from March to October.
  • Best place to stay: Stay at the luxurious Virgin Cocoa, Maratua. Get in touch to book your personalised experience.
View Sangalaki, Kalimantan, Indonesia
5

NUSA PENIDA, BALI, INDONESIA

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The deep seas around the islands of Lembongan, Cenida and Nusa Penida, just off Bali’s southeastern coast, are home to an extraordinary proliferation of marine life - including large numbers of reef manta rays that are reliably encountered around the islands throughout the year. School of these graceful animals gather to feed on the plankton brought in by the strong currents that sweep past the islands every day, as well as visit ‘cleaning stations’ at several known locations along Nusa Penida’s rocky south coast. Here the manta rays queue up to have parasites and dead skin removed from their bodies by small fish and divers have an amazing chance to get close to these stunning animals. If divers are lucky, they may well see one of Penida’s unusual ‘black morph’ manta rays that have lost a lot of their white markings and are almost completely black.

During the summer months between June and September, cold water upwellings create perfect conditions for the manta rays, as well as the extraordinary Mola mola.  Divers have a very good chance of encountering Mola mola around Nusa Penida and Lembongan on a deep dive in the morning, then heading to Nusa Penida’s manta ray sites in the afternoon to complete an amazing big-fish ‘double whammy’ in a single day!

  • Great for: Diving with resident manta rays that can be reliably seen along Nusa Penida’s south coast all year round.
  • Best time to visit: Year round, June to September has cold water upwellings and is the best time of year for Mola mola.
  • Best place to stay: Hai Tide Beach Resort is built right on the beach on Lembongan Island and is the perfect base for divers in search of Mola mola, manta rays and much more. Get in touch to book your personalised experience.

Image courtesy of Hai Tide Beach Resort.

View Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

OTHER SUGGESTIONS

Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia

Raja Ampat is fast becoming one of the best places in Indonesia to dive with manta rays, but because of its more remote location, it narrowly missed making it to our Top 5 manta ray destinations. As well as being home to some of the best reef diving on the planet, Raja Ampat has several dive sites where both reef and oceanic manta rays are seen on a regularly basis. In the north, the famous ‘Manta Ridge’ and ‘Manta Sandy’ sites are both very consistent for reef manta rays, and ‘Blue Magic’ often has visit oceanic manta rays. In the south, close to Misool, ‘Magic Mountain’ has both reef and oceanic manta rays - a unique experience for divers lucky enough to see both in a single dive! Manta rays can be seen throughout the main season from October to May, but December to March offers the best combination of weather and good chances of encountering manta rays.

Please get in touch if you would like to book your trip to Raja Ampat.

Matthew Oldfield
Co-founder of ZuBlu

7 days and 6 nights from Saturday to Friday, exploring the best dive sites in both the northern and central areas of the park, as well as a visit to the famous Komodo Dragons. The package includes 19 dives, accommodation in a 6 bunk dorm and all meals. Upgrades to a 2 bunk room are available. Rental equipment is also available.

  • Transport to the pier in Labuan Bajo and back
  • All meals onboard
  • Tea, coffee, water and electrolytes
  • Tanks, weights and dive guides
  • Good times, great memories and lots of fun on the Komodo Liveaboards
  • Rental dive equipment
  • Soft drinks and beers
  • Park Fees, payable onboard

Komodo Explorer

at Wicked Diving

Dive the best of Komodo’s northern and central sites onboard the Salakanagara

Duration
7 Days
6 Nights
Starts At US$1125
Diving

Sample the incredible underwater environment of Raja Ampat with 8 days and 7 nights at the beautiful Papua Paradise Eco Resort. This package includes accommodation in a Superior Bungalow, full board, up to 4 dives a day and free nitrox for certified divers. Upgrades are available for Deluxe Bungalows. Please ask us for single room rates. The resort runs daily boat transfers to the resort so you can easily customise your package.

  • Accommodation in a Superior Bungalow
  • Full board
  • Up to 4 dives a day
  • Free nitrox for certified divers
  • Welcome drink
  • Free wifi in lounge
  • Afternoon tea, coffee cakes
  • Trips to Fam or The Passage. Available at additional cost
  • Return transfer @ $196 return
  • Raja Ampat Marine Park fees
  • Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks
  • Equipment. Rental equipment is available

Raja Ampat Explorer

at Papua Paradise Eco Resort

The perfect way to explore the incredible underwater life of Raja Ampat

Duration
8 Days
7 Nights
Starts At US$2089
Diving

6 days in paradise staying in a beautiful Garden Lumbung - a traditional Indonesian thatched room - at the perfectly-located Hai Tide Beach Resort. The package includes 10 dives, giving you plenty of time to explore all that Lembongan and Penida have offer. Upgrades to the beachfront Lumbungs and single accommodation are available - contact us when you make your booking.

  • 10 dives around Lembongan and Nusa Penida
  • Accommodation in a Garden Lumbung, shared room
  • Dive equipment
  • Transfer to and from Lembongan
  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Access to all facilities at the resort
  • Dinner

Lembongan Explorer

at Hai Tide Beach Resort

6 days, 10 dives - exploring the best Lembongan has to offer

Duration
6 Days
5 Nights
Starts At US$825
Diving