Though justifiably famous for year-round whale shark and manta ray sightings, South Ari Atoll harbours far more beneath its surface than these headline attractions. From current-swept kandus and coral-clad thilas, to sunken shipwrecks and protected reefs, South Ari is a spectacular and diverse diving destination. What’s more, there are literally hundreds of dive sites up for grabs in this atoll alone, meaning you’re more or less guaranteed to find the underwater experience of your dreams. 

But, if you’re the kind of diver who likes cutting to the chase, read on, because we’ve selected some of the very best dive sites in South Ari Atoll.

Manta Point

Manta rays gathering at a cleaning station in the Maldives.
Manta rays gathering at a cleaning station in the Maldives.

This site lies a stone’s throw south of Conrad Maldives Rangali at the western edge of the South Ari Marine Protected Area – a hotspot for the Maldives’ iconic megafauna. And, as its name suggests, Manta Point is one of the very best places to dive with reef manta rays in the entire atoll. As is typical in the Maldives, this site also goes by numerous other names, including Rangali Madivaru – “Rangali” refers to a nearby island and “madi” means ray in Dhivehi – and Hukuru Elhi Faru.

Manta Point focusses on a section of reef within a wide channel known as Rangali Kandu. Its exposed position means that the site is prone to strong currents as large volumes of water flow in and out of the central lagoon. As the water passes through this passage, it carries with it an abundance of ocean nutrients, particularly during the northeast monsoon. This influx of plankton attracts reef manta rays that gather here in significant numbers – both making the most of the feast and visiting cleaning wrasse to be picked free of parasites.

The site itself lies close to the channel entrance, where the reef forms a point. On its north side, divers will find a craggy wall filled with cracks and crevices, while the south side features a gentle slope. At a depth of around 10-metres, the slope joins a plateau that is frequently used as a cleaning station during outgoing currents. 

Kudhi Maa Wreck

Diving the Machchafushi Wreck in South Ari Atoll.
Diving the Machchafushi Wreck in South Ari Atoll.

The Kudhi Maa is a former Japanese cargo ship that was scuttled in 1998 beside the private resort island of Machchafushi, home to Centara Grand Resort – giving rise to its alternative name, the Machchafushi Wreck. Just a short swim off the island’s north coast, the Kudhi Maa now sits upright at a maximum depth of 30-metres, with its masts reaching up to within 10-metres of the surface. This 52-metre steel vessel was specially prepared before its sinking and has been well colonised by coral over the years, creating an impressive artificial reef for visiting divers.

Access points to the ship’s interior have been cut into either side of its hull, allowing for easy exploration, though the cabin area on the lower deck cannot be penetrated. The vessel’s exterior is densely carpeted in a variety of soft and hard corals, along with sponges, algae, and sea squirts, providing kaleidoscopic coverage for macro marine life. Divers can find several sought-after subjects here, including frogfish, ghost pipefish, and nudibranchs. Larger marine life which visit the wreck include batfish, boxfish, pufferfish, and surgeonfish, as well as occasional stingrays and the off nurse shark. Of course, this impressive structure also lends itself to wide-angle photography or simple scene-gazing, particularly around focal points such as the propeller, wheelhouse, and crane.

Broken Rock

Broken Rock is located almost in the middle of the wide Dhigurahshu Kandu, between the local islands of Dhigurah and Dhangethi, on the southeast edge of the atoll. Like several of the sites around this channel, Broken Rock has become well-known for its exhilarating currents and impressive biodiversity, making it a must for many divers visiting the area. This dive ranges between 12 and 30-metres in depth and can often require a negative entry to avoid drifting too far during descent.

True to its name, this dive takes place on a thila that is split into two parts by a single canyon carved through the middle – quite literally, a broken rock. The opportunity for divers to swim along this gully and through the rock gives a unique and interesting aspect to the site. Huge sea fans cling to the walls on either side, alongside sizable sponges, and various hard and soft coral species in an assorted palette of pastels. Clouds of Anthias add extra colour to the reefscape, while morays emerge for almost every crevice and triggerfish, jacks, and oriental sweetlips can be seen circling above. Larger species such as Napoleon wrasse and whitetip reef sharks also make appearances. 

Dive resorts in South Ari Atoll

Search, discover and compare dive resorts

Reethi Thila

Towards the northern end of Dhigurahshu Kandu lies a dive site known as Reethi Thila – meaning “beautiful pinnacle” in Dhivehi. Also referred to as Five Rocks, this small circular site is dissected by criss-crossing channels, carving it up into one of the more interesting reef formations in South Ari. The canyons here can reach widths of up to three-metres in places, allowing divers to meander through the small maze-like layout and appreciate each rock in its entirety. The top of the reef starts at roughly 12-metres, and it has some interesting overhangs around the midsection, before meeting a sandy bottom surrounding the base of the pinnacle at around 30-metres.

Whilst exploring Reethi Thila’s canyons, divers can expect to be blown away by the ample anemones and abundance of beautiful fan and whip corals, with a new and interesting scene to behold around every corner. Marine life includes cryptic scorpionfish and vibrant nudibranchs hiding amongst the reef, while shoals of fusiliers and oriental sweetlips swim back-and-forth above alongside slightly larger specimens such as jacks and barracuda. And, with all this action going on, it’s not uncommon for whitetip and grey reef sharks to pass through for a closer look.

Kudarah Thila

Kudarah Thila is located around a kilometre from Kudarah Island within the sizable Dhigurahshu Kandu. This underwater pinnacle has held its own as one of the most famous sites in South Ari since the atoll first opened its doors to divers, and has been declared a marine protected area thanks to its impressive reef formations and ample marine life. The coral coverage found here is dense and dazzling, creating a stunning backdrop for trumpet fish, snapper, and sweetlips. A little further away from the reef, divers should look out for jacks, tuna, rainbow runners, and great barracuda, as well as Napoleon wrasse and grey reef sharks.

Rising from a depth of around 30-metres, and projecting roughly 16-metres high in the water column, this thila features four separate coral heads adorned with colourful coral. When conditions are mild, it’s enjoyable to circumnavigate the entire pinnacle, though strong currents often confine divers to the sheltered leeward side. Swathes of sea fans and a small canyon provide plenty of interest on the north face, while a series of isolated rocky outcrops can be found to the west. On the eastern side, divers will find a sizable cave framed with black corals, gorgonians, and a smattering of pink and orange soft corals.

Free Maldives dive guide

Complete guide to the best diving in the Maldives. Explore the atolls, seasons, and pro tips in this free 37 page destination guide.

Mahibadhoo Manta Point

Mahibadhoo Manta Point – also known as Mahibadhoo Rock or Mahibadhoo Thila – is situated on the atoll’s eastern coast, around four-kilometres south of the inhabited island of Mahibadhoo and roughly seven-kilometres north of Lily Beach Resort. Like many manta hotspots in the Maldives, this site is positioned within a channel that allows water to flow freely between the lagoon and the open ocean. This continuous movement of water creates strong currents, which in turn, keep the rays coming back time and time again.

The thila features a line of three individual rock formations that vary slightly in size and depth. An fourth formation lies perpendicular to the others and is slightly larger and longer, creating a very rough L-shape. Its location on the eastern side of the atoll means Mahibadhoo Rock is best for manta experiences during the northeast monsoon. At this time, the seasonal winds push plankton blooms over to the atoll’s eastern side, attracting congregations of manta rays in the process. As a result, this site can deliver reliable encounters with multiple mantas, particularly when dived on an outgoing current. 

Whale sharks of Maamigili

Diving with a whale shark in the Maamigili protected area.
Diving with a whale shark in the Maamigili protected area.

Maamigili island occupies a roughly central position in the South Ari Marine Protected Area. As we’ve already mentioned, this marine park is the atoll’s marquee attraction, delivering year-round encounters with whale sharks. There are numerous dive sites within the boundaries of this protected area – such as Bodufinolhu Thila, Maamigili Beru, Dhidhdhoo Beyru Faru, and Whale Shark Point – many of which can, and do, deliver sought-after underwater encounters. But, for the most part, in-water whale shark interactions are more frequent during dedicated snorkelling tours. During these excursions, boats cruise along the atoll’s protected southern reefs in search of a shark, meaning the actual site visited will change each day.

Like the manta rays, South Ari’s resident whale sharks change location according to the seasons, as plankton is pushed towards either side of the atoll. As the island of Maamigili marks the atoll’s southernmost point, and the middle of the South Ari Marine Protected Area, it makes a good reference point for whale shark excursions. So, during the dry northeast monsoon, whale sharks are more often seen in the west, between the islands of Maamigili and Rangali. In contrast, during the wet southwest monsoon, whale shark encounters are more common in the east, between the islands of Maamigili and Dhigurah.

Ready to book your South Ari dive adventure?

Speak to our travel team today

ZuBlu Team Photo 2024
Expert travel advice
Best price guarantee
24/7 customer support

You may also be interested by