Manta rays and whale sharks are two of the Maldives' marquee attractions, drawing visitors from all around the world in the hope of snorkelling or diving alongside these genuine ocean giants. Unfortunately, due to the shifting monsoons and a sea of similar-sounding dive sites, identifying the best time and place for an encounter can pose a serious challenge.

So, what is the best time of year to encounter whale sharks and manta rays in the Maldives? And which atoll is best in which season? To help answer these questions, we’ve condensed all our expert knowledge – as well as the latest scientific research – into a comprehensive guide to the seasonal movements of whale sharks and manta rays across the Maldives. Keep reading to know more. 

Oh, and “manta point” in Dhivehi is “madi faru”’re welcome.

How the monsoons affect the movement of manta rays and whale sharks

Whilst often thought of in terms of wet and dry seasons, monsoons actually relate to the direction of the prevailing winds. It is for this reason – in case you’ve ever wondered – that monsoons are referred to by compass points. During the Maldives’ northeast monsoon, winds blow from the northeast, while during the southwest monsoon they switch and blow from the opposite direction. The differences in rainfall and humidity associated with each monsoon are determined by whether the winds are blowing dry air from the land, or moist air from the ocean. In the Maldives, the southwest monsoon deposits moist, humid air from the Indian Ocean, while the northeast monsoon carries cooler dry air from the Asian continent. 

Follow the plankton, find the filter feeders

Throughout each monsoon in the Maldives, the prevailing winds and currents push plankton across the atolls, concentrating it on the opposite side of the atoll from which the wind is blowing. The abundance of plankton in the water will obviously impact the visibility but, for divers, the rewards for diving ‘downwind’ are more than worth it.

Like most migratory animals, manta rays and whale sharks follow their food as it moves around the archipelago. This means that during the high season between December and April, when winds are blowing from the northeast, these filter feeders are normally found on the western side of the atolls. The situation then reverses during the low season, which runs from May to November, when manta rays are found on the eastern side of the atolls.

In a nutshell, manta rays and whale sharks tend to congregate ‘downwind’ of the prevailing monsoon as they follow the plankton across the atolls.

For example, in Hanifaru Bay – which is located on the eastern edge of Baa Atoll, both manta ray and whale shark sightings peak during the wet season, when winds are blowing from the southeast. Likewise, in South Ari Atoll’s marine protected area, whale sharks are more often spotted around the eastern island of Dhigurah during the wet southwest monsoon, and move west during the dry northeast monsoon.

Within the central atolls of the Maldives, this rule is clearly defined, with the vast majority of whale shark encounters and almost all manta ray sightings occurring ‘downwind’ of the monsoon. In fact, out of the many dive sites frequented by mantas in the central atolls, only a couple are known to buck the trend – namely Fushifaru Kandu in Lhaviyani and Embudhoo Express in South Male.

However, the further you stray from the central atolls, the less this rule applies. In the far northern atoll of Haa Alifu, for example, manta rays are seen exclusively during the northeast monsoon and all but vanish for the rest of the year. And, in the southern atolls beyond Huvadhoo, reef manta rays are present more or less year-round.

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.

Where and when to see mantas and whale sharks in the Maldives

Armed with this knowledge, you should be well-equipped to plan your ultimate manta ray or whale shark encounter in the Maldives. But, if you’re ever in any doubt, stick to the golden rule – west during the dry season and east during the wet season – and you shouldn’t go too far wrong. Or, if you like to keep things simple, here are the Maldives’ top dive sites for manta rays and whale shark encounters and the best time for an experience to remember.

Sola Corner, Raa Atoll

Sola Corner is the most popular cleaning station in Raa Atoll and regularly offers divers encounters with multiple manta rays at the same time. Located on the western edge of the atoll, close to the island of Kukulhudhoo, this site is favoured by manta rays during the northeast monsoon.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: December to April

Fushifaru Thila, Lhaviyani Atoll

Fushifaru Thila lies within a protected marine park and is the main manta ray cleaning station in Lhaviyani Atoll. This dive site is located on the northeast coast of the atoll, but is one of only a few places known to offer reliable manta ray sightings during both monsoon seasons.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: September to March

Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll

Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll has reached legendary status due to its unparalleled manta and whale shark snorkelling experiences. Hundreds of manta rays routinely gather in this bay to feast on the concentrated plankton, often joined by whale sharks. Congregations occur during the southwest monsoon and peak between July and October.

  • What to see: Manta rays and whale sharks
  • When to visit: May to early October

Dharavandhoo Corner, Baa Atoll

Also located on Baa Atoll's east side, just a stone’s throw from Hanifaru, Dharavandhoo Corner is a cleaning station that sees plenty of manta ray activity. Unlike in Hanifaru Bay where you can only snorkel with the manta rays, this site is the best place in the entire atoll to encounter manta rays whilst diving.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: May to November

Lankan Manta Point, North Male Atoll

North Male’s iconic Manta Point dive site is located just south of Lankanfinolhu, on the atoll’s east coast. As a result, the best encounters occur here during the southwest monsoon. The site consists of several cleaning stations and can be busy with rays and other iconic Maldivian marine life during the season.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: May to November

Dhigu Thila, South Male Atoll

Dhigu Thila sits within a kandu close to the midpoint of South Male's eastern coast. This site is sometimes referred to as Manta Point among local divers who flock here to make the most of its seasonal influx of manta rays during the southwest monsoon.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: May to November

Embudhoo Express, South Male Atoll

Embudhoo Express in South Male is a fast-paced drift through the marine protected Embudhoo Kandu and one of the very few sites offering manta ray encounters on the ‘upwind’ side of the atolls. While the number of rays seen here is often lower compared to other sites, it is a worthwhile option for divers visiting the atoll’s northeast coast during the dry season.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: December to April

Fesdhoo Lagoon, North Ari Atoll

The manta experiences at Fesdhoo Lagoon in North Ari take place at night and involve divers positioning themselves on the sand while lights are used to attract plankton into the area. Manta rays soon arrive, occasionally performing their rare cyclone feeding behaviour beneath the spotlights as they feast on the plankton. 

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: May to November

Rangali Madivaru, South Ari Atoll

One of South Ari's best dive sites, this exceptional spot lies on the south side of Rangali Kandu – a massive channel that funnels nutrient-rich water in and out of the central lagoon. Located on the west side of the renowned Maamigili Marine Protected Area, Rangali Madivaru is one of the top places in the Maldives to observe reef manta rays, particularly during the northeast monsoon. 

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: December to April

Maamigili Reef, South Ari Atoll

Whale sharks are South Ari's number one attraction, and there's no better place to see them than the Maamigili Reef, found at the atoll's far southern tip, in the centre of the Maamigili Marine Protected Area. Sightings within this marine park are practically guaranteed and occur on an almost daily basis.

  • What to see: Whale sharks
  • When to visit: Year-round

Dhigurah, South Ari Atoll

Dhigurah Island marks the eastern end of the Maamigili Marine Protected area and is another popular whale shark hang-out. While whale sharks are present in the marine park throughout the year, encounters are more common around Dhigurah during the southwest monsoon.

  • What to see: Whale sharks
  • When to visit: May to November

Fushi Kandu, Laamu Atoll

Fushi Kandu is located in the northeast edge of Laamu Atoll, between Kandaru and Maabaidhoo, and acts as a key cleaning station for reef manta rays. While mantas are present in the atoll throughout the year, this particular site is active during the southwest monsoon.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: May to November

Hithadhoo Corner, Laamu Atoll

Hithadhoo Corner lies in the southeast of Laamu, within the atoll’s biggest channel. The currents experienced in this kandu can be strong, attracting manta rays which visit the site’s various cleaning stations. Due to its southern location, sightings are possible year-round but peak at the start and end of the southwest monsoon.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: May to June and October to November

Farikede Faru, Fuvahmulah Atoll

This protected site lies at the very tip of Fuvahmulah's southern reef spur, providing an ideal vantage point for peering into the deep open ocean. As a result, Farikede Faru is one of the best spots around the atoll to witness Fuvahmulah’s annual influx of giant oceanic manta rays.

  • What to see: Oceanic manta rays
  • When to visit: March to April

Maa Kandu, Addu Atoll

Situated on the atoll’s north coast, Maa Kandu is where Addu Atoll's most reliable manta encounters occur. On an incoming current, the site’s cleaning station becomes busy with manta rays, offering a couple of hours of action each day. It is recommended that divers use reef hooks to hold their position and enjoy the show.

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: Year-round

Muli Kolhu Faru, Addu Atoll

Muli Kolhu Faru, in the southeast of Addu Atoll, is another fantastic dive site for manta ray encounters. Here, divers can watch as mantas gather close to the remains of an anti-submarine net from WWII. 

  • What to see: Manta rays
  • When to visit: Year-round

Ready to book your dive trip to the Maldives

Contact the ZuBlu Travel Team

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