The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on earth can visitors experience such a range of spectacular diving - from encounters with huge whale sharks and oceanic manta rays, to muck dives with beautiful Rhinopias and the exceedingly rare psychedelic frogfish.
Baa Atoll is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, justifiably famous for its incredible gatherings of manta rays and whale sharks at Hanifaru Bay. Here snorkelers can witness barrel-rolling chains of mantas and gulping sharks, all feeding on the plankton that is concentrated by the currents in the narrow bay. However the atoll also offers plenty of other dive experiences with beautiful reefs marked by swim-throughs, caves and overhangs, and current-swept thilas packed with marine life. Baa Atoll is off the beaten track for many tourists and, outside of the Hanifaru area, the atoll retains a sense of peaceful calm - perfect for a relaxing Maldivian holiday.
- Snorkel with congregations of feeding manta rays and whale sharks at Hanifaru Bay
- Dive a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
- Enjoy some of the best thila dives in the Maldives
- Fantastic underwater topography, with dramatic overhangs and swim-throughs
As well as the famous Hanifaru Bay with its feeding aggregations of manta rays and whale sharks, Baa Atoll offers a wide variety of diving encounters. Several sites are known for their exciting topography with swim-throughs and overhangs packed with soldierfish and rabbitfish and the atoll also has some unique species, such as pink hydrozoan corals, bryozoans and sea slugs that have only been recorded from Baa Atoll. However, it is the famous thilas that makes Baa Atoll such a special dive destination. The majority of these are concentrated around the eastern tip of the atoll, providing easy access to the best of Baa.
Horubadhoo thila is well-known as a manta cleaning station. Rays gathering at the site during the southwest monsoon but this thila can be a great dive at any time of year, with dense schools of glassy fish that swirl and undulate in the currents - a spectacular sight with or without the manta rays. Further south at Nelivaru Haa divers can explore the site’s many caves and overhangs in search of stingrays, groupers, batfish and schools of oriental sweetlips.
Close to the famous Hanifaru Bay is Dhonfanu thila, a beautiful reef with interesting topography and a pinnacle that faces out into the prevailing currents. The entire thila becomes a cleaning station during manta season and the swim-through lined with black coral at 25m, along with the prolific marine life at the current point, can make for some beautiful dives. In the centre of the atoll is Dhigali Haa, a long, narrow reef characterized by a colourful shallows with brights red encrusting coralline algae and healthy stands of branching Acropora corals. This wonderful reef is a great site for spotting barracudas and turtles, as well as schools of tiny silvery fish that shimmer in the light rays.
Without a doubt Baa Atoll is home to one of the world’s best snorkeling experiences at Hanifaru Bay, home to the world-famous feeding aggregations of manta rays and whale sharks. This unique concentration of marine life only occurs in the right season, usually running between May and December. Read the ‘Visiting Hanifaru Bay’ tab to learn more.
Elsewhere in the atoll, shallow reefs provide fantastic snorkeling opportunities for those looking for encounters with beautiful reef fish, turtles and maybe even a passing eagle ray. Resorts will offer guided trips to the best reefs nearby, or guests can easily explore the lagoon around their island of choice. Either way, Baa Atoll is one of the best locations for snorkelers in the Maldives and one we would highly recommend.
Baa Atoll is located north-west of Malé and separated from the central atolls by the broad waters of the Kandiva Channel. The atoll is comprised of 75 islands scattered across nearly 1200km2 of sea and of these, only thirteen are inhabited and home to a population of around 11,000 Maldivians. Six islands have been developed into resorts, including luxury brands such as Six Senses and Four Seasons, as well as several smaller resorts on several local islands.
In 2011, Baa Atoll was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, an indication of the fantastic diversity found in the region and of the growing role tourism can play in conservation and sustainable economic development. As part of this designation, the Maldivian Government announced it would protect various reefs, islands and channels within Baa, as well as introducing strict guidelines for tourists visiting Hanifaru Bay and protecting the incredible marine life that can be found there.
On dry land, the government also protected several important islands such as Nibiligaa, home to roosting and nesting sites for Lesser Noddies and Brown Noddies, as well as the Black-Naped Tern and Greater Crested Tern - and a fabulous location for bird watching - and Goidhoo Island, with Baa Atoll’s largest mangrove forest and roosting sites for migratory birds such as the Ruddy Turnstone and Northern Shoveler. Several other islands - including Olhugiri, Mendhoo and Bathala - have also been marked for protection as important nesting sites for both green and hawksbill turtles.
All international flights to the Maldives use Malé’s International Airport, located on a separate island, Hulhule, about 2km east of Male’ island. Domestic flights and seaplane transfers to resorts also use this airport, although the seaplane terminal is on the far side of the island and necessitates a free, five-minute bus transfer around the runway.
Guests traveling from Malé to Baa Atoll can choose from several different options. FlyMe, our preferred domestic carrier, operates regular daily flights from Male to Dharavandhoo. Alternatively, Trans Maldivian Airways operates seaplane transfers - 35-minute scenic flights with amazing views of the atolls, islands and lagoons. From Dharavandhoo, resort transfer boats whisk guests across the lagoon to their island of choice. Quite often the cost of this transfer is included as part of your dive package.
Public speedboats from Malé take about 2 hours and 45 minutes and cost USD50 each way whilst the passenger ferries take 8 hours and cost around USD25 each way.
If you have a late flight arrival or if the transfer to your final destination is not available immediately, there are a number of accommodation options in Male itself. Alternatively, Hulhumale next to the airport is a good option, with affordable accommodation and hotel bars serving alcohol which is prohibited in the capital or on local non-resort islands.
For those looking for an island-based holiday, there are a number of luxury resorts including Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Soneva Fushi and the retro-chic Finolhu to choose from. The majority are located on the outer islands of the atoll but all offer excursions to Hanifaru Bay and have easy access to the other fantastic dive sites on offer.
Affordable options are also found on accessible local islands such as Dharavandhoo, with its domestic airport and direct flights from Male. Our top pick is Aveyla Manta Village – founded by Risheen and Sidey, two locals with a shared passion for the ocean and with over thirty years of diving experience in the Maldives.
During the manta ray season, liveaboards plan itineraries that include Baa Atoll in order to take advantage of the fantastic experiences on offer at Hanifaru Bay. However, we highly recommend joining one of the Manta Trust’s expeditions. These trips provide guests with an opportunity to get involved with their research and gain a deeper insight into the incredible marine life of Baa Atoll.
The Maldives experience a tropical monsoonal climate, with two distinct seasons; the northeast monsoon (dry season) and southwest monsoon (wet season). Temperatures can range from 25-31°C, with an average year-round temperature around 27°C. Water temperatures are also relatively constant throughout the year at 26-29°C.
Like most places in the world, with the ever-increasing impact of climate change, the seasons and transitions in the Maldives have become less predictable in recent years and more prone to shifting slightly, however the two monsoons still follow similar patterns whenever they arrive:
Northeast monsoon (January – April)
The dry season usually brings blue skies and calm winds - perfect weather a topical holiday. The season runs from January to April with the transition shoulder periods arriving earlier in December or continuing into May. The change to the wet season is usually signified by a wet spell of three or more consecutive days of rainfall along with a shift in wind direction.
Southwest monsoon (May – November)
The wet southwest season generally means more cloudy skies, stronger winds and a greater chance of rough seas. However, you would be unlucky if you had to endure anything other than a few hours of dramatic rain, as most of the storms are relatively short lived and soon blow themselves out.
As is the way in the tropics, rain can occur with little warning however the resorts are normally very good at providing sufficient warning and planning any alternative activities or events accordingly.
The monsoon seasons dictate the movement of the large pelagics such as manta rays and whalesharks within the atolls as these filter-feeders naturally follow the plankton. In Baa Atoll, the feeding aggregations of manta rays and whale sharks in Hanifaru Bay runs from May to December with the best times usually from late July to early October.
We have accounted for these occurrences in our search tool, but feel free to contact us directly for further insight and assistance in arranging your desired Maldivian experience for the best locations at the best times.
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
In July 2011, Baa Atoll in the Republic of Maldives was declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, joining an illustrious list of international Biosphere Reserves including locations such as the Galapagos Islands and Ayer’s Rock in Australia. Recognising Baa Atoll’s “great potential for demonstrating sustainable development through the Maldives and the region, while relying on a green economy”, this declaration by UNESCO will help protect the marine diversity within the atoll with the larger aim of conservation, research and development all being successfully interconnected. A fantastic example of tourism playing a key role in conservation.
This declaration as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve was the culmination of many years of work and planning by the Maldives Government. However special mention must be made of the Manta Trust and its Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) founded by Guy Stevens. The Save Our Seas Foundation and Four Seasons Resort at Landaa Giraavaru helped support the initial research and conservation work on the MMRP and it was through its efforts that the iconic Hanifaru Bay, famed for its mass-feeding aggregations of manta rays and whalesharks, was declared an official Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2009. With the implementation of a site specific management plan, the future of Hanifaru Bay and its visitors was ensured.
With the Hanifaru Bay MPA in place, it was a logical step to protect the atoll as a whole and ensure both nature and tourism can exist in equilibrium. However, as Guy Stevens noted, it is “extremely important that these titles of protective intent are translated into real conservation on site.”
Maldivian Manta Ray Project
The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) was founded in 2005 by British marine biologist and the Manta Trust founder Guy Stevens. Guy began working in the Maldives in 2003 and during his time was captivated by these incredible animals. Keen to learn more, he found a scarcity of information and research being done on these animals and was subsequently inspired to start the MMRP, becoming one of the very first manta research projects around the world and the flagship project of the Manta Trust.
The aims of the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) when it was established were to characterise the population of manta rays in the Maldives. Big aims, but with so little known about mantas there were a lot of questions to answer especially learning more about the life cycle, population dynamics and habitat usage of the Maldives manta population. To achieve these aims the project has worked closely with the Maldivian government, tourists, local communities, volunteers, students and tour operators to create greater awareness and protection for these graceful rays and their habitat.
To date they have documented over 4,417 different individual mantas as of 11th January 2018 and have provided vital support in the designation and management of new Marine Protected Areas in the Maldives and also their main study site, Hanifaru Bay, being designated as a core area in the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve in July 2011.
Research continues and the MMRP looks to work closely with resorts to help encourage awareness and adoption of best practices. The Manta Trust is also now running citizen-science expeditions providing guests with unique opportunities to learn about conservation and science, as well as contribute to important research on manta populations. Learn more about the Manta Trust's expeditions.
OTHER AVAILABLE RESORTS
Join Simon Hilbourne onboard the M/Y Conte Max for a ‘citizen science’ expedition to explore the pristine and rarely visited northern atolls of Baa, Raa and Lhaviyani diving on untouched reefs and looking for poorly studied manta ray populations. The package includes shared accommodation in standard cabins.
- 8 days, 7 nights onboard the M/Y Conte Max.
- Full board.
- 3 or more dives / snorkeling excursions every day.
- Green tax at $48 per person payable onboard.
- Entry fee to Hanifaru Bay Marine Protected Area at $30 payable onboard.
- Service charge / crew tips to be paid onboard.
Join Niv Froman onboard the M/Y Conte Max for a ‘citizen science’ expedition specifically designed for people who are IN LOVE with manta rays, and are eager to see as much of them as possible! The aim of this trip is to find feeding aggregations, and allow guests to experience the wonder of immersing themselves amongst a feeding frenzy of these gentle giants. The package includes shared accommodation in double cabins.
- 14 days, 13 nights onboard the M/Y Conte Max.
- Full board.
- Transfers from Malé.
- 3 or more dives / snorkeling excursions every day.
- Green tax at $84 per person payable onboard.
- Entry fee to Hanifaru Marine Protected Area at $30 payable onboard.
Join Tam Sawer onboard the M/Y Conte Max for a ‘citizen science’ expedition timed to coincide with the most productive monsoon winds and lunar currents. The aim of this trip is to use the knowledge of Manta Trust experts to find feeding aggregations and allow the guests to experience the wonder of a feeding frenzy of these gentle giants. The package includes shared accommodation in standard cabins.
- 8 days, 7 nights onboard the M/Y Conte Max
- Full board
- 3 or more dives / snorkeling excursions every day
- Green tax at $48 per person payable onboard
- Entry fee to Hanifaru Bay Marine Protected Area at $30 payable onboard