Located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a well-known dive paradise. Over 1,000 individual islands and numerous atolls mean there is an endless supply of coral reefs to dive and explore. Over 150 liveaboard boats cruise these waters, but because of the abundant dive sites, you’ll rarely encounter another boat. Most companies will pick you up right from the international airport in Malé and whisk you onboard for your cruise. Further, the Maldives is one of the world’s only dive destinations where a liveaboard boat is likely to be more affordable than a land-based stay. Awaiting underwater are everything from whale sharks to vibrant coral reefs and spectacular night dives. Here are our picks for the best scuba diving in the Maldives.
Visitors will not be disappointed with the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks. Unlike in some other locations, where operators and fishermen lure these behemoths in with the promise of a free meal or the giant fish are swimming past with migratory speed, the whale sharks in the Maldives are completely wild and not in the middle of a migration. This means that while snorkeling with them you’ll have a uniquely relaxing experience. Most of the whale sharks here are juveniles. But don’t think that makes them small — at over 20 feet (6 m) and nearly 11 tons, they are still enormous.
Schooling rays and beds of eels
Being inside an enormous fever of stingrays may not sound like everyone’s dream dive, but it is an experience not to be missed. Near the Maldivian capital Malé, an old tuna cannery sitting on its own island is still in operation, and at certain times of the day, tuna off-cuts and bones are dumped into the ocean waters nearby. This attracts well over 100 4-foot (1.3 m) wide stingrays, which turn the nearby waters in a literal stingray highway. These rays aren’t capable of inflicting stings, so diving among this amazing deluge of animals is a safe and unforgettable experience.
Once you have had enough, swim down past 33 feet (10 m) and you’ll see more eels than you can count. Inside seemingly every rock crevice, you’ll see eels of every species in the Maldives. Giant morays over 5 feet (1.5 m) long intertwine with beautifully patterned honeycomb morays; just watch where you put your fingers. While definitely unexpected from Maldivian diving, it is nonetheless and unmissable spectacle.
Perhaps the most graceful of all ocean animals, manta rays alone are enough reason to pack your bags and head for the Maldives. Cleaning stations servicing these ocean giants abound all over the reefs and atolls. Flying like birds underwater, they glide down from the waters above, creating a fascinating spectacle. Beneath them, schools of snapper blanket the seafloor while remoras dot the waters nearby, hoping to hitch a free ride. Being on a liveaboard means you’ll check out multiple cleaning stations, which greatly increases your chances of spotting mantas.
Vibrant coral reefs
Even without a whale shark or manta ray popping in to say hello, the vibrant colors and abundant fish will make every reef dive one of the best dives you have ever had. Orange and green cover the coral surfaces while purple anemones populated by personality-filled anemonefish speckle the dive sites. Among the holes and gaps in the reef walls, magnificently patterned angelfish dart in and out while eagle-eyed squirrelfish peer out from their rocky overhang homes. The gentle currents often push you along through the reef in what feels like the world’s most relaxing and spectacular amusement park ride.
Nurse-shark night dives
Dive at the right nighttime spot and you may be lucky enough swim among a school of enormous, 6.5-foot (2 m) long nurse sharks. These harmless and huge animals are totally unbothered by your presence. Occasionally, in fact, you may even have to give one a gentle push out of the way. Often your dive buddy won’t know that right behind them a shark or three are swimming only a foot away. The most unusual aspect of this dive is the sharks’ utter lack of interest in divers. Unlike many marine animals they aren’t even curious, instead just continuing about their business unperturbed.