In case you hadn’t heard already, the Maldives is one of the world’s top locations for scuba diving.
With an unbeatable abundance of marine life, stunning blue waters and, of course, endless stretches of white sand beaches, the Maldives are what diving dreams are really made of.
Spanning across 35,000 square miles in the middle of the Indian Ocean, this vast island chain is an enormous underwater playground for scuba divers to explore.
Ready to tick the Maldives off your scuba diving bucket list? Well, we’ve got you covered with this complete guide to scuba diving in the Maldives.
Let’s dive right in.
What’s scuba diving like in the Maldives?
If we had to sum up scuba diving in the Maldives in just one word that would be it.
But you’re probably looking for a little bit more specific information. Fortunately for you, we’ve got plenty of space.
The Maldives are home to a variety of diverse diving environments that provide opportunities for scuba divers of all levels. And with 26 different atolls and over 1,100 islands, there’s more than enough dive sites to keep you occupied for a lifetime.
Diving in and around the atolls, you’ll find vibrant coral pinnacles (known locally as giris and thilas) and fringing reefs (farus).
Depending on the location and depth, currents can be strong here so a reef hook may be recommended. But there are some sheltered areas and shallow pinnacles (giris) accessible to all divers.
You’ll also encounter some magnificent underwater formations including enticing caverns, dramatic overhangs and some seriously stunning swim-throughs.
Where the atolls meet the open ocean, there’s a number of deep channels (kandus) which provide some more exhilarating drift dives.
As the tides change water flows into or out of the atolls generating those strong currents that attract larger marine life including sharks, tuna and mantas.
There are a few shipwrecks in the Maldives, but it’s usually less about the wreck itself and more about the artificial reefs that have formed around these sunken structures.
And lastly, you’ll find lagoon environments on the inside of the atolls and beautiful house reefs on many islands. These are mostly shallow dives protected from the current, perfect for check dives and beginners.
The temperature of the water in the Maldives remains between a wonderfully warm 26°C and 30°C all year. The visibility varies from 15m to 40m depending on the season and location. But overall the diving conditions are top-notch!
what can I see scuba diving in the Maldives?
Although the coral here is beautiful, it’s the high density of marine life that makes the Maldives so special. And in particular the big stuff.
Those deep channels running between the islands bring nutrient-rich waters full of plankton, attracting and sustaining an incredible array of marine life.
On most dives, you’ll find yourself swiveling your head trying to take in all the action. From huge schools of snappers, jacks, and sweetlips to patrolling barracuda, reef sharks, eagle rays, sea turtles, and napoleon wrasse.
Trust us, you’ll be running out of space in your logbook on every dive.
And let’s not forget about the frequent sightings of whale sharks and manta rays. These majestic creatures are what really put this nation on the map.
Don’t worry, you’ll still find all the usual reef suspects including scorpionfish, lionfish, triggerfish, moray eels and a colorful array of nudibranch.
As a general rule, the northern areas have healthier corals and more macro life but the southern areas are better for spotting sharks.
Oh, and did we forget to mention that you’ve even got a good chance of seeing hammerheads, tiger sharks, and thresher sharks in certain spots?
Diving really doesn’t get much better than this.
best dive spots in the Maldives
Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of epic dive spots in the Maldives?
It’s hard not to be.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of the best atolls for scuba diving including some of the top dive sites in the Maldives.
It’s important to note here that many of the atolls have two names. And to make it even more complicated, several of the smaller atolls are located within the larger, main atolls.
So to keep it as simple as possible, we’ve divided the top spots into North, Central, and South.
Best Northern Atolls for Scuba Diving
Offering stunning underwater topography, mantas, and other bucket list pelagics the Baa Atoll is a popular choice for both new and advanced divers.
As a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, you know you’re in for a seriously impressive abundance of marine life.
Not To Be Missed Dive Site: Horubadhoo Thila
Starting from 12m and sinking down to more than 30m, this coral-covered pinnacle is a magnet for both macro life and large pelagics.
Watch schooling blackjacks hunt fusiliers and enjoy the spectacular show created by the shoals of glassfish that swirl through the rock formations here. Between May and November, this thila becomes a manta cleaning station.
Not To Be Missed Dive Site: Dhonfanu Thila
Expect to be blinded by fish at this beautiful thila. Advanced divers can enjoy a stunning swim through lined with black coral, entering at 25m and exiting at 18m. And, of course, there’s a high chance of mantas here.
Not To Be Missed Snorkeling Spot: Hanifaru Bay
Although diving is forbidden, Hanifaru Bay marine reserve still deserves a spot on our list.
Because between March and December, vast plankton fields accumulate here attracting hundreds of manta rays and several whale sharks. So, it’s definitely worth a visit!
Haa Alifu & Haa Dhaalu Atolls
These atolls in the far north of the Maldives are home to fantastic reefs boasting pristine hard and soft corals, several shark species, and the majestic mantas.
In the Haa Alifu atoll, the channels are much wider, and shallower, than the rest of the Maldives. This reduces the currents and makes it the perfect dive location for beginners to progress and experience the excitement of drift diving with sharks.
Not To Be Missed: Filadhoo Wreck, Ha Alif Atoll
Resting at just 14m, this wreck is overrun with colorful corals and surrounded by schools of groupers, snappers, and fusiliers that weave in and out of the structure.
You’ll often find eagle rays swooping around the hull and reef sharks patrolling the surrounding reef.
Best Central Atolls for Scuba Diving
Famous for it’s clear blue waters and accessibility, the Ari Atoll is home to many of the best dive sites in the Maldives. And with healthy reefs and a year-round population of mantas, whale sharks, and dolphins, it’s easy to understand why it’s one of the most popular.
Not To Be missed Dive Site: Maaya Thila, South Ari Atoll
This submerged pinnacle features some seriously remarkable rock formations. With multiple caves, overhangs, and tunnels covered in soft and hard corals, it’s an underwater photographer’s dream.
Not to mention the large number of reef fish, patrolling barracuda, and multiple stingrays you can find here. And if you’re lucky enough to dive here after sunset you can witness a reef shark feeding frenzy!
Not To Be Missed Dive Site: Ukulhas Thila, North Ari Atoll
At the end of an enormous outer reef, this long, narrow pinnacle rises from the middle of a wide channel to form a popular manta cleaning station.
Currents can be strong here so hook in and enjoy the show as these curious giants glide past you.
Located on the Northeastern corner of Ari Atoll, Rasdhoo Atoll is one of the only places in the world that is able to boast Hammerhead shark dives.
There are also some beautiful reefs and channels to explore. Plus you can also easily access many of the top sites from the North Ari Atoll from Rasdhoo.
Not To Be missed Dive Site: Hammerhead Point, Rasdhoo Atoll
To catch a glimpse of these shy creatures you’ll need to head out into the channel at sunrise, drop down to 30m and just wait in the big blue.
Trust us, it’s well worth it when a school of 30 scalloped hammerheads appears in front of you.
Malé Atoll is known for vast reefs, the current swept channels, deep caves, and steep drop-offs. Both the North and South area sees plenty of schools of fish and big pelagics, including grey reef sharks, whitetips, eagle rays, and tuna. There’s also a high concentration of mantas in the North.
Located close to the airport and home to some of the Maldives’ most stunning sites, this atoll is a great choice for those short on time or budget.
Not to be missed: Okobe Thila
Also known as Barracuda Thila, this incredible dive site can provide different and unique experiences depending on the current.
Starting at 30m you’ll spiral up this long, thin pinnacle past large moray eels, healthy coral formations, turtles, whitetip reef sharks and more.
Make sure you bring a flashlight with you on this dive, as there’s plenty of holes and cavities to examine.
Not to be missed: Kandooma Thila, South Male Atoll
This 300m long teardrop-shaped pinnacle is considered one of the best dive sites in the Maldives. The current can be strong here so a negative entry is usually required.
On the western side, also known as Jack Corner, you’ll spot barracuda, reef sharks, groupers, jacks, and trevally playing in the current.
If you’re lucky you’ll spot a school of eagle rays gliding past. Drop down to 23m and there are cave hiding schools of big-eye trevally and snappers. Then finish your dive by spending your safety stop with turtles on top of the reef.
Best Southern Atolls for Scuba Diving
Located in the deep south, this secret pelagic paradise offers divers the chance to encounter thresher sharks, oceanic whitetips, and even several tiger sharks in just one dive! Plus schools of great and scalloped hammerheads, oceanic black mantas, and mola mola.
Fuvahmulah is on par with Galapagos and Cocoa, and absolutely should not be missed if you’re serious about scuba diving. This is one of the only places on the planet where you can see all these rare shark species together in their natural environment.
This atoll offers superb channel diving, vibrant corals, whale sharks, mantas and a chance of spotting schooling hammerheads. Although the currents here are not always suitable for beginners.
Not To Be Missed Dive Site: Miyaru Kandu
A deep channel offering a thrilling drift dive and hidden caves full of wire corals and groupers. However, this site’s main attraction is the chance of a rare encounter with a hammerhead at the channel’s edge.
Not To Be Missed Dive Site: Alimatha Jetty
This night dive is one of the most famous dives in the Maldives. Think phosphorescent plankton, hundreds of nurse sharks, multiple marble rays and schools of trevallies all twirling around you. It’s truly a one of a kind experience!
When is the best time to go diving in the Maldives?
You can dive in the Maldives at any time of the year. But if you’re after a quick answer…
January through to March is considered to be the absolute best time to visit the Maldives for a scuba trip. The weather is dry, the seas are calm and visibility is at its best.
Between May and July is considered the worst, when the weather is most unsettled and visibility is reduced.
However, we all know that the weather and diving conditions can be a bit more complicated than that.
So keep reading if you’re looking for a more detailed overview of when to dive in the Maldives.
Dry season or Northeast Monsoon (November to April)
This is considered the peak season for scuba diving in the Maldives. At this time of year, the skies are blue, the visibility is excellent and the lack of wind means smooth sailing.
During the Northeast monsoon, the currents flow through the atoll channels from east to west. Reef sharks will gather on the eastern sides of the atolls and mantas will be drawn to the west where plankton flows out into the open sea. The current is strongest during this season.
As one of the world’s top scuba diving destinations, it’s best to book in advance for the high season as the top liveaboards and resorts are often fully booked 6 months in advance. And last-minute availability is almost unheard of.
Diving may cost a little more during this season but if it’s your first time diving in the Maldives it’s worth spending extra.
Wet season or Southwest Monsoon (May to October)
This is the time when the skies are cloudier, winds are stronger and seas a little rougher. Although it is usually just short, heavy bursts of rain followed by sunshine and the diving is still good.
During the southwest monsoon season, the above process is reversed. Currents run through the channels from west to east. The mantas will gather on the east while sharks, and the better visibility, will be found to the west.
The overall visibility is reduced during this season, especially after heavy rain. But as a result, diving is less expensive and you can find some great deals on liveaboards. Plus, the sites will be far less crowded..
What’s more is that the lower visibility is predominantly due to an increase in plankton. Read: more chance of encountering ‘big’ marine life.
When is the best time to see Manta Rays and Whale Sharks in the Maldives?
Let’s be honest, this is the question we’ve all been dying to ask!
Well, you’ve actually got a pretty good chance of seeing manta rays and whale sharks at any time in the Maldives. Just another reason why this is one of the best places in the world for scuba diving.
But the very best time of year to see them is between August and November. During these months the southwest monsoon brings an increase in plankton attracting an even greater number of whale sharks and mantas.
Don’t forget to check the phases of the moon
Sorry, what? Are we werewolves?
You’ve probably never thought about the moon when planning your dive trip. But wherever you are in the world, the phases of the moon are what determines the strength of the current underwater.
So, when you’re heading to a destination famous for drift diving it’s worth considering which phase of the moon to visit during.
If you’re a relatively inexperienced diver, or you want to avoid strong currents, you should not visit the Maldives during a new or full moon, especially during the dry season.
However, if you’re unfazed by strong currents, this is your best chance to see pelagics, like manta rays and sharks, in action.
Having said all that, like most places in the world, the seasons in the Maldives have become less and less predictable in recent years. Whatever time you decide to go diving in the Maldives you’re guaranteed an incredible experience!
How can I go scuba diving in the Maldives?
You’ve got 3 different options for diving in the Maldives:
- Local island
- Island resort
What works best for you will depend on your budget and what sort of experience you’re looking for.
So let’s review your options.
Scuba Diving in the Maldives from a local Island
You might have always thought that scuba diving in the Maldives is way too expensive for you.
Well, think again.
Staying on a local island is a surprisingly affordable way to dive in the Maldives. Not only will it be cheaper but you’ll also get to experience real island life while contributing directly to the local community.
And you’ll still visit the same incredible dive sites that the fancy island resorts do!
We recommend Fulidhoo island for it’s laid back lifestyle and the opportunity to night dive with nurse sharks. But Thulhaadhoo, Maafushi, and Ukulhas are also great options for divers on a budget or those looking for a more authentic Maldivian experience.
Remember that the Maldives is a Muslim country so you’ll need to be mindful of local traditions and may have to follow certain rules when outside of your accommodation.
Scuba Diving in the Maldives from an island resort
Dreaming of empty white-sand beaches and that beautiful bungalow over the water?
This is where you’ll find them.
If diving is not your only reason for coming to the Maldives, or you’re traveling with a non-diver, a resort island is the best option for you. As well as incredible diving you’ll have a wider variety of activities and, of course, that true paradise island experience that the Maldives is famous for.
When diving from a resort island you’ll have the option of shore dives on the house reef and boat dives. Boat dives will often be 2 tank trips to explore a variety of sites in the local area. There may be the option to visit sites further afield but there will be an additional fuel charge.
There are over 100 different resorts in the Maldives, from very basic to very luxurious. But not all islands in the Maldives are blessed with access to world-class dive sites. So make sure you do your research properly when choosing a resort.
We recommend selecting an island resort in the Ari Atoll as this region has some of the best sites in the Maldives. Or have a look at our location guide above.
Top tip: Choose the region or atoll you want to visit first and then find a resort in that location.
Scuba Diving in the Maldives on a Liveaboard:
We’ll be totally honest with you here, a liveaboard is the best way to scuba dive in the Maldives.
We know we say it a lot, a liveaboard is the ultimate diving experience. But have you looked at a map of the Maldives? It’s pretty clear that this country is, without a doubt, best explored by boat.
On a liveaboard in the Maldives, you’ll be able to access more, and often better, dive sites than if you’re based on an island. Plus, you’ll be able to visit the dive sites at the exact perfect time for the given sea conditions and season.
What’s more, is that for the number of dives on offer a liveaboard is actually cheaper than diving from a resort. Do you really need another reason to choose a liveaboard?!
Check out our complete guide to the best liveaboards in the Maldives to find the perfect option for you.
Top tip: Book well ahead to secure the trip you want as they fill up quickly. The top liveaboards are often fully booked up to a year in advance and last minute availability is almost unheard of.
What certification level do I need to dive in the Maldives?
Although there are many sites accessible to beginner divers, to really make the most of what the Maldives has to offer you need to be an advanced open water diver who is comfortable in currents.
That being said the Maldives can be an amazing place to upgrade your certification or just gain more experience. Most operators will be able to advise you on which sites are suitable for your experience level as well as guidance on how to handle some of the more challenging ones.
And if you’re planning to get certified on your trip to the Maldives, the island resorts often have fantastic house reefs and access to sheltered lagoons that are the perfect place for learning to dive.
If you’re already an advanced diver, we highly recommend the nitrox certification for diving in the Maldives. You’ve got a much higher chance of spotting those rare shark species in those deep channels when you’ve got that extended bottom time.
No idea what we’re talking about? Find out all about the benefits of nitrox in our complete guide to diving with enriched air nitrox.
Don’t have time to complete these certifications before your trip?
No need to stress. You can complete your advanced open water or nitrox certifications on most islands and liveaboards.
What dive equipment do I need in the Maldives?
It is mandatory, and actually required by law, that all scuba divers in the Maldives have a dive computer. So if you don’t own one, you’ll have to rent one.
A dive computer is one of the first, and arguably most important, pieces of dive equipment we recommend purchasing. Take a look at our guide to the best dive computers to find out why.
If you’re a more experienced diver and want to make the most of the epic drift dives in the Maldives, then a surface marker buoy (SMB) and a reef hook should also be on your packing list.
Of course, you’ll be able to rent all the dive equipment from your operator. But across a 2-week diving trip this adds up very quickly. And we all know that badly fitting rental gear can really ruin your dive.
So if you’re a serious scuba junkie who wants to save every dollar you can for future underwater adventures, then you should really consider investing in your own dive equipment.
Check out our extensive dive gear reviews to find the right equipment for you.
How do I get to the Maldives?
To reach this remote island nation you’ll need to fly into Velana International Airport, located on its own man-made island next to the capital, Malé.
From the airport, you can easily reach the capital in 10 minutes via the public ferry.
If you’re staying at an island resort, they will arrange a speedboat or seaplane transfer directly from the airport. Similarly, the majority of liveaboards will pick you up directly from the airport via their dhoni.
For the popular local islands, there are speedboats but it’s best to book ahead as these fill up fast.
Alternatively, you can take a slow ferry from Malé but timetables change frequently and are very weather dependent.
An extra few things you should to know before traveling to the Maldives
The Maldives is a Muslim Country
And as a result, there are some important and strictly enforced rules that you should know about.
You cannot buy or drink alcohol on any of the inhabited islands. You’re not even allowed to bring alcohol into the Maldives (bear that in mind when you’re browsing the duty free!).
Homosexuality and public displays of affection are illegal. And women must dress appropriately (i.e at least shoulders and knees must be covered).
While the Maldives is more lenient on clothing and behavior for visitors arriving at the airport, it’s always good to be respectful of a country’s culture.
On resort islands and liveaboards, these rules don’t apply but if you’re planning on staying in Malé, or on a local island, you should expect to abide by these laws when outside your hotel or guesthouse.
Worried you won’t be able to fully enjoy the beach lifestyle?
Don’t panic. The popular local islands have a ‘bikini beach’ so you can still top up your tan and enjoy a dip in the ocean without causing offense.
Maldives Green Tax
All tourists visiting the Maldives are required to pay a Green Tax of $6 per person per night when staying at resorts, hotels or on liveaboards. Or $3 per night in a guesthouse. This is often, but not always, incorporated into your package. The revenue from this goes towards waste management and conservation.
Visas for The Maldives
All nationals receive a free 30-day visa on arrival but you need to have a valid onward or return ticket and at least 6 months validity on your passport.
Seaplanes are incredible but also very expensive
Flying on a seaplane over the Maldives is seriously amazing. And it allows you to access some of the more untouched regions. However, it will cost you anywhere from $200 to $500 return depending on the distance.
So if you have a limited budget you want to make sure you choose an island or liveaboard that can pick you up by boat from the international airport.
Scuba diving in the Maldives is an unforgettable experience. And you’ve now got all the information you need to plan your dream diving trip.
One, we have no doubt, that you’ll want to repeat.
Luckily for you, there are enough atolls and dive sites in the Maldives to keep you occupied for a lifetime!
Still got questions? Let us know in the comments.
Alexa Worswick is a PADI and SSI scuba diving Instructor, recreational freediver and freelance copywriter. She first learnt to scuba dive in the UK aged 15 and has since travelled and dived in multiple locations across 3 different continents. After quitting her marketing job in London in 2016, Alexa is now based in Indonesia where she can pursue her passion for the ocean fulltime.