Crystal-clear waters, protected reefs and some of the rarest marine life in the world… these are the best dive sites in the Maldives.
The remote archipelago, nestled into the Indian Ocean, is made up of 26 atolls and 1,200 islands, with only 200 occupied. However, the main attraction is under the sea, where a curious collection of creatures swim, scuttle and sway along the sea floor.
Remote resorts are perfectly perched for days spent underwater, with comprehensive dive centres offering equipment and guidance for every level. While it’s possible to dive in the Maldives all year round, you’re most likely to spot manta rays or whale sharks between January and April, when you’ll be spoilt with warm, sunny days and crystal-clear viewing conditions.
The postcard-perfect Baa Atoll is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, recognised for promoting sustainable development. As a result, the crystalline lagoon is teeming with underwater flora and fauna that aren’t threatened by development or over-fishing, with kilometres of vibrant coral, fish and marine life. Dive experiences include stunning reefs dotted with swim-throughs, caves and overhangs. It’s one of the best places in the Maldives to see marine turtles – especially the hawksbill species – but is also known for its manta ray population. Between June and November, these gentle giants flock to Hanifaru Bay for feeding, competing with whale sharks for plankton in the reef. Unfortunately, diving isn’t currently permitted in the bay itself, but you can get up close to the animals with a snorkelling expedition before heading further out to dive.
Dive depth: 5m–30m
Gaafu Alifu / Huvadhoo Atoll
Known for its untouched coral reefs, multi
–coloured fish and shark sightings, the Gaafu Alifu Atoll is home to some of the Maldives’ best dive sites. , Take the plunge to find Coral Garden, a 2km-stretch of hard coral species, or Maareha Kandu, where reef sharks and eagle rays swim side by side. Experienced divers can take on the 30m descent to Villingili Kandu, where you’ll be able to spot barracudas and whitetip reef sharks. Gaafu Alifu also happens to be one of the few places in the Maldives where you can swim alongside a spinner shark, known for its unique leaps when feeding.
Dive depth: 8m–30m
Keen divers will find luxury among the reefs of Lhaviyani Atoll, with over 50 dive sites offering something for every stage of expertise. Experienced divers can drift from corner to corner of Madivaru Kandu’s channel, watching out for eagle rays, white
Dive depth: 5m–40m
Stay: Fushifaru Maldives
Haa Alifu Atoll
Colours beyond belief await under the waves of Haa Alifu Atoll, in the north of the Maldives. It’s home to the famous Dhonakulhi reef, where blue stripe snappers, tuna, moray eels and lionfish dart in and out of coral and swim along the ocean floor. During manta ray season, the rays are often seen cleaning, while dolphins, turtles and whale sharks are also known to swim on by. The atoll has a site for every dive level – from the beginner-friendly Aquarium to the advanced Cathedral, a long reef covered in blue soft corals.
Beginners dive depth: 6–16m. Advanced dive depth: 18–30m
South Ari Atoll
Forget planning your trip around the right season; whale sharks are a year-round fixture in the South Ari Atoll, making it one of the best spots for diving in the Maldives. The South Ari Marine Protected Area has almost daily sightings of the gentle giants as they feed. Intrepid divers will also be rewarded with manta rays at Madivaru and a fully intact shipwreck at Machchafushi. Sunk on purpose in 1998, it sits upright, making for spectacular photos, colourful coral and wonderful wildlife, including ghost pipefish and frogfish. The South Ari Atoll is also a beginner diver’s playground, with plenty of shallow and easy dive sites to explore.
Dive Depth: 5m–30m
North Malé Atoll
One of the original dive sites in the Maldives, thanks to its proximity to the capital, Malé, the North Malé Atoll is known for its multitude of vivid fish, remarkable shipwrecks and endless coral fields. The world-renowned Banana Reef houses hundreds of blue-lined snappers, while Manta Point is so named for the prevalence of manta rays. An old shipping route has resulted in a few shipwrecks where coral has flourished, while at HP Reef and Nassimo Thila, coral fields extend for as far as the eye can see.
Dive Depth: 5m–40m
Stay: Baros Maldives
A pristine paradise awaits in the Laamu Atoll, found in the south of the Maldives’ central atolls. Off the beaten track and therefore relatively untouched by tourism, the peaceful patch is a quieter alternative to more popular areas, offering beautifully blue lagoons, low-lying coral islands and reefs perfect for divers of every level. Beginners can stick to the reefs in the lagoon, while more confident divers should make a beeline for the northern channels (like Fushi Kandu), where strong currents mean a chance of spotting white
Dive Depth: 5m–30m+
South Malé Atoll
Home to one of the Maldives’ best-known dive sites, Kandooma Thila, the South Malé Atoll welcomes visitors from all over the world for marine life encounters. Current-swept channels and nutrient-rich waters make it a hotspot for reef life, with sharks, schools of fish, eagle rays, giant frogfish and manta rays (May to September) all making an appearance. The famous Kandooma Thila (or Cocoa Thila) is known for its manta cleaning station, grey reef sharks, turtles and colourful fish. Guraidhoo is another popular marine protected area, with an abundance of schooling fish, sharks and rays.
Dive Depth: 5m–30m