Scuba Diving in Maldives – Complete Diving Site Guide

by Crissandra Ayroso
woman wearing scuba gear

With unexplored reef, every shark you could dream of, untouched coral, and some of the most diverse varieties of marine life on the planet, the Maldives is an underwater wonderland for scuba divers to explore.

While the warm tropical climate makes diving in the Maldives an ideal destination to visit year-round, the best time to dive is between December and May, when the air is dry and the breezes are calm. The average temperature falls between 28°C and 30°C, which happens to be the same temperature as the water.

In the Maldives, consider staying on a liveaboard. Liveaboards are essential for scuba divers venturing out far and wide across the atolls of the Maldives. Liveaboards are specially chartered dive boats for divers to live on for days and up to two weeks at a time, primarily for the purpose of being able to go further out from dive site to dive site.

Accommodations on here are pretty modest, so if you’re looking for a luxury charter, don’t hold your breath. The average number of people onboard is about 15-20, but can easily vary. These charters are scheduled and depending which atolls you’re heading off to, and some are easier to charter liveaboards than others.

There are six major diving sites in the Maldives. Read on to learn more with our handy little guide.

  • Ari Atoll
  • Far North Atolls
  • North Malé Atolls
  • Northern Atolls
  • South Malé Atolls
  • Southern Atolls

Ari Atoll

After the North Malé Atoll, the Ari Atoll is considered the atoll most open to tourism and the most popular. The best time to dive the Ari Atoll is from December to May when the water is at its calmest. Visibility is consistent at depths of 15 to 30 metres but will vary from site to site. At 40 kilometres in length, the Ari Atoll is the second largest atoll in the Maldives.

ari atoll in the maldives

Best dive sites in the Ari Atoll:

  • Veligandu Island Beach, North Ari Atoll
  • Ukulhas Thila, North Ari Atoll
  • Broken Rock, South Ari Atoll

What you’ll see:

Whale sharks, manta rays, hammerheads, eagle rays, Napoleon wrasse, grey reef, white tip sharks, blacktail barracuda, batfish

Reef summary:

  • Depth: 5 to 40m+
  • Visibility: 10 – 30m
  • Currents: Can be strong
  • Experience level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Number of dive sites: 50+
  • Distance: Approximately 35km southwest of North Malé

Far North Atolls

Venturing out to the Far North Atolls is a journey off-the-beaten-track. You’re not likely to bump into another liveaboard, but you are likely to come face to fin with marine life that rarely encounters humans. You’ll drift dive, explore caves and even visit the Maadhoo wreck.

underwater wreck and diver

 

Best dive sites in the Far North Atolls:

  • Baarah Thila, Haa Alifu Atoll
  • Nellahidoo Thila, Haa Dhaalu Atoll

What you’ll see:

Sharks, manta rays, guitar sharks, white and black tip reef sharks, leopard sharks, blackfin barracudas, wrasse, moray eels, nudibranchs

Reef summary:

  • Depth: 5 – 30m+
  • Visibility: 20 – 30m
  • Currents: Can be strong
  • Number of dive sites: > 40
  • Distance: 280km north of Malé

North Malé Atoll

Some of the oldest and most popular dive sites in the Maldives are in the North Malé Atoll. The topography is diverse with spectacular rock faces, caves, steep drop-offs and formations making it a huge draw for beginner and expert divers.

atolls of the maldives

Best dive sites in the North Malé Atoll:

  • Gaathgiri (aka Banana Reef)
  • Angsana Ihru, North Malé Atoll (See the wreck of a 270-foot freighter that sank in 1981 in Maldive Victory)

What you’ll see:

Sharks, manta rays, black snappers, grouper, bannerfish, squirrelfish, grubfish, soldierfish

Reef summary:

  • Depth: 5 to 40m+
  • Visibility: 10 – 30m
  • Experience level: Beginner to advanced
  • Number of dive sites: 35

Northern Atolls

The Northern Atolls is an excellent place to see the pristine reef and to spot manta rays. While shark sightings aren’t common here, you’ll discover a great site of grey reef sharks in the Noonu Atoll.

whale shark and fish

Best dive sites in the Northern Atolls:

  • Dhonfanu Thila, Baa Atoll
  • Lhaviyani Atoll
  • Noonu Atoll
  • Raa Atoll

What you’ll see:

Manta rays, bannerfish, redtooth triggerfish, tuna, barracuda, eagle rays, surgeonfish, wrasses, butterflyfish, triggerfish

Reef summary:

  • Depth: 5 to 40m+
  • Visibility: 10 – 30m
  • Currents: Can be strong
  • Experience level: Beginner to intermediate
  • Number of dive sites: 50+
  • Distance: 180km north of Malé

South Malé Atolls

The South Malé Atolls are considered one of the best and most popular dive sites in the Maldives. It’s more developed than the others, with more of a selection of resorts to stay at than other atolls, similar to the North Malé Atolls.

woman scuba diving by sweetlips fish

Best dive sites in the South Malé Atolls:

  • Kandooma Thila
  • Cocoa Thila
  • Guraidhoo Kandu South

What you’ll see:

Sweetlips, snappers, groupers, grey reef sharks, eagle rays, fusiliers, moray eels, squirrelfish, fans

Reef summary:

  • Depth: 5 – 40m+
  • Visibility: 10 – 30m
  • Currents: Can be very strong
  • Experience level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Number of dive sites: > 20
  • Distance: 6km south of North Malé

Southern Atolls

Much of the ocean and reefs in the Southern Atolls are still yet to be explored and considered to be a dive site for the most advanced of expert divers. There aren’t many resorts nearby, and liveaboards passing by are few and far between, but for the keen diving adventurer, this may be the excursion to sweep you off your feet.

squid swimming in the water

Best dive sites in the Southern Atolls:

  • Laamu Atoll
  • Meemu Atoll
  • Thaa Atoll
  • Vaavu Atoll

What you’ll see:

Whale sharks, manta rays, white tip reef sharks, eagle rays, tuna, hammerhead sharks, potato groupers, wrasse

Reef summary:

  • Depth: 5 – 30m
  • Visibility: 20 – 30m
  • Currents: Can be very strong
  • Experience level: Advanced with more than 30 logged dives
  • Number of dive sites: Approximately 100
  • Distance: 200km south of Malé

 

Dive in for the experience of a lifetime in the underwater world of the Maldives. Talk to one of our Expert Travellers for more information on Better Beach Maldives holidays.

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