Diving in the Maldives: A guide for first-time visitors

Heading to the Maldives for the first time? Here's what you need to know as a scuba diver

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Midnight snapper, one of the many common reef residents of the Maldives

As one of the world’s top scuba diving destinations, The Maldives is on every scuba diver’s bucket list. The amount of marine life is remarkable, and the dive sites, stunning blue waters, and of course, the famed white sandy beaches are what diving dreams are made of. Here’s the thing, though: Because The Maldives is so huge, it can be tough deciding where to go and what sort of expectations one should have. If it’s your first time visiting the Maldives, and if you don’t want to be disappointed, there are seven things you need to know before booking your dive holiday.

#1 Best time to visit

Climate

The Maldives has a tropical climate, which means hot, humid and dry weather. Air temperatures range from 27 to 32 degrees Celsius, and water temperatures range from 28 to 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year.

Dry season (December to April)

December through April, which is also the high season and the best time to dive the Maldives. The visibility is excellent, and the seas are calm. It will cost a little more, but first-time visitors should really dive the Maldives during this period.

Wet season (May to October)

July through October is the low season as there’s a high chance of rain and rough seas, but it’s mostly sunny throughout. The visibility underwater is also reduced during this period, especially after heavy rain. As a result, diving is less expensive during this time. Recommended only for repeat visitors.

Moon phases

Wherever you are in the world, the phases of the moon actually determine the strength of the current underwater. An inexperienced diver or divers who wish to avoid strong currents should not dive when it’s a new or full moon, especially during the dry season. However, if you are not one to be fazed by strong currents, this is your chance to see pelagics like manta rays and sharks in action.

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The Maldives’ picture-perfect beaches are hard to resist

#2 Best places to dive

It’s best to explore Maldives via liveaboard, but it is also possible to do so while you’re based in a land resort or a guesthouse (you just probably won’t get to visit sites that are further out).

Ari Atoll

Ari Atoll is popular for two reasons: one, it has many dive sites (especially in the north), and two, it is close to Male, the capital of Maldives, and the airport. Most, if not all liveaboards will sail to Ari Atoll as part of their itinerary. If you prefer staying in a resort or guesthouse, find one in the central part of Ari Atoll; there are daily diving tours that cover some of the best dive sites in the area.

North & South Male Atoll

The dive sites here are easily accessible by speedboat from Male. If you only have a few days, stay in a resort or guesthouse near Male. Popular sites include Okobe Thila (North Male Atoll) and Kandooma Thila (South Male Atoll), where you can spot tuna, reef sharks, turtles, and more.

Vaavu Atoll (aka Felidhoo Atoll)

One of the Maldives’ most famous dive sites is Alimatha Jetty – where you can dive with hundreds of nurse sharks at night.

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The amount of fish and marine life found in the waters of the Maldives is incredible

#3 Types of diving

Kandus

Kandus are channels that connect the inner atoll to the ocean. Depending on the tide, water flows either into or out of the atoll, creating either incoming or outgoing currents. At the borders of the atoll, there may be an island or a channel between two islands where water flows through – they are called kandus. During these drift dives, depending on the current, you either start on the edge of the atoll and drift in with the incoming current or start inside the atoll and follow the wall with the outgoing current.

Thilas and giris

These are huge pinnacles where coral formations of various sizes rise from the bottom of the atoll. Depending on the formation and depth, currents can be anywhere from moderate to strong. It can also be very challenging to dive thilas and giris because you often have to descend 20 to 30 metres down to get to the middle of the current. If you drift away over the thila and out into the blue, sea life practically disappears and you’ll have to abort the dive.

House reefs

Every island has its own house reef and check out dives are usually done there. Depending on the location (and your luck, of course), house reefs can be beautiful and full of life.

#4 Underwater conditions

A typical dive in the Maldives usually lasts between 45 to 50 minutes, which is a given since you’ll be reaching depths of up to 30 meters and diving in moderate to strong currents. With that being said, the Maldives is not quite suitable for beginners or inexperienced divers. Also, a reef hook is a must in the Maldives; using one when the currents are strong is the safest way to stay put to catch some big fish action.

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Reef sharks – another common sight in the Maldives

#5 Marine life

What can you expect to see in the Maldives? Some common marine life include: Napoleon wrasse, giant trevally, barracuda, sweetlips, triggerfish, snapper, stingrays, eagle rays, manta rays, reef sharks, tuna, and jacks.

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Dhonis lined up along a jetty in the Maldives

#6 The dive boat

When you dive the Maldives, you’ll be on a dive boat that’s commonly referred to as a dhoni. There are two exits on either side of the boat, which allow for quick entry into the water.

#7 Dive requirements

You will require a dive computer to dive in the Maldives – it is mandatory and required by law. If you don’t own one, you will have to rent one. Also, it’s important that you have a surface marker buoy (SMB), a reef hook, and of course, good buoyancy.

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Din is the co-founder of GoodVis and scuba diving forum ScubaSG. He began diving when he stopped sailing and felt the need to be near the ocean once again (also because he received a BCD for his 34th birthday and didn’t know what to do except go diving with it).