It’s a general belief that when it comes to scuba diving, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed sighting. Which is why our co-founder Din raised an eyebrow when he was promised manta encounters in the lesser-known Addu Atoll in the Maldives…
When Marc, the owner of Dive Center Aquaventure, told me the manta ray sighting success rate is pretty much 100 percent in Addu, two thoughts popped into my head: “Is this guy for real?”, and, “Where the hell is Addu?”. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and decided to visit Marc on this little-known island in the Maldives called Maradhoo in Addu Atoll (aka Addu City), the southernmost atoll which happens to be shaped like a heart.
Getting to Addu & the accommodation
I flew to Male and took a domestic flight to Gan, one of the six major islands in Addu Atoll. The best thing about the domestic flight was that I didn’t have to pay for excess baggage. Overweight by 15 kilograms and all I had to do was tell the check-in counter staff that it’s all diving equipment; no muss, no fuss.
Tom, co-owner of Dive Center Aquaventure, picked me up from the airport in Gan and then it was a short 10-minute drive to the accommodation, Beluga Guesthouse. It wasn’t a hotel or a resort, but a huge space rented by the dive centre to house divers. There are three bedrooms, a fully functional kitchen, a dining area, a living room with a TV and even a washing machine. It’s a spacious place for up to six people. There are even two bicycles on the premises for guests to explore the island.
About Maradhoo Island
Since I arrived late at night, I skipped the first day of diving to have a look around the island.
Frankly, I was expecting Maradhoo to be dead and deserted. But it wasn’t. In fact, the island was lively with gobs of charm. Throughout my stay, I split my time between diving, chilling out at cafes, people watching, and meeting interesting characters and listening to their stories about Addu.
The place has a very positive vibe, one that’ll make anyone feel right at home. The locals are very approachable and they seem to be very receptive of tourists. It’s nice to be greeted by random strangers as you walk down the streets of a foreign land. Plus, the fact that the place isn’t littered with out-of-towners makes Addu that much more excellent.
Food, glorious food
Dive Center Aquaventure works with the nearby Palm Village Restaurant to provide meals for guests. It’s just three minutes away from the Beluga Guesthouse. Too lazy to walk over? There’s a delivery service you could use. The deal: you pay USD25 for three meals, and it’s inclusive of free-flow mineral water and you can order all the items on the menu except for the lobster, the platters, and other drinks. There’s a wide array of cuisines on offer, from Maldivian to Thai and Malay and Western.
I have to say, the food was simply amazing. I tried almost everything from the extensive menu and couldn’t decide what my favourites were. Food aside, I have to single out the delicious ‘Sam’s Milkshake’. I’m not a fan of milkshakes and hardly crave it, but I seriously couldn’t get enough of it here (so much so that I had it every day).
Addu’s amazing Manta Point
For the first dive, the group went straight to Addu’s Manta Point, the site where sightings were “guaranteed”, for a checkout dive. Highly recommended if you are a new diver. There was a slight current, which died down after a couple of minutes, but to my disappointment, there were no mantas to be seen. Marc explained that we were too early for the tidal change but assured me they would be there on the second dive.
“What surprised me was that the mantas here appeared to be very friendly and rather curious.”
And indeed, there they were on the second dive. Approximately 15 mantas (and three whitetips sharks) hovering around at the cleaning station, which was right on the edge of the reef at about 20 metres. We whipped out our reef hooks and spent the dive watching the majestic mantas fly by.
What surprised me was that the mantas here appeared to be very friendly and rather curious. On subsequent days, we returned to Manta Point to try and get better shots of the animals and, to our delight, the visibility got better with each visit. The sandy bottom at this dive site was an excellent point for me to anchor myself while shooting the mantas – which, by the way, came so close that some were almost touching my camera’s dome port. Oh, and on one of the dives, we counted close to 30 mantas here and even saw dolphins swimming past while we were scuba diving!
Other dive sites
Manta Point may have been the highlight of my trip, but there were other noteworthy dive sites as well. For starters, there was the WWII wreck called the British Loyalty. The sunken vessel lies on its starboard side at a depth of 30 metres while the upper portion is at 17 metres. There’s a torpedo hole in the hull that makes for an interesting swim-through, and the wreck is mostly covered with a mix of hard coral and soft coral. Here we saw the usual reef fish, some turtles, and a resident batfish. Visibility was about 15 metres.
We also did a wall dive at Bodu Hoholha, a reef that starts at 8 meters and drops vertically to about 30 metres. Along the wall there were beautiful gorgonians and around 25 metres there were overhangs, which formed “steps” in the reef and caves, some of which are large enough, and safe, to enter. I was lucky enough to spot an electric ray for the first time, and other sightings include turtles, bumpheads, snappers, and giant trevallies.
Another spot we were brought to was the Aquarium. It consists of a kilometre-long seabed that’s chock full of extremely healthy hard coral and marine life, from small, colourful reef fish to cool moray eels (explains the name of the dive site). Marc mentioned that the local authorities were pushing for this reef to become a marine protected area.
After our final dive, we were treated to more dolphin action. As we were heading back to the jetty, we saw a superpod of dolphins. There must’ve been about 200, 300 of them and it was nice to have them escort us back. What a sweet ending to my trip in amazing Addu!
Plan your trip
Average cost: Rates start from USD160 per night for a double room (two pax); diving rates start from USD49 per dive for 15 dives and more; domestic flight from Male starts from USD440 (return trip)
Best time to visit: January – April
Getting there: Fly to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (aka Male International Airport) and take a domestic flight to Gan International Airport in Addu Atoll; the guesthouse is a 10-minute drive away
Average visibility: 20m – 30m
Average water temperature: 28°C – 30°C throughout the year
Experience level: Intermediate – advanced
For more info, visit the official website of Dive Center Aquaventure.