Living Waters and Big Animals
The Maldives is a nation of coral reefs. Twenty-six atolls adorned with more than 1,200 coral-shrouded islands rise from the seabed, creating a lifetime of diving possibilities. From calm coral gardens within protective barrier reefs to fish-laden pinnacles and adrenaline-pumping drifts along steep walls, there is something for divers of all abilities and interests. Whale sharks feed on plankton carried by life-giving currents. Reefs are home to more than 1,000 species of fish and 200 varieties of coral. Divers can choose between luxury liveaboard boats and idyllic resorts on small islands, many with rooms that perch directly over the water.
- Best for: Fish life, big animals, drift diving, coral reefs
- Best season to visit: Year round
- Weather: Sub-tropical, with two monsoon seasons – hot, humid and dry in northeast monsoon from November to March, with more rain during the southwest monsoon from June to October. The sun shines year round, with an average temperature around 84 to 90 degrees
Things to Do
About Diving in Maldives
Though scattered across thousands of square miles of ocean, dive sites in the Maldives fall into three general categories, based on structure: Individual islands within an atoll are generally surrounded by a reef that creates a sheltered lagoon. Typically sand bottomed and less than 60 feet deep, lagoons offer relaxed diving on coral formations. Channels that cut between islands move tidal flow to and from lagoons. It is these current-washed passages that provide some of the most thrilling dives, as this is where big animals gather. The region's third distinct feature are the numerous coral-covered pinnacles that rise from the depths, serving as both habitats for reef creatures and gathering points for blue-water fish. Water temperatures range from the high 70s to mid 80s, with some southern sites dropping into the mid 70s from December to March.
Diving in Maldives Tips
Surface markers are required by most all dive operators. Though drift dives are quite common, some sites may require divers to hold a position in a current. Tethering devices known as reef hooks are often used, but divers should also make the effort to streamline their dive gear and to weight properly, as overweighting will require excessive BC inflation, resulting in the more current-catching surface area.
Best Places to Dive in Maldives
Gray reef sharks gather at Lhaviyani Atoll to bask in the currents of the Kuredu Express. Mantas circle the cleaning stations of Fushivaru Thila, while whale sharks are frequent visitors to Ari and Thaa atolls. The broad channel at Olhugiri Kandu delivers a thrilling drift with white tip sharks and eagle rays, with nearby walls adding Napoleon wrasse and fast-moving tuna that hunt the vast schools of baitfish. At Fotteyo Kandu the narrow canyons and caves of Kandu Vaavu are covered in soft corals, and attract sharks, eagle rays and tuna in great numbers. Sometimes sightings can include potato groupers, mantas and even hammerhead sharks.
What to Pack for Diving in Maldives
A surface marker buoy and reel that can be deployed from depth should be standard equipment for any drift dive. Reef hooks can often be rented, but it can be more cost-effective to buy and bring your own. Skin suits for lagoon dives, 3mm on drifts, and some may want a 5mm when diving in currents.
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Diving in Maldives
The Maldives are made up of 26 individual atolls that together hold more than 1,100 islands, Most are small and uninhabited, and surrounded by fringing reefs formations that create sheltered shallow lagoons near the islands, along with more expansive bodies of confined water within the ring-like atoll. Points around the ring are cut by channels, known locally as kandus. Tidal water exchanges create brisk currents in the kandus, and the narrower the channel, the stronger the flow. Within each atoll's ring of islands, numerous rock pinnacles rise from the sea bottom almost to the surface. These formations are essentially islands that did not quite make it to the surface, and they are known as thilas. They are washed by nutrient-rich upwellings that feed sponges and soft corals, and sustain a wide range of marine life, from resident crustaceans and reef fish to blue-water visitors. The tidal waters that ebb and flow through the kandus and wash over the thilas account for the abundance of marine life and big animals that are the hallmark of diving in the Maldives. When the currents are running, sharks, tunas and mantas gather in the passes, and Napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, snappers, jacks and sweetlips swarm pinnacle walls. Many dives are performed as drifts, allowing participants to go with the flow rather than fight the current. At some sites where currents flow around an underwater headland, the plan may call for divers to anchor themselves in place to watch the passing show. In years past, this involved holding on to rocks on the sea floor, but most operators now employ reef hooks. These devices consist of a length of line attached to a metal graphing hook line that a diver places into a crevice in the reef then clips the other end to their BC harness. Currents around thilas can range from mild to strong, and dive plans are formulated to match conditions. On larger thilas, eddies form on the down-current side of the pinnacles, giving divers a respite from the flow. The walls of thilas are often carved into canyons and caverns that create hiding places for reef dwellers such as octopus, moray eels and scorpion fish. The vertical faces hold resident schooling fish such as blue striped snappers, big eyed jack and fusiliers, and attract passing tuna, eagle rays sharks and manta rays. There are a number of dive resorts scattered across the archipelagos of the Maldives. Most sit on small or private islands and often feature idyllic over-water accommodations, Equally popular are the first-class liveaboards that give passengers access to a broader range of sites on multiple atolls.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
A valid passport, that must have at least one blank page for entry stamp is required for entry into the Maldives. A visitor visa is available at the airport for stays up to 30 days for no additional cost.
Exit Requirements: All visitors departing the Republic of the Maldives must pay an airport departure tax of approximately $10.00 U.S.
No immunizations are required to enter the Maldives from the U.S. Check with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel to Maldives at Traveler's Health CDC.
Culture and Customs
The country of the Maldives is 99 percent water and one percent land. This nation of islands has long been a maritime crossroads along the trading routes of the Indian Ocean. Traders and sailors from North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Far East brought elements of their own cultures that linger, but the Maldivians have long maintained their unique cultural identity. Family and community are of utmost importance to a way of life that is understandably shaped by the sea and the need for self-sufficiency within small island communities. So too is a tradition of hospitality, forged through centuries of interaction with maritime visitors. Maldivians are known for their inventiveness and intricate craftsmanship, which can be seen in handicrafts such as lacquer works, mat weaving, coir rope making and calligraphy. An iconic symbol of the Maldives is the traditional dhoni, a hand-crafted wooden boat similar to an Arab dhow. For centuries, these vessels served as the only connection between island communities and carried home bountiful catches. The Maldives also boasts a rich culture of music and dance, with influences drawn from three continents, but made their own. A traditional performance that is often staged for visitors is the Bodu Beru, where sarong-garbed dancers sway to rhythmic drumbeats and chants. Tourism has brought the modern world to the Maldives, but these changes are seen primarily at resorts, and in the capital city of Male, where shops and homes envelop every inch of the island with a vibrant pulse.
Electricity, Phone and Internet Access
Electricity in the Maldives is 220-240 V, 50 Hz. The standard socket is the U.K. style with three pins, but there are some variations. An adapter with different pins is best. If your device only accepts 110 V input, a step down adapter may also be needed.
The international access code for the Maldives is +960. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States). No city/area codes are required. Check with your cell phone provider for international plans which may include data, text and voice. Many hotels offer WiFi but there may be a charge for it.
Most of the population uses desalinated water while rural areas may use rainwater. Due to the differences in taste, most people prefer to use bottled water which is readily available for purchase.
Language & Currency
Dhivehi is the spoken language throughout the Maldives. It has a mix of English, Hindi and Arabic words. English was introduced as the medium of instruction in most schools in the 1960s, while Dhivehi is still the language used for the overall administration.
Maldives currency is called Maldivian Rufiyaa (MFR or MVR) and noted locally as Rf. The Rufiyaa is divided into 100 Laari or cents. Maldives Rufiyaa comes in different denominations of notes and coins. The notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 while the coins are available in denominations of 10, 25 and 50 Larees or 1 and 2 Rufiyaa.
Major currencies can be exchanged at banks, tourist resort islands, hotels and leading shops. Payments in hotels can be made in most hard currencies (particularly US Dollars) in cash or major credit cards. Most major island resorts, local and souvenir shops will accept American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Arrangements vary from island to island.
The time zone in the Maldives is Maldives Time or MVT, which is 5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+5 GMT). Maldives does not observe Daylight Saving Time.
Location, Size and Population
The republic of Maldives is a chain of 1,190 islands in the Indian Ocean, located southwest of India and Sri Lanka. The islands are small and don't appear on some maps. The islands are 99% sea and 1% land comprised of 26 natural atolls of dual island chains.
Area: 298 sq. km. (115 sq. mi.), over 1,100 islands; twice the size of Washington, DC.
The total population of the Maldives is approximately 390,000.