For a nation whose territory consists of more than 99% water, marine wildlife is wildly abundant in the Maldives. With an amazing diversity of corals and over 2,000 fish species ranging from colourful reef fish and moray eels to sharks and rays, the Maldives has some of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world. Just like its beaches, we enjoyed the perfect coral reefs in the South Malé Atoll.
Besides the daily snorkeling at our local Maafushi bikini beach reef, as well as exploring the house reef during our day at the 5-star Vadoo Resort, we wanted to see even more of the Maldives underwater world. In many ways, what the Maldives has underwater is even more spectacular than what it has above ground. So we made sure to sign up for diving and snorkeling excursions at other famous sites in the atoll.
Diving in the Maldives
Maafushi had three dive centers and I was surprised to find the Shark Diving School offering dives at only USD 30 per tank with full equipment rental, with a bonus of being the only diver that day!
The first dive site was at Miyaru Faru (or Shark Point), famous for its, you guessed it, sharks! Needless to say, I was extremely excited to be swimming with sharks and seeing them up close. Napoleon fish (google them, they really do look like Napoleon) and occasionally hammerhead sharks can also be seen at this site.
The steep coral wall followed the southern tip of one island and we stayed at a constant 22m below the surface. There were a few moray eels and even a turtle! While that was nice, I wanted to see the big boys. During the 40 minute dive, both the divemaster and I restlessly looked for sharks… unfortunately they were nowhere to be seen.
Apparently the current wasn’t strong enough for sharks to be present – that’s why sharks swim where there are waves, so they can breathe in the strong currents. It was pretty disappointing because I thought I had a really good chance to seeing sharks, but I still enjoyed the beauty of the reef and its many fish! Better luck next time.
The second dive made me forget all about my disappointment from missing sharks. I was immersed in excitement again as we hit the bottom of the Kuda Giri Wreck. It was my first time wreck diving as well as my first time at more than 30 meters underwater!
I will always remember seeing my first sunken ship wreck lying on the sea bed. We dived through, playing with the many fish that inhabit the area. After leaving the wreck, we swam around the huge pinnacle right beside it where the corals were so colourful and the fish so abundant. I often looked up in the direction of the surface and saw many swarms of fish swimming against the sunlight – it was simply beautiful.
That was it for scuba diving – time passed faster than I would have liked. It was an incredible experience and I couldn’t believe I got to dive in the Maldives, especially for as affordable as anywhere else!
Snorkeling in the Maldives
The standard for snorkeling in the Maldives was absolutely unparalleled. It’s almost guaranteed that you will find a beautiful house reef at any of its 1,100+ islands and many more within the atolls. We wanted to experience some of the more secluded snorkel sites and booked a day excursion with iCom tourist company in Maafushi. In the itinerary were three snorkel sites that were famous for its stingrays, manta rays and sea turtles, as well as lunch on a deserted sandbank.
The first snorkel site was directly south of Maafushi and not that far from the island. The first thing we noticed at the site was the unbelievable colour of the water – an impossibly light turquoise synonymous with the Maldives. Even though we had seen something similar to this every day at Maafushi, it wasn’t any less breathtaking this time. Above water, we had a 360-degree panoramic view with pristine azure waters with green tropical islands in the distance. Underwater, there was a beautiful reef full of fish. It really doesn’t get any better than this for snorkeling.
We were handed some bottles with fish food so that we could do some feeding of our own while we snorkeled. Whenever anyone released some food into the water, a cloud of fish instantly formed around us. The gentle yet ferocious fish followed us through most of our swim across the reef.
I will have to try to always snorkel with fish food in the future, as I have never had so many fish come so close to me before. The already cool experience became even better when we spotted a stingray in the distance!
Both Julie and I tried our best to get closer to the stingray. With its hypnotic wavy movement, the stingray was, of course, way faster than any of us and vanished from our sights.
After the excitement of spotting a stingray, we got back on the boat and headed to the second snorkeling point (Manta Point) to try and spot some manta rays. Right after we jumped from the boat, our snorkel guide spotted a moray eel. We watched as our guide had a fun time playing with it and taking lots of close-up shots with a GoPro.
We did not see any manta rays, but we did see countless dolphins swim by. They were way too fast underwater to keep up with, but just like that, the snorkeling excursion also became a dolphin cruise.
We hopped back onto the boat and spent the next hour riding with the dolphins. Sometimes pods of dolphins were so close that we felt like we could touch them. We all crowded in the front of the boat, oohing and awwing, straining our eyes to look for grey humps in the water.
Every now and then some dolphins did their tricks – jumping, flipping, spinning multiple times – they were great entertainers. All I could think was how cool this was. Way better than Atlantis, we were seeing hundreds of dolphins in their natural habitat, swimming with joy and freedom with their fellow dolphins. It was magical.
Once the pods were too far away, we turned back and headed for lunch on a private sandbank surrounded by water. It was beautiful and different than any other island experience. Even though the sandbank was bigger than what we expected, it was still small enough that we had a 360-degree view of the sea and could reach it within seconds.
After lunch, we went to the final snorkeling point at Turtle Reef, famous for its sea turtles. We weren’t disappointed here and saw everything we were promised and more. A few friendly turtles swam under us, feeding from the corals and occasionally coming up to the surface to breathe.
Our snorkel guides were freedivers (they can hold their breath for five minutes and thus dive without a tank) and were able to dive 20+ meters to “hypnotize” some turtles and lure them to the surface. Julie nicknamed them “turtle whisperers.” Because of our snorkel guides, we were literally seeing wild sea turtles right in front of our eyes. They were so close, within arm’s reach. We both held our breaths, afraid to scare the turtle away, as well as not believing that we were this close. It was definitely the highlight of the day.
Diving and snorkeling in the Maldives were some of the best times we had. That’s saying something, considering just being in the Maldives was in and of itself a step in complete paradise. Underwater Maldives was spectacular – I’m not sure how we will top this anywhere else in the future. The bar has now been set impossibly high, but we’re so grateful to have had this chance to personally experience the marine wildlife that we have.
For more pictures from diving and snorkeling in the Maldives, please visit the gallery!