If you can only dive one dive. This is the question we often find ourselves asking during our tours as we will typically spend only one or two nights at a resort and so only have the opportunity for one dive. So when we are planning our dive, we will ask, “well, what’s the best dive around here?” Even for people with the luxury of an extended stay, this is a fairly typical question. When we were having longer stays with the family years ago, we would still ask this question. Many times, we loved the dive so much we just opted to keep repeating it through the week (we went to Manta Point during our Kurumba stay three times).
One common feature that I noticed about many of the selections is that they are situated in channels at the edge of the ocean where the open water merges with the protected inner atoll waters. Such dives will often have a degree of current to them which limits them to AOW divers, but it is the current which contributes to the marine life and activity there.
For the research, I relied on the input from a range of dive schools and dive masters I have met over the years as well as Sam Harwood’ and Rob Bryning’s superlative book “Dive the Maldives” with occasional reference to Tim Godfrey’s “Dive Maldives”.
The list below is admittedly extremely subjective, but the choices are as good a place to start as any. I welcome suggestions and alternative proposals in the Comments section.
Addu: Maa Kandu East (Mudakan) – 3 of the 7 top dive sites reviewed by Harwood here have the top 5-star rating, but Mudakan is the most accessible and the only one with also a 5-star snorkelling rating. “With magnificent table and brain corals, schools of fusilier, turtles, eagle rays, and sometimes manta make this beautiful dive an absolute joy.”
Baa: Hanifaru Bay – This Marine Protected Area has become so legendary that the government has actually put up restrictions on diving there. Still, divers can dive around the limits with the best chances to see its bountiful mantas and even the occasional whale shark.
Dhaalu: Fushi Faru – Recommended by St. Regis Vommuli dive centre Manish Mahadik saying, “An abundance of marine life including big schools of reef fish, colorful coral, lobsters, occasional Eagle Rays, Moray Eels and sharks…suited for all experience levels from beginner to advanced.”
Faafu: Jumping Jack – Recommended by Werner Lau as “This is one of our top dive sites [in the Maldives]. With milder currents, it offers less experienced divers a really truly pleasurable diving experience. Seven beautifully overgrown tilas on the outer reef edge connect the farus to the north and the south of the channel.”
Gaafu Dhaalu: Mafzoo Giri – One of two dive sites in the entire “Huvadhoo” (Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Dhaalu together) atoll with 8 stars (out of possible 10 – 5 for Fish and 5 for Coral) by Alexander von Mende who wrote an entire guide book just on diving the atoll. And one of just 2 (with Kondey Kandu) with 5 stars for Fish. “Offers a lot for its size…hosts no less than six residing leaf fishes behind a dizzying wall of glass fish.”
Gaafu Alifu: Mas Thila – One of two 7 star sites (out of possible 10 in von Mende’s book) and described as “a real jewel…one of the best dive sites in Huvadhoo”.
Haa Alifu: Becky’s Caves – Recommended by a number of dive masters to us. The nearest, JA Manafaru’s Sun Diving School describes is as “At the depth of 20 meters, one huge recess of the reef shows on one side a wall completely covered of soft corals of different colors; from yellow, pink, white to orange, a real universe of colors! Bring with you your torch and your camera: one fantastic dive for everybody but one rare show to see!”
Haa Dhaalu: Heaven & Hell Thila– The choice of Miranda Pontiglione, Base Leader at the Barefoot diving center – “For sure this is one of the best diving spots in our area. All the thila is covered by big colourful soft corals. Along the thila wall there are many overhangs where you can find cleaning shrimps, lobster, groupers and moray eels. A couple of canyons located in the deepest part of the thila will make your dive unforgettable.”
Laamu: Fushi Kandu – Commended by Ocean Dimensions’ Petra Hellaman at Six Senses Laaumu who says it is especially great for seeing sharks. “The most spectacular dive is when divers cross the channel…Then, divers can swim inside the atoll to try to encounter dolphins” (Daily Dive).
Lhaviyani: Kuredu Caves – I was told about this site by a number of Maldives aficionados before I finally got there and having dived there it remains one of my top ten most memorable dives ever. The highlight is the turtles. Not just lots of them, but the biggest turtles you will ever see. Honorable mentions to the striking “Shipyard” double (!) wreck site with the distinctive vertical wreck (whose bow protrudes out of the water).
Meemu: Mantas and More – The consensus recommendation from both dive centres in the atoll. “Nearly untouched dive sites are easy to dive and feature a great diversity of corals and fishes. Several spectacular channels, e.g. Mantas & More, count amongst the top ten in the Maldives” -Werner Lau
Noonu: Dhiffushi Kandu – One of two sites called out by Harwood in Noonu “The highlight of this dive are the sightings of the large Green Turtles that inhabit the reef feeding off the sponges and corals. The reef has excellent fish and this is a great dive.”
North Ari: Miyaruga Thila – Tim Godfrey uses a 4-star rating system where only 4 dive sites out of the nearly 300 he reviewed in all the Maldives got the top mark – and 3 were in the North Ari Atoll. Of those, got the strongest coral rating. Godfrey describes Miyaruga, “The landscape is stunning and divers can easily circle the reef in one dive if the current permits…Much of the thila is undercut with caves and the surface is coated in soft coral and colourful sponges.”
North Male: Manta Point – Some of the most reliable mantas in the Maldives at a prominent and conveniently close feeding station. “An astonishing number of manta rays can be seen here with they come to be cleaned” – Harwood.
Raa: Labyrinth – The most frequently sites and raved about Raa site on the web and the Dive Point dive center describes it as, “Medium-sized Thila which has crumbled over the centuries and has thereby formed wonderful canyons and tunnels in the reef. The Thila distinguishes itself with its huge schools of fishes and coral growth (soft- and hard corals). A big number of bat fishes accompanies you on every dive on this reef.”
South Ari: Kudarah Thila – Both Godfrey and Harwood list 2 top rated dive sites in the South Ari, but Kudarah Thila is the only one they both rate tops. “One of the most exciting dives in the South Ari” says Godfrey. I omitted the any of the diving areas on the southern tip famous for whale sharks (also an MPA) because there is no single one that predominates, diving is restricted because of the whale sharks, and snorkelling is often a better way to find and see them.
South Male: Kandooma Thila (aka Ran Thila) – Pretty much uniformly recommended to us by dive centres as Cocoa, Olhuveli, and Rihiveli and the only 4 star dive site in South Male in Godfrey’s “Dive Maldives” (“one of the most exciting dive sites in South Male Atoll and boasts great scenery as well as prolific fish life”)
Thaa: Guraidhoo Corner – The only Thaa dive site noted by Harwood with a 4-star dive rating, “A large crevice in the drop-off with over hangs and caves and swimthoughs. Here as the current eddies, huge balls of snapper, rainbow runner, jack fish, tuna and shark are common.”
Vaavu: Fotteyo Kandu – One of Harwood’s rare 5-star sites, “This is a stunning, remote place and it is well worth diving here at least twice and at least 4 or 5 times to fully appreciate its beauty.”
One of the more frequently asked questions on the Maldives TripAdvisor Forum is whether there is another other place on Earth similar to the Maldives. People bitten by the Laccadive bug which is known to inflict a lifelong addiction (case in point) seeking to get hooked up with a fix.
Usually the query is inspired by a stretched budget and the enquirer is seeking a generic, store-brand knock-off of the Maldives to satisfy their craving (in the Maldives Forum Search put in “like the Maldives” – here’s the longest thread). Thailand, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, BVI, Turks & Caicos, Australia are frequently proposed, but a little research shows that nearly all resorts there are all on quite big islands and relatively close together. Aside from the basic similarities of sun and sand, not nearly the “plot of sand in the middle of the ocean” experience of the Maldives. World-travelling friends who introduced us to the Maldives have sent us postcards saying “[Tropical Island X] is wonderful…but it isn’t the Maldives.”. We ourselves have joined this island hunt with our trip to Indonesia which was superb…but it wasn’t the Maldives.
Over recent months I have been digging a bit deeper to come up with the closest facsimiles for those who need an alternative dose whether it be for a change of destination, somewhere less far to travel (the Maldives is quite an expedition for those on the other side of the world in the Americas), or even to save a bit of money. Despite the lattermost inspiration, nearly all the resorts I uncovered came in at just under $500 for entry level BB per person which is not too far off typical Maldives prices for nice 4+ star or a modest 5 star property. The closer the alternative destination property was to Maldives characteristics, the close the racks rate were to those in the Maldives.
There are obviously thousands of tropical island resorts in the world. For my most prominent filters, I excluded the following deal-breakers which keep a property from really having the Maldives vibe:
Big Islands – Must be small enough to walk around in the time it takes to drink a bottle of beer and no elevation.
Mediterranean – Weather and sea life too limited.
Private Islands – Financially inaccessible (for most) properties that rent for tens of thousands for the whole place such as Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the Caribbean, David Copperfield’s Musha Cay in the Bahamas, or Noa Noa in the Philippines.
Local Islands – The islands have to be dedicated resort islands (ie. no local residents), but can have multiple properties like Malaysia’s Mabul Island (and how the old Kuramathi, Maldives set up used to be).
Remote Undeveloped Islands – Great bolt holes for liveaboards and cruise vessels, but that is an entirely different proposition to a resort and not everybody’s cuppa tea.
Middle of the Ocean – Must be surrounded by 90% water with limited proximity, development, or high elevation islands on the horizon to preserve that “middle of the ocean” feel. This was the hardest aspect to adhere to and I bent consideration with a few selections below (eg. Akaiami Paradise Lodge, Le Taha’a Island, and Song Saa)
The top destinations with the most qualifying (and nearly qualifying) candidates are the following:
Belize – Seems the closest as an overall destination – lots of islands, many small, coral and diving. I’ve included in a couple in the catalogue below, but I came across a good deal of others in my research. Also, seems to be considerably lower cost (though also lower standard) than many Maldives properties.
Malaysia – Also, a good number of properties I came across and included a couple below.
French Polynesia – Known most widely for the biggest island Tahiti, but it does have quite an array of smaller gems (again, a couple examples included in the list below).
Below is a list of the most prominent examples of Maldives mould alternatives. This piece will be a living post so if and as people recommend or I otherwise discover other resorts that meet the criteria, I will add them to the post and map.
Price indicated are approximate rates per person bed and breakfast based on queries to the resort website.
Mabul, Borneo, Malaysia ($426pp)
Lankayan Island, Borneo, Malaysia ($183)
Coco Plum Island Resort, Belize ($456pp)
Royal Palm Island, Belize ($120pp)
Anantara Medjumbe Island, Mozambique ($390pp)
Denis Island, Seychelles ($600pp) – thanks Moira
Akaiami Paradise Lodge Aitutaki, Cook Islands, New Zealand ($480pp)
Song Saa, Cambodia ($484pp)
Lady Elliott Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia ($145pp)
Le Taha’a Island Resort, Tahiti ($517pp)
Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort and Spa, Tahiti ($190pp)
Today is the International Day of Failure. Which happens to be, along with Maldives resorts, my other specialist subject. I’ve written about as much about embracing failure as I have about quirky features at Maldivian resorts. And today I get to combine the two. Enjoy!
Helengeli – According to Wikipedia, “HANE” is either “Hereditary angioneurotic edema” or “High-altitude nuclear explosion”. Neither is probably a happy occurrence to a new bride. [ABOVE]
Cinnamon Dhonveli – The guests weren’t being rude when they said he’d married a cow.
Amilla Fushi – I guess at Amilla they keep track of your achievements and this guest is now at “5”
Atomosphere Kanifushi – I’ve posted about Babymoons, Blood Moons, Full Moons, Coconut Moons and Super Moons, but somehow I’ve missed out the basic “Happy Moon”.
Dhigufaru – Is the “Valentine 2” performing for a romantic duet?
Hurawalhi – Wow, a baby born on the resort itself!
J Resort Alidhoo – Unless this is some cryptic formula, this appears to be text slang for “Welcome, Oh My…”
Kuredu – For smaller achievements, I guess this is appropriate.
Meeru – But this one for really big, heavy achievements.
Meeru – It’s no big holiday, it merely Christmas.
Mirihi – I know, I know, everyone’s a chritic these days.
And we’re off. Flying out today for Tour #8 of Maldives resorts. I will once again be exploring the unseen pockets of paradise capturing new discoveries of special features and offerings. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I might even encounter one of the following sweet sixteen items that neither visits nor research has revealed as of yet…
Glass-Bottomed Row Boat– Well, a Ruth wherry, built by Tim McCann in Maryland, USA, wirth an elegant construction befitting some of the super-premium resorts’ clientele.
Sologamy – One of the hot wedding destinations of the world might look at this new trend – “Self-marriage or sologamy is marriage by a person to oneself. It is known as a commitment that values self-love, and self-compassion.”
Panoramic Reef Video – More resorts are offering panoramic room and resort videos, but how about the main event on the house reef like this National Geographic creation.
Musical Toilet – Plays music in your cubicle so no one hears you going about your business.
Eco-Toilet Cistern – “So when you flush the toilet, the cistern refills through a hole in the top of the cistern, saving water and being bloody efficient. Here it is refilling” (thanks Eileen).
Dhoni Roof-Top Shelter – These were standard issue on the dive and transfer boats in Indonesia an they really provided a bit of pampered lounge area for a rooftop vista.
Coffee Ice – For that extra “iced” coffee coldness without getting watered down.
Ice Cream Barlour – One of our most decadently favourite drinks is a Haagen Daaz Brandy Alexander (vanilla ice cream, crème de cacao, brandy, nutmeg). The cold cocktails are emerging with places like Tipsy Scoop in New York City. I mean, OMG, “Aperol Creamsicle”!!
Fruit Waffles – That “Villingili” on his Instagram feed is not Shangri-La. These and some of his other “rawtarian” delights deserve a place at a resort.
Food Carving Extraordinaire – I’ve seen plenty of food carving displayed at the elegant buffets of the Maldives resorts, but nothing on this guy’s level.
Coconut Ice Lolly – Still no end of the delicacies one can concoct out of coconut, but this one is particularly apropos for the tropical sun.
Coconut Bread – A Buzzfeed tested top recipe. Time for a Maldives appearance.
Whale Shark Car – Okay, no roads in the Maldives, but still I couldn’t resist. With it’s long size and funky vibe, it wouldn’t be entirely out of place at LUX South Ari Atoll.
World’s Biggest Water Hazard – Tee on one island and green on neighbouring island. The picture below is the only one of the top “Island” holes in golf is the only one that is a proper “island” but you can wade to it (a world first for the Maldives is awaiting).
Second helping of fish soup. Our very first impression of the Maldives was waiting on the airport arrival jetty for our transfer boat and marvelling at the legions of colourful tropical fish scurrying about in the crystal clear water below. While snorkelling, we regularly find ourselves amidst giant clouds of chordata scudding along the top of the coral reefs. Here are more of my favourite close ups of these tapestry-like images forming their own world-class underwater pelotons…
International Picnic Day today. And the Maldives resort go a bit beyond the blanket and basket. There are dinners “on” the beach, but in the Maldives you can dine “in” the beach. In luxurious style. Here are the Maldives Complete Top Ten “IN” beach dinners for your end your picnic day in paradise…
A of rich and royal hue, An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold – Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’
Dive into the Laccadive Sea and you will be confronted with a living spectacle of vibrant colours and images. It’s tempting just to chase one exciting sight after another. But some of the most biggest displays are to be found in the smallest things. After you see your first Nudibranch, you will be slowing your swimming right down hoping to spot more of these alien slugs. Yesterday’s up close and personal interview with Outrigger Konotta marine biologist Caterina Fattori first stemmed from my admiration of her photographic up close and personal exposés of the coral critters literally make up all of the Maldives islands. To celebrate World Ocean’s Day today, I am featuring my top ten intimate polyp portraits from her stunning Instagram feed…
Maldives may be the best snorkelling in the world (if Calsberg did snorkelling destinations…), and alternatives like Indonesia might rival it, but here are a few places that definitely do not. Here is the definitely Maldives Complete list of ‘unconventional’ snorkeling (shall we say generously) in the world (not surprising at all that 2 on the list are in the United Kingdom)…
Bog Snorkeling – Wales, United Kingdom: In Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales crowds watch competitors swim up and down a 133 meter bog filled with sulphurous, weedy water. Some wear silly costumes but all entrants must not use conventional swimming strokes, relying on flipper power only. [ABOVE]
Jelly Fish Snorkeling – Eil Malik Island in Palau: Well, not as hazardous at it appears as the Golden Jellyfish which populate this lake don’t sting actually.
Snow Snorkeling – Somewhere in Michigan: Not a lot of detail provided, but we think alcohol is involved.
Sheep Field Snorkeling – West Bank, Jordan: Not quite the spectacle of the Red Sea, but still a spectacle of sort.
Reed Snorkeling – Cineplex near you: “I don’t care if you did see that in a movie, Gilligan is not breathing through that reed!” — The Professor, Gilligan’s Island. Turns out that escaping the bad guy by breathing through a reed would cause problems that “the width of the reed (or snorkel) needs to get wider the longer the tube. Otherwise you are just rebreathing the same air over and over, which will kill you after long enough. Unless you breathe out into the water, which defeats the purpose by highlighting your position with bubbles”.
Elephant Snorkeling – Pacific Islands: “Jumbo shrank after snorkel trip across Med” looks at the diffusion of pre-historic elephant species across a wide range of inaccessible islands and have come to the conclusion that elephants did their own form of snorkeling to cross large bodies of water though they speculate that these excursions were not exactly voluntary as they suspect that events such as a tsunami might have swept them out to sea. “[Gert van den Bergh of Wollongong University in Australia] has found fossils of pygmy elephants on islands across the Pacific. ‘The important thing is that elephants were excellent swimmers with high buoyancy and a snorkel for easy breathing’.”
You need cooling
Baby I’m not fooling
I’m gonna send ya
Back to schooling – Led Zeppelin
While the Maldives corals have taken a hit from the warm oceans of climate change and El Nino, the schooling bathing beauties remain as colourful and concentrated as ever. A-fish-ionadoes of the Maldives often refer to the waters as “fish soup” (perhaps an unfortunate term with the excessive water temperatures hitting 30 degrees!). And Instagram has become the digital runway for these fishionista pageants to be shared with the world. My favourite snaps are the one so jam packed with fish that they sort of form kaleidoscopic tapestries of underwater colour (thanks to Verena for help with identifying the more obscure marine models)…