Best of the Maldives: Male Snorkel Excursion – Secret Paradise

Secret Paradise - Male excursions

For those travellers swinging by Maldives for a short stop, one of my Top 10 FAQs is “Is there a place I can do a snorkel excursion to an island/reed during my one day stay in Male?” People looking for this include…

  • Cruise stops
  • Flight lay-overs
  • Short-stay visits
  • Business visitors

Much as I have researched the subject, it has been one of my earlier “Haven’t Seens”. But now I’ve now found an operator in Male who offers snorkel and dive trips from Male as well as a range of other excursions from a the operator Secret Paradise. I got in touch with them and they were very friendly and helpful. They sent me the following details on the snorkeling trips that they offer which all include services of a guide, snorkeling equipment and local taxes and service charges…

  • An insight into Marine Conservation (12:00-17:00) – Dive or snorkel with local conservationists and actively contribute to our conservation effort in Villimale. You will gain an understanding of the Maldivian ecosystems and conservation challenges arising from coastal development unique to small island states. Enjoy a tour of the island of Villimale observe island life and the impacts of land reclamations and harbor development first hand. Share traditional Maldives afternoon tea ‘hedika’ at a local tea shop with the Save the Beach reef conservation group. Includes…
    • Snorkeling or diving Equipment (Certified divers only
    • Hedika experience
    • Return transfer from guesthouse to Villimale
    • $99 per person diving
    • $90 per person snorkeling
  • Morning Snorkeling (08.30-12.30) – Depart on a traditional dhoni at 9.00am for a group snorkeling safari, two of the best snorkeling points close to Male. Sites vary dependent on weather and current conditions. Return Hulhumale approx. 12:30. Includes…
    • Return transfer from guesthouse to dive centre.
    • $45 per person
  • Afternoon Snorkeling (14:00-16:30) – Depart on a speedboat for a snorkeling safari, two of the best snorkeling points close to Male. Sites vary dependent on weather and current conditions. Return Hulhumale approx. 18:00. Includes:
    • Speedboat transfer from Hulhumale jetty
    • $65 per person based on a minimum of two guests

So if you are in the neighbourhood of the Maldives and you want to sample some of its world-famous snorkelling, by all means, stop into this hopefully less secret paradise.

Secret paradise - reef

The Ultimate Guide to Safe Snorkeling

Today is International Water Safety Day. So time for a quick edition of Maldives QI…

Q: What is the greatest danger of water fatality in the Maldives?
A: Eaten by sharks?
Q: Buzzz…Nope (in fact, the Maldives has not had a single report of a shark attack on a human)
A: An adrenalin sport like scuba diving?
Q: Buzzz…Nope. Nearly all scuba diving is run by very high quality PADI dive centres or liveaboards with very high safety standards and one of the strongest safety records in for diving in the world (contributed by the fact that many dive sites are not overly deep and are often relatively sheltered in atolls).

The most dangerous activity is the one that seems so alluringly easy – snorkelling. It’s not that snorkeling in the Maldives is particularly dangerous per se.  In fact, one could argue it is some the safest snorkelling in the world.  But it is those he mill pond calm waters in often shallow depths which lull guests into a exaggerated sense of security.  When water is involved, you have a serious risk to respect no matter what the situation. As the saying goes, you can drown in an inch of water in your bathtub (and some people do). So today is the ideal good occasion for a refresher on making this inviting activity as safe as it appears (and often is) easy and thrilling.

The typical contents of a snorkel bag are snorkel, fins, mask, towel, and room key. But the “safe” snorkeler might want to bring along some extra items – eg. whistle, floatation aid. And my favourite snorkelling accompaniment – a snorkel guide. Not a book or map, but a trained, proficient, resort staffer to help and support your outing. They not only will be there to assist if anything goes awry, but they know all the best places to see resident critters on the house reef and can provide lots of great information about what you are seeing.

“TravelJody”, also a top contributor to the Maldives Forum on TripAdvisor, has written a superb piece on snorkel safety “Staying Safe whilst Snorkelling!” She goes through a catalogue of possible safety concerns including…

  • Currents/Tides
  • CoralRock Cuts
  • Boats/Motorised Water Sports
  • Snorkeling Transportation
  • Sun
  • Marine Life
  • YOU!

Her tips include…

  • Use well fitting equipment
  • Be careful judging distance in water
  • Wear a whistle
  • Snorkel with buddy
  • Get instruction

A few tips that I would add include…

  • Consult the experts. Every resort has a dive centre and the majority of resorts have staff marine biologists both of whom know the resort waters intimately. They can not only tell you how the water behaves and where various hazards are, but also provide insider tips on where to see the best stuff and how (eg. maybe free dive to look under a ledge).
  • Don’t let the weather fool you. It’s all about the water and currents in the ocean not the air. We have snorkelled in a monsoon with an expert who knew the currents and knew the conditions in the actual ocean were fine. Conversely, a warm, bright day might seem innocuous, but some current shift or other under the surface situation could create a surprise problem.

For a superb overview, I highly recommend another gem from Kurumba’s studios – “Snorkeling Tips for Beginner for Maldives Resorts.”

The final point really concerns over-confidence. Just because it is all calm and sunny on the exterior (which is it most of the time in the Maldives) doesn’t mean that some hazards don’t exist below the surface. Some people get skittish about sharks and even fish, but the real monster of the deep is the deep itself. Deep water where people go beyond their capabilities, and get into trouble. In any water activity, the risk of drowning is an ever-present danger whether it is in a community pool or even the tranquil waters of the Maldives.

This syndrome of false confidence is the key reason why some experts on the TripAdvisors protest against the use of flotation aids in snorkelling. They feel that such aids instil confidence in the weak swimmer to go beyond their limits and going beyond you limits imposes more risk (to yourself and to the reef) than the flotation aid mitigates. I agree that over-confidence is a risk, but a floatation aid will in nearly all cases provide critical protection against the greatest risk which is drowning so do consider bringing or wearing one (but just don’t let it drop your caution).

Other references…

Happy and safe snorkeling everyone!

Snorkeling sign

Snorkel Spotting Tips

Rosie Londoner snorkeling

A guide for snorkelling, a guide during snorkelling and now a guide to snorkelling.

I came across this fine post by the Constance folks – “7 ways to get the most from diving and snorkelling” (it would be be a “Best of the Maldives” candidate for blogs, but it is not just focused on the Maldives as it includes all their properties). The top points are…

  1. Scan the area
  2. Use your peripheral vision
  3. Weird behaviours
  4. Don’t forget to look behind you
  5. Focus in close
  6. Pick one thing to look at
  7. Stop and listenIt’s a fine list, but I would add a couple more…
  8. Use a Flotation Aid – Especially if you are a weaker swimmer (either in technique, experience or fitness), consider one of the range of floatation devices available. Everything from a proper lifejacket to a simple float like a foam noodle. By providing extra buoyancy, the aid can reduce the effort in floating. However, don’t let the device seduce you into undertaking more than you are capable of even with the aid and always snorkel within your limits.
  9. Use a Snorkeling Guide – Nearly all resorts and dive centres will provide a personal guide for you. If you go on a snorkel safari, then they are almost always included as part of the excursion. But you can request someone to join you for your foray onto the house reef too. Not only will this provide an accomplished snorkeler to accompany you and make it safer for you (again, if you are a ‘weaker’ snorkeler, I recommended an accompanying guide even more emphatically), but also the guide will help you spot the good stuff. They will know where critters tend to frequent and will have trained eyes for spotting many things you will likely overlook.
  10. Don’t Touch – Don’t touch anything. This is for your own safety as otherwise innocuous marine life can hurt you with a bite or a sting if you reach out to touch it. Also, be extra careful of what your fins touch. Being an extension of your body that you are not used to and having no sensation, people very often kick coral inadvertently and cause massive damage over time.

Given the focus I have on snorkelling at Maldives Complete, I’ve upgraded “Snorkeling” to its very own main category on the blog.

Best of the Maldives: Snorkelling Guide – Jumeirah Dhevanafushi

Jumeirah Dhevanafushi - reef plan

On Groundhog Day today, I hope you spot more than your shadow in the Maldives. My whole Snorkel Spotter development stemmed from wanting more help for guests to know where to focus their hunting. Before I came up with it, I always suggested that the resorts post a white board with maps of the house reef so people could mark where they had seen different things (old school “Share”).

Jumeirah Dhevanafushi has come the closest to the digital sophistication of such a house reef guide. Their in-room IPTV offers a channel with an “Aquatic Life in the House Reef” guide (see above). It provides helpful tips about current as well as the creature most regularly spotted and where.

Who says there’s not point to watching TV in the Maldives?

Best of the Maldives: Fish Guide – Atoll Editions

Fish of the Maldives 1

Speaking of spotting things in the Maldives, one of the obligatory resources for any avid snorkeler or diver is a good fish guide. They come in books, but one of the popular variants is the “Fish Identification Card.” A handy piece of piece of laminate packed with fish (and sometimes other things like corals and animals or even birds). Veteran marine life maven Tim Godfrey has collaborated with Rudie H. Kuiter to come out with one which is in a league of its own.

Publisher Atoll Editions describes…

“Small and perfectly formed, this Fish Field Guide will let you locate species you have just seen underwater. The fish are depicted through both photography and silhouette icons to help you identify these diverse and beautiful creatures. The approximate length, common names, latin names, and distribution information are all easily located. There is even a tick box so you remember exactly what you have seen on each dive trip.”

For starters, it is a tri-fold 8-pages instead of the usually 2-sided card. Secondly, the fish are neatly arranged in a grid for maximum density. Most of these cards are quite a hodgepodge of pictures just scattered and packed in. So there are more creatures featured than any other ID card (240 in all).

But its not just the quantity, but also the quality that excels so much…

  • Photos – Most cards use drawings which always seems to be just a little bit off in their representation and we often are not quite sure if what we saw was the fish on the card. Tim’s guide uses actually photographs for more realistic illustrations.
  • Silhouette – If the photos weren’t enough, Tim adds a silhouette of each species shown. While markings can be very similar from fish to fish, often the distinctive differences are evidence in their outlines (eg. fin size and position ,etc.).
  • Book Reference – If that information is not enough for you, then Tim’s a page number reference to his companion book “Fishes of the Maldives Indian Ocean” so you an easily find the suspect critter and read more about him.
  • Marker – My favourite bit of all is a just a very little bit. A small square for you to mark off a sighting. So now you can track your Snorkel Spottings on your own personal log as well as on Maldives Complete. I feared that with the slick plastic a pen wouldn’t easily mark it, but I tried a simple ball point and it worked just fine.

Happy hunting holidayers!

Fish of the Maldives 2

Best of the Maldives: Snorkel Safety – Dusit Thani

Dusit Thani - snorkely safety briefing

If there is one “Best of the Maldives” innovation that I would like all resorts to emulate it is Dusit Thani’s snorkel safety programme. We were taken through it by the resort’s dive centre instructor Manon (photo above).

  1. REQUIRED SNORKEL BRIEFING – For starters, all guests are required to have a 15 minute snorkel briefing before snorkelling on the reef. If you have not had your briefing and are spotted snorkelling, staff will approach you and politely inform you of the policy. For us, it didn’t matter that we had snorkelled over 50 house reefs and are a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, we still had to have the briefing.
  2. REQUIRED SAFETY COURSE – If you can answer three questions, then you are cleared to snorkel the Dusit Thani house reef after they have shared a few details like entries, some current tips and other basic information about the island’s surrounding waters. The questions are:  (a) How does one clear a mask?, (b) How does one clear a snorkel?, and (c) How does one determine current direction?  If you can’t answer the questions, the guests are requires to take a snorkel safety course (cost $55).
  3. REQUIRED SNORKEL TEST – After the course, you are assessed with a boat accompanying you and your instructor/guide. If you pass, you are all set to snorkel freely on the house reef.
  4. REQUIRED SNORKEL GUIDE – If you do not pass your snorkel proficiency test, then you are required to use a resort/dive-centre guide every time you snorkel on the house reef (cost is $25 per outing)
  5. TRAINED SECURITY STAFF POSTED– All of the security staff are trained in lifesaving and all 3 of the resort jetties have security staff posted. The posted house reef entry points are located near these jetties and the security staff are instructed to watch snorkelers who go out. Probably the closest thing to full time lifeguards I have seen in the Maldives. A measure I think resorts should consider (though the resort points out that these security staff are not intended as “lifeguards” and people should not depend on them for their safety).
  6. LIFEJACKET RECOMMENDED – It still boggles my mind that a number of quite knowledgeable Maldives experts on the Maldives TripAdvisor Forum have asserted the bizarre argument that snorkelling with a lifejacket is dangerous. I think their reasoning is along the lines of (a) “just say no” – ie. if you can’t swim well, don’t try it (nice, in principle, but in the real world people don’t really understand or respect their limitations, not to mention that this prohibition removes one of the great experiences of the Maldives from their visit), and (b) “over-confidence” – ie. the same reasoning as to why some say seat-belts are unsafe – because the sense of security makes you drive more recklessly (one may drive recklessly, but whatever the outcome of your driving, you are safer with a seat belt). Anyway, authorities like the Red Cross and PADI strongly urge the use of lifejackets when engaging in swimming activities where there is any question of swimming capacity (eg. strong swimmers in tough conditions, weak swimmers in easy conditions). The fact that Dusit Thani strongly encourages this practice is an inspired attitude in my view.

HINT FOR THE TEST – We knew the first technique for checking current, but hadn’t thought of the other two which are quite obvious on reflection…

  1. See which way the fish are facing (they swim into the current)
  2. Ask the dive centre
  3. Ask the boat captains.

Happy (and Safe) Snorkelling!

Maldives Snorkelling Book Day

Tim Godfrey Dive Maldives 2   Dive Maldives Sam Harwood   Diving and Snorkeling Maldives Lonely Planet

World Book Day! An apropos time to showcase the top books on snorkelling (and diving) in the Maldives. There are 3 main books on snorkelling (and diving) in the Maldives…

  • Dive Maldives by Tim Godfrey – The original. More focused on scuba diving, but it does highlight which sites are great for snorkelling too.
  • Complete Guide to Diving and Snorkeling the Maldives by Sam Harwood and Rob Bryning – No dive charts like Godfrey features, but Harwood and Bryning do have more information specifically on snorkelling. For example, for every site they indicate not just a star-rating for diving, but also one for snorkelling.
  • Diving & Snorkeling Maldives by Lonely Planet – A relatively recent find, though also out of print. Thinner and less comprehensive that the other two, but a handy guide for the most prominent sites.

All three cover the atolls with the most resorts…

  • North and South Male
  • Ari
  • Felidhoo
  • Lhaviyani
  • Seenu
  • Baa

Lonely Planet and Harwood/Bryning also both cover…

  • Dhaalu
  • Faafu
  • Raa
  • Meemu

But only Harwood/Bryning cover the following atolls…

  • Thaa
  • Kaamu
  • Gaafu (Alifu amd Dhaalu)
  • Noomu
  • Shaviyani

Best of the Maldives: Snorkel Guide – Vakarufalhi

Vakarufalhi snorkel guide Tania

No matter how good you are at something, a local expert and guide is always a sound move.

My wife and I do most of our skiing (I snow board) with our best friends who happened to meet as ski instructors. We tag along to which ever of their favourite European slopes catches their fancy this season. Having such experts along transforms the experience. The stress is halved and the excitement is doubled. The stress is cut because you don’t have to worry about getting lost, or going somewhere over your capability. The excitement is doubled because they introduce you to places literally of the beaten path and point out things that you probably would have missed focusing on where you were going.

Those same slope benefits are the reason to grab a snorkel guide at a resort whenever you have the opportunity. My wife and I are advanced divers and have snorkelled over 100 times, but we still benefit from having a local expert show us around. In and among all those guided outings, the guides have all been superb. But we have never come across a guide quite so enthusiastic and proactive as Tania Gae Militello, the marine biologist at Vakaufalhi.

The fact that she holds daily routine guided excursions on the house reef is a key and relatively uncommon at resorts. Other resorts either have the marine biologist on demand or else they have periodic guided excursions. Her regular excursions mean that you can simply work it into your daily routine. You don’t have to feel self-conscious about asking for a guide as she is going anyway. She will also do special excursions to suit you for free as well (schedule permitting).

We took advantage of this ad hoc offer to do a sunrise snorkel (on the wise advice of TripAdvisor Destination Expert ActiveGirl) where we saw tons of sights. Lots of stuff we would have missed if it wasn’t for her trained eye as well as knowledge of the local seascape and knowing where the interesting critters tend to congregate.

One of the best examples is a loggerhead sea turtle named Camilla. She has a favourite resting space on the house reef drop-off ledge about 3 metres deep. Tania showed her to us. More importantly, without any provocation or disturbing her, Camilla popped out and came for a swim with our group when she saw that Tania had arrived. Camilla seemed to recognize Tania and seemed very comfortable around her (no, Camilla does not do any feeding of marine life whatsoever). As close to a guaranteed turtle sighting as you wil get.

As I mentioned at the top, a guide also allows you to push yourself further than you might. When we did our morning snorkel, Tania took us around the further house reef side…and a storm squall came in about 30 minutes into our venture. Normally, I would have been quite spooked being a good distance from shore with a dark, windy sky. But, Tania knew that we were strong swimmers and we were going with the current towards the jetty and reassured us that everything would be fine. When the squall (aka mini-monsoon) hit us, aside from some swells in the ocean and the tickle of rain on our back, the snorkel was as delightful as any. As a result, we were rewarded with some memorable sights we would have missed without her support.

She also took a number of videos and pictures on both of outings with us and loaded them onto a USB stick for us so we could have them.

Tania is passionate not just about the undersea world, but also about the snorkelling itself and makes it even more accessible and thrilling at Vakarufalhi.