While the picture-postcard islands of the Maldives with their white sandy beaches, swaying coconut palms, and crystal-clear waters have long attracted couples looking for a dreamy place to celebrate their love, it is fast-becoming a popular adventure holiday destination with intrepid travelers from around the world. With fantastic year-round weather and balmy temperatures, warm, gin-clear waters that teem with marine life, and incredible accommodation options from luxury resorts to deluxe live-aboard vessels, the Maldives is nearing the top of the list when it comes to fantastic destinations for water-based adventure sports such as surfing, snorkeling and scuba-diving.
The Maldives has become one of the top spots in the world for surfing, boasting year-round swell and some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Discovered unwittingly by Sydney surfers and intrepid explorers Tony Hussein-Hinde and Mark Scanlon in the 1970s when they were shipwrecked on their way to another part of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives’ world-class surf breaks were kept a secret for decades until the country became more accessible to visitors. Today, the archipelago attracts surfers from around the world who come to experience the fast, clean, and sometimes mean breaks in both the North and South Atolls.
Where to Go
Home to 26 geographical atolls and more than 1,200 islands, the Maldives offer plenty of spectacular places to surf from the northern atolls to the south. The entire archipelago can be divided into three different surf areas: the Northern Atolls (also known as the Malé Atolls), the Central Atolls, and the Southern Atolls, and all provide excellent surf with different characteristics such as swell size, wave consistency, and popularity. While the country boasts many incredible surfing spots, few are easily accessible by simply paddling out from the resorts. Many of the best surfing spots in the Maldives are on the outer reefs and the southeast sides of the atolls and can only be reached by boat. The Northern Atolls also tend to be more crowded than the Central and Southern Atolls, especially between May and August.
The best way to surf the Maldives is to stay at one of the surf-based resorts, which are situated on the islands that are renowned for their surf breaks, some of which are only accessible by boat. The top resort for surfing is Hudhuranfushi Resort, which is ideally located in the heart of the North Malé Atolls and within striking distance of a wide range of incredible spots, including the world-renowned Lohifushi (Lohis), hailed the jewel of the North Malé Atolls. However, there are plenty of other resorts to choose from, depending on budget, location, and taste.
When To Go
The best time of the year to head to the Maldives to surf is during the Southern Hemisphere winter, which lasts from March until October. The best surfing waves in the Maldives are created and alleviated by the North-East and South-West monsoons, which bring off-shore winds that create beautiful, peaking waves for most of the day. The North-East storms occur mainly from March until April and bring optimal surfing conditions to the Southern Atolls in the archipelago, while the South-West monsoons, which occur between May and October, provide outstanding surfing the Northern and Central Atolls.
Scuba Diving Holidays
The spectacular natural beauty of the Maldives’ palm-fringed tropical islands continues beneath the surface of the ocean with pristine reefs teeming with vibrant corals, brightly colored fish, and a myriad of other marine life, making it one of the best places in the world for scuba diving.
Home to 26 atolls, which span over 500 nautical miles from Haa Alifu in the North to the Addu Atoll in the South, the Maldives packs a punch when it comes to idyllic islands, however, the amount of land that lies above sea level in the Maldives represents only a tiny fraction of the country’s overall land mass, most of which lies below sea level. The nearly 1,200 islands of the Maldives are just the visible coral tips of an extensive oceanic volcanic mountain range whose outer edges can sometimes plunge to depths of almost 10,000 feet.
The relative isolation of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean has led to an extraordinary and diverse variety of marine species that call it home. Strong seasonal oceanic currents flowing through the country’s many islands have forged deep channels from the open ocean into the atolls. These channels direct plankton-rich waters into and out of the atolls, which in turn support an incredibly vibrant marine ecosystem. Inside the atoll, reefs, sandbars, islands, and lagoons have evolved over millennia to create nurseries and habitats for many of the reef’s inhabitants.
The Maldives boasts an incredible number of dive and snorkel sites and the diverse nature of these areas make them suitable for divers of all experience levels. Within each atoll, there are sheltered reefs that are ideal for less experienced divers and those learning how to dive, while the current-carved channels in and around the atolls provide excellent drift diving for experienced divers. These channels generate fast tidal flows, which in turn attract many of the big ocean species such as manta rays, eagle rays, sharks, and yellowfin tuna. More experienced divers can also explore the ‘thilas’ or underwater pinnacles that are found near the atolls, which are covered in bright corals and home to huge shoals of fish like barracuda, snapper and black and white-tipped reef sharks.
The Maldives offers two types of scuba diving – house reef diving and boat or liveaboard diving, both of which provide different kinds of holidays, but just as fantastic experiences.
House Reef Diving
The Maldives have around 2,500 reefs, of which about 900 are house reefs. A house reef is defined as being a reef that is close to or surrounding an island resort and one that offers excellent snorkeling or scuba diving opportunities. More often than not, house reefs can be explored by simply entering the water from the beach, rather than a boat, making them ideal for snorkelers and less experienced divers. Most of the island resorts have their own dive centers with qualified dive instructors to lead guests on dives and show them the best parts of the reef and its amazing inhabitants.
Some of the best house reefs in the Maldives include Baros Maldives (a 2.5-mile house reef); Mirihi Island Resort (a 3.7-mile house reef); Lily Beach Resort (a 1.8-mile house reef); Reethi Beach Resort (a 1.8-mile house reef); Bathala Island Resort (a 1-mile house reef); and Diamonds Athuruga (a 2.7-mile house reef).
Another option for a scuba diving holiday is to spend a week on a liveaboard, which provides the opportunity to explore different atolls and experience a variety of dive sites without being anchored in one place. Liveaboard trips are all-inclusive, which includes comfortable accommodation, all meals, and several dives a day with qualified dive instructors, including night dives, ensuring all you have to think about it eat, sleep, dive, repeat.
Liveaboard cruises usually last for seven nights, however, longer cruises are available at specific times of the year, allowing for more time to travel and explore an extensive area and less frequented dive sites.
There are various options of liveaboards, depending on your budget and taste. The Emperor Maldives fleet has six boats, ranging from the luxurious MV Emperor Serenity to the more basic MV Emperor Atoll. The MV Ari Queen and MV Stingray are ideal if you are on a budget, but still want the home comforts like an en-suite shower, while the Nautilus II offers peaceful sailing cruises. For those in search of absolute luxury, Blue Force One offers spacious cabins with a Jacuzzi in the master suite.
When To Go
Tropical, hot and humid with loads of sunshine and temperatures around 24-33°C/75-91°F year-round make the Maldives an excellent diving destination throughout the year, however, bear in mind the monsoon brings significant rain between April and October, and especially June through August.
Article by Mia Russell©