Some time ago, in March 2009, my boyfriend James and i also went on a few things i can only describe because the holiday of your life within the Maldives. For the past 10 years, since our first holiday together for the Bay Islands of Honduras, where we got certified as SCUBA divers, we now have been keen “holiday-divers”. I mean that we only dive once or twice a year, while on holiday by this. It’s a great hobby, because it encourages us to travel somewhere different each year. So far, we have been to Egypt, Florida, Malaysia, Mexico, Australia and Thailand, and all of the trips have been amazing. However, our trip to the Maldives eclipsed all other holidays in terms of comfort, service and most importantly, the marine life we saw there. maldives liveaboard
Travel to the Maldives is expensive, especially if you stay in one of the many gorgeous resorts, some of which are at least US$ 500 per night! When we were looking at the many options, it made sense to choose a liveaboard holiday, as keen divers. Until we started researching, I didn’t realize how huge the Maldives are. They cover an area of about 300 square kilometers, so if you want to visit a good selection of dive sites, staying in a resort is not feasible because you end up spending so much of your time in the dive boat travelling to and from the dive sites and less time actually diving. With the liveaboard option, you merely cruise across the archipelago around the main liveaboard and after that jump into the smaller dive Dhoni that travels alongside the primary liveaboard for every dive. This is great, because the smaller boat can get to shallower waters – so closer to the actual dive sites – and all the equipment is kept on board the Dhoni so you don’t have to drag it anywhere. Simply go into the Dhoni, put on your gear, and jump in water. Of all the diving trips we have now ever been on, we have not had this type of easy experience. One thing’s for sure, the Maldives has definitely spoiled us!
According to their price, there is a wide variety of liveaboards in the Maldives, all of which offer differing levels of comfort and amenities. While our budget wasn’t enough to get us one of the fanciest resorts, we had the ability to get one of many more expensive liveaboard boats. So, we chose the Island Safari 2 Royal, mainly because it looks like one of those cool private yachts you see in places like Monaco and Key West. In the end, when else are we going to get to spend a week living like kings for a small fraction of the price of renting a yacht like that? So, we booked for a 7-night “Scuba Safari”.
Our trip began with a long 14-hour flight from London to Male Airport Terminal, connecting in Qatar. Long flights are something that we have now grown familiar with since our love affair with diving began. If you want tropical waters and the best coral reefs in the world, long flights are part and parcel, unfortunately, living in the UK. Flights out of here are some of the cheapest in the world. That’s one good thing about London. Our flight towards the Maldives cost approximately US$1,000, which we thought was pretty reasonable. When we arrived in Male, we were met on the airport with a representative from Island Safari 2 Royal, and were come to the boat, which left from Male. We boarded the boat and waited a quick while for all the remaining guests to come and then we set off.
The boat was absolutely gorgeous. Even better than it had appeared within the photos! And we chose the suite because it has a bathtub, and both James and I love taking a bath after a day’s diving, there are 8 rooms and 2 suites on board. I think people underestimate the physical exertion of diving; it’s not a question of just floating around within the water. I mean, you’re swimming for several hours per day on the scuba holiday, so that you get really worn-out. Our suite was gorgeous, having a nice big window so we awakened to views in the amazing turquoise waters in the Maldives and seemingly permanent sunshine and spectacular sunsets. The rest of the boat was also gorgeous, with a nice dining room, which had been a little more formal than you could expect, two comfortable lounge areas for relaxing and watching tv and a really big outer deck, great for sunbathing, my second favourite pastime after deep-sea diving! There’s nothing like going back to grim England having an outrageous suntan.
Once each of the guests were on board, we set sail towards the first dive site; it had been early afternoon, therefore we might have time for your introductory dive on the very first day. Before that, we were given a delicious welcome cocktail (non-alcoholic since we were going diving) and got to meet the rest of the guests. We experienced a very international group with another couple through the UK, a small group of 4 from Italy and a couple from Germany. Whilst the crew spoke a, German and English little Italian, English was the dominant language onboard, and since all of the guests were fluent, there was clearly no language barrier. Needless to say, James, I and the other Brits had no language skills to provide up, so we were relieved! Our first dive was the introductory dive where everyone reaches recap on the diving skills and basically prove to the crew that we are all capable scuba divers. Currents within the Maldives could be strong, so you really need to have some scuba experience to get the most from a diving holiday here. Everyone on board had plenty of diving experience and that we all had at least a high level Open Water certification, therefore we had no problems in any way.
We took the intro dive at Hanns Reef on the North Male Atoll, and even though it had been merely the intro dive, we saw some terrific marine life such as a Moray Eel, several Turtles, a large selection of Blue Stripe Snappers and a lot of Glassfish. Which had been it for the first day, and everyone was tired from travelling, so we relaxed, chatted with the crew and other divers, mainly about previous diving holidays, and tucked into a delicious meal of Asian-style shrimp rice, salads and kebabs. It was absolutely delicious so we all crossed our fingers that every meal would be this tasty.
We spent the initial two events of the trip cruising around the North Male and North Ari Atolls, visiting such dive sites as Nassimo Thila, Rasfari, Rasdhoo Madivaru and Makaru Thila. Highlights from the sites were the incredible Manta Rays at Rasfari. While diving, we saw loads of Mantas getting cleaned and a few batfish playing around the reef. Then, right after the dive, we went for a short snorkel across the site, and saw a lot more Mantas – maybe the identical ones – they may be such majestic and peaceful creatures, and thus big, it’s quite unbelievable. Another memorable site of the first days was Ghangethi Pass, where we saw a small group of 30 White Tip Reef Sharks of numerous sizes, an enormous Manta Ray, maybe 5 metres across as well as a very cool Leopard Shark, something I had never seen before.
All of the sites were teeming with beautiful marine life. Whenever we didn’t see one of the ‘big creatures’, we would always see plenty of pretty reef-fish, tiny invertebrates, gorgeous corals and often some big pelagic species also. In others there would be 30-50, even though the main star of our trip was definitely the Manta Ray, at some of the sites there would be just one or two. We had never seen, or perhaps imagined, so many Manta Rays in one place.
Our night dive came on the fourth day in our trip with a site called Maaya Thila. Night diving is definitely a fascinating experience and I think it’s the one instance where even seasoned scuba divers feel a little nervous. It’s one thing being in the ocean when you can see, but surrounded by such an intense darkness is always a little intimidating and gives that extra adrenaline buzz. The behaviour of the fish is a bit different at nighttime, when many of them do their hunting. We saw a team of White Tip Reef Sharks searching for some dinner as well as a Moray Eel, from his hole inside the reef and swimming around a Turtle, and also a beautiful Lionfish and the usual phosphorescent plankton. Very cool!
Another evening, we visited the local community on one of many islands. It’s quite interesting to see how these people live such a simple live life, totally in harmony making use of their environment. Every supply of protein they eat arises from the ocean, and is usually served with a coconut or some other fruit that grows naturally on the island. They did some traditional dances for us and we bought some nice souvenirs from their store. This appears to be their main income source, aside from whatever they make by selling their catches at market in Male or even to resorts across the islands.
The very last two times of the liveaboard safari, we spent across the South Ari and Vaavu Atolls, in which the highlights were Fotteyo and Cocoa Thila. At Fotteyo we saw a team of dolphins come through, that is really unusual while scuba diving. We saw some beautiful Eagle Rays and the best coral reef we had seen all week. This is a great opportunity for the underwater photographers within the group to take some beautiful shots of the coral with the reef fish and pelagic species within the foreground. Sun Island inside the South Ari Atoll was probably the most important sites of the whole trip, because it was the sole site where we saw Whale Sharks inside the whole trip, which is probably the big draws of the Maldives. There was actually two different Whale Sharks at this particular location and they were HUGE!
In general, the diving was superb, we saw a lot more creatures than I really could ever mention here. Because a lot of guests leave the Maldives directly from the liveaboard safari, there can be no diving on the last day, because it’s not safe to fly so soon after scuba diving, so we spent the day snorkeling in the morning and then shopping in Male in the afternoon. Male is a very congested city, and is definitely not the place to spend your Maldives holiday, but it’s worth spending a day there just to check it out. The fish industry is particularly interesting and the thing is how each of the fishermen from round the islands are available in using their day’s catch and the resorts from round the nation buy it up and take it back to feed their hungry guests.
We made a decision to extend our trip by a couple of days and take advantage of these gorgeous resorts and fully relax after our fantastic liveaboard adventure. Dhuni Kolhu, because it was only 30 minutes from the airport and we didn’t want to have to travel too much, we chose the Coco Palm. We were more interested in the relaxing massages at the spa as well as the over-water bungalow. Once you look at the Maldives inside the travel brochure or on the net, it’s the over-water rooms that catch the eye, so it seemed almost wrong to go out of without having to spend one or more night sleeping in one. Our last two days at Coco Palm were totally breathtaking, so much so, it’s gonna be difficult to find a honeymoon retreat more perfect than this!