There are very few places in the world where you are almost guaranteed to spot whale sharks, manta ray, turtles and dolphins.
If you like snorkelling, you’re sure to have at least one of these magnificent creatures on our bucket list – and there is no better place to tick it off than in the Maldives.
We’ve been so close to a whale shark we could have touched it; made friends with a turtle which didn’t want to leave our side; and watched an underwater ballet performed by the birds of the ocean: giant manta ray.
The Maldives is a tiny Indian Ocean paradise, with 1190 pristine islands surrounded by tropical water teeming with marine life. And best of all – you don’t need to be a diver; you can enjoy it all while snorkelling.
Here’s what it’s possible to see on a trip this archipelago:
The Maldives is one of the few places on Earth where you can find a year-round population of whale sharks. The best location for almost guaranteed sightings is South Ari Atoll, where you’ll head out on a safari boat in search of big ominous shadows in the turquoise waters.
Once in the water, that ominous feeling disappears, as you come face-to-face with a gentle giant – that can weigh up to 20 tonnes – and is only interested in eating the smallest living organism in the sea: plankton.
While whale sharks are spectacular, many people rate snorkelling with manta rays as their best experience. The reef manta in the Maldives are also huge, with a width of up to 4.5 metres – the heaviest weighing more than a tonne.
What makes the experience unforgettable is their inquisitive nature. They too eat plankton, and will approach you with their huge bucket-like mouth wide open sucking up as much of the tiny morsels as possible, before doing a last-second twirl right in front of you. The Manta’s tale doesn’t have a sting – so it’s completely safe.
Dolphins & whales
Twenty-three types of whales and dolphins are known to frequent the country’s equatorial waters. Sightings include blue and sperm whales, and you’ll almost certainly be treated to a show by spinner dolphins. Tens of thousands call the Maldives home, and as the names suggests – their favourite pastime is leaping out of the water at great speed and spinning in the air.
The Maldives is home to more than 2000 species of fish.
From the moment you start wading in the water, you’ll find the ocean teeming with life – from fish with parrot-like beaks, to ones with horns on their head and coloured every shade of the rainbow.
Many people hire a scooter while overseas to zip around, but you can now join a pretty exclusive club and say you’ve driven an underwater scooter. Best of all, you don’t need any diving experience.
Dive Club Maldives operate three of the scooters, and it’s simple: you jump on the bike as you would on land, and the ‘helmet’ is full of oxygen. Yes, it even drives just like a bike, except you can only go around 2 kilometres an hour. You can stay underwater exploring the reefs for 45 minutes, before popping back to the surface.
Sea turtles are considered a threatened species, yet despite this they are quite easy to spot in Maldives. The turtles are generally friendly and inquisitive; except when coming up for a breath.
Green sea turtles can stay below for up to eight hours and when they need to come up – it can be urgent – so it’s best to stay out of their way.
Yes, I can hear you saying, he left the dreaded “s” word until last. But it’s nothing like you imagine.
You’re almost certain to see a baby reef shark while at a resort; they spend most of their days in the very shallow water around the atolls, and are completely harmless. In fact, it can be hard to get close enough to take a photo because they are so timid.
As the reef sharks grow bigger, they move out to the deeper water where – if you are lucky – you’ll see one while snorkelling. But don’t worry, they too are scared of humans.
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