April 21, 2024


Award Winning Spa

Maldives Live Aboard Holiday Adventure

A few months ago, in March 2009, my boyfriend James and I went on what I can only describe as the holiday of a lifetime in the Maldives. For the last 10 years, since our first holiday together to the Bay Islands of Honduras, where we got certified as SCUBA divers, we have been keen “holiday-divers”. By this, I mean that we only dive once or twice a year, while on holiday. It’s a great hobby, because it encourages us to travel somewhere different each year. So far, we have been to Egypt, Thailand, Florida, Mexico, Australia and Malaysia, 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.

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! As keen divers, when we were looking at the many options, it made sense to choose a liveaboard holiday. Until we started researching, I didn’t realize how very big 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 simply cruise around the archipelago on the main liveaboard and then jump into the smaller dive Dhoni that travels alongside the main 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 get into the Dhoni, put on your gear, and jump in the water. Of all the diving trips we have ever been on, we have never had such an easy experience. One thing’s for sure, the Maldives has definitely spoiled us!

There is a wide variety of liveaboards in the Maldives, all of which offer differing levels of comfort and amenities according to their price. While our budget wasn’t enough to get us one of the fanciest resorts, we were able to get one of the higher end 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. After all, when else are we going to get to spend a week living like kings for a fraction of the cost 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 International Airport, connecting in Qatar. Long flights are something that we have grown accustomed to since our love affair with scuba diving began. Unfortunately, living in the UK, if you want tropical waters and the best coral reefs in the world, long flights are part and parcel. One good thing about London is that flights out of here are some of the cheapest in the world. Our flight to the Maldives cost just over US$1,000, which we thought was pretty reasonable. Once we arrived in Male, we were met at the airport by a representative from Island Safari 2 Royal, and were taken to the boat, which left from Male. We boarded the boat and waited a short while for all the remaining guests to arrive and then we set off.

The boat was absolutely gorgeous. Even better than it had appeared in the photos! There are 8 rooms and 2 suites on board, and we chose the suite because it has a bathtub, and both James and I love taking a bath after a day’s diving. I think people underestimate the physical exertion of scuba diving; it’s not a question of just floating around in the water. I mean, you’re swimming for several hours a day on a scuba holiday, so you get really worn out. Our suite was gorgeous, with a nice big window so we woke up to views of the amazing turquoise waters of the Maldives and seemingly permanent sunshine and spectacular sunsets. The rest of the boat was also gorgeous, with a nice dining room, that was slightly more formal than you might expect, two comfortable lounge areas for relaxing and watching television and a really big outer deck, perfect for sunbathing, my second favourite pastime after scuba diving! There’s nothing like returning to grim England with an outrageous suntan.

Once all the guests were on board, we set sail towards the first dive site; it was early afternoon, so we would have time for the introductory dive on the first day. Before that, we were given a delicious welcome cocktail (non-alcoholic since we were going diving) and got to meet all the other guests. We had a very international group with another couple from the UK, a group of 4 from Italy and a couple from Germany. While the crew spoke German, English and a little Italian, English was the dominant language onboard, and since all the guests were fluent, there was no language barrier. Needless to say, James, I and the other Brits had no language skills to offer up, so we were relieved! Our first dive was the introductory dive where everyone gets to recap on their diving skills and basically prove to the crew that we are all capable scuba divers. Currents in the Maldives can be strong, so you really need to have some scuba experience to make the most of a diving holiday here. Everyone on board had a lot of diving experience and we all had at least an Advanced Open Water certification, so we had no problems at all.

We took the intro dive at Hanns Reef on the North Male Atoll, and even though it was just the intro dive, we saw some great marine life including a Moray Eel, a couple of Turtles, a big group of Blue Stripe Snappers and a lot of Glassfish. That was 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 kebabs, salads and rice. It was absolutely delicious and we all crossed our fingers that every meal would be this tasty.

We spent the first two days 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 these sites were the amazing Manta Rays at Rasfari. While diving, we saw loads of Mantas getting cleaned and some batfish playing around the reef. Then, after the dive, we went for a short snorkel around the site, and saw even more Mantas – maybe the same ones – they are such majestic and peaceful creatures, and so big, it’s quite unbelievable. Another memorable site of the first few days was Ghangethi Pass, where we saw a group of 30 White Tip Reef Sharks of various sizes, an enormous Manta Ray, maybe 5 metres across and a very cool Leopard Shark, something I had never seen before.

All of the sites were teeming with beautiful marine life. If we didn’t see one of the ‘big creatures’, we would always see a lot of pretty reef-fish, tiny invertebrates, gorgeous corals and usually some big pelagic species as well. The main star of our trip was definitely the Manta Ray, at some of the sites there would be just one or two, but in others there would be 30-50. We had never seen, or even imagined, so many Manta Rays in one place.

Our night dive came on the fourth day of our trip at a site called Maaya Thila. Night diving is always an interesting 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 little different at night, when most of them do their hunting. We saw a team of White Tip Reef Sharks looking for some dinner and a Moray Eel, out of his hole in the reef and swimming around a Turtle, as well as a beautiful Lionfish and the usual phosphorescent plankton. Very cool!

The next evening, we visited a local community on one of the islands. It’s very interesting to see how these people live such a simple live life, totally in harmony with their environment. Every source of protein that they eat comes from the ocean, and is usually served with a coconut or some other fruit that grows naturally on their island. They did some traditional dances for us and we bought some nice souvenirs from them. This seems to be their main source of income, apart from what they make by selling their catches at market in Male or to resorts around the islands.

The last two days of the liveaboard safari, we spent around the South Ari and Vaavu Atolls, where the highlights were Fotteyo and Cocoa Thila. At Fotteyo we saw a group of dolphins come through, which is really unusual while scuba diving. We also saw some beautiful Eagle Rays and some of the best coral reef we had seen all week. This was a great opportunity for the underwater photographers in the group to take some beautiful shots of the coral with the reef fish and pelagic species in the foreground. Sun Island in the South Ari Atoll was one of the most important sites of the whole trip, as it was the only site where we saw Whale Sharks in the whole trip, which is one of the big draws of the Maldives. There were actually two different Whale Sharks at this location and they were HUGE!

All in all, the diving was superb, we saw far more creatures than I 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 market is particularly interesting and you see how all the fishermen from around the islands come in with their day’s catch and the resorts from around the nation buy it up and carry it back to feed their hungry guests.

We chose to extend our trip by a couple of days and take advantage of these gorgeous resorts and fully relax after our fantastic liveaboard adventure. We chose the Coco Palm, Dhuni Kolhu, because it was only 30 minutes from the airport and we didn’t want to have to travel too much. We were more interested in the relaxing massages at the spa and the over-water bungalow. When you look at the Maldives in the travel brochure or on the internet, it’s the over-water rooms that catch the eye, so it seemed almost wrong to leave without spending at least one night sleeping in one. Our last two days at Coco Palm were totally breathtaking, so much so, it’s going to be hard to find a honeymoon retreat more perfect than this one!

After two nights at Coco Palm, we transferred back to Male Airport ready to board our flight back to grim, dreary London. James and I loved the Maldives, everything about it, and we really hope to return one day, sooner rather than later.