With hundreds of islands and atolls lying in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives offers visitors an underwater adventure like no other. In this island-hopping paradise, you can freely explore unspoiled lagoons surrounded by colorful coral reefs, where the marine life thrives. Snorkeling around the atolls allows marine life enthusiasts to observe hundreds of reef fish species (including angelfish, morays, anemonefish, snappers and tangs) as well as sharks, turtles, eagle rays and mantas in stunning underwater scenery.
The Maldives archipelago comprises about 1200 islands grouped in 22 atolls. Within these 1200 islands, only 200 are inhabited, with approximately 160 being resort islands that consist solely of luxury resorts.
The few snorkeling options that can be found on the inhabited islands, are poor as their shores are not protected and so feature unhealthy seabed and poor amounts of fish. For this reason, it is widely considered that the resort islands offer the best snorkeling in the Maldives. Almost all of them offer overwater bungalows, white sand beaches, shallow lagoons, and vibrant reef drop-offs where sea life thrives.
Although each island has some optimal snorkeling areas, local sea conditions and reef health varies greatly from one island to another, so it is important, if snorkeling is the main reason for your visit, that you choose an island carefully. Beach-based snorkeling is the norm in Maldives, but most resorts offer snorkeling tours to the surrounding reefs and other islands so that you can explore a diversity of sites during your stay.
Ready for a tour of the best snorkeling spots in the Maldives? Follow us!
North and South Male atolls are the most visited in the Maldives. They host the Maldives’ capital city, Male, as well as its international airport, making it the gateway to the archipelago. North and South Male atolls comprise more than 80 islands, including 13 inhabited islands and nearly 50 resort islands (which represent one-third of Maldive’s resort islands).
Visitors to the inhabited islands will find very few shore snorkeling opportunities, most of them being limited to Dhiffushi, Himmafushi, and Huraa Islands, in North Male Atoll. Do not expect, however, spectacular marine life, as there is mainly coral debris with a few fish.
If you are staying in Male or Hulhumale, you will find in town a choice of day trips to the nearby islands, which generally allow snorkeling two or three locations only accessible by boat.
The Male Atoll offers the largest choice of resort islands in the Maldives. All the resort islands have snorkeling, but some of them stand out for the quality of their seabed and underwater life. Baros, Vabbinfaru, Helengeli and Angsana, all four located in North Male Atoll, are considered the best for snorkeling because of their stunning house reefs. In South Male Atoll, Biyadhoo and Embudu, where spotted eagle rays abound, are also considered great options.
If you are looking for a resort island easily accessible from Male, then Furanafushi, Dhonveli, Kuda Huraa, Kanifinolhu, and Giraavaru should be your top picks. All of them are just a 20 minute boat ride from the capital city.
Ari, with its thin ring-shaped atolls rising from the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean, is considered one of the best atolls in the Maldives for snorkeling. It is the second most visited atoll in the country, after the Male Atolls.
Comprising 82 islands, including 36 inhabited islands and 26 resort islands, it offers many perfect options for those seeking a secluded island escape. Most of Ari Atoll island offer shallow turquoise lagoons and dramatic coral walls, where pelagics such as manta rays and whale sharks are common sightings.
Shore snorkeling is very limited in Ari Atoll, but you can find decent options in Ukulhas or Mathiveri. If you want to fully enjoy the magical Maldives underwater world, then head to Maafushivaru, Bathala, Velidhu, Kandolhu, or Mirihi. These are considered to be some of the best snorkeling places in the Maldives because of their crystal-clear water teeming with life.
Vilamendhoo, at the southeastern edge of Ari Atoll, is another must-visit spot for Maldive snorkeling enthusiasts. Shallow reef flats, visited by sea turtles and blacktip sharks, await you there.
The southern tip of Ari Atoll, known as Whale Shark Point, is one of the best spots to swim with whale sharks in the Maldives. These giants of the oceans are present at this location year-round, but the largest gatherings are observed between December and April.
Almost all hotels in South Ari Atoll offer tours to Whale Shark Point, where manta rays can also be sighted during the northeast monsoon, with a peak between February and April.
Considered one of the top snorkeling destinations in the Maldives, Lhaviyani Atoll’s underwater world is something you don’t want to miss. Located just north of North Mahe Atoll, it hosts some stunning and pristine snorkeling spots. From reef sharks, eagle rays and sea turtles sightings, to displays of coral in crystal-clear water just under the surface, there’s much to experience when snorkeling Lhaviyani.
Lhaviyani Atoll, also known as Faadhippolhu Atoll, is made up of 54 islands. Only 10 of these islands are inhabited, with 5 of them being resort islands. On the inhabited islands, shore snorkeling can be done mostly in Olhuvelifushi (fringed by a lagoon on its southern side) and Kurendhoo. The 5 resort islands, bordered by lagoons and/or house reefs, are all great for snorkeling.
With its mile-long white sand beach, Kuredu is certainly the most popular resort island in Lhaviyani. Fringed by reef drop-offs, it offers some of the best shore snorkeling in the Maldives. Kuredu is also the main departure point for boat snorkeling tours to Fahigili, a wonderful reef lying a little over a mile from Kuredu’s coast.
If North Male, South Male, Ari and Lhaviyani are Maldives’ most visited atolls, plenty of other options are scattered throughout the Maldives chain. Filitheyo in the Faafu Atoll, as well as Kihavah Huravalhi and Mudhdhoo in Baa Atoll, are considered to be among Maldive’s greatest resorts for snorkeling.
Baa Atoll, Hanifaru Bay, within easy reach from the surrounding islands (including the inhabited island of Dharavandhoo), is known for hosting the largest gatherings of manta rays on the planet.
The Maldives hosts one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, featuring reefs teeming with fish, turtles, invertebrates and colorful coral. It is also one of the very best destinations for snorkeling with large marine creatures such as rays and sharks.
More than 2000 species of fish can be spotted in the Maldives, including a wide range of reef fish. Among the most beautiful you may encounter while snorkeling the atolls are the blueface angelfish, the powder-blue tang, the oriental sweetlips, as well as several species of butterflyfish.
Two species of anemonefish are also common at the reef edge: the Maldive anemonefish, endemic to the archipelago, and the Clark’s anemonefish, darker and with three white bands.
If you like to see larger marine species, then Maldives is the place to go. The hawksbill sea turtle is very common at reef, as is the blacktip reef shark, which abounds on the shallow sandy flats surrounding some islands. The outer reefs, where a spectacular drop-off drops into the blue, are visited by spotted eagle rays, whitetip sharks, as well as occasional mantas and whale sharks.
In the Maldives, the year is divided into two seasons governed by the monsoons. The northeastern monsoon, from December to April, corresponds to the dry season. Its sunny weather makes it the best period for snorkeling the islands, but it also corresponds to the high season, with lots of visitors and higher prices.
The southwestern monsoon, from May to November, corresponds to the rainy season. Rains and storms are brief but intense and are sometimes accompanied by very strong winds.
The average temperatures vary between 79 and 93°F (26 and 34°C) year-round, with higher temperatures during the dry season. With a water temperature constantly around 82°F (28°C), the Maldives has ideal conditions for snorkeling all year-round.
Present year-round at Whale Shark Point, South Ari Atoll.
Important gatherings at Hanifaru (Baa Atoll). Occasional encounters on the island’s drop-offs.
Easy to spot at all locations, generally on the drop-off.
Abundant in most island’s shallow flats, for example in Vilamendhoo.
One of the most beautiful reef fish in the Maldives. Common but quite shy.
Abundant on the drop-offs and coral slopes. Endemic to the Maldives chain.
Frequent at reef, sometimes seen shoaling by hundreds.
Common at reef and near the hotel’s jetties.
Resort island with reef drop off, sharks, rays and turtles
Reef flat and drop off with sharks, turtles and colorful fish
Resort island with seagrass beds and reef drop off, sharks and turtles
Hi Totally confused by “best snorkeling in Maldives”…….way too many recommendations, all different on every site. Been to Helegeli and Sangeli so looking at c $1000 a night all in sort of range. Lily Beach seems to get good reviews …but so do loads of other options! Any ideas????
Hi Steve! Agreed, there are so many great snorkeling locations in Maldives that naming the best ones is certainly a risky business! Please contact us through the contact form and we’ll help you find your ideal destination. Cheers, Guillaume.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Thanks to the island’s well-preserved, pristine bays and lagoons, the coastline of Seychelles islands offers wonderful conditions to go snorkeling. With amazing sights to be seen, including tropical fish, loads of hawksbill sea turtles and eagle rays, as well as occasional mantas and sharks, there i (...)
With more than 1700km of coastline along the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, Oman is filled with singular and yet undiscovered snorkeling spots. Although you will probably start by snorkeling from the shore around Muscat, you shouldn’t leave Oman without having explored some of the untouched islan (...)
Although tourist frequentation has strongly contributed to the deterioration of its coral reefs in its busiest islands, Thailand remains a world-class snorkeling destination. Its lush tropical coasts, reefs and islands offers a wide choice of snorkeling spots, in both Gulf of Thailand and the Andama (...)
Casuarina-fringed beaches, gin-clear sea and blue sky... welcome to Mauritius! Blessed with an extensive lagoon, abundant marine life, and dramatic topography, Mauritius is a good destination for snorkelers of all experience levels. Although showing signs of declining reef health, the island's shore (...)
Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, is located off the southeast coast of Africa, in the western Indian Ocean. The coral reef stretching over 450km along its southwestern coast (the fifth largest reef in the world), but also the numerous islands and islets scattered along Madagascar (...)
It is true that Réunion Island, a volcanic and mountainous French island located in southwestern Indian Ocean, may not compete with other tropical destinations in terms of idyllic picture-postcard beaches. Even so, 15 miles of the island’s western and southern coastline are fringed by lagoons and sh (...)
Vietnam is not a top snorkeling destination, but some sites are fascinating and the country is slowly growing in popularity. You’ll find along the extensive Vietnam coastline several islands and small archipelagos hosting various and diverse snorkeling spots, especially in Nha Trang, Phú Quốc and Cô (...)
Mayotte is the hidden gem of Southwestern Indian Ocean. This small French island is surrounded by a 1,500 square kilometers lagoon, the largest in Indian Ocean. Home to dolphins, whales, manta rays and dugong, it is considered one of the most beautiful snorkeling destination in southwestern Indian O (...)