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 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 a stunning underwater scenery.
Maldives archipelago comprises about 1200 islands grouped in 22 atolls. Among these 1200 islands, only 200 are inhabited, and approximately 160 are resort islands consisting solely of luxury resorts.
If a few snorkeling options can be found on the inhabited islands, their shores are not protected and 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 it carefully. Beach-based snorkeling is the norm in Maldives, but most resorts offer snorkeling tours to the surrounding reefs and islands so that you can explore a diversity of sites during your stay.
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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, but 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, and with stunning house reefs, are considered the best for snorkeling. In South Male Atoll, Biyadhoo and Embudu, where spotted eagle rays abound, are also 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 minutes 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 thanks to 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 so much to experience when snorkeling Lhaviyani.
Lhaviyani Atoll, also known as Faadhippolhu Atoll, is made up of 54 islands, of which only 5 are inhabited and 5 are 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 2 km-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 less than 2km 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 for example considered to be among Maldive’s greatest resorts for snorkeling.
Still in 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
Resort island with seagrass beds and reef drop off, sharks and turtles
Resort island fringed by coral reefs with rays, turtles and reef fish
Reef flat and drop off with sharks, turtles and colorful fish
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