What are the best snorkeling locations in the Maldives?

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.

Aerial view of Helengeli Island
Aerial view of Helengeli, a popular resort island in North Male Atoll.

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.

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Maldive anemonefish in Helengeli
The Maldive anemonefish, endemic to the archipelago, is a common sighting at reefs. Here, in Helengeli.

The best snorkeling spots in North Male and South Male Atolls

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).

Spotted eagle rays in Embudu
The island’s drop-offs offer beautiful encounters with big creatures, such as these spotted eagle rays in Embudu.

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.

A snorkeling taking picture of a yellow boxfish in Dhonveli
Encounter with an inquisitive yellow boxfish in Dhonveli.

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.

Blacktip reef shark in Vilamendhoo
A blacktip reef shark in Vilamendhoo.

The best snorkeling spots in Ari Atoll

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.

A school of powder blue tangs in Velidhu
A school of powder blue tangs in Velidhu.

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.

A whale shark in Whale Shark Point
Encounter with a whale shark in Whale Shark Point.

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.

Aerial view of Maafushivaru Atoll
Aerial view of Maafushivaru Island, in Ari Atoll.

The best snorkeling spots in Lhaviyani Atoll

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.

A cowtail stingray in Kuredu
A cowtail stingray, easy to identify from the large ventral fold on its tail, in Kuredu.

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.

School of redtoothed triggerfish in Kuredu
A small school of inquisitive redtoothed triggerfish in Kuredu.

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.

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.

What will I see while snorkeling in the Maldives?

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.

Blueface angelfish in Vilamendhoo
A blueface angelfish in Vilamendhoo.

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.

Coral reef in Moofushi
Reef life in Moofushi.

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.

Hawksbill sea turtle in Moofushi
A hawksbill sea turtle in Moofushi.

What is the best time of the year to snorkel in the Maldives?

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.

School of Singapore parrotfish in Vilamendhoo
A school of Singapore parrotfish in Vilamendhoo’s reef flat.

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.

Where to spot them?

Discover on which snorkeling spots you are most likely to see your favorite species