There are outstanding locations for snorkeling or diving. Some are even close to the shore and not a boat necessary. Share special places you know and describe what to expect.
Richelieu Rock is a seamount in the Andaman Sea and close to the Surin Islands. It's mostly reached by liveaboards leaving from Phuket or Khao Lak. The best months are from November to April. Around the end of the drier season, whalesharks or manta rays can be spotted.
Big Island is one of the best places for snorkeling. Although the conditions are good year-round, the perfect season with warmest and excellent water conditions is in the late summer and early fall (August until October).
One of the best spots for snorkeling is the Mount Cook Monument. If you like to hike to this coral reef start early or late. It's pretty busy with tour boats from approximately 10 am until early afternoon. Bring enough water for the hike. Scroll down for more information about the different snorkel spots south of Kona.
Hawaii is a sunny and warm paradise with very little temperature variation throughout the seasons: Big Island Weather Guide. There is even less rain in the drier season from May until October, which makes these months even better for snorkeling. However, it's a tropical climate and some rain can always occur in Hawaii. That's the reason why the islands have a lush and green vegetation. The north and east coast get more rain than south and west which is the leeward side. The area around Kona is often foggy in the summertime.
You'll find the warmest water in late summer / early fall from August through October around 80°F (27°) degrees. It tends to drop by 6-9 degrees during winter. In winter, it’s also a little chilly in the mornings, when it’s a good idea to wear a thin neoprene wet suit top. The winter months from December to March tend to have heavy surf at times.
Seasons - Avoiding the Crowds
Fewer visitors in spring and fall: mid-April to mid-June and September (after Labor Day) to November. However, it's busier during the "Golden Week" in Japan at the end of April until the beginning of May. It gets very crowded when the Ironman takes place in October. Busy and increasing rates in summer (mid-June through August), during Christmas, New Year's Eve (mid-December until mid-January) and on Independence Day.
Bottom Line and Personal Experience
Although some months might not be ideal, you can visit the Big Island year-round for amazing snorkeling tours. Almost perfect months with fewer visitors as well as excellent water conditions are usually September and October. My visit to Hawaii was in September 2011. Kona's weather is often described as "eternal spring". Not too hot, not too cold, with some late afternoon rain showers. If you're lucky, you might get to see a rainbow! Crowds in September were fine although probably a bit higher than normal because it was the week before the big Hawaii Ironman Triathlon event. There were lots of bikers on the road training.
This trip is offered year-round. Sometimes ocean conditions can spoil the trip, especially in the winter (November/December until March/April). It's a popular tour and likely to be sold out days before, particularly on weekends.
The popular manta tour is mostly sold out even in the shoulder season. Up to 150 people watch this awesome "dinner show" in the sea each evening. Therefore advanced booking is recommended. Book your Manta tour here. Shoulder seasons are: During spring between mid-April to mid-June and in fall from September to November. It's busier during the "Golden Week" in Japan end of April until the beginning of May. It gets very crowded when the Ironman takes place in October. Increasing rates in summer, during Christmas, New Year's Eve and on Independence Day.
Weather and Ocean Conditions
In summer the ocean is calmer which is better for snorkeling. In the winter the surf can be higher. The island is drier from May to October. Kona is often cloudy during the summer. Rain can always occur in Hawaii especially late afternoon and in the nights. The reason that the islands have a lush and green vegetation, especially in the east and north on Big Island. The north and east coast gets more rain than south and west which is the leeward side.
Diving in Winter
- Hammerhead Sharks can be spotted year-round most probable encounters are in January and February.
- Whale sharks are more likely to spot between mid-December to mid-January.
Snorkel and weather conditions at the Keys
The summer offers the flattest and clearest water for snorkelers. The downside the summer is also known for its uncomfortably high heat and humidity. In September and October, hurricanes can occur like in 2017. Much got destroyed by Irma here on the keys.
The months from November thru April are much more pleasant, but there can be strong wind and waves which reduce visibility substantially. Cold fronts from Canada with strong winds arrive here in the winter. The temperature drops, and it gets chilly. Also, there can be days where the surf is too high for snorkeling. The worst month with strong winds is January, and it improves in March. The best month for snorkeling is May until Memorial Day. It is still not too hot, water is clearer, and accommodations are not as expensive as in the summertime. September can be a good month as well but consider it’s the hurricane season.
Book your snorkel trip in advance and on a windy day give them a call in the morning to get the tour confirmed: (305) 451 6300
If possible stay at the keys from Monday to Friday and avoid weekends. Weekends are utterly busy, prices for hotels increase and most spots are crowded. The advantage; on weekends guided trips are offered in the John Pennekamp State Park in the morning.
Camping in the John Pennekamp State Park
The popular campground is mainly used by RV’s each of the 45 sites has electricity. The campground provides washing machines and tumblers. If you like to stay here, you have to book 11 months before sharp at 8 in the morning. The alternative; usually sites get canceled shortly before the stay. Check it on Reserve America daily soon before you plan to visit the Keys.
We were forced to look for a motel. There wasn't any affordable campsite available. We stayed at the Conch On Inn for three nights. Luckily, a very comfy bed, WIFI, fridge, coffee machine, BBQ and attentive owners. Great value for money.
Hotels near the John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.
The Maldives is a spectacular destination for sightings of manta rays and whale sharks. However, you need to know where and when to spot them. In general, from November until April a higher number of manta rays can be spotted on the western side of the Maldive atolls. From May to October on the eastern side of the atolls, due to the high plankton concentration.
Want to know more? Read our specific atoll tips below (Addu, South Ari, Baa/Hanifaru), where sightings are almost guaranteed. TIP: In case you're not interested in diving or snorkeling these sections are super helpful for every traveler: Weather Details - Island Transfer Tips - Resort and Guest Houses Explained. Now, jump directly to your preferred section:
- Top 3 Atolls for Manta Rays & Whale Sharks
- Climate and Weather in the Maldives
- The Best Inns & Resorts for Whale Sharks & Manta
- Island Transfer Tips (General Tips)
- Swimming with Whale Sharks (5 Tips)
- Resorts & Guest Houses Explained (General Tips)
General Tip | Saving Money: Always look for the best guesthouse, inn and resort deals. Our preferred accommodation service for the Maldives is booking.com: Maldives Accommodation Deals, Tips and Reviews (Tip: Bookmark this link as it's really useful). Make sure to book well in advance if possible. During the wet season (see below) prices are significantly lower!
Excursion Types (Diving and Snorkeling)
Usually, you can spot manta rays and whale sharks on diving excursions as well as on a snorkeling / swimming tour. Diving operators in the resorts and guest houses offer both types and take you to the sites with their boats. While the snorkeling tours are often popular and better suited for swimming with whale sharks and seeing them up close, diving is perfect for being close to both sea creatures (an excecption is Hanifura Bay - see below). However, many diving operators (centers) offer mixed tours. That means: The boat takes you to the diving site where divers as well as snorkelers get off the boat. Of course, you will not only see whale sharks and manta rays, also dolphins, sea turtles, schools of tropical fish and other fascinating ocean life.
Manta Rays – Addu Atoll
- Manta Rays: Excellent (year-round)
- Whale Sharks: Not really
- Diving or Snorkeling: Both. However, you need to dive to spot the manta rays (snorkeling only for other fish, turtles, coral reefs)
- Where to Stay: Accommodation Tips
Manta Ray (Maldives) by Ian Griffiths, CC BY
The Addu Atoll (also Addu City) is the southernmost atoll in the Maldives and shaped like a heart. It's an exceptional scuba diving destination. Here, you can spot manta rays year round. In fact, it's manta heaven and not long ago in 2015/16 it was still kind of a hidden gem for seeing manta rays! The Addu Atoll is the only location in the Maldives where mantas rays with over 5 meter of wingspan are known to exist. You can also dive at the Maldives biggest wreck 'British Loyalty'. Besides manta rays, you will encounter eagle rays, sharks, turtles and generally big fish all year around. Please keep in mind that mantas are perfect to spot for divers here, but not if you're snorkeling. Certain aspects like the currents make it difficult. It's possible to spot a manta here while snorkeling, but it's not very likely.
Whale Sharks – South Ari Atoll
- Whale Sharks: Excellent (year-round)
- Manta Rays: Good (October - May)
- Diving or Snorkeling: Both
- Where to Stay: Accommodation Tips
Whale Shark (Maldives) by Tchami, CC BY-SA
South Ari (also Alifu Dhaalu Atoll) is one of the best places for spotting whale sharks. The sightings are excellent year-round with a peak time from August to November. Also, encounters with big pelagic fish are guaranteed most of the time in South Ari Atoll. In terms of water conditions, the best time is from December to May, even better from January - April (see below: Diving). You may also spot manta rays in South Ari during the northeast monsoon from September/October to May (the peak viewing time is February - April). In other months it's really hard to find manta rays here.
Whale Sharks & Manta Rays – Baa Atoll – Hanifaru Bay
- Manta Rays: Excellent (May/June - October/November)
- Whale Sharks: Good (May/June - October/November)
- Diving or Snorkeling: No diving in Hanifaru Bay! Only snorkeling allowed.
- Where to Stay: Accommodation Tips
Manta Ray and Whale Shark in the Maldives
Another outstanding place to spot whale sharks and up to 200 manta rays feeding is the Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll. The best time for sightings here is between May and November (some divers even recommend late July to early October): During these months the South West Monsoon causes a massive build-up of plankton, drawing in hundreds of whale sharks and manta rays. Hanifaru is an uninhabited island, and the bay is smaller than a football field. But still, it's the largest known manta feeding station on our planet! In 2009 the area became a marine protected area where fishing and boating is restricted. Diving is not permitted in Hanifaru Bay anymore! And there is a strict control for snorkeling with a limit of 5 boats and 80 visitors which are allowed to spend a maximum of 45 minutes in the Hanifaru Bay. However, diving operators still take you to other diving sites with a great chance of seeing Manta Rays at Baa Atoll of course (just not in Hanifaru Bay).
Weather in the Maldives is determined by a tropical climate. That means it's warm and humid. However, the high humidity is bearable because of the gentle and steady sea breeze. Regardless of the two monsoon seasons and the distance between north and south (about 800 km), the temperatures are quite stable. Throughout the year and the whole region, the highs reach 31°C (89°F), and the lows hover around 25°C (77°F). That means, temperatures can vary slightly depending on the season, but it's safe to say that they remain consistent year-round between 26°C (79°F) and 29°C (84°F). More interesting is the rainfall:
Of course, in the wet season it looks like there might be a lot of rain. However, rain showers are often brief and the sun is back within 1-2 hours. While 2 days of rain in a row can happen, it is unlikely that it will rain for a full week. Usually your trip won't be spoiled in the wet season! Read our season overview below for more details about the rain during the monsoons. Rainy days are also slightly different in terms of the region: In the dry season, the southern part (Addu Atoll) receives as twice as much rain than the northern and central part (Malé). For example 10 rainy days instead of 5 in February. But this only applies to the months between January and March/April. In other months it's pretty much the same for most regions. Also keep in mind, that these are usually brief rain showers. Another important aspect is the water temperature: It remains stable between 28°C and 30°C (82 - 86°F) during the whole year. Although water temperature, as well as the general temperature, don't vary a lot, the two monsoons bring different weather conditions in terms of rain and wind:
- Dry Season (North East Monsoon / Winter): The dry season starts in November/December and lasts until April. It is influenced by the winter monsoon. At the beginning and at the end of the dry season expect a little more rain. The driest months are January, February, and March, but brief showers can occur. The northern and the central region experience the 'full dry season' while the southern part of the Maldives gets a little more rain during these months. The dry season also brings calm seas and either clear skies slightly clouded with beautiful formations. There is also significantly less wind, and the sea is often extremely flat.
- Wet Season (South West Monsoon / Summer): The rainy season usually starts in May (sometimes in late April) and lasts until September/October. It's influenced by the summer monsoon. In October it's getting slightly better, and November is often more or less safe. Weather can change quickly in the wet season and without the slightest signs of warning. Darker, rainy and very windy periods can be very short, but heavy rain, storm and a rough sea for a couple of days in a row are possible. However, even with more cloudy days and more rainfall in the wet season, the sun shines on average for 7 hours each day. The wet season is the best time for surfing and really impressive sunsets.
Sea Conditions for Diving/Snorkeling
The best months for diving and snorkeling are in the dry season from December/January to April/May during the Northeast Monsoon: The sea is calm, and the visibility is good. During the wet season, you could experience a rough sea, rain and less visibility due to the plankton. However, some divers visit in the wet season because: a) It's less busy and there is also more underwater life going on. b) Rain can be heavy at times but is often brief. On some days the visibility is as good as in dry season. c) In certain areas (see above: Hanifaru Bay) the best time to spot whale sharks and manta rays is during the wet season. In the end, it's a matter of personal preference. Many would only go in the dry season, and others prefer the rainy season with lower rates and less traffic. There are some interesting reports and opinions in this TripAdvisor topic: Maldives Diving - Low Season vs High Season
Peak Season | Dry Season
Mid-December to March and in August (school holiday) the prices are at their highest.
April except for Easter and the first half of December after the low season. In December the rates also start to climb.
Low Season | Wet Season
May until July and September until November with lower prices and attractive offers. Several resorts are closed from May to September.
Tours are offered from October until May. Very best time for snorkeling around Surin islands from late January until the end of February due to a very calm sea at this time of the year. The sea can be rough, and seasickness can be an issue. On the other hand, this time of the year is the busiest. Continue reading to figure out your best time for the Surin Islands and our top spot for diving.
Shoulder Season – Less Crowded
October, November and April, May except Easter
October is sometimes still too rainy and trips are canceled. May is hot but usually still nice.
December until March. Prices are at the highest level. Surin is not offered daily and should be booked a few days in advance. Similan Islands and Surin Islands are very popular for snorkeling. We got told that the reefs around Surin are more beautiful and Similan beaches are overrun. The trips are pricey therefore think twice where to go and when.
Tip for Divers
Divers should book a liveaboard trip for a couple of days. One outstanding dive spot is Richelieu Rock. Follow the link for detailed information and pictures.