The Maldives are roughly 1.200 islands with 26 Atolls. The islands are one of the best places to see whale sharks and manta rays a well as massive amount of sea life.
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. If you'd like to jump directly to our must-know tips (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):
- Top 3 Atolls for Manta Rays & Whale Sharks
- Climate and Weather in the Maldives
- Island Transfer Tips (General Tips)
- Where to Stay for Whale Sharks & Mantas
- Resorts & Guest Houses Explained (General Tips)
Please note that #2, #3 and #5 (Weather + Island Transfer + Resorts & Guest Houses Explained) are also extremely helpful for any non-diving visitor as we provide awesome general information and tips! But first, a teaser video (please note that no video or photo do this real life experience justice! On a mobile phone, turn your screen to watch it in landscape mode):
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). 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)
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
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.
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.
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 rain for a full week or so is unlikely. 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 sometimes 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.