Whale Sharks and Manta Rays in the Maldives
The Maldives is an excellent year-round destination, especially for sightings of manta rays and whale sharks. However, there are a few exceptions. 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. Read on for more details regarding sightings at certain atolls.
Manta Rays – Year Round (Addu Atoll)
The Addu Atoll is the southernmost atoll in the Maldives. It's an exceptional scuba diving destination. Here, you can spot manta rays year round. 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.
Whale Sharks – Year Round (South Ari Atoll)
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)
Whale Sharks & Manta Rays – May/June to Oct/Nov (Baa Atoll – Hanifaru Bay)
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 October (some divers even recommend late July to early October): During these months the South West Monsoon causes 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. In 2009 the area became a marine protected area where fishing and boating is restricted. There is a strict control for diving and snorkeling with a limit of 5 boats and 80 visitors which are allowed to spend a maximum of 45 minutes in the Hanifaru Bay.
The dry season starts in December and lasts until April influenced by the North East Monsoon. At the beginning and end of the dry season expect a little more rain. The driest months are February and March, but brief showers can occur. The humidity is lower with warmer temperatures around 30 degrees. The sea temperature is about 28 degrees.
The rainy season influenced by the southwest monsoon with the wettest months from May to September. Temperatures are around 26 degrees. In October it’s getting slightly better, and November is often more or less safe. Weather can change quickly in the wet season, but there can be heavy rain, storm and a rough sea for days. However, the Maldives weather is more unpredictable due to climate change. The wet season is the best time for surfing and impressive sunsets.
The best months for diving are in the dry season from December/January to April/May during the Northeast Monsoon: The sea is calm sea 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 wet season. In the end, it's a matter of personal preference. Many would only go in the dry season, and others prefer the wet 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 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.
The Maldives are roughly 1.200 islands with 26 Atolls. The islands are one of the best places to see whale sharks, manta rays, 26 species of sharks and a huge amount of sea life. Diving is best from a liveaboard since these can cover the distances between the best dive sites. They are also more reasonably priced than a resort on an island. Whale sharks found in warm tropical oceans. It’s the largest fish and a filter feeder like the basking shark the second largest fish. Reaching lengths of 12 meters and getting more than 70 years old some even up to 100. They can dive more than 1000 meters deep.
Accommodations / Hotels / Resorts (bookmark the links)
Keep in mind that the popular dive sites, particularly in Ari Atoll, may be very busy, depending on the season (see above):
Adventure Sailing Tours
Exploring volcanic atolls, cruising about aboard a traditional dhoni fishing boat, snorkelling the turquoise waters and spotting not only manta rays and whale sharks. Two highly recommended Maldives sailing tours (scroll down after clicking the link):
We get asked a lot about good and affordable underwater cameras. Like in this TripAdvisor Topic in the Maldives Forum, we highly recommend the Olympus TG-5 (or the cheaper TG-4). Make sure to wash it in fresh water after every sea use (click the image for details and the best price on amazon):