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Whale Sharks and Manta Rays in the Maldives

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Whale Sharks and Manta Rays in the Maldives

When Is the Best Time 

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 (Quick Navigation):

  1. Top 3 Atolls for Manta Rays & Whale Sharks
  2. Climate and Weather in the Maldives
  3. Where to Stay at the 3 Atolls


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.

 

Climate/Weather

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


Tourists/Seasons

Peak Season (= dry season):
Mid-December to March and in August (school holiday) the prices are at their highest.

Shoulder Season:
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.

Discover 
Underwater
MV
Where  
Maldives, Ari-atol, Maldives
Review and Tips 

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 massive 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.

Swimming with Whale Sharks (5 Quick Tips)

The most asked question: 'Where do I stay in the Maldives if I want to swim with whale sharks and how do I plan the trip?' We're here to help:

  1. Where to Stay? Since the South Ari Atoll (read the seasons guide above) is the top spot for whale sharks, this is where you should stay. However, the amount of islands, resorts, and hotels is confusing. Staying on the islands of Dhigurah, Dhangethi or Maamigili is your best bet. These are the most popular 'base islands' for whale sharks. The hotels/guest houses we listed below, all have an integrated diving/snorkeling center.
  2. Transfer from Malé: From Malé International Airport the transfer via seaplane (about 20-30 minutes) to South Ari is arranged by the hotel. If you are unsure, just contact the hotel directly after you booked the stay (see below).
  3. Which Guest House/Resort? Check our South Ari tips below.
  4. Booking the Tours? You don't need to contact a separate diving center for a whale shark tour. Our suggested resorts/guest houses, include professional diving centers which offer diving and snorkelling excursions, usually on a daily basis. There is also no need to book them in advance. You'll arrange everything with them when you're there. At most guest houses (at Resorts always) it's also possible to snorkel every day very easily at their 'house reef' for spotting fascinating other tropical fish.
  5. Equipment? You can bring your own eqiupment or you can rent it right at the snorkelling/diving center in your guest house or resort. 
     
 
WHICH GUEST HOUSE OR RESORT (Where to Stay)

Since the number of inns, guesthouses and resorts can be very confusing, we picked the best accommodations for you in within different price ranges. However, we didn’t just pick ‘good ones’. Instead, we talked to dozens of destinations experts, visitors and analyzed hundreds of reviews. Please keep in mind the tips are not only focussed on the best offerings of snorkeling / swimming / diving tours, but also take the overall experience into account.

Addu Atoll (Manta Rays - Year Round)

This Atoll is a little different from most others on the Maldives. Not as many inns/resorts and still not as commercial and touristy as others. Which is a big plus. The drawback is, that there are not as many accommodation (check the deals) to choose from. There are in fact some which are good, but we'd still hesitate to recommend them due to a few drawbacks. Thus, both tips below are highly recommended accommodations. Another budget guest house would be the Pebbles Inn. However, we didn't include it below since it's only perfect if you're not diving, only snorkeling. The reason is, they don't have an integrated diving center and 'only' offer coral snorkeling tours (which are still awesome). Tip: Wherever you stay in Addu, you have to take a flight from Malé Airport to Gan Airport (a tiny, ex-military airport in Addu). If you like it hassle free: There are direct flights to Gan from Sri Lanka.

Wave Sound by 3S Maldives
  • Type: Inn/Guest House
  • Price Range: $80 - $120
  • Island: Maradhoo
  • Closest Airport/Transfer: They pick you up from Gan International Airport (preferably try to book a direct flight to Gan via Sri Lanka. Otherwise first Malé then to Gan)
  • Diving/Snorkeling Operator: Yes, tours every day
  • Private Beach: Yes (bikini allowed)
  • Crowded: No (island + dive spots)
  • Rating: Excellent
  • Booking Deals: Wave Sound by 3S (tip: bookmark the link)
  • Reviews: TripAdvisor Wave Sound by 3S (search tips: 'diving' or 'snorkel')
  • Notes: This guest house is THE budget insider tip in Addu! Feels more like a resort. A quiet island, not touristy at all, perfect opportunities for snorkeling on your own each day with a 'private' reef (shallow, perfect for beginners). Diving excursions with extremely professional guys to spot mantas as well as stunning coral snorkeling tours. Also, many other fantastic activities are being offered. Excellent food and very clean and newly built rooms.
Shangri-La's Villingili Resort and Spa
  • Type: Resort
  • Price Range: $700 - $1300 (depending on the season and type of rooms/villa)
  • Island: Villingili
  • Closest Airport/Transfer: They fully take care of the transfer, even from Malé Airport (transfer rates are around $400)
  • Diving/Snorkeling Operator: Yes, professional tours every day
  • Private Beach: Yes, resort beach area (bikini allowed)
  • Crowded: No (resort + dive spots)
  • Rating: Excellent
  • Booking Deals: Shangri-La's Villingili Resort Maldives (tip: bookmark the link)
  • Reviews: TripAdvisor Shangri-La's Villingili Resort (search tips: 'manta' or 'snorkel')
  • Notes: Luxury stay! It would be too much to describe everything here like the water villas, the three restaurants, the 'heaven on earth beach' and so much more. Just a few words about snorkeling and diving. Snorkeling: Amazing private reef for everyday snorkeling as well as great tours, lessons for begginers. Tip: If you'd like to snorkel every day, choose a water villa in Whispering Palms (instead of one in Serenity Bay). Diving: Outstanding manta spotting and diving from this resort with a professional diving center with amazing instructors/guides! Organized tours to tons of dive spots at the atoll and so much more. Check their brochure for all snorkeling, diving and other stunning activities like dolphin cruises: Shangri La Water Sports Centre Activities

South Ari Atoll (Whale Sharks)


The top area for spotting whale sharks, but also manta rays for a limited time (see above). The amount of resorts and guesthouses in South Ari is indeed confusing. Staying on the islands of Dhigurah, Maamigili or Dhangethi is the best choice if you want to experiencethese sea creatures. 

TME Retreats Dhigurah
  • Type: Inn/Guest House
  • Price Range: $60- $80
  • Island: Dhigurah
  • Diving/Snorkeling Operator: Yes
  • Private Beach: Bikini beach just a few steps away
  • Crowded: Sometimes (island + some dive spots)
  • Rating: Very good
  • Booking Deals: TME Retreats Dhigurah (tip: bookmark the link)
  • Reviews: TripAdvisor TME Retreats Dhigurah (search tips: 'whale shark' or 'snorkel')
  • Notes:  It's an excellent hotel with a professional diving center, offering great whale shark swimming tours. They are partnering with the 'Maldives Whale Sharks Research Programme'. Room Tip: You'll be pleasantly surprised with the basic rooms.
Ariston Dhangethi Inn
  • Type: Inn/Guest House
  • Price Range: $90- $130
  • Island: Dhangethi
  • Diving/Snorkeling Operator: Yes
  • Private Beach: Yes (bikini allowed)
  • Crowded: Sometimes (island + some dive spots)
  • Rating: Excellent
  • Booking Deals: Ariston Dhangethi Inn (tip: bookmark the link)
  • Notes:  Amazing inn! Read this TripAdvisor Review: Ariston Dhangethi Inn Review
LUX* South Ari Atoll
  • Type: Resort
  • Price Range: $500 - $1100 (depending on the season)
  • Island: Dhidhoofinolhu
  • Diving/Snorkeling Operator: Yes
  • Private Beach: Yes, resort beach area (bikini allowed)
  • Crowded: No (island/resort) Yes (some dive spots)
  • Rating: Excellent
  • Booking Deals: LUX* South Ari Atoll (tip: bookmark the link)
  • Reviews: TripAdvisor LUX* South Ari Atoll (search tips: 'whale shark' or 'snorkel')
  • Notes:  Outstanding resort where you can stay for $600 a night in the off-season. Definitely a luxury option! They offer and organize excellent whale shark swimming tours with local marine biologists as the perfect guides for your excursion

Baa Atoll - Hanifaru Bay (Whale Sharks & Manta Rays)


We recommend to browse for the best deals at Baa Atoll (whale sharks and manta rays in Hanifaru Bay): Baa Atoll Resorts & Guest Houses  (Tip: Bookmark this link with deals once and check the accommodations with low prices again later at your convenience) Keep in mind, that the closest islands to Hanifaru Bay are:  Dharavandhoo, Dusit Thani, Royal Island and Reethi Beach. For now we added one excellent budget option (Aveyla Manta Village). More will be added later:

Aveyla Manta Village
  • Type: Inn/Guest House
  • Price Range: $70- $110
  • Island: Dharavandhoo
  • Closest Airport/Transfer: The island of Dharavandhoo has its own airport. However, you need to book a short domestic flight (20 minutes from Malé Internnational to Dharavandhoo). This guest house doesn't arrange flights directly. Contact Flyme or Maldivian Airlines (Google Search). However, the hotel assists you of course.
  • Diving/Snorkeling Operator: Yes, tours every day
  • Private Beach: Yes (bikini allowed). The bikini beach is not the hotel beach, it's another one right to the hotel. Easily accessible.
  • Crowded: No (island + dive/snorkeling spots)
  • Rating: Excellent
  • Best Booking Deals: Aveyla Manta Village (tip: bookmark the link)
  • Reviews: TripAdvisor Aveyla Manta Village (search tips: 'diving' or 'snorkel')
  • Notes: Although it's a budget guest house, the area feels a little like a resort, especially in off-season and shoulder season. Even in peak season the island is not touristy like Malé for example. Perfect for snorkeling on your own each day at the house reef! Read the TripAdvisor reviews (see above)  Diving excursions and snorkeling tours with an extremely professional team. Special: They fly a drone almost every day to Hanifaru Bay to check for the best sightings of Manta Rays and Whale Sharks. Then they take you to the best spots.

Accommodation Types in the Maldives

Still confused about the options of resorts and guest houses? Here, we'll give you an overview about the Maldives accommodations. There are basically three options from cheap to expensive, which you can find below. However, keep in mind that the offered rates often do not include taxes and usually not the transfer from Malé airport to the island or resort. As already mentioned, some flights from Sri Lanka are direct flight to the tiny Gan International Airport  (in case you are staying in this part of the Maldives). Sometimes transportation from and to the airport is free/included. If you're unsure, call the hotel/inn/resort.

B&B (Private Guest Houses)
  • Price Level: Cheap (via Airbnb for example)
  • Rates: You can find good ones for $40 per night or even less. Traveling with a partner means only $20 per person.
  • Location: On the islands where the locals live. 
  • The Good: Saving money! You can spend a week on the Maldives for the same price others spend a single night in a resort. And you get to know the locals and how they live. Often the hosts offer a private excursion and you eat with them.
  • The Bad: Often missing Wifi. Women are not allowed to walk around in a bikini (t-shirt is required) and drinking alcohol is permitted. Even more important: You'll have to ask dive operators from resorts or professional guest houses if you can join their whale shark or manta ray tour. Beaches are sometimes dirty.
  • Recommend for Snorkeling/Diving Tours: Not really. You'd better use a professional guest house or resort with included dive/snorkeling operator (see below).
Inns / Guest Houses
  • Price Level: Moderate/Low
  • Rates: You can find very good professional guest houses with their own dive/boat operator below $100. There are even cheaper ones below $50, but they usually don't include an integrated dive/snorkeling operator/club. And that's what you are looking for. 
  • Location: On the islands where the locals live.
  • The Good: Compared to the resorts (usually starting around $300 per night) you still save a lot of money. Many professional inns/guest houses have a professional dive operator/club included. The better guest houses even offer dedicated bikini beaches, own pools and more. It's not like a luxury resort but definitely more comfortable than staying in a private B&B.
  • The Bad: If there's no dedicated bikini beach, women still can't walk around in their bikinis. Also, alcohol is permitted. And the beaches are not as clean as a resort beach. 
  • Whale Shark/Manty Ray Tip: If you search for inns/guest house on your own, always make sure, that they have their own integrated dive operator/club. If yes, they offer all sorts of diving and snorkeling boat trips to spot whale sharks and manta ray.
Resorts
  • Price Level: High
  • Rates: Usually resorts in the Maldives start around $300 per night. However, especially in low season, you might get a room for $200 per night (very few even lower). If you like, you can pay a lot more than $1000 per night.
  • Location: Usually they are on dedicated uninhabited islands but can also be on an inhabited island.
  • The Good: Everything you need. Comfort, relaxation, high level of service, including professional dive/snorkeling tour operators. Also drinking alcohol and being outside in a bikini is allowed of course. Important for you: Usually resorts are awesome for daily snorkeling due to a private reef. Get out, start snorkeling and see amazing coral and marine life right away. However, it's very(!) unlikely to spot a whale shark that way without going on a dedicated tour.
  • The Bad: Nothing actually, except for one thing: It's the most expensive type.

Adventure Sailing Tours

Exploring volcanic atolls, cruising about aboard a traditional dhoni fishing boat, snorkeling the turquoise waters and spotting not only manta rays and whale sharks. We picked two Maldives sailing tours you'll definitely love (scroll down after clicking the link): Maldives Sailing Adventure Tours


Underwater Photography


TG-5 (Click image for details)
We get asked a lot about good and affordable underwater cameras. We use and 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)

Place created by Stefan Bonne. Updated and extended by WHEN to be WHERE

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Comments

Sep 10, 2015

That's awesome - this Manta Rays are huge.

Aug 12, 2017

For those looking to combine diving with a great holiday for non-divers and smaller children, I would absolutely recommend Kuramathi. Island resort with spa, kids club (included in AI) and a good range of restaurants, as well as medical centre with decompression tank and dive specialist medics. Fantastic dive school in Rashdoo Divers. Even out of peak season (we visited in July), there were mantas as well as other rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins...

Sep 24, 2017

I was in maldives a couple of times, and enjoyed diving there, perhaps the most beautiful site I visited so far. Check some of my underwater photos. Not only mantas ...

Sep 26, 2017

This is my manta ray shot, taken December 2016. I was on the MV Maldives Princess scuba liveaboard.
More travel photos.

Oct 27, 2017

Some Manta Ray pics from my trip to the Maldives a couple years ago

https://flic.kr/p/rduxLs
https://flic.kr/p/rdutHY
https://flic.kr/p/rsLuc3