More than 120 resorts and hotels are dotted on tiny islands the length of this vast archipelago straddling the equator in the Indian Ocean. Here’s our pick of 10 of the best for divers
Most Maldives resorts are on small uninhabited islands and can range from the most opulent luxury to more simple barefoot beach villas. We have also included three options of staying in local communities on inhabited islands which are increasingly popular and where you can experience local life as well as awesome diving, including Fuvahmulah, which is fast becoming one of the world’s hottest new dive destinations for big pelagic action.
Our choices have been based on performance in our annual DIVE Travel Awards and recommendations by our network of correspondents.
BAREFOOT ECO HOTEL, HAA DHALALU ATOLL
See the real Maldives – this is one of the few hotels based on an inhabited island. Hanimadhoo in the far north of the Maldives has a population of more than 2,000 farmers and fishers. The simple but chic and very environmentally friendly (no single-use plastic & solar power) hotel is in the middle of a traditional village, complete with a school and mosque.
Alcohol is banned on local islands, so you have to take a five-minute boat ride out to a floating bar if you are desperate for a beer. It seems as if all the village’s families come down to the beach to hang out and relax in the early evening — a totally different experience than the hermetic luxury of being pampered on a resort island.
The dive centre has everything you will need, and you will dive from a traditional dhoni.
The island sits just below the Eight Degrees Channel which separates the Maldives and India’s Lakshadweep Islands and, sadly, has been brutally overfished in the past – today they have clamped down on illegal fishing and the pelagics are slowly returning. The diving is gentle with few of the highs you would find further south – but on the plus side there are very few divers and you will have the reefs to yourself.
From £2,295 pp for seven nights, including UK flights. DIVE WORLDWIDE
KUREDU RESORT & SPA, LHAVIYANI ATOLL
Lhaviyani Atoll which lies about 100 kilometres north of the international airport has less tourist development than other atolls. Kuredu was one of the first resorts in the area and has been popular with divers for more than 20 years.
It is in Maldivian terms a relatively large island nearly 2km long and up to 325m wide, and there are more than 380 rooms. The diving in the atoll is excellent and includes the Shipyard site with two very diveable wrecks and Madivaru Kandu is a high-energy channel pulsing with pelagics.
The resort is all-inclusive and the diving is run by the very professional and award-winning Prodivers – good chance of seeing manta rays from May to November.
From £1,788 pp for six nights, including UK flights. BRITSH AIRWAYS
KOMANDOO, LHAVIYANI ATOLL
This resort is one of the more recent developments in the Lhaviyani Atoll and lies just to the south of the far larger resort of Kuredu. You stand a very good chance of being the only dive boat at any site – there are more than enough to go round for the handful of resorts sitting on the northern end of this large atoll. Some all-action drift dives in sites such as Felivaru Kandu.
The area is so unspoilt new dive sites are being regularly found. To date, 15 species of shark have been seen in the atoll and divers regularly encounter six of them. The dive centre is another run by the excellent Prodive. The island is a luxury resort for adults only – small, romantic and wonderful diving.
From £2,090PP pp for seven nights, including UK flights. KOUNI
SONEVA FUSHI, BAA ATOLL
This resort sets the bar for Maldivian luxury and environmental standards – not always things that go together. For more than 20 years, this luxury hotel out in the remote Baa Atoll has been lavishly pampering its guests in 57 extremely stylish villas.
The diving is equally bespoke – the resort even has its own tiny solar-powered liveaboard for small groups to go off exploring for a few days complete with glass-bottomed Jacuzzi (insert photo). The hotel adds a two per cent levy on each room donated to its foundation which supports environmental, social and economic causes.
From £5,625 pp for seven nights, including transfers but not international flights. ELEGANT RESORTS
VILAMENDHOO ISLAND RESORT, SOUTH ARI ATOLL
A long-standing favourite with serious divers, this resort in South Ari Atoll is a 25-minute seaplane trip from the international airport and has a total of 194 rooms. The dive centre is one of the 11 in the Maldives run by the extremely professional Euro Divers – guaranteeing a very high standard of instructors and guides.
There is an excellent house reef and more than 40 good sites to explore including Vilamendhoo Caves and the Khudarah Thila which explodes with vibrant soft corals. From June to October, there is a good manta ray dive. Day trips are frequently scheduled to nearby Mamigili, designated a whale shark national park. One other treat is the night ‘fluo’ dives – an experience not to miss.
From £1,676 pp for seven nights, including UK flights.TUI
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MIRIHI ISLAND RESORT, SOUTH ARI ATOLL
This small gem of an island tucked into an isolated corner of South Ari Atoll was the most popular dive resort in the Maldives in DIVE’s 2021 Travel Awards. With only 38 rooms, this luxury resort offers five-star peace and quiet with some of the best diving in the Maldives, not only on nearly six kilometres of barely touched house reefs, but on more than 40 top sites within an hour’s boat journey.
A 25m-long transport ship was sunk as an artificial reef in 30m more than 20 years ago just 50m from the house reef and is now a thriving marine environment. The resort runs its own Project Hope growing coral to restock bleached or damaged reefs – in February it planted more than 200 corals across its house reef, which had been raised in supervised nurseries.
From £2,250 pp for seven nights, including UK flights. TROPIC BREEZE
OBLU HELENGELI, NORTH MALE ATOLL
This resort was the most popular in the Maldives in our first DIVE Travel Awards five years ago and came second overall in the world’s top dive resorts – quite an achievement for one that had only been open a couple of years.
Its excellent position on the quiet northeastern fringes of the archipelago’s busiest atoll (home to the most resorts, the capital and the international airport) bang in the middle of one of the main channels linking the interior lagoon to the Indian Ocean helps make the diving superb. Plenty of pelagics and a dream house reef. The laid-back sophistication and good value all-inclusive packages attract a growing band of loyal and discerning divers.
From £2,141 pp for seven nights, including UK flights. BRITISH AIRWAYS
RASDHOO ISLAND, RASDHOO ATOLL
Rasdhoo is the only inhabited island on this small atoll just off the far larger Ari Atoll and about 50km from the international airport in North Malé Atoll. It has a population of just under 1,500. It has plenty of bed & breakfast and small hotels and a handful of good dive centres, one of which came second in our readers’ DIVE Travel Awards poll in 2021 for dive centres in the Maldives – Big Blue Divers (find them on Instagram @big_blue_divers_rasdhoo). You can reach the island by twice-weekly public ferries from Malé (three hours) or regular speed boat connections (one hour). This is a fascinating place for independent travellers. The diving is excellent, with hammerheads regularly seen between January and April and more than 20 good dive sites to explore. Or perhaps you could add on a short stay after a liveaboard trip in the region.
FILITHEYO RESORT, FAAFU ATOLL
Filitheyo is the only island resort in out-of-way Faafu Atoll and has a Werner Lau dive centre which has long been a favourite with discerning divers. It is a 35-minute seaplane trip from Malé Airport and has some exceptional diving.
The house reef has multiple entry and exit points allowing you to explore the outer wall at your leisure – many regulars spend all their time honing their photography skills on this rich and extremely healthy reef. It is not unusual to see both manta rays and whale sharks on the house reef. There are also two scuttled wrecks a short swim from the beach. Don’t miss out on trying a ‘fluo’ night dive where you can marvel at the wonders of marine fluorescence.
From £1,489 pp for seven nights, including UK flights. DESTINATION2
This small atoll is dominated by one largish island (the third biggest in the Maldives) and sits at the far south of the archipelago just beneath the Equator nearly 500km from the capital Malé. The 13,000 inhabitants speak a distinctive variation of the Dhivehi language known as Fuvahmulaki baha. The population has more than doubled in the past 10 years, putting increasing pressure on its limited arable land.
For the past 1,000 years, it has been famed for its tuna fishery, and over time this has built up a sizeable population of tiger sharks feeding on the scraps from the trade dumped in the ocean. Unlike most Maldivian islands it is not surrounded by a lagoon and the diving is unique.
The main attraction is 300 odd tiger sharks but you also encounter thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, mola mola, whale sharks and there are more than 20 known excellent dive sites. This is some of the best diving the Maldives offers.
This is some of the best diving in the Maldives, high-energy and exciting. The island is fast gaining the reputation of one of the best dive spots for large fish in the Indian Ocean, if not the world.
Fuvamulah Dive School only got going in 2017 and its team are making stunning discoveries nearly every day! If you want adventurous diving check this stunning diving experience out.
From US$1,999 pp for seven-night dive packages with Fuvamulah Dive school, including travel from Malé but not international flights