Venture into the Maldives archipelago in the extreme south and you will know how the diving pioneers felt years ago. So much of the ocean and reefs have been unexplored and each liveaboard safari returns with a list of pristine, spectacular new thilas to investigate on the next trip. Resorts are rare and, with only a few liveaboards cruising the Southern Atolls of the Maldive Islands, you will often be the only dive boat as far as you can see.
Visibility is superb in the warm waters surrounding the atolls. Healthy corals are virtually untouched by humans. Large predators are attracted into the channels to feed on the profusion of smaller reef fish schooling close to the coral walls and submerged thilas. Whale sharks are also seen feeding on the plankton that spills out of the atoll channels.
Manta cleaning stations are spots of lively activity. Napoleon wrasse and barracuda are prevalent. There is a good chance of meeting eagle rays, sting rays and grey reef sharks on almost every dive here.
Exhilarating drift dives, using the strong currents in the channels surrounding the islands and traversing channels to dive in calm waters in the lee of the current, are the profiles which constitute the majority of Southern Atolls liveaboard diving in these Maldive islands.
- An area of the Maldives still relatively unexplored, Laamu is characterised by deep channels where strong currents attract sharks, rays, jacks and tuna to hunt for the smaller and abundant reef fish. In terms of dive sites, very little of the atoll has been chartered yet so a liveaboard holiday trip here is likely to bring forth the opportunity of exploration dives.
Manta rays swoop energetically nearer the coral-bedecked overhangs and whale sharks can often be seen gliding majestically into this calm northern lagoon.- Reef sharks meander along the steep walls of Medhufushi Thila as they feed among the plentiful smaller fish. Meet trevally and tuna as you descend to check out the caves.
Curious Napoleon wrasse keep close to the walls of the wide channel and tuna hunt effortlessly among the glut of schooling reef fish. Thaa Atoll is also a good place for scuba diving with whale sharks.- White tip reef sharks and eagle rays feature at a challenging drift dive in Olhugiri Kandu.
- Fotteyo Kandu features a vast array of marine life plus fascinating topography in the form of a narrow channel with swim-throughs, small caves and large overhangs. Colourful soft corals abound. Large numbers of grey reef and white tip reef sharks, eagle rays, tuna and trevallies are commonly sighted. If you're lucky, potato groupers, mantas and even hammerhead sharks can appear at dawn each day.
Far South Atolls - This region of the Maldives has become a "best kept secret" for liveaboard divers in the know. Very few dive operators have visited the region and those that have return with tales of wonder. Whale sharks can be found at Gaafu Atoll ('Huvadhoo') and mantas at Addu Atoll ('Seenu'), but perhaps the unique attraction lies at Foahmulah (or Fuvahmulah) Island (a.k.a. Gnaviyani Atoll) where thresher sharks, oceanic white tips and tiger sharks can regularly be seen.
Since there are very few resorts in the area, a Maldives liveaboard safari is the best way to reach the more exciting dive sites. Your cruise departs from Medhufushi and, as there is an airport on the island, a return flight from Male to Medhufushi makes it easy to reach the Southern Atolls.
Calm seas, consistently warm water temperatures (26-29°C), and good visibility (20-30 metres) allow you to plan a dive vacation in the Southern Atolls all year round. Although short spells of heavy rainfall can be experienced during the months of June and July, manta rays are still in abundance at cleaning stations, hammerheads lurk in the depths, and whale sharks cruise the region all year round.
The summer months from December to May are characteristically hot and dry, and the wind is non-existent, creating the perfect environment for liveaboard diving.
The Far South of the Maldives can be visited all year round by liveaboard charter but diving at Foahmulah Island requires calm seas. This is because the island has poor anchorage opportunities and there are few places for boats to moor up. Water temperatures from December to May in the Far South are also somewhat cooler than the rest of the region, falling to 24°C at times.
Good for: Large animals, underwater photography, value-for-money, drift dives and advanced divers
Not so good for: Beginners and small animals
Depth: 5 - 30m
Visibility: 20 - 30m
Currents: Can be very strong
Surface conditions: Can be choppy in southwest monsoon
Water temperature: 26 - 29°C
Experience level: Preferably advanced with proof of 30 logged dives
Number of dive sites: ~100
Distance: 200 km south of Male
Access: Maldive Islands liveaboards
Recommended length of stay: 7 - 12 days