Some time ago, in March 2009, my boyfriend James and I continued the things i can only describe as the holiday of a lifetime within the Maldives. For the past 10 years, since our first holiday together towards the Bay Islands of Honduras, where we got certified as SCUBA divers, we have now been keen "holiday-divers". I mean that we only dive once or twice a year, while on holiday by this. It's a great hobby, because it encourages us to travel somewhere different each year. So far, we have been to Egypt, Australia, Florida, Mexico, Thailand and Malaysia, and all of the trips have been amazing. Our trip to the Maldives eclipsed all other holidays in terms of comfort, service and most importantly, the marine life we saw there. maldives liveaboard
If you stay in one of the many gorgeous resorts, some of which are at least US$ 500 per night, travel to the Maldives is expensive, especially! As keen divers, when we were looking at the many options, it made sense to choose a liveaboard holiday. Until we started researching, I didn't realize how huge the Maldives are. If you want to visit a good selection of dive sites, staying in a resort is not feasible because you end up spending so much of your time in the dive boat travelling to and from the dive sites and less time actually diving, they cover an area of about 300 square kilometers, so. Using the liveaboard option, you simply cruise across the archipelago in the main liveaboard then jump in to the smaller dive Dhoni that travels alongside the key liveaboard for every dive. Because the smaller boat can get to shallower waters - so closer to the actual dive sites - and all the equipment is kept on board the Dhoni so you don't have to drag it anywhere, this is great. Simply enter into the Dhoni, placed on your gear, and jump in the water. Of all diving trips we have now been on, we have not had such an easy experience. One thing's for sure, the Maldives has definitely spoiled us!
According to their price, there is a wide variety of liveaboards in the Maldives, all of which offer differing levels of comfort and amenities. While our budget wasn't enough to obtain us among the fanciest resorts, we were able to get one of many higher end liveaboard boats. So, mainly because it looks like one of those cool private yachts you see in places like Monaco and Key West, we chose the Island Safari 2 Royal. In the end, when else are we getting to spend per week living like kings for a small part of the expense of renting a yacht like that? So, we booked for a 7-night "Scuba Safari".
Our trip began having a long 14-hour flight from London to Male Airport Terminal, connecting in Qatar. Long flights are a thing that we have grown accustomed to since our love affair with deep-sea diving began. Unfortunately, living in the UK, if you want tropical waters and the best coral reefs in the world, long flights are part and parcel. One good thing about London is that flights out of here are some of the cheapest in the world. Our flight towards the Maldives cost approximately US$one thousand, which we thought was pretty reasonable. After we arrived in Male, we had been met at the airport with a representative from Island Safari 2 Royal, and were delivered to the boat, which left from Male. We boarded the boat and waited a brief while for all of the remaining guests to arrive and after that we set off.
The boat was absolutely gorgeous. Better still than it had appeared inside the photos! And we chose the suite because it has a bathtub, and both James and I love taking a bath after a day's diving, there are 8 rooms and 2 suites on board. I think people underestimate the physical exertion of deep-sea diving; it's not a question of just floating around in the water. I mean, you're swimming for several hours each day on a scuba holiday, so that you get really worn-out. Our suite was gorgeous, with a nice big window so we awakened to views from the amazing turquoise waters of the Maldives and seemingly permanent sunshine and spectacular sunsets. The remainder of the boat have also been gorgeous, using a nice dining-room, that was a little more formal than you may expect, two comfortable lounge areas for relaxing and watching television as well as a really big outer deck, great for sunbathing, my second favourite pastime after deep-sea diving! There's nothing like going back to grim England with the outrageous suntan.
Once all of the guests were aboard, we set sail towards the first dive site; it was early afternoon, so we might have time for your introductory dive on the very first day. Before that, we were given a delicious welcome cocktail (non-alcoholic since we had been going diving) and got to meet the rest of the guests. We experienced a very international group with another couple from your UK, a team of 4 from Italy along with a couple from Germany. Whilst the crew spoke English, German and a little Italian, English was the dominant language onboard, and also, since each of the guests were fluent, there was clearly no language barrier. Needless to say, James, the and I other Brits had no language skills to offer up, therefore we were relieved! Our first dive was the introductory dive where everyone reaches recap on their diving skills and basically prove to the crew that we are all capable scuba divers. Currents in the Maldives could be strong, so you really need to have some scuba experience to take full advantage of a diving holiday here. Everyone on board had lots of diving experience and we all had at least a high level Open Water certification, so we had no problems in any way.
We took the intro dive at Hanns Reef in the North Male Atoll, and although it was just the intro dive, we saw some great marine life such as a Moray Eel, a few Turtles, a large group of Blue Stripe Snappers and plenty of Glassfish. That was it for the first day, and everyone was tired from travelling, so that we relaxed, chatted with all the crew as well as other divers, mainly about previous diving holidays, and tucked in to a delicious meal of Asian-style shrimp kebabs, rice and salads. It was absolutely delicious and we all crossed our fingers that each meal could be this tasty.
We spent the initial two days of the trip cruising round the North Male and North Ari Atolls, visiting such dive sites as Nassimo Thila, Rasfari, Rasdhoo Madivaru and Makaru Thila. Highlights from these sites were the incredible Manta Rays at Rasfari. While diving, we saw tons of Mantas getting cleaned and a few batfish playing round the reef. Then, after the dive, we went for any short snorkel round the site, and saw even more Mantas - maybe the identical ones - they may be such peaceful and majestic creatures, and so big, it's quite unbelievable. Another memorable site of the initial few days was Ghangethi Pass, where we saw a small group of 30 White Tip Reef Sharks of various sizes, an enormous Manta Ray, maybe 5 metres across and a very cool Leopard Shark, something I needed never seen before.
All of the sites were teeming with beautiful marine life. When we didn't see one of the 'big creatures', we might always see a lot of pretty reef-fish, tiny invertebrates, gorgeous corals and in most cases some big pelagic species also. In others there would be 30-50, even though the main star of our trip was definitely the Manta Ray, at some of the sites there would be just one or two. We had never seen, as well as imagined, so many Manta Rays in one place.
Our night dive came in the fourth day in our trip at a site called Maaya Thila. Night diving is always an appealing experience and I think it's the main one instance where even seasoned scuba divers feel just a little nervous. Surrounded by such an intense darkness is always a little intimidating and gives that extra adrenaline buzz, even though it's one thing being in the ocean when you can see. The behaviour in the fish is a bit different at nighttime, when many of them do their hunting. We saw a team of White Tip Reef Sharks searching for some dinner and a Moray Eel, away from his hole inside the reef and swimming around a Turtle, and also a beautiful Lionfish and the usual phosphorescent plankton. Very cool!
The next evening, we visited the local community on one of many islands. It's quite interesting to see how these individuals live this kind of simple live life, totally in harmony making use of their environment. Every way to obtain protein that they eat originates from the ocean, and it is usually served using a coconut as well as other fruit that grows naturally on their island. They did some traditional dances for we and us bought some nice souvenirs from them. This seems to be their main income source, aside from whatever they make by selling their catches at market in Male or to resorts round the islands.
The last two events of the liveaboard safari, we spent around the South Ari and Vaavu Atolls, in which the highlights were Fotteyo and Cocoa Thila. At Fotteyo we saw a team of dolphins come through, which is really unusual while deep-sea diving. We saw some beautiful Eagle Rays and among the best coral reef we had seen all week. It was a great opportunity for the underwater photographers in the group to take some beautiful shots from the coral with all the reef fish and pelagic species in the foreground. Sun Island in the South Ari Atoll was just about the most important sites from the whole trip, since it was the only site where we saw Whale Sharks in the whole trip, which is one of the big draws in the Maldives. There was actually two different Whale Sharks at this location and they also were HUGE!
In general, the diving was superb, we saw far more creatures than I could ever mention here. There can be no diving on the last day, because it's not safe to fly so soon after scuba diving, so we spent the day snorkeling in the morning and then shopping in Male in the afternoon, because a lot of guests leave the Maldives directly from the liveaboard safari. Male is a very congested city, and is definitely not the place to spend your Maldives holiday, but it's worth spending a day there just to check it out. The fish industry is particularly intriguing and the truth is how all of the fishermen from across the islands come in using their day's catch and also the resorts from across the nation purchase it up and take it back to feed their hungry guests.
We decided to extend our trip by a couple of days and make the most of these gorgeous resorts and fully relax after our fantastic liveaboard adventure. We chose the Coco Palm, Dhuni Kolhu, because it was only 30 minutes from the airport and we didn't want to have to travel too much. We had been more interested in the relaxing massages at the spa and also the over-water bungalow. Whenever you glance at the Maldives within the travel brochure or on the internet, it's the over-water rooms that catch the eye, therefore it seemed almost wrong to go out of without spending a minumum of one night sleeping in just one. Our last two days at Coco Palm were totally breathtaking, so much in fact, it's going to be difficult to find a honeymoon retreat more perfect than this one!