White sandy beaches stitched with palm trees, upscale resorts and Instagram-worthy sunsets: the Maldives tick all the paradise-island boxes, and this includes scuba diving. The archipelago’s 1,200 coral islands make for a huge selection of breathtaking diving sites. Here are five of the best places to strap on your flippers and explore the world beneath the waves.
Best for spotting manta rays
Where A manta ray cleaning station at the southern end of Ari Atoll, a 55-minute flight from the Maldives capital Malé.
What The Maldives have the world’s largest population of reef manta rays, and manta season (December to April) transforms this sloping site into one of the best places to watch squadrons of rays checking in with local cleaner fish. Don’t forget your camera – the cyclonic groups of rays framed by sloping coral is an unmissable photo opportunity.
Stay at Conrad Maldives on nearby Rangali Island. It’s the world’s first undersea resort, with an exclusive villa offering master bedrooms sunk 16 feet below sea level, plus an underwater restaurant.
Best for exploring caves and spotting turtles
Where Lhaviyani Atoll in the northern islands, a 40-minute seaplane flight from Malé.
What Kuredu is known locally as “Turtle Airport” thanks to the multitude of green sea turtles that call these coral-dappled overhangs home. Turtles can be spotted when they pop their heads up at the surface or when they’re bobbing through the sandy caves and soft corals that descend 20 metres below sea level.
Stay at Adults-only Hurawalhi Island Resort, just south of Kuredu. It has nailed the luxurious desert-island aesthetic with its tranquil overwater villas and privately owned Dream Island available for guests to rent.
Best for exploring a shipwreck in style
Where A deliberately sunk freighter in the north of Ari Atoll, a 30-minute flight from Malé.
What Lying on the seabed next to a petite and pretty thila (underwater mountain), this shipwreck was purposefully sunk by locals to create an interesting site for divers to explore. The wreck’s barnacle-freckled hull and deep orange corals lend it the appearance of a modern art sculpture, and the surrounding waters are lit up at night by glowing plankton and jellyfish.
Stay at Trendy W Resort on Fesdhoo Island. Its bold “let it glow” design is inspired by the local luminescent sea creatures, and it keeps things loose with a resident DJ and below-the-sand nightclub.
Best for swimming with sharks
Where A circular reef in the north of Ari Atoll, a 25-minute seaplane flight from Malé.
What From swaying sea fans to bulbous octopuses and colourful coral, this thila has a bit of everything. Its main allure, however, is the large population of whitetip sharks that hang out on its eastern side. You can dive alongside sharks by day or else take part in a night dive and witness the feeding frenzy as they hunt.
Stay at Constance Halaveli on neighbouring Halaveli Island. Its polished wood and thatched-roof villas are designed to look like traditional Maldivian dhoni boats, and it also has the most extensive wine list in the Maldives.
Best for snorkelling over a coral reef
Where A reef-encircled island resort just a 25-minute speedboat trip away from capital Malé.
What Baros Island’s in-house reef is one of the Maldives’ best for snorkelling. A quick paddle from the island’s pristine beaches brings you face-to-face with thousands of multicoloured fish and cascading coral. You can snorkel over this vibrant world solo or as part of a reef tour organised by the resort.
Stay at One of the resort’s water pool villas. Each one has its own private plunge pool as well as steps that descend directly into the ocean below; perfect for exploring the reef.