Some time ago, in March 2009, my boyfriend James and I continued the things i are only able to describe as the holiday of a lifetime inside the Maldives. For the last a decade, since our first holiday together to the Bay Islands of Honduras, where we got certified as SCUBA divers, we have been keen "holiday-divers". By this, I mean that we only dive once or twice a year, while on holiday. It's a great hobby, because it encourages us to travel somewhere different each year. So, far, we have been to Egypt, Australia, Florida, Thailand, Mexico and Malaysia, and all of the trips have been amazing. However, 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 big 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. With the liveaboard option, you merely cruise round the archipelago around the main liveaboard and after that jump in to the smaller dive Dhoni that travels alongside the main liveaboard for every dive. This is great, 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. Simply get into the Dhoni, wear your gear, and jump in the water. Of all diving trips we now have ever been on, we have never had this type of easy experience. One thing's for certain, the Maldives has definitely spoiled us!maldives liveaboard
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 get us among the fanciest resorts, we had the ability to get among the high end liveaboard boats. So, mainly because it looks like one of those cool private yachts you see in places like Key and Monaco West, we chose the Island Safari 2 Royal. After all, when else are we going to get to invest every week living like kings for a small fraction of the expense of renting a yacht like this? 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 something which we now have grown accustomed to since our love affair with scuba 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. Flights out of here are some of the cheapest in the world. That's one good thing about London. Our flight to the Maldives cost approximately US$1,000, which we thought was pretty reasonable. Once we arrived in Male, we were met in the airport by way of a representative from Island Safari 2 Royal, and were taken to the boat, which left from Male. We boarded the boat and waited a quick while for all the remaining guests to come then we set off.
The boat was absolutely gorgeous. Better yet than it had appeared within the photos! There are 8 rooms and 2 suites on board, and we chose the suite because it has a bathtub, and both James and I love taking a bath after a day's diving. I think people underestimate the physical exertion of diving; it's not a question of just floating around within the water. After all, you're swimming for a number of hours per day over a scuba holiday, so you get really exhausted. Our suite was gorgeous, with a nice big window therefore we awoke to views from the amazing turquoise waters from the Maldives and seemingly permanent sunshine and spectacular sunsets. The remainder of the boat was also gorgeous, with a nice dining area, that was slightly more formal than you may expect, two comfortable lounge areas for relaxing and watching tv along with a really big outer deck, ideal for sunbathing, my second favourite pastime after diving! There's nothing like returning to grim England with the outrageous suntan.
Once all of the guests were aboard, we set sail to the first dive site; it was early afternoon, so we might have time for that 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 have got to meet all the other guests. We had a very international group with another couple from your UK, a team of 4 from Italy and a couple from Germany. While the crew spoke English, German and a little Italian, English was the dominant language onboard, and also since all the guests were fluent, there is no language barrier. Needless to the, I, say and James other Brits had no language skills to offer up, so we were relieved! Our first dive was the introductory dive where everyone gets to recap on their diving skills and basically prove to the crew that we are all capable scuba divers. Currents inside the Maldives can be strong, so you should have some scuba experience to make the most of a diving holiday here. Everyone aboard had a lot of diving experience so we all had a minimum of a high level Open Water certification, so that we had no problems in any way.
We took the intro dive at Hanns Reef around the North Male Atoll, and although it absolutely was just the intro dive, we saw some great marine life together with a Moray Eel, a few Turtles, a large selection of Blue Stripe Snappers and a lot of Glassfish. Which had been it for the first day, and everybody was tired from travelling, therefore we relaxed, chatted with the crew along with other divers, mainly about previous diving holidays, and tucked in to a delicious meal of Asian-style shrimp rice, salads and kebabs. It had been absolutely delicious and we all crossed our fingers that every meal would be this tasty.
We spent the initial two days of the trip cruising across 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 some batfish playing across the reef. Then, following the dive, we went to get a short snorkel across the site, and saw even more Mantas - maybe exactly the same ones - these are 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 team of 30 White Tip Reef Sharks of varied sizes, a tremendous Manta Ray, maybe 5 metres across along with a very cool Leopard Shark, something I needed never seen before.
All of the sites were teeming with beautiful marine life. If we didn't see one of many 'big creatures', we may always see plenty of pretty reef-fish, tiny invertebrates, gorgeous corals and often some big pelagic species too. The main star of our trip was definitely the Manta Ray, at some of the sites there would be just one or two, but in others there would be 30-50. We had never seen, or even imagined, a lot of Manta Rays in one place.
Our night dive came in the fourth day of our own trip with a site called Maaya Thila. Night diving is always a fascinating experience and i believe it's the one instance where even seasoned scuba divers feel a little nervous. It's one thing being in the ocean when you can see, but surrounded by such an intense darkness is always a little intimidating and gives that extra adrenaline buzz. The behaviour in the fish is a touch different at nighttime, when most of them do their hunting. We saw a team of White Tip Reef Sharks trying to find some dinner and a Moray Eel, from his hole in the reef and swimming around a Turtle, in addition to a beautiful Lionfish and the usual phosphorescent plankton. Very cool!
The following evening, we visited a neighborhood community on one of many islands. It's fascinating to view how these folks live such a simple live life, totally in harmony using their environment. Every supply of protein that they eat arises from the ocean, and is also usually served having a coconut as well as other fruit that grows naturally on their own island. They did some traditional dances for us and we bought some nice souvenirs from them. This seems to be their main revenue stream, aside from the things they make by selling their catches at market in Male or resorts around the islands.
The last two times of the liveaboard safari, we spent round 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. This was an excellent chance for the underwater photographers inside the group to adopt some beautiful shots from the coral using the reef fish and pelagic species inside the foreground. Sun Island within the South Ari Atoll was one of the most important sites of the whole trip, because it was the sole site where we saw Whale Sharks within the whole trip, which is one of the big draws of the Maldives. There were actually two different Whale Sharks at this location and they also were HUGE!
All in all, the diving was superb, we saw much more creatures than I was able to 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 marketplace is particularly intriguing and the truth is how each of the fishermen from around the islands come in using their day's catch as well as the resorts from across the nation purchase it up and carry it returning to feed their hungry guests.
We chose to extend our trip by a few days and benefit from these gorgeous resorts and fully relax after our fantastic liveaboard adventure. Dhuni Kolhu, because it was only 30 minutes from the airport and we didn't want to have to travel too much, we chose the Coco Palm. We had been more interested in the relaxing massages on the spa and the over-water bungalow. When you look at the Maldives in the travel brochure or on the net, it's the over-water rooms that catch the attention, so it seemed almost wrong to depart without spending a minumum of one night sleeping in one. Our last two days at Coco Palm were totally breathtaking, so much so, it's going to be difficult to get a honeymoon retreat more perfect than that one!