When and Where to Spot Whale Sharks and Manta Rays in the Maldives - Detailed Guide for the Top Islands
When and Where to Spot Whale Sharks and Manta Rays in the Maldives

When and Where to Spot Whale Sharks and Manta Rays in the Maldives

Maldives
Maldives

When Is the Best Time

The Maldives are roughly 1,200 islands divided into 26 main atolls. The Maldives are an excellent destination for whale sharks, manta rays, and other fascinating marine life throughout the entire year. You simply need to know the best areas and when to spot them.

Several Maldives Islands in a row
You can see most islands have a house reef.

The Maldives are a bucket list destination, but most think these islands are too expensive. In my newly updated guide, I will show you how to explore the Maldives for those who can afford to stay on a resort island and travellers like me on a budget. 

Best Time and Best Dive and Snorkel Spots

Whale Shark and snorklers

The best places to snorkel or dive with whale sharks and manta rays are the South Ari Atoll and the Baa Atoll with the famous Hanifaru Bay. I will give you all details of where to stay, which tours you are able to book and what to do on your own.

  • South Ari Atoll or also Alifu Dhaalu Atoll - October-May
  • Baa Atoll and Hanifaru Bay - May/June-October

I added a Table of Contents for a quick overview, and you are able to jump to the topics you are most interested in.

South Ari Atoll - 3 Top Islands

Drone Shot of Dhigurah Island
The small but 3 km long Dhigurah island and the long stretched forest.

The South Ari Atoll, officially named Alifu-Atoll, is the second biggest atoll with 105 islands. Eighteen of the islands are inhabited by locals, and roughly 30 are resort islands.

Whale sharks are present throughout the year at the South Ari Atoll. However, we decided to travel in the driest month: February, when manta rays appear in South Ari too—more about the dry and rainy season below.

These are the 3 top islands from south to north, all in proximity to areas where whale sharks are frequently spotted:

  1. Maamigili, with its airport and harbour, is situated 100 km south of Male. You can travel to this island on a plane ride, but speedboats also operate here. Google Maps Location
  2. Dhigurah is situated to the north, and it takes approximately an hour by ferry to get here - 12 km/ 7,5 miles from Maamigili.
  3. Dhangethi is approximately half an hour ferry boat ride to the north - 7,5 km/ 4,7 miles from Dhigurah.

Manta Ray close to the surface feeding on plankton.

These three islands have the best locations for booking whale sharks and manta rays boat tours. Protecting the whale sharks is most important, and in some areas, snorkelling only is permitted.

We plan to explore a few more islands. Most islands have exciting house reefs, and we love to get in contact with the villagers of each isle. They provide the best tips for a great vacation.

  • Mahibadhoo is located far north, one hour ride by ferry - approx. 20 km/ 12,4 miles from Dhangethi.
  • Omadhoo is a 15-minute boat ride to the north - just 
Two green sea turtles in shallow water.
Turtles can best spotted in most house reefs.

All details for each island, the best hotels and restaurants, and their main highlights can be found below. I highly recommend booking your accommodation in advance - all islands have limited space, and the best-rated hotels and guesthouses are quickly fully booked.

Ferry Timetables

Maldives South Ari Ferry Timetable
You must read the timetable from the right to the left.

Transport by ferry is offered daily except Fridays, which is super easy and cheap. The price for a ferry ride is a few dollars only.

Island Transfer and Tips

A seaplane at the jetty of a luxus resort

To get to the Maldives, you fly via Velana-Male Airport, the capital of the Maldives. The airport is situated on the "airport island" Hulhule. You usually have to plan a night here at the beginning or end of the journey, as either there are no more boats to the islands or the plane leaves Male too early in the morning. We had booked a night flight and arrived early in the morning, but for the return, we booked a night in the Marukab Plaza Hotel, which picks you up and drops you off the following day.

The next question that came up to me was how I could get to the different islands and how much it cost. I will give you an overview of roughly how much you have to expect for each transport.

  • Ferry from Male to South Ari means taking two ferries, first to Mahibadoo, which takes more than 4 hours, and then a second one in the afternoon - timetable above - it operates three times a week. The price is ridiculously cheap, around $5.
  • Shared speedboat - 2 hours ride - $45 one-way
  • Plane - check-in, flight 20 min + speedboat at the end 2 hours - $175 one-way
  • Seaplane is the most cost-effective and fastest - $350 one-way

Essential to Know - Religion and Ramadan

The Maldivian flag
It means the "State of the Thousand Islands".

Religion plays a significant role; it is the state religion and impacts travelling during Ramadan and on Fridays. During Ramadan, life moves at a slower pace. Boats usually leave an hour later, and restaurants on public islands may be closed during the day. However, resorts on private islands operate as usual. Friday is the holy day like our Sunday, and opening hours may vary, and fewer boats operate, and ferries don't.

No alcohol is offered in the Maldivian villages but in the luxury island resorts. The shoes/slippers are expected to be left outside in tiny guest houses and private accommodations. Shoulders and legs until knees should be covered. Swimwear is permitted at the beaches only.

  • Ramadan in 2024 - 10. March - 9. April
  • Ramadan in 2025 - 28. February - 30. March

Top Resort - Lux South Ari Atoll

A luxury resort with waterfront accommodation
Pure Luxury
  • Island: Dhidhdhoo between Maamigili and Dhigurah
  • This island and hotel is a little slice of heaven; you do not have to worry about anything.
  • The hotel offers many activities so it’s hard to get bored.
  • The diving and snorkel tours are fantastic.
  • There are top restaurants spread around the island.
  • Lux South Ari Atoll by booking.com - Thanks for booking via my website. With your support I am able to provide all the information for free.

Dhigurah Island

The long stretching sandbank of Dhigurah

Dhigurah Island is one of the longer islands, with roughly 3 km/ 1,9 miles, but pretty narrow. This island offers long stretches of beaches, an endlessly long sandbank, a patch of forest, and a traditional Maldivian village. Bring your own snorkel gear and check out "Turtle Reef", where you are able to snorkel with turtles, baby reef sharks, moray eels,  colourful fish, lobster,  and more in shallow water.

A couple watches the sunrise from the beach in Dhigurah
You can watch the sunrise and sunset from all islands.

You can watch the stunning sunset from the white Bikini Beach. It looks to me that each island has a "Bikini Beach". If you are an experienced swimmer, you can even snorkel on your own to the "Manta Station", a bit more than one 1 km from the beach or take a kayak.

Dhangethi Island

Fish caught by villagers on Dhangethi

This much smaller island is roughly one km long and 300 m wide. Also, on this island, you can experience a Maldivian village. Please respect their religion - don't walk in your bikini or bathers through the village. You can either book full board in your hotel or choose one of the local restaurants and enjoy the fresh seafood caught during the day. We will spend four days in the excellent-rated Perla Dhangethi in February. I let you know how this hotel was soon. 

Tip: Don't miss out on the romantic "Moon Swing" at the island's southern tip.

Mahibadhoo Island

A drone shot of a typical Maldivian Island
All local islands have a soccer field.

This is the capital of the Alif Dhaal Atoll; nevertheless, it is even a little smaller than Dhangethi. If you are travelling on a budget, you can take the ferry from Male to Mahibadhoo and from here to the north: Mandhoo and south: Fenfushi (timetables are below). It is a bustling village with restaurants and supermarkets. The house reefs on the western side are great for snorkelling. We will stay at the Vilu Thari Inn in the west in February. It is a small guesthouse with an outstanding chef who prepares delicious meals and super attentive staff, so we booked this one. For your calculation, the price for a seafood lunch or dinner ranges between $10-15.

Tip: Bring swim shoes for these beaches because there are pieces of coral in the sand and water at most islands.

Omadhoo Island

A diver close to a manta ray

This island is less touristy and the smallest of the four roughly 900 m long and 350 m wide. You are able to get an authentic experience of Maldivian culture and village life. Please remember to cover your shoulders and legs until the knees if walking through the village. Some of the local women feed sharks and rays in the evening with their leftovers from the kitchen. This is a great way to see these types of ocean life close. Although a small island also, here is an excellent dive center located: Ari Atoll Divers (Google Maps)

Great Diving Spot Close to Male

Drone Shot from the Kaafu Atoll

If you are limited in time and want to check out just one island and resort, I recommend the "North Male Atoll" or North Kaafu. Whale sharks and manta rays are present from May/June until October/November - June to October is the safest for sightings of the gentle giants. In addition, you can dive into wrecks, too. Transport to the island by speedboat is organized by your hotel/resort and takes 10-30 minutes.

Wreck diving in the North Male Atoll

Check out booking.com for the best hotels and guesthouses in the North Male Atoll. Thanks for booking via my website. With your support, I am able to provide all this information for free.

Best Time North Male Atoll for whale sharks and meant rays - June to October

Baa Atoll - Hanifaru Bay

A whale shark and bristlenose catfishes
A juvenile probably 5-6 m long.

This atoll is located about 120 km north of Male. It takes around 2 1/2 hours by speedboat or less than half an hour by plane to Dharavandhoo Airport in Baa Atoll. Dharavandhoo, Dhonfanu, and Kihaaduffaru Island are the closest around Hanifaru Bay. Parts of this atoll were declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2011. This atoll has about 75 islands.

Manta Ray at Hanifaru Bay

In Hanifaru Bay, regulations are in place: only snorkelling is permitted in small groups with a limit of 5 boats and a maximum of 80 snorkellers to protect manta rays and whale sharks. Also, the snorkelling time is limited to 45 minutes. From May/June until October, huge numbers of manta rays occur here. During one trip, you may swim and see 50 or even more than 100 manta rays. Nevertheless, you can dive at all other spots and frequently spot whale sharks and manta rays there, too. 

Best Time Baa Atoll for whale sharks and manta rays - June to October

Resorts, hotels, and guesthouses at the Baa Atoll via booking.com with an excellent cancellation policy. Thanks for booking via my website. With your support, I am able to provide all the information for free.

Best Time and Weather Maldives

A Maldivian white beach and the turquoise blue sea

The best time for diving and snorkelling with the best weather conditions is the dry season, from roughly mid-December until April. This is also the best time for the South Ari Atoll to see manta rays and whale sharks during a tour. During the dry season, diving and snorkelling are excellent because of the calm sea and the great visibility in the water. Some diving companies and liveboards do not operate in the wet season.

A colourful sunrise and heavy clouds in the Maldives

  • A tropical climate determines the weather in the Maldives.
  • Average temperature is around 30°C/86°F
  • February to June is slightly warmer
  • Water temperature is constantly warm between 28-30°C/82-86°F.

Maldives Seasons

A huge school of fish during a dive tour.

  • Dry Season: mid-December-April—most sunshine hours—southwest monsoon
  • Drier months, although rainy season: June-August (in the last years, probably caused by climate change)
  • Rainy Season: May-mid-December—dry northeast monsoon
    However, the monsoon season brings heavy rain showers and periods of dry weather. Due to the choppy sea, visibility is often reduced, but it is as good as during the dry season on certain days. Plankton blooms during the wet or southwest monsoon season and also impacts visibility. Despite the reduced visibility, many divers prefer this season because of marine life's greater abundance and diversity.
    Hanifaru Bay is best from Juni-October.
  • The north Maldives are dryer than the south—the south experiences more rain.

How can you find a tour or dive centre?

Several divers on a guided tour.

You can book your dives or snorkel tours through your accommodation or just pop into one of the dive centres after your arrival. They are usually open until 8 pm, some even later. The price for a whale shark or manta ray tour at the South Ari Atoll is around $75. Some ask for $100, but this is a rip-off - more about prices soon after our visit in February 2024. You can rent all the diving equipment, and many hotels and resorts offer snorkelling gear for free or a small fee. We always travel with our own masks, snorkels and fins.

What Kind of Shorty Do I Need for the Maldives?

My brother with his shorty while diving.

This depends on various factors, first of all, your personal preference and how deep you plan to dive. The tropical water of the Maldives is warm, ranging between 28-30°C on the surface. A neoprene shorty 1mm to 3mm thick is usually suitable. However, if you plan to dive several times a day, the duration of your dives and if you tend to get cold quickly. Men usually chose a thinner one and women a thicker shorty. However, my brother and I bought a 3 mm shorty for the Maldives.

My Underwater Camera

I with my Olympus TG underwater camera

I have been using the Olympus TG for years already and am super happy about the photo quality. It is essential to clean the camera with fresh water to remove the salt or use an underwater chassis (more details about the new TG 7 at my affiliate partner Amazon). You need an underwater chassis for depths higher than 15 meters. 

Maldives Time

There is no daylight saving time. Therefore, the time difference between Central European Winter Time is four hours and Summer Time is three hours. Please note that some islands have introduced a particular time for their guests for longer daylight hours in the evening. Why is that? The Maldives are close to the equator. As a result, sunrise and sunset times are similar throughout the year, so there are no significant differences—Sunrise around 6 am and sunset 6 pm.

Note that speedboats, ferries, flights, boat tours; everything starts early in the morning because of the early sunset—12 hours of daylight.

6 Whale Shark Facts

A snorkeler in front of a whale shark.

  1. Whale sharks are found in warm tropical oceans around the world.
  2. They are the largest fish and a filter feeder, like the basking shark, the second largest. Both are called sharks and are members of the shark family, but gentle ones. Classified: Chondrichthyes, where rays also belong to.
  3. Reaching, on average, a length of 12 meters. 
  4. They can get over 70 years old and even older. 
  5. Whale sharks usually swim in shallow water, as they feed mainly on plankton and small fish close to the surface. They are often found around 200 m in depth but are able to dive a thousand meters deep.
  6. Juvenile whale sharks with an average length between 4 to 8 meters are often spotted.

9 Manta Ray Facts

Manta Ray up close with black dots on the belly.
This manta ray photo was taken on a night dive.
  1. The Maldivian manta ray species belongs to the Manta Alfredi, like in Kona, Hawaii.
  2. In the Maldives, manta rays occur seasonally - related to the monsoon. Therefore, you can spot them at Hanifaru Bay roughly from June to October and at Ari Atoll from November to May.
  3. These manta rays migrate between the eastern and western atolls.
  4. They typically have a 3-5 meter wingspan.
  5. Manta rays are filter feeders, consuming large quantities of plankton and filtering through their gills as they swim.
  6. They are cooperative feeders, which means feeding in groups called "chain feeding" one by one on a fair share basis.
  7. They have the most giant brains amongst all species of fish.
  8. Manta Rays can heat up and cool down due to their "heat exchange system".
  9. A female gives birth after 13 months. The young one feeds independently immediately after it is born.

    Best Months to Visit

    Jan
    Feb
    Mar
    Apr
    May
    Jun
    Jul
    Aug
    Sep
    Oct
    Nov
    Dec

    Location and Tips

    Ari-atol, Maldives
    Maldives
    Maldives

    The Maldives are on everybody's bucket list, but most people think they are too expensive to travel to. I like to show you how you are able to travel to the Maldives on a budget. I will give you all the information about the best time, when, and where to swim and dive with manta rays and whale sharks. Of course, there are more excellent spots for diving and snorkelling in the Maldives, but these are the islands we visited. This guide is written from my own experiences.

    Comments

    Catherine Campbell

    I highly recommend Kuramathi where I went to with my children. It was a great holiday for us for diving. The Kuramathi Island Resort offers a kids club, different kinds of restaurants, a spa and beauty and, important in my opinion, a medical centre with a decompression tank and dive specialist medics. We did several dives with Rashdoo Divers and we spotted in July mantas as well as other rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins... It was a fantastic vacation.

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