A guide to the Ari Atoll

If spotting marine life is your priority for your trip to the Maldives, you need to come to the Ari Atoll. Here, the lagoon waters attract the bigger open sea creatures, particularly whale and hammerhead sharks, making the diving truly exciting. Surfers will also enjoy catching waves with limited company. If this all sounds too much like hard work, the Ari Atoll is also home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the country. 

Ari Atoll extends for 76.5km from north to south and is 28km across at its widest point. From Malé International Airport, resorts can be reached by speedboat (about a 90-minute journey) or by seaplane. The atoll is home to some exceptionally exciting dive sites, including the hammerhead point in Rasdhoo Atoll; Maaya Thila in northern Ari Atoll, which is a protected site; and places in the south famous for sightings of whale sharks. 

In collaboration
with Rough Guides


The resort of Kuramathi in Rasdhoo Atoll, administratively part of Ari Atoll, was opened in 1977 and today is one of the Maldives’ super-resorts. Sprawling across a long green island, Kuramathi remains popular thanks to its range of accommodation and activities, which work for all the family. The neighbouring inhabited island of Rasdhoo – where guests go to see village life – is 10 minutes away by dhoni. 


North of Kuramathi is Thoddoo, an island with a secret history. In 1958 a Roman coin dated to 90BC was found there, pre-dating the earliest 1st-century AD reference to the islands in a Roman manual of navigation. The ruins of a Buddhist temple can still be seen and a huge statue of Buddha was found hidden in a chamber, together with other relics. The island is more prosaically known to Maldivians as the source of delicious watermelons. 

W Maldives 

W Maldives, on the gorgeous little island of Fesdhoo, in the centre of the atoll, has a cosmopolitan atmosphere. The interiors of its bright, modern retreats are designed like slick apartments but with plunge pools amid the bougainvillaea by the sea. The resort also has enough organised activities and outlets to make it a destination in itself. There’s also amazing underwater life at the house reef – keep your eyes peeled for turtles and reef sharks. As befits the brand style, the house bar is super-cool, with excellent cocktails and DJs keeping the vibe going. 

What really makes the Maldives stand out as a snorkelling and diving destination is the ease of access to big sea creatures: enormous, gentle manta rays, green and hawksbill turtles, moray eels and a variety of sharks!


The two main inhabited islands in the atoll with appeal to visitors are Mahibadhoo and Dhangethi. Visitors to Mahibadhoo land by a pretty wooden archway, and there are some brightly painted village houses to see – all great backdrops for some pictures. The capital of the region, over 2,000 people live in Mahibadhoo and reef fishing is the main occupation, although the men have branched out into building the ubiquitous dhonis for diving. 


To really get to grips with island life in the Maldives, you can pay a visit to the Cultural Centre and Museum at Dhangethi. Exhibits portraying village life are on display and there are reconstructions of typical village buildings, such as the residence of the island chief and a fisherman’s house. Villagers also demonstrate the traditional arts of thatch-making, weaving and boat building. A lunch of local dishes can even be arranged with prior notice. 

Lily Beach Resort & Spa 

Located on the island of Huvahendhoo, the Lily Beach Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive only private resort, where the all-in includes the very best of everything, including brand-name drinks (not a given in this neck of the woods). Its superlative beach seems to be especially good for admiring the changing light of the day, especially at sunset. It feels like a little luxury hideaway. 

Consider bringing an underwater camera or case for your regular one, as believe us, you won’t want to forget this kaleidoscopic undersea world.


Skinny local island Dhigurah has the longest beach in the atoll, at almost 4km (the island’s name means “long island” in the native tongue of Dhivehi) and this is enticing enough, but it’s the local marine life that really appeals: the waters surrounding the island are known to be rife with whale sharks and manta rays. Not that it’s recommended to go alone unless you’re experienced and have your own equipment, but local diving and snorkelling outfits can take you out on the house reef. The dive quality means that there’s a good handful of hotels, guest houses and restaurants on the island; excursions for the day to neighbouring resorts can be arranged through your accommodation. The long sandbar at the bottom tip of the island stretches to the neighbouring LUX* resort, but be warned, you can’t just wander over as it’s private property. 
LUX* South Ari Atoll 
Located on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu, LUX* South Ari Atoll is all about fulfilling the tropical luxury fantasy. It’s pretty spacious and there’s room for facilities including tennis courts, as well as eight restaurants, a beach club and a thoroughly indulgent spa. With 50 local dive sites too, there’s also lots of water activity nearby to tempt guests away from the resort. This whole region is a Marine Protected Area, and there are few better places to see endemic sealife. 
If you’re looking for a true exemplification of the motto, ‘no shoes, no news’, uber-chilled island hideaway Maafushivaru is hard to beat. A small island with luxe-rustic, Maldivian-style beach villas as well as the obligatory overwater ones, Maafushivaru is undeniably romantic and intimate. There’s really no need to wear shoes as you pad around the sandy resort, stretch out on your quiet stretch of sand or take your complimentary snorkel to check out the house reef. Sister island Lonubo is a tiny desert island perfect for a private experience – picnics and candlelit dinners, or even staying over at the villa here, can be arranged for one couple at a time. 

The Ari Atoll is one of the best places to swim with Whale sharks. These magnificent creatures have been found to grow up to 12 metres long and live up to 100 years! But don’t be put off by the name; they mainly eat plankton and are completely harmless to humans.

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