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A guide to water sports in the Maldives

Many resorts happily promote themselves as the place ‘to do nothing’ and this used to be the main reason for holidaying in the Maldives. But if the thought of just lying on a beach doesn’t appeal, never fear, there’s a raft of activities you can get stuck into, at all ends of the effort scale. Some resorts are packed with sporty options, while others are all about grabbing a snorkel and checking out the house reef. Whatever your interests, here’s a few ideas to tempt you.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

Snorkelling

The beautifully clear and warm water of a resort’s lagoon soon entices even the complete novice to try snorkelling. Instruction is available at resort diving centres on how to snorkel, but the great thing about snorkelling is how democratic it is – it’s easy to get to grips with the equipment and if you’re wary of swimming over the coral (be warned: it gives you nasty cuts), even skirting alongside it is possible at house reefs. It’s intoxicating and addictive getting your face below the water’s surface and seeing colourful fish swimming through the coral.

Masks and flippers can be hired or bought on the resort (some will include it with your room), or in Malé. Life jackets are advisable if you’re in deeper water and – top tip – wearing a t-shirt or rash vest will stop your back getting sunburnt.

Swimming with the mantas

Many resorts organise snorkelling trips to areas popular with manta rays, as well as whale sharks and turtles, for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with these majestic creatures in the wild. Manta rays are gentle giants and very sensitive, so it’s essential to be sure you’re taking a trip that helps sustain protection of these creatures, rather than disturbing their breeding grounds or over-crowding them. Check out the Manta Trust for a list of recommended operators.

Diving

There’s nothing quite like diving for an unparalleled look at the Maldives’ tens of thousands of reefs, with their thousand recorded species of fish, over 200 types of coral, and hundreds of species of other marine life.

Only a small percentage of the reefs have been explored. Because of the currents and elements that shape and mould the reefs, each dive site has unique characteristics in form, flora and fauna. The dive-centre staff at every resort will know the best areas for beginners and experts to dive.

Diving can be done year-round, with the water and skies usually at their clearest from January to April. In October and November there are more plankton, which attract bigger fish, but the sea is less clear.

Every resort has a diving centre, usually operated by an expat dive master. Instructors are fully qualified, while diving centres and schools are licensed by the government and are equipped with full safety facilities. There are two decompression chambers, one on Bandos and the other on Kuramathi. Divers are not permitted to go deeper than 30m.

Diving is never done without supervision, and the instructors know the best dive sites in their atoll within easy reach by dhoni. Beginners are welcome and you can do a supervised sample dive and then a course, lasting four to six days. The coveted PADI Open Water Diver Certificate, which can be used as a licence to dive anywhere in the world, takes about nine days, allowing for theory as well as diving. 

Surfing

Surfing? In the Maldives? Where the waters are all still and waves gently lap the shores? Yes, believe it or not, surfing is the fastest-growing water sport in the Maldives, with particularly good surf in North and South Malé Atolls between February and October, especially during the southwest monsoon from April onwards. Waves reach about 2m high.

Hudhuranfushi, on the east side of North Malé Atoll, is famous for surfing. There are seven or eight surfing breaks within 15 minutes’ dhoni ride from Hudhuranfushi, and surfing is possible within a five- to 10-minute paddle from the Hudhuranfushi shore. Surf breaks there include the colourfully named Ninja, Lohi’s, Pasta, Sultan, Cokes, Honkies and Chickens.

The large inhabited island of Himmafushi is renowned for waves known as ‘Jailbreak’, while the industrial island of Thulusdhoo is known for its surfing between April and October. If you mainly want to come to the Maldives to hit the surf, a holiday staying in guest houses and hanging with the locals may work well for you.

The best ‘lefthander’ in the atoll is near Kudavillingili (soon to be home to the Chedi Kudavillingili). Waves in the channel between the southern atolls of Laamu and Gaaf Alif/Gauf Dhaal (Huvadhu) create top-class surfing when the northeast monsoon blows, from December to March.

The best resorts to stay at in the North and South Malé Atolls for surfing access include Adaaran Select Hudhuranfushi, Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Cinnamon Dhonveli.

Further south, there are also some good breaks in the Central and Southern Atolls. Although the latter are trickier to reach, you’re rewarded with massive, clean breaks and hardly any other surfers. Try Niyama for surf access in the central Dhaalu Atoll and Six Senses Laamu at Laamu Atoll in the south.

Why not Catch a submarine!

Whale Submarine is an underwater, deep-sea dive popular with children and older visitors who might not want to try diving. This incredible experience takes place eight times a day from Malé, making it a great diversion if you’re spending a night there. You can call to book in advance or arrange bookings at their airport counter, if you’ve not reserved places through your resort. Trips can be combined with a Malé excursion. 

The submarine, which holds 50 passengers and has a crew of three, dives first to 25m to gaze at a colourful display of corals and fish. Descending another 15m to a submerged reef, the submarine is surrounded by schools of blue or yellow striped snappers, lionfish and yellow box fish. Turtles, manta rays and occasionally sharks can also be seen.

Other water sports

All resorts offer water sports as an extra for their guests, although some have more facilities (such as jet-skiing and banana-boat riding) than others. Most resorts have windsurfing with introductory courses and SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) boards available for renting.

Local dhoni and catamaran sailing can be arranged at some resorts, as can parasailing, waterskiing and canoeing.

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