Given that the unique geography of the islands of the Maldives, perhaps the best way to explore this beautiful archipelago is by cruise boat.
There are as many as 150 cruise boats (also called ‘liveaboards’ and ‘safari boats’) operating in the Maldives, meaning that there are now more liveaboards than resorts in the Maldives! They vary greatly in size, facilities and services, from modest boats to exclusive high-end luxury complete with spa services.
These cruise boats can take you to some world-renowned dive sites, as well as fishing trips, excursions to uninhabited islands and also to inhabited ones to give you a glimpse into the local way of life. Some specialise in diving and others in surfing, while some liveaboards simply offer guests the chance to put their feet up and enjoy doing nothing!
If diving is your passion, one of the best ways of getting the most out of the Maldives is by booking a specialist diving liveaboard. If you’re lucky enough you may even see large pelagics such as mantas and whale sharks. You can expect to be offered up to three or four dives per day during a cruise, which typically lasts a week or two. On-board chefs provide your meals while guests have a private cabin with en-suite bathroom. Divers are usually expected to bring their own equipment but most diving liveaboards can provide a few extra pieces such as weights or safety sausages – it’s best to check with the operator. These vessels are staffed by highly experienced professionals who know the Maldivian waters like the backs of their hands. The precise route is usually decided depending upon tides and weather conditions but a general itinerary is usually available in advance. Air and Nitrox is provided on board and many diving liveaboards offer PADI courses.
Surfing season (May-October) runs at the opposite time of year to diving season, although surf can also be found during the rest of the year but the waves may be flatter. Many diving liveaboards double up as surfing liveaboards, giving surfers the chance to sample world-class breaks around the Maldives. Rather like with a diving safari, surfing liveaboards sail around the atolls on an itinerary. They can take surfers to some of the Maldives’ famous surf breaks as well as the less well-known ones in remote locations where you can enjoy the entire break to yourself. All of the surf breaks in the Maldives are coral breaks and are best suited to intermediate to advanced surfers.
If lying back and watching the world go by is more your thing, there are also some liveaboards tailored to simply ‘cruising’. They will take in some of the most beautiful islands and sandbanks in the Maldives, sometimes stopping at a resort for an afternoon or evening. Fishing equipment is usually provided on board, and for those who would like a taste of real Maldivian life, guests can opt to hop off in the capital city or on an ‘inhabited island’ (an island where Maldivians live, as opposed to a private resort island).
The Maldives has a reputation as one of the best diving destinations in the world – and for good reason. The unique beauty of the Maldivian underwater world is appreciated by divers the world-over due to the excellent visibility (sometimes to 50 metres), the multitude of exotic marine fauna and flora and the warm temperatures of the water (averaging around 29 degrees Celsius through the year). Some of the most exciting fauna includes manta rays, whale sharks and reef sharks. Sightings of these pelagics is never guaranteed, but the Maldives is the only place in the world with a year-round whale shark population. The gentle plankton-eating giants are the biggest fish in the ocean and can be as big as a double-decker bus!
The colourful coral reefs are bursting with marine life in volumes like no other place, with typical neighbours including angelfish, surgeonfish, napoleon wrasse, parrotfish and oriental sweetlips. Baby reef sharks are often spotted in shallow resort lagoons while more mature reef sharks including white tips and black tips are usually spotted in the drop-offs and channels. Nurse sharks, silvertips, tiger sharks and even hammerheads can also be found in Maldivian waters. It’s worth noting that there hasn’t been a shark attack in the Maldives since the late 1970s, and most injuries like this are due to diver error. Marine biologists think that part of the reason that sharks in the Maldives aren’t interested in people is partly down to the sheer volume of fish they can gorge themselves on!
Caves, overhangs and thilas add to the exciting diversity of underwater landscapesyou can explore in the Maldives, while there are also several famous wrecks which can be dived. Due to the nature of the often-strong currents in the Maldives, there are also many opportunities for drift dives.
All resorts and most cruise boats operating in the Maldives have well-equipped dive centres staffed by multilingual experienced professionals. All resorts also offer guests the opportunity to learn to dive and gain internationally recognised diving qualifications, although the facilities may vary depending on the resort's size, location and clientele. A variety of diving courses ranging from beginners' to experienced PADI qualifications are offered.
In terms of equipment, all diving schools provide compressors, tanks, BCDs, wetsuits, weights and weight belts in addition to a limited number of other accessories such as lamps and diving computers. However, liveaboard cruise boats usually require guests to provide their own equipment. Underwater cameras and video processing facilities are also available in some of the bigger dive schools. Some resorts and liveaboards even offer to take videos and photos of you as you dive.
If you are already a qualified diver, you can book a boat trip from your resort to dive sites around the islands throughout the year. Specialized dives (including night dives) are not daily events, but many resorts arrange these on a frequent basis.