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Maldives Live Aboard Holiday Adventure
A few months ago, in March 2009, my boyfriend James and I went on what I can only describe as the holiday of a lifetime in the Maldives. For the past 10 years, ever since our first vacation together in the Bay Islands of Honduras, where we became certified as scuba divers, we have been enthusiastic “vacation divers.” By this, I mean we only dive once or twice a year, while on vacation. It’s a great hobby, because it encourages us to travel to a different place every year. So far, we’ve been to Egypt, Thailand, Florida, Mexico, Australia, and Malaysia, and every trip has 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.
Traveling to the Maldives is expensive, especially if you stay at one of the beautiful resorts, some of which cost at least $500 a night. As keen divers, when looking at the many options, it made sense to choose a boat holiday. Until we started researching, I didn’t realize how big the Maldives is. They cover an area of about 300 square kilometers, so if you want to visit a good selection of dive sites, staying at a resort is not feasible because you end up spending a lot of time on the dive boat traveling to and from the dive. sites and less dive time. With the cruise option, you simply cruise the archipelago on the main cruise and then jump into the smaller Dhoni dive that travels alongside the main cruise for each dive. This is great, because the smaller boat can reach shallower water, so close to the actual dive sites, and all the equipment is kept on board the Dhoni so you don’t have to drag it anywhere. Just get into the Dhoni, put on your gear and jump into the water. Of all the diving trips we’ve taken, we’ve never had such an easy experience. One thing is for sure, the Maldives definitely spoiled us!
There is a wide variety of cruises in the Maldives, all of which offer different levels of comfort and amenities depending on their price. Although our budget wasn’t enough to get one of the fancier resorts, we were able to get one of the high-end cruise ships. So we chose the Island Safari 2 Royal, mainly because it looks like one of those private yachts you see in places like Monaco and Key West. After all, when else are we going to spend a week living like royalty for a fraction of the cost of chartering a yacht like that? So we booked in for a 7 night “Scuba Safari”.
Our journey began with a long 14-hour flight from London to Male International Airport, connecting in Qatar. Long flights are something we’ve gotten used 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. One good thing about London is that flights from here are some of the cheapest in the world. Our flight to the Maldives cost just over $1,000, which we thought was pretty reasonable. Once we arrived in Male, we were met at the airport by a representative of Island Safari 2 Royal, and taken to the boat, which departed from Male. We boarded the boat and waited a bit for all the remaining guests to arrive and then set off.
The boat was absolutely beautiful. Even better than it appeared in 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 a bath after a day of diving. I think people underestimate the physical effort of diving; it’s not just about floating on water. I mean, you’re swimming several hours a day on a scuba diving vacation, so you’re pretty tired. Our suite was beautiful, with a beautiful large window, so we woke up to views of the incredible turquoise waters of the Maldives and the seemingly permanent sun and spectacular sunsets. The rest of the ship was beautiful too, with a nice dining room, which was a bit more formal than you’d expect, two comfortable seating areas for relaxing and watching TV, and a very large outside deck, perfect for sunbathing, the my second favorite pastime after that. Diving! There’s nothing like returning to gloomy England with an outrageous tan.
Once all the guests were on board, we sailed to the first dive site; it was early afternoon, so we would have time for the first day’s introductory dive. Beforehand we were given a delicious welcome cocktail (no alcohol as we were going diving) and met all the other guests. We had a very international group with another couple from the UK, a group of 4 from Italy and a couple from Germany. Although the crew spoke German, English and a little Italian, English was the dominant language on board and as all the guests were fluent there was no language barrier. Needless to say, James, myself and the other Brits had no language skills to offer, so we were relieved! Our first dive was the introductory dive where everyone gets to recap their diving skills and basically prove to the crew that we are all capable of diving. The currents in the Maldives can be strong, so you really need to have some diving experience to get the most out of a diving holiday here. Everyone on board had a lot of diving experience and we all had at least an Advanced Open Water certification so we had no problems.
We did the introductory dive at Hanns Reef in North Male Atoll and although it was only the introductory dive we saw great marine life including a brown eel, a couple of turtles, a large group of blue ray snappers and more. by Glassfish. So it was the first day, and everyone was tired from traveling, so we relaxed, chatted with the crew and other divers, mostly about previous diving holidays, and tucked into a delicious meal of Asian-style shrimp kebabs, salads and rice It was absolutely delicious and we all crossed our fingers that every meal would be this tasty.
We spent the first two days of the trip sailing around North Male and North Ari atolls, visiting dive sites such as Nassimo Thila, Rasfari, Rasdhoo Madivaru and Makaru Thila. Highlights of these sites were the amazing Manta Rays at Rasfari. While diving, we saw many Mantas being cleaned and some bats playing around the reef. Then, after the dive, we went for a little snorkel around the place, and we saw even more Mantas – maybe the same ones – they are such majestic and peaceful creatures, and so big that it’s quite incredible. Another memorable site from the first few days was the Ghangethi Pass where we saw a group of 30 white tip reef sharks of various sizes, a huge manta ray, maybe 5 meters in diameter and a really cool leopard shark, something we’ve never seen before had seen
All the sites were full of beautiful marine life. If we didn’t see one of the ‘big creatures’ we would always see lots of nice reef fish, small invertebrates, beautiful corals and usually some large pelagic species too. The main star of our trip was definitely the Manta Ray, some sites would only have one or two but others would have 30-50. We had never seen, or even imagined, so many manta rays in one place.
Our night dive came on the fourth day of our trip at a site called Maaya Thila. Night diving is always an interesting experience and I think it is the only case where even experienced divers feel a little nervous. It’s one thing to be in the ocean when you can see, but surrounded by such intense darkness it’s always a little intimidating and gives you that extra adrenaline buzz. The behavior of the fish is a little different at night, when most of them hunt. We saw a team of whitetip reef sharks looking for dinner and a brown eel out of its hole in the reef and swimming around a turtle, as well as a beautiful lionfish and the usual phosphorescent plankton. Very cool!
The next evening, we visited a local community on one of the islands. It is very interesting to see how these people live such a simple life, totally in harmony with their surroundings. All the protein sources they eat come from the ocean and are usually served with a coconut or some other fruit that grows naturally on their island. They gave us some traditional dances and we bought them some nice souvenirs. This appears to be their main source of income, in addition to what they get by selling their catch at the Malé market or at island resorts.
On the last two days of the on-board safari, we passed through Ari Sur and Vaavu atolls, where the highlights were Fotteyo and Cocoa Thila. In Fotteyo we saw a group of dolphins pass by, something really unusual during the dive. We also saw some beautiful eagle rays and some of the best coral reefs we’ve seen all week. This was a great opportunity for the underwater photographers in the group to take some beautiful photos of the coral with the reef fish and pelagic species in the foreground. Sun Island in South Ari Atoll was one of the highlights of the entire trip as it was the only place we saw whale sharks on the entire trip, which is one of the big attractions of the Maldives. There were actually two different whale sharks at this location and they were HUGE!
All in all the diving was excellent, we saw many more creatures than I could possibly mention here. Because many guests leave the Maldives directly from the on-board safari, the last day you can’t dive, because it’s not safe to fly so soon after diving, so we spend the day snorkeling in the morning and then shopping in Malé. in the afternoon Male is a very congested city, and definitely not the place to spend your Maldives vacation, but it’s worth spending a day there just to check it out. The fish market is particularly interesting and you see all the fishermen on the islands come in with their catch of the day and the resorts all over the country eat it and take it away to feed their hungry guests.
We chose to extend our trip by a couple of days and take advantage of these beautiful resorts and completely relax after our fantastic adventure on board. We chose the Coco Palm, Dhuni Kolhu because it was only 30 minutes from the airport and we didn’t want to have to travel too far. We were more interested in the relaxing spa massages and the overwater bungalow. When you look at the Maldives in the travel brochure or on the internet, it’s the overwater rooms that catch your eye, so it seemed almost wrong to leave without spending at least one night sleeping in one. Our last two days at Coco Palm were absolutely breathtaking, so much so that it will be hard to find a more perfect honeymoon retreat than this!
After two nights at Coco Palm, we returned to Male Airport ready to board our flight back to London. James and I loved the Maldives, everything about it, and we really hope to return one day, sooner rather than later.
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