Diving Ari Atoll

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Ari Atoll, Maldives


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Shore Day Trip Live Aboard

Country: Maldives  Area: Maldives

Water Temp: 25 - 30°C (77 - 86°F)

Visibility: 10 - 40m (33 - 131 ft)

Depth Range: 5 - 40m (16 - 131 ft)

Manta Cyclone Feeding – Hanifaru Lagoon

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Manta Rays elegantly swim through the warm clear waters surrounding the many tranquil atolls and islands. With waters packed full of life and plenty of large pelagic species the Maldives is one of the most exciting places in the underwater world to dive.

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Ari Atoll is one of the natural atolls in the west of the Maldives archipelago, made up of 105 islands scattered in the crystal clear blue seas with only 20 of them inhibited for tourist resorts. This picturesque atoll is considered to have some of the best dive sites in the Maldives in its surrounding reefs.

Diving the Maldives can be undertaken in two ways, either by land or by a liveaboard.  This choice entirely depends on the type of holiday you are after, whether you would like a totally dive based holiday or diving mixed in with other activities. 

Fishes hovering, Credit

Climate & Sea Conditions

The Maldives experiences a complex weather pattern consisting of two seasons, the dry Northeast Monsoon and the wet Southwest Monsoon. During these two seasons the air temperature varies only slightly and the main factor is the wind direction. From May to November the prevailing winds are from the Southeast, bringing the wet season. This season has more rainfall than the dry season but there is still a lot of sunshine and when it does rain it tends to rain hard and for a short time.  The dry Northeast season runs from December to April and this the time when you get the best visibility.

These weather patterns have a strong influence on the currents and therefore the conditions on dive sites. This affects where to find the marine life which varies dramatically from the eastern to western atolls. Diving during the wet Southwest season it is spectacular on the Western atolls and you can frequently encounter large schools of tuna, barracuda, eagle rays and sharks. The water temperature is cooler than the dry season averaging around 26C, which has an effect on the marine life. The grey reef sharks and hammerhead sharks in particular can be witnessed in larger schools and can be found in shallower water. The Eastern atolls during this time is best for spotting Mantas and Whale sharks but the visibility is not as good as the west due to the plankton rich water which attracts these huge creatures.

The Northeast season is the Maldives summer period, with higher air and water temperatures and less rain. The effect it has on the currents and therefore the marine life is dramatic. The sharks and other large pelagic leave to move across to the Eastern atolls and the most action from these species is in the channels, thilas and in the main current points over there. The Mantas and Whale Sharks however also swap sides and move over to the Western atolls.

Underwater, Ari Atoll, Credit

Marine Conservation

Ari Atoll is located within the Maamigili Marine Protected Area, which the Maldives government established in 2009. This government has undergone a rapid transformation in terms of its policies and activities related to environmental conservation as regional tourism grows. With specific programs that protect the bourgeoning whale shark population, and numerous lodges that set out to clean the reefs annually, Ari Atoll has seen some impressive initiatives thus far. Given the breadth of conservation initiatives throughout the Maldives more broadly, this set of islands will likely receive a growing amount of positive international attention.

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Shore Diving

Most island resorts will provide unlimited house reef diving where you can dive from certain entry points along the shore, if you are an experienced diver you are able to explore these house reefs without a guide as you like. The resorts are all suitable for all levels with the warm, shallow water and interesting easy to reach house reefs making these sites perfect for beginners.

Divers, Ari Atoll, Credit

Boat Diving

Most resorts have a dive centre based on the island which provide boats a couple of times a day to the surrounding dive sites with some day boats to the sites further afield.

Manta Rays are one of the reasons that the Maldives is a top destination for divers, as this is one of the few places in the world almost guaranteed to provide divers with an amazing encounter with these elegant giants. They are year round residents of the Maldives but the locations they can be found at varies with the seasons. Ari Atoll is on the west and therefore the mantas are found in the surrounding waters from December to April and most common from February to April. There are several cleaning stations which are Manta hotspots throughout the atoll, but some of the favourite visited by the nearby resorts or liveaboards are Kudarah Thila in the South East and Hukrueli Faru.

Nudi, Credit

Liveaboard Diving

Liveaboards are the most efficient way to take in the best dive sites the Maldives has to offer, especially Ari Atoll which is spread across 40km, with the top sites for large pelagic encounters spread across that distance. They will all have experienced dive guides who know the area well so will know where and when to see the best of the marine life.  The liveaboards do tend to have a minimum dive requirement for some of their trips due to the strong currents some dives they do will be difficult for beginner divers, although some do allow you to take part in further training whilst diving with them.

Although the Manta Ray is the main attraction of the diving in the Maldives the underwater world in this area has a whole lot more to offer in terms of marine life and dive sites. A short hop from the main Ari Atoll is the Rasdhoo Atoll, this atoll is famous for schooling Hammerhead Sharks. In the early morning hours at a dive site called Hammerhead Point lucky divers can be witness to impressive schools of the strange looking creatures swimming past just out in the blue along with many other reef sharks.

Corals, Credit

Cyclone feeding is a rare and spectacular event where over 100 manta rays can feed together and create a chain which the head of each manta ray touches the tail of the manta in front. This creates a huge spiral of up to 200 mantas. The Maldives is one of the few places on the planet where divers can experience this dramatic event which takes place at Hanifaru Lagoon during the months of May to October. The tide, current and wind at this time are at an optimal alignment which traps huge concentrations of plankton in the lagoon that attracts hundreds of the graceful mantas along with their fellow plankton feeders the Whale Shark. To dive in this cyclone is an exhilarating experience with the gigantic creatures whizzing about on every side of you and is definitely a moment of your life that you will never forget! If you are land based on a resort at Ari Atoll you will not be close enough to reach this phenomenon but most liveaboards during this season will visit Hanifaru to witness this amazing sight.

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How to Get There

Ari Atoll can be reached by sea plane from Male which is the location of the international airport. These flights take 20-30mins and during that time you can take in the magnificent aerial views of the atolls dotted in turquoise and blue water.

Ari Atoll, Maldives, Credit

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Where to Eat & Drink

Ari Atoll is comprised of roughly 50 small islands that dot the Indian Ocean. Most islands have a single luxury resort on them, which provide all food and drink for the guests in a truly spectacular setting.  Dive-focused tourists generally choose to explore the reefs on a liveaboard, since the dive sites are very spread out.

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Other Activities

Diving is the main tourist activity on all of the Maldives islands, even so there is a selection of many other activities to take part in on the resort islands. The activities available will depend on the facilities of your chosen resort, so when picking an island and resort you should research what each has to offer. Most resorts have spas, a selection of bars and restaurants, and many other water based activities such as wind surfing, snorkelling, canoeing and sailing. The Maldives is an excellent holiday destination for those who love diving and the water or those who simply want to relax and do nothing on a peaceful quiet remote beach.

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Most divers will choose to explore this region on a liveaboard rather than from one of the island lodges. This enables guests to visit a wider variety of reefs and marine life which are spread over 40km. Liveaboards have a tendency to fill early, so it is wise to book your vacation at least six months in advance.

Perfect holiday! Credit

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Ask the dive community a Question

Can I do a snorkel trip from South Male Atoll to South Ari?

We are staying at the Saii Lagoon Resort and would love to snorkel with whale sharks, where is the closest place to do this and how would we get there?

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Alla Zakharenko

0 votes

Hi Lauren! I think you can ask your diving center. Also as an option you might consider island hopping and spending several nights somewhere like Dhigurah island. Please bear in mind that nobody can guarantee that you will actually see the whale shark, so you might need to join several trips which is going to be quite pricey and difficult given your resort geographical location.

Rating 10/10

South Ari Atoll: Vilamendhoo Island Resort & Spa

Ari Atoll13 Aug 2021 - 28 Aug 2021 with Euro Divers Worlwide

We saw whale sharks, black tip sharks, white tip sharks, manta rays, stingrays, eagle rays, napoleons, moray eels, an octopus, turtles, many corals and hundreds of different colorful fish. At times it was like being in an aquarium.

The Vilamendhoo house reef is great, there you have the guarantee of black tip sharks. The babies swim in the front in the shallow water and the "juvenile" black tip sharks of about one meter swim around the reef. The house reef has 10 entrances and exits around the island. There are over 50 dive sites and the Euro Divers diving school is great too.

Vilamendhoo Island

Since Vilamendhoo Island has been highly recommended for scuba diving, we booked online www.vilamendhoo.com. Yet, I am confused since there seems to be another identical website www.vilamendhooisland.com and two different email adresses reservatons@vilamendhoo.com and reservations@vilamendhooisland.com. In order to avoid any fraud,maybe someone could advise me on this matter. Both sites look absolutely identical.


Rating 9/10

Ari Atoll

Ari Atoll1 Jan 2017 - 10 Jan 2017

Very good diving sites , Mantas , scorpion fish , nubibranchs and hammerhead hunting .

We saw the whale shark snorkeling .

The Ariston inn diving center its very very good , all of them are very kinde . Cecey (the manager) its a beautiful person .. Hope to see you back !

Hi , i would like to ask how can a introduce a dive center

Ive been diving in Dangethi island in Sud Ari atoll last week and i dived with Ariston inn dive center and i would like to racomand them .


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Catherine Jones

0 votes

They can create themselves as a user - then go to their profile and click 'dive center owner manager' - after that they can make a profile! Thanks Constantin!

Maldives - El Nino

Does anyone have any information concerning El Nino's impact on the diving in the Maldives this year. I know that last time there was a huge El Nino (late 1990s) it bleached 80% of the reefs. Not really sure what that means - i.e., whether that means everything was totally dead or if it was still worth going even if the wildlife spotting was reduced drastically. We are going to Maldives for our honeymoon this coming February, so I would love to know - if anyone is there now or in the near future - how conditions are. Thanks!

Natàlia Gómez Valero

0 votes

I have already returned from a liveabord in Maldives and it's been fantastic. We've seen hundreds of grey sharks in the channels, whalesharl, several manta rays at the cleaning stations and lots of little colorful fish. I was in Maldives in 2012 too and I have notices no difference in coral reefs. By the way, you should'nt expect impressive coral reefs in Maldives. I'm sure you'll have a great time.

Richard Bettan

0 votes

Thanks so much for responding! So glad you had a good time! When did you go?

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