Scuba Diving in Ari Atoll, Maldives

The Maldives is on the bucket list of just about every scuba diver I have ever met. They flock here year-round to explore the reefs and swim among turtles, barracudas, manta rays, and the rest of the marine life that call these breathtaking coral gardens home. The crystal-clear water and pristine beaches are not lost on non-divers either. Many who come here spend their holiday swimming, lounging and doing as little as possible as they relax in this tropical paradise.

hermit crab

The view of Angaga from our sea plane

Located within the coral ring of Ari Atoll, Angaga is not a big place; you can walk all the way around it in less than 30-minutes. Its charm includes coconut trees, a jutting pier for dangling your feet over the water as you watch the large school of fish that continually circles the island just off the beach.

Schooling fish

Baby black tip sharks can be seen feeding on schools of fish that circle the island all day, everyday. Watching them was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

With each lap, the fish attract young blacktip sharks and the occasional dolphin who come very near the shore to hunt their meal. It’s hypnotizing to watch them circling the island, again and again, scattering only occasionally to allow vacationers entrance to the sea.

The Maldives government has strict regulations regarding tourism. By law, only uninhabited islands can be developed, and each island designated as a resort island can have no more than one resort and whatever amenities and conveniences that resort provides.

All other islands were for locals only until the government started allowing Maldivian citizens to open homestays, dive shops and other businesses focused on tourism over the past decade.

View from Sea plane

A hermit crab makes his way along Angaga beach.

The Angaga Island Resort & Spa include a restaurant, a bar, a gift shop and a dive shop. Excursions like fishing and whale watching are available, and snorkel gear and kayaks are available for rent. We stayed right on the beach where the ocean is just a few steps away from our bungalow. Snorkeling and shore diving in the house reef are popular on Angaga. Dive guides are available for a small additional fee but are not mandatory for advanced divers.

anemone crab

An anemone crab found during a night dive at the house reef.

The reef is much different at night than it is during the day and in my opinion night diving here is a bit more interesting. Most night divers will encounter anemone crabs, eels swimming freely and Joe the Snapper. An ornery old snapper who likes to swoosh in and chomp down on fish when unexpecting divers shine their torches on them. Overall, the house reef still has quite a bit of life despite being nearly wiped out by rising temperatures.

Hawksbill sea turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

Climate change has become a real concern in the Maldives due to its destructive effect on reefs and the rising water levels it has caused. In 2016, El Nino accelerated the problem, and more than 60% of Maldivian reefs suffered significant bleaching. The current government’s main effort at geoengineering involves reclaiming land from the sea to construct new islands in shallower areas that are intended to be used to relocate Islanders living on lower-lying isles.


May we never stop finding Nemo.

Others are trying to bring bleached coral back to life by seeding it with healthy polyps, and local efforts have been organized to clean up plastic and trash from beaches. However, I did not see any attempt by the Angaga resort or the dive shop to provide potable water to guests or to recycle. Many travelers are now happy to pay for a glass of water or to use refillable containers, so hopefully these practices will improve on Angaga too.

Matt and Manta

Matt photographing a Giant Reef Manta at Manta Garden.

Diving here really was spectacular, so I imagine the waters here must have been a true diver's fantasy not so long ago, and I hope protecting them continues to take priority. The array of coral and fish was astounding even at deeper depths. Moray eels, jackfish, endangered humphead wrasse, sweetlips, spotted manta rays, hawksbill turtles, green sea turtles, and blacktip, white tip and grey reef sharks are just some of what made up the aquatic scenery during our dives.

We also saw several giant reef mantas during a trip to Manta Garden. Sadly, our efforts to encounter a whale shark were unsuccessful, though they were spotted by others right before we arrived and the day after we had ventured out with the hope of seeing one or more of these magnificent giants.

Nurse shark

A nurse shark spotted at MV Kudhi Maa Wreck.

I would have liked to have done more diving from the boat, but Angaga’s dive shop, Sub Aqua, does just two dives per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Because they go out on traditional Maldivian Dhoni boats these dives are subject to cancellation. Dhoni boats are spacious and comfortable when waters are calm, but they do not have a keel, which is the flat blade that sticks down into the water from the bottom of the boat to balance it and prevent it from being blown sideways. The slightest bit of weather can send these boats rocking and possibly tip them over. We encountered some rain and waves coming back from a dive and, though no one was hurt, a few of us got tipped out of our seats, which was a little scary.

Dhoni boat

Traditional Maldivian Dhoni boat. Cool to look at, but not the most seaworthy vessels.

Dive cancellations did occur during our visit, which was especially disappointing because Sub Aqua did so few dives even when weather permitted. I had never encountered a dive company that would not go out when a group of divers was on hand and willing to pay for more dives, and, to be completely honest, I hope I don't again. Booking passage upon a liveaboard is the best way to maximize diving in Ari Atoll. You may not have as much beach time, but the diving in Ari Atoll is at least worth the sacrifice.

Getting to Angaga & Other Islands Around Ari Atoll

The cost for transportation from Malé to the islands is based on distance regardless of which mode you choose. A seaplane can be arranged through your resort and cost USD 350+ per passenger. This is a fun experience if budget allows.

Sea plane

A sea plane preparing for flight.

The cheapest transportation option in the Maldives is a ferry which costs only USD 2.00-6.00. However, they are known to be unreliable and do not go to all the islands in the South yet.

Speedboats are the most popular budget-friendly option and start at USD 30+. Your resort or guest house may be able to help you with these arrangements, or you can contact Atoll Transfers for pricing. They also have information on ferries and pricing and online ticketing for speedboats posted on their website

Stilt bungalow

Angaga Island Resort & Spa.

Currency In the Maldives & Where to Convert it Back 

The U.S. Dollar is accepted and preferred in the Maldives. It is wise to bring it with you if possible as cash machines may not be available in all areas and if they are, they charge a steep fee. If you happen to end up with local Maldivian Rufiyaa at the end of your stay, they don't want it back. As of this writing, it can only be converted to USD on the upper level of the international departures terminal after you go through customs. You may not want USD either, but it will be easier to convert to another currency once you get to where you're going.

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