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Diving in The North Ari Atoll (Maldives): An Encounter With The Underwater Wonders

Published 17/05/2023
White-Tip Reef Shark in North Ari Atoll (Maldives)

Do you dream of spectacular dives amidst vibrant coral reefs with numerous large and small underwater inhabitants? And do you want to get up close and personal with curious reef sharks or playful manta rays? Let me take you on a virtual journey to a scuba diving destination that made these dreams a reality for me – the North Ari Atoll in the Maldives.

Located within the shimmering turquoise waters of the Maldives, the North Ari Atoll holds a special place in my heart. As a passionate diver, I’ve visited various corners of the world, yet the memory of my diving adventure in the North Ari Atoll in February 2020 remains vivid and exhilarating. Situated on the captivating island of Ellaidhoo, I found myself in what can only be described as an underwater paradise.

Why Is The North Ari Atoll So Good For Diving?

In terms of biodiversity, the Maldives is a treasure trove, and North Ari Atoll is unquestionably one of its crown jewels. Recognized as one of the best atolls to dive in the Maldives, its dive sites offer a unique blend of scenic coral gardens, intriguing underwater structures, and an astonishing array of marine life. But what set this trip apart for me was the Atoll’s reputation as a heaven for reef sharks. My expectations were not to be disappointed in this respect either.

Neither before nor after have I encountered such a regular abundance of reef sharks during my dives in any other diving regions. Over ten encounters within one dive or three to five reef sharks at the same time were more the rule than the exception. And if luck is on your side, as it was for me on one unforgettable afternoon at the Fish Head dive site, you could dive with over 20 of these magnificent creatures. This unique feature of North Ari Atoll diving brings a kind of thrill and excitement that is hard to surpass, no matter where in the world.

The warm tropical currents of the North Ari Atoll, coupled with its unique geographical location within the Maldives, create an ideal environment for a staggering variety of marine life. Whether you’re a macro lover or a big-fish enthusiast, diving in North Ari Atoll caters to all preferences and experiences.

The Atoll’s dive sites are a harmonious blend of coral gardens, drop-offs, and remarkable underwater structures, each offering its unique diving experience. Furthermore, thanks to the Atoll’s location within the Maldives’ tropical climate, the sea conditions remain favorable year-round, making diving in North Ari Atoll an unforgettable experience irrespective of when you decide to visit.

What Is The Best Time To Dive North Ari Atoll?

average air and water temperature as well as precipitation per month in north ari atoll (maldives)

While diving in North Ari Atoll can be enjoyed year-round, some months offer a slightly enhanced experience. With average air temperatures hovering between a comfortable 25-32 degrees Celsius and stable water temperatures of 28-30 degrees Celsius, the Maldivian climate is wonderfully dive-friendly. Add to this an average daily sunshine duration of 6 hours or more throughout the year, and you’ve got a destination that’s near-perfect for diving, regardless of the season.

average daily sunshine hours and precipitation days per month for north ari atoll (maldives)

But what makes in my opinion the period from January to March the best time to dive North Ari Atoll? The answer lies in the region’s rainfall patterns. The early part of the year typically sees the least amount of precipitation, resulting in clearer skies and even more enjoyable dive conditions. This time frame also coincides with an increased likelihood of encountering the graceful manta rays, as they frequently visit the outer cleaning stations of the atoll during these months. At this time, the Indian monsoon currents bring many nutrients for the manta rays, so they are therefore much more likely to be encountered.

precipitation details north ari atoll (maldives) per month

Based on my personal experience and taking into account both the above-water weather and nutrient density thanks to the favorable monsoon currents, I would strongly recommend planning your trip between January and March for the best possible North Ari Atoll diving experience. That said, the other months are far from disappointing; they still offer a fantastic diving experience with the Atoll’s year-round residents and breathtaking underwater landscapes.

Can Beginners Dive in North Ari Atoll?

A Maldives diving trip, and to North Ari Atoll in particular, may seem like a questionable destination for beginner divers due to its reputation for medium-strength currents. These currents are often the result of the archipelago’s unique geography, with many dive sites located within channels between islands. However, don’t let this deter you. The Atoll, with its diverse range of dive sites, welcomes divers of all experience levels, including beginners.

While it’s true that not every dive site within the Atoll is suitable for total beginners, there are numerous spots that offer calmer conditions, ideal for those taking their first plunge. These beginner-friendly sites, with their relatively calm and clear waters, provide an immersive experience of the underwater world. Here, you might encounter turtles, reef sharks, and an array of vibrant fish species – a perfect introduction to the fascination of diving.

Moreover, if you’re looking to gain experience in drift and current diving, diving in North Ari Atoll could be an ideal training ground. Compared to diving in Komodo, known for its challenging currents, Maldives diving trips offer a more diverse environment. You’ll find dive spots that are more protected yet still provide a taste of current diving. It’s like a controlled environment where you can hone your skills, learning to navigate and enjoy the currents rather than fear them. Because ultimately, currents always bring a lot of nutrients, which attract many different species of fish.

In my opinion, the Maldives and North Ari Atoll diving, in particular, strike an excellent balance between thrill and safety for novice divers. You can start exploring the underwater world comfortably, gradually taking on more challenging dives as your confidence and skills grow. Various dive centers across the Atoll offer courses and beginner dive packages, ensuring you’re well-equipped and guided throughout your diving journey.

What Marine Life Can You Expect In North Ari Atoll?

The underwater realm of North Ari Atoll is nothing short of a marine life extravaganza. While encounters can be enjoyed all year round, some seasons do bring specific highlights. Here are the five primary marine spectacles you can anticipate when diving in North Ari Atoll:

1. Sharks

reef sharks in north arti atoll

In my experience, North Ari Atoll is a veritable shark heaven. Regular sightings include white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, and nurse sharks. If luck is on your side, you may even spot the elusive hammerhead shark.

2. Whale Sharks

For an encounter with the gentle giant of the ocean, many dive schools offer dedicated whale shark excursions. This full-day adventure provides a decent chance to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

3. Rays

huge manta ray north ari atoll

Manta rays frequent Atoll’s cleaning stations, particularly from January to March. These elegant creatures share their habitat with eagle rays and stingrays, which can be spotted throughout the year.

4. Colorful Fish Schools

schools of colorful blue and yellow fish north ari atoll

The waters of North Ari Atoll teem with a variety of vibrant fish. Among these, you’ll find Moorish Idols, Oriental Sweetlips, and Bluestripe snappers, often swimming alongside curious reef sharks.

5. Predators

Adding to the thrill of the dives are the Atoll’s larger predators. Keep an eye out for tuna, giant trevallies, and barracuda as you explore the underwater landscape.

To be honest, the North Ari Atoll is maybe not the best area to see many turtles. I just saw one turtle in roughly 25 dives. If you are a turtle lover, I would recommend you read my trip report about diving in marsa alam. However, whether you’re a seasoned diver or a beginner, the diverse and abundant marine life in North Ari Atoll, Maldives, promises an unforgettable underwater adventure.

What Are The Best Dive Sites in North Ari Atoll?

North Ari Atoll boasts definitely numerous world-class dive sites and actually has over 50 different dive spots. Of course, every dive can be different and sometimes you are just unlucky to be at a great spot at the wrong time or hard conditions. However, based on my personal experience, here are my personal top 7 dive sites in the North Ari Atoll:

1. Fish Head: A Celebrity Amongst Shark Dive Sites

reef sharks at top dive spot fish head at north ari atoll

Among the plethora of dive sites in North Ari Atoll, Fish Head truly stands out, earning its fame in the diving community. Nestled within the azure waters, the reef plate of this renowned site rests at depths ranging between 10 and 12 meters. As you descend further, the reef’s contour dramatically slopes down, reaching depths of around 40 meters.

The underwater terrain here is captivating, peppered with overhangs both big and small, etched into the steep walls. Each crevice and hollow offers a peek into the bustling marine life of the Maldivian waters. But the real showstopper at Fish Head is undoubtedly its teeming fish population, showcasing an incredible spectrum of marine species from the tiniest critters to the grandest hunters of the ocean.

Imagine this: you’re floating amidst the deep blue as grey and white tip reef sharks dart around in a captivating display of their predatory prowess. Tuna and various species of mackerel, sleek and swift, join the hunt, their silhouettes darting through the swirling shoals of fusiliers in a mesmerizing underwater ballet.

Yet, Fish Head isn’t just about the thrill of watching these large marine predators. It also houses more placid creatures like turtles, napoleon wrasses, snappers, and surgeon fish, each adding their unique touch to the diverse marine tableau that unfolds before your eyes.

Bear in mind, though, that the currents at Fish Head can sometimes be stronger. There may be instances when it becomes necessary to set a reef hook to safely admire the sharks in the current. But even then, the sheer spectacle of the site makes it worth the challenge. I was allowed to observe here relaxed hanging in the current, over 30 minutes long more than 20 reef sharks.

In essence, a dive at Fish Head is an enchanting journey into the heart of Maldivian marine life, a site that truly embodies the thrill and beauty of North Ari Atoll diving.

2. Orimas Thila: An Underwater City of Corals and Clownfish

dive site orimas thila in the north ari atoll (maldives)

Orimas Thila stretches out as a long, enticing coral reef, dotted with coral blocks that beckon exploration. Its sheer beauty is elevated by the presence of stunning overhangs and exceptional coral growth. As you navigate through these underwater archways, you’ll experience a variety of both soft and hard corals, gorgonias, and black coral, that can’t help but leave you in awe.

But the spectacle doesn’t end here. Orimas Thila is also a bustling metropolis of marine life. In every direction, schools of fish swirl around you in such density that you might feel like you’re swimming through a living ‘fish soup.’ Amidst this aquatic hustle and bustle, you’ll spot a unique feature that sets Orimas Thila apart – a vast anemone plateau. This area, roughly 10×10 meters, is carpeted with anemones, their vibrant colors and patterns providing a home for a throng of clownfish.

huge platform of anemones and nemo fish at dive spot orimas thila (north ari atoll) called nemo city

Local dive guides affectionately call this spot ‘Nemo City,’ and it’s easy to see why. The sight of countless clownfish darting amongst the anemones is a spectacle that stays with you. During my visit, this was indeed a personal highlight. The sheer density of life and color at ‘Nemo City’ was something I’d never witnessed before and haven’t seen since.

In a nutshell, Orimas Thila isn’t just a dive site – it’s an underwater wonderland. The combination of its spectacular coral formations, teeming fish life, and the unforgettable ‘Nemo City’ make it a must-visit spot when diving in North Ari Atoll.

3. Manta Kandu: A Sunrise Adventure with Gentle Giants

manta ray at manta kandu cleaner station in the north ari atoll

Manta Kandu, a renowned dive site in North Ari Atoll, is a bit of an adventure even before you hit the water. Located in the more remote parts of the atoll, reaching this site usually involves a multi-hour boat ride. Yet, the early morning journey, with the sky slowly lighting up with the day’s first rays, is an adventure in itself.

The trips to Manta Kandu typically start before the crack of dawn, ensuring that divers reach the site just as the sun begins to cast its warm glow over the waters. Once there, the dive itself is relatively easy, with depths ranging from 12 to 18 meters. Nestled in the underwater structures are multiple cleaning stations, the stage for the site’s main attraction – the majestic mantas.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might spot these gentle giants the moment you jump into the water. However, my personal experience at Manta Kandu was a bit different and, in retrospect, all the more memorable for it.

After descending to the cleaning stations, I waited. The minutes ticked by – 10, 20, 30, 45 – with no sign of the mantas. But then, just as patience was starting to wear thin, they arrived. Emerging from the blue void, two enormous mantas gracefully swam toward us. It was a sight to behold, their vast wings undulating in the water, the sunlight filtering down to cast a surreal glow on their forms. The long wait only made the encounter more magical, transforming it into a memory that still remains vividly etched in my mind. The mantas were incredibly playful, swimming close and giving us a front-row seat to their mesmerizing underwater ballet.

close manta ray at cleaner station manta kandu

In essence, Manta Kandu is more than just a dive site; it’s a testament to the wonders and surprises that North Ari Atoll diving holds. The journey to the site, the anticipation, and the ultimate reward of interacting with these playful mantas make it an unforgettable diving experience.

4. Halaveli Wreck: Exploring the Depths of History

dive spot halaveli wreck in north ari atoll

In the realm of wreck diving, the Halaveli Wreck, also known as the “Highly 18,” stands as a beautiful monument to the past. This 40-meter-long freighter, sunk back in the nineties, now provides an intriguing backdrop for an underwater adventure when diving in North Ari Atoll.

Resting at approximately 28 meters below the surface, the top of the Halaveli Wreck reaches up to 18 meters, making it a reasonably accessible site for divers with varying experience levels. The ship’s structure, weathered by time and the sea, is dotted with intriguing openings that beg exploration. And while a torch does come in handy to peer into these shadowy recesses, the thrill of uncovering hidden corners of the wreck is a reward in itself.

The Halaveli Wreck is not just a freighter; it’s a thriving ecosystem. Schools of mackerel often swirl around the site, their silvery forms darting through the water in a mesmerizing display. But perhaps the most unique aspect of this dive site is the cloud of glass fish that inhabits the wreck. Their translucent bodies, shimmering under the filtered sunlight, create a surreal spectacle that makes diving here a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

school of glas fish at halaveli wreck north ari atoll

Even though I’m not typically a big fan of wreck diving, my exploration of the Halaveli Wreck was an exception that I’m glad I made. The combination of the historical backdrop, bustling marine life, and the ethereal charm of the glass fish makes this site a memorable addition to any North Ari Atoll diving itinerary.

5. Ellaidhoo Housereef: An Underwater Wonderland at Your Doorstep

map of ellaidhoo house reef in north ari atoll (maldives)

When planning my North Ari Atoll diving adventure, I extensively researched various islands to find the perfect home base. After much consideration, I chose Ellaidhoo, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that decision. This island proved to be a diver’s paradise, and the gem at its heart is undoubtedly the Ellaidhoo house reef.

The house reef, tucked in a channel, provides a dynamic diving environment due to the consistent currents. These range from mild to strong, but fear not, the reef’s strategic location affords multiple entry and exit points around the island. This arrangement allows you to effortlessly drift along with the current, making each dive a relaxed and enjoyable journey.

reef sharks on ellaidhoo house reef north ari atoll

I embarked on over ten dives in this underwater wonderland, and each dive was a unique spectacle. The Ellaidhoo Housereef is a bustling hub of marine life, offering consistent sightings of reef sharks, immense schools of fish, and even hunting giant trevallies. The thrill of witnessing such marine biodiversity on the doorstep was a highlight of my North Ari Atoll diving experience.

three chilling reef sharks at ellaidhoo house reef

Moreover, Ellaidhoo’s central location offers the added advantage of being within easy reach of other prime dive spots in North Ari Atoll. This accessibility, combined with the incredible underwater spectacle that the house reef offers, makes Ellaidhoo an excellent choice for any diver looking to explore the depths of the North Ari Atoll Maldives.

6. Kari Beyru Thila: A Protected Paradise

anemones and nemo at dive site kari beyru thila (maldives)

Embarking on a dive at Kari Beyru Thila is akin to immersing oneself in an underwater amphitheater where nature’s aquatic show unfolds. This expansive reef plateau slopes gently from around 8 meters to well over 30 meters, offering an extensive canvas for marine life to flourish.

The star performers at Kari Beyru Thila are undoubtedly the big fish. Mackerels, tuna, barracuda, and both grey and white tip reef sharks are the usual suspects here. What makes these encounters even more thrilling is that these majestic creatures often come to the Thila in large groups, making for a spectacular sight for any diver fortunate enough to witness it.

But Kari Beyru Thila isn’t just about the larger marine life. Amidst the drama of the big fish, it’s easy to overlook the more minor, equally mesmerizing inhabitants of the reef. If you take the time to look closer, you’ll discover a fascinating world of anemones, home to playful clownfish darting in and out of their protective tentacles. This blend of large predators and colorful reef dwellers creates a dynamic, contrasting underwater landscape that keeps you captivated throughout your dive.

Adding to Kari Beyru Thila’s appeal is its protected status. Recognizing the site’s ecological importance, the Maldivian Government has prohibited fishing and anchoring, ensuring that the marine life here can thrive undisturbed. This protection has created a haven for marine life, making Kari Beyru Thila an essential stop on any North Ari Atoll diving trip.

7. Bodu Thila: The Enigmatic Reef

school of yellow fish at bodu thila north ari atoll

Imagine a sprawling underwater city stretching over 250 meters, with dramatic architecture and bustling citizens of the aquatic world. That’s Bodu Thila for you! This substantial reef introduces you to a rich tapestry of underwater topography, including large overhangs, precipitous walls, and soft, sandy areas that gently slope toward the abyss.

What’s truly captivating about Bodu Thila is the diversity of its marine life. Large fan corals claim the undersides of the overhangs and the faces of the walls, creating a stunning backdrop for the spectacle of life that unfolds around them. Amidst the strong currents, you’ll see large schools of fish dancing in unison, creating a mesmerizing underwater ballet.

White tip reef sharks have made the sandy bottom their resting place, while nurse sharks often snooze in the comforting shadows of the overhangs. It’s not uncommon to spot mackerels and tuna on their hunting sprees, adding an element of suspense and thrill to your dive.

On my visit to Bodu Thila, I had an unexpected encounter. Another diver gestured excitedly towards what seemed to be an “interesting coral.” On closer inspection, it turned out to be a well-camouflaged frogfish, a rare treat to spot in the wild. That moment of shared discovery is one of the many reasons why I love diving in North Ari Atoll. It’s not just about the grand vistas and the big creatures but also about these delightful surprises that await around every corner.

frog fish at dive site bodu thila in the north ari atoll

Bodu Thila is a testament to the enchanting unpredictability of the underwater world. It’s a site that keeps you on your toes, always anticipating the subsequent marvelous encounter. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or a beginner, Bodu Thila is relatively easy dive site in the North Ari Atoll Maldives that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

How Much Is Diving In North Ari Atoll?

Probably an important question for every passionate diver: “How deep will this adventure dip into my pocket?” Let me lay it out straight – diving in the Maldives is not the cheapest affair. But the memories and experiences you gather here? Priceless!

In general, you can expect to pay between $60 to $100 per dive, depending on your location within the North Ari Atoll Maldives. Of course, the more you dive, the less you spend on average per dive. Opting for bigger dive packages, especially if you plan to log ten or more dives, can bring down the cost to around $50 to $70 per dive.

Speaking from my own experience, I spent roughly $1350 for about 25 dives during my stay in 2020, but I also had my own equipment. The majority of these were boat dives and included a few full-day excursions.

Keep in mind that these are the costs of the dives alone. Accommodation is another significant factor to consider. Resorts and hotels in the Maldives are often renowned for their luxury and comfort, and the price tags reflect this. But don’t let that discourage you; there are also budget-friendly options available, especially when you are here for diving and not for your honeymoon.

During my trip, I stayed at Ellaidhoo, a charming island resort offering, in my opinion, a solid value proposition. It was here that I found an excellent balance between cost and comfort, all while being nestled in the heart of this diving paradise. I wholeheartedly recommend considering it as your base for diving in North Ari Atoll.

Yes, diving in the Maldives requires a bit of an investment. But trust me, the return on that investment is measured in stunning marine life encounters, unforgettable underwater landscapes, and memories that will keep your diving dreams alive for years to come.

How To Get To North Ari Atoll?

beautiful ocean in ari atoll in the maldives

Embarking on a diving adventure to North Ari Atoll begins long before you plunge into the azure waters. The journey to this marine paradise is an adventure in itself, and here’s how my own journey unfolded.

The first leg of the trip involved an international flight to Male, the capital city of the Maldives. With Male’s well-connected airport, there are abundant flight options available, no matter where in the world your journey begins.

Once in Male, two primary options present themselves for the onward journey to North Ari Atoll – a seaplane or a speedboat. Each option offers its unique brand of excitement and adventure. A seaplane flight, for instance, is a breathtaking experience, offering a bird’s eye view of the archipelago’s surreal beauty. It’s a quick hop, too, taking roughly 25 minutes to reach North Ari Atoll from Male.

However, the seaplane option does come with its own set of considerations. The cost of this spectacular aerial ride can be pretty expensive, especially if you are bringing your own diving gear. The standard allowance usually covers 15-20 kilograms, but every extra kilogram incurs an additional charge of $15 to $30. And that’s over and above the standard flight cost, which can easily top $500.

In the end, after much deliberation and weighing of pros and cons, I chose to pass on the luxurious seaplane experience. Instead, I decided to embrace the more humble yet equally captivating alternative — the speedboat. The journey was a roughly 1.5-hour spectacle from Male, a time filled with invigorating sea spray and scenic beauty that left me in awe.

Navigating through the undulating waves, I could feel the wind teasing my hair, whispering tales of the vast, azure sea that extended as far as my eyes could see. The constant rhythm of the boat against the waves was like a heart beating, a reminder of the raw, visceral power of nature. And let’s face it; there is a certain thrill when the boat jumps from wave to wave at very high speed!

A well-intentioned tip from my personal experience: if you are not used to the lively play of the sea on the boat, consider taking travel tablets before boarding the speedboat. The waves can put on quite a show, and unfortunately, this performance had some of my fellow passengers reaching for their sick bags. But thanks to my good preparation I could absolutely enjoy the turbulent journey. After all, who wants to kick off their vacation with an upset stomach? Not me, that’s for sure!

Some Final Thoughts

I hope that with my blog post, I could paint a comprehensive picture of my unforgettable diving experience in the North Ari Atoll in the Maldives. The atoll, teeming with marine life and with its remarkable abundance of reef sharks, offers a fascinating diving experience. From beginners to experienced divers, the North Ari Atoll is a diving region where you can learn and practice drift diving, navigate currents, and absolutely lose yourself in the vibrant underwater world.

diver diving in the north ari atoll in the maldives

Moreover, if you’re someone who relishes diving in warm water, scuba diving in Maldives is a dream come true, with its stable and pleasant water temperatures. The allure of the North Ari Atoll, however, isn’t limited to its underwater charm. The islands’ breathtaking natural beauty above the water equally contributes to an overall enriching experience. The picturesque landscapes, the azure waters, and the tranquil ambiance make it a perfect destination for both an adrenaline-filled underwater adventure and a serene retreat.