When was the last time a diving trip took your breath away?
Mine was just last September, during a Maldives diving trip that took me close to manta rays.
There is just no describing how it feels to see three to four manta rays swimming above you, gliding gracefully in the water. At 3 meters or more in width, they’re really huge, and gave the impression of flying.
If we were on the ground, I could easily imagine what I would have looked like; eyes wide open with mouth agape. I didn’t expect to see manta rays, much less with so many of them at one time!
Frankly speaking, a Maldives diving trip hadn’t been in my plans this year. Like Santorini, I thought that it was also a honeymoon destination and I didn’t want to go there by myself.
Thankfully, MaldivesTV invited me to attend the first World Travel Writers Conference last September and I realized then that this glorious island nation has so much to offer, especially to divers.
Maldives Diving Trip with Bandos Resort
Aside from having the good fortune of being invited as a conference attendee, I was also lucky to be billeted in Bandos Maldives for the first four nights of my stay in the Maldives. (The rest of the time, I stayed at Adaaran Vadoo, another highly recommended Maldives resort.)
Bandos is not one of those high-end luxury resort which only has water villas. If I have to define it (review will be written later), I would call it an affordable luxury resort.
While they do have some water villas costing US$1,000++ per day, Bandos also has classic rooms that cost only $287++ per night for two people, inclusive of breakfast. They also have facilities and activities that are free of charge, including a gym, steam and sauna, and table tennis, among others.
The best thing about Bandos, however, is that they have one of the best diving centers in all of Maldives. They have a medical clinic with a decompression chamber and hyperbaric chamber, a nurse, and a dive medical doctor from Germany, Marc Hartmann, on call 24/7 for any medical emergencies.
Hartmann, who is also a rescue diver and has been on rotation in Bandos several times already, couldn’t praise the facilities enough in Bandos. “It’s certainly top of the line,” he told me on our way to the Aquarium dive site. He said that in his months of stay there, there hadn’t been any diving accidents in Bandos.
I wasn’t surprised. Bandos Maldives is one of the oldest and most established in the country, so in terms of experience, they have a lot of it. Their dive center is also staffed with professional, highly-skilled, and personable people who make sure you get the best dive experience there.
On my first dive, for example, Hassan, the dive master, gave me a refresher. He was very thorough, and made sure I understood everything before we proceeded to do the mask clearing and regulator recovery exercises in the house reef.
The exercises weren’t done perfunctorily, too. Hassan made me do it as if my life depended on it, which, of course, was the point of the whole thing.
All divers, regardless of certification, must also go through an orientation/check out dive in their house reef. I saw scores of blue triggerfish, schools of Moorish idol, stone fish, clownfish, and gorgeous blue and yellow surgeon fish. There were also a lot of smallish black tip sharks, although in Bandos, seeing them and stingrays was quite common.
On our way back through the channel, I was holding on to the guide rope when I saw the jellyfish (at least, I think it’s a jellyfish?). It was huge and scary, and I was glad it ignored me because if it had swam in my direction, I would have had a panic attack right then and there!
Diving in the Maldives: The Aquarium Dive Site
While diving the house reef at Bandos was quite nice, it was our boat dive that was really memorable. We went to two dive sites in one day: the Aquarium and Lankan Reef.
Our first dive site for the day was the Aquarium. Located on the local island of Huravahli around 45 minutes from Bandos, it’s a very sheltered site, which explains why there are so many schools of fish there, it’s like being inside an aquarium (hence the name).
I took pictures left and right. There were schools of oriental sweet lips that were definitely not shy. They looked at me, swam in unison beside and beneath me, and generally didn’t care that I was almost to their faces taking photos.
Then there were scores of butterfly fish, too, and the occasional empress angel fish. There were clams and sea slugs, surgeon fish and clownfish, scores of yellow snapper, hunting jack fish, and loads of other creatures I couldn’t identify.
Before my camera died, I was able to take a photo of one more: a solo manta ray! Despite its size, it was very fast, and was gone too soon before I could take another photo.
Swimming with Manta Rays in the Maldives
Fortunately for me, our next dive site was the Lankan Reef, approximately 30 minutes from the Aquarium on the outer reef of Lankanfinolhu Island. The Lankan Manta point is the most famous cleaning station in the Maldives, a place where manta rays go to for skin, gills, and teeth cleaning by smaller fish.
Hassan, our divemaster, told us that once we get to the cleaning station, we should stay put and wait for the mantas. “Don’t chase them, and never touch them,” he said.
If we had trouble staying put (after all, I only had 12 dives under my belt, a definite newbie diver though I’ve been certified for years), we could hold on to something.
When we arrived at the designated spot, I couldn’t see anything. The water was a bit murky, and unlike in the Aquarium, there weren’t so many fish there.
And then the mantas started coming. They came in twos or threes, going around and around us, mouths wide open. I thought I even saw two mantas mating, but I forgot to ask Hassan about that.
I started counting, and I was at 35 when I saw the last manta ray leave. When I asked Hassan though, he said there were only five or six, and they just kept on coming back.
I was gutted that my camera’s battery died and I never got to use it in Lankan Reef. If I had known, I would have skipped the photos at the Aquarium and saved the battery for the mantas, but hindsight is a bitch indeed.
What You Need To Know About a Maldives Diving Trip with Bandos
The Maldives comprises 26 atolls (ring-shaped reefs) with almost 1,200 islands. That means that as a diver, you won’t run out of dive sites to choose from.
If you want to travel the Maldives on a budget and you want to dive, I would highly recommend staying in Bandos. Aside from its excellent medical facility and dive staff (as well as the fact that it’s the longest established dive center in the country), it is also located in the southern part of the North Male Atoll where there are more than 40 dive sites that are within easy access, including Lankan Reef and the Aquarium.
A Maldives diving trip would cost US$62++ per dive for 1 to 4 dives in Bandos. If you’re staying longer there, there are diving packages as well that start at US$500++ for 10 dives. Rates are cheaper if you bring your own gear and pay for tank and weights only.
Discover Scuba (for those who aren’t certified) is available too, as well as dive courses including up to Dive Master.
I have never taken a trip before just to go diving, but if I do so, I will totally do it in the Maldives. I can’t wait to go back there next year!
Have you seen manta rays in your dive? Share your experience!
Featured photo courtesy of Bandos Maldives. My thanks as well to Brian Gordon-Stables.
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That must have been a once in a lifetime experience being up close to the majestic manta rays!
wow this is really fantastic
Maldives is so beautiful, whether you are above the sea or below. A must-visit. The Manta Rays are huge. Swimming with them will be thrilling.
This is a great post Aleah. I am glad that you had a wonderful holiday in Bandos Maldives.
For those travelers who want to experience this beauty of Maldives, without breaking their wallet, there are many budget guesthouses and hotels in local islands. These accommodations offer the chance to experience the same natural beauty that Maldives is famous for, including scuba diving, snorkeling and manta ray watching etc.
Wow, your one shot of swimming with that gigantic manta ray is incredible!!
I have plans of visiting Maldives. It is on my bucket list. Diving with manta rays would be some experience.
Maldives is one of my favorite destinations. Thanks for sharing the information and pictures of your visit. It must have been an amazing trip, particularly the underwater experience.
Oh gosh, they’re huge! I’d probably panic if I swam with them!
35 manta rays! Incredible, although I must say I would feel a little intimidated if they cast their shadows over me. It’s great that Bandos take their divers’ safety so seriously. And that they have some affordable rooms available too despite the “luxury” setting.
Just how big was that jellyfish-y creature? Hard to imagine since there’s nothing I can compare it with in the background. I’m thinking it’s as big as a head that’s why it was so scary.
What an epic dive with Bandos Resort Maldives! You got to see so many amazing undersea creatures! I would’ve been freaking out about those sharks! Those manta rays are much more massive than I would’ve expected. So amazing!
I have never been scuba diving, only snorkeling. And while you can see a lot when snorkeling, it is nothing like what you were able to see. I may have to get over my trepidation about diving! The Maldives looks like an amazing place to go!
I never thought that diving in Maldives could this be so amazing! I’m fan of diving so reading your article really excites me. I haven’t dive with Manta hopefully soon. But here in the Philippines. I believe Ticao island is the best place to dive with them.
Wow! Diving in Maldives. I’ve always been scared. Hassan, your divemaster, seems very dedicated in his job. I wish I’d meet a divemaster as reliable as him. He’d be very helpful to first-time divers like me. Would you recommend Maldives for first-timers, though?
So happy for you. This experience is another feather in your cap. I can’t say I am jealous, because this is activity is not my cup of tea, however, really nice to see what’s under there.
Very jealous of any diving experiences like yours. I can’t dive because my ears don’t equalise well. Lots of pain! I have snorkelled in Zanzibar and Belize with rays and sharks. Great experiences. The Maldives look superb for diving or snorkelling.
What an amazing experience AND not to mention being in Maldives! This is one of the reasons why I would love to learn to dive. Diving with manta rays and sharks looks really cool and exciting.
So cool that MaldivesTV invited you and what an opportunity 😀 I can only imagine how amazing swimming and diving with Manta rays would be, your pictures are making me very jealous haha. Although I’m very much on the shoestring budget side of traveling I would love to Visit the Maldives at some point 😀
Oh wow the manta rays are so close!! That looks both terrifying and amazing. Beautiful pictures. How do you think this place is for first-time divers?
This is one of those thrilling experiences you want to seize. Grab it, when it arises, and get in the water.
Good to see how this invite worked out well with you visited for the conference. Good timing.
The colors jump out at me. I’ve not been diving yet but seeing the brilliant shades on fish, and on the ocean floor, would be a thrilling enough experience for me. Toss in those graceful, magical manta rays swimming around you and it is something I need to do. I would be a bit nervous about the blacktips; I know they can be aggressive. Hopefully they eat well before seeing divers 😉
Thanks for sharing Aleah.