When was the last time a diving trip took your breath away?
Mine was just last September, when I went swimming with manta rays in the Maldives.
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, the Maldives hadn’t been in my itinerary this year. Like Santorini, I thought that it was also a honeymoon destination and I didn’t want to go there by myself.
Diving with Bandos Maldives
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.
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 Diving in Bandos Maldives
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.
Pricing for 1 to 4 dives in Bandos start at US$62++ per drive. 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.