With feeding manta rays, graceful whale sharks and schooling hammerheads, the Ari Atoll is a pelagic dream. Most of the dive sites here are not protected walls or coral reefs. Rather, the region favors thilas (pinnacles) and kandus (channels) perfect for drift diving. Because of the exposed nature of the atoll, currents can be quite strong and many dive sites might not be suitable for beginners.
Maaya Thila, widely regarded as one of the top dive sites in the Maldives, can be suitable for beginners, but with variable current, it’s best to listen to the advice of dive masters in the area. The pinnacle begins at 20 feet (6 meters) and drops gently to 40 feet (12 meters) where a sheer drop-off leads to 100 feet (30 meters). In the shallows, the pinnacle is covered in nudibranchs, frog fish and zebra morays. Further down, divers will delight in the schools of colorful fish, flying formations of eagle rays and even the occasional guitar shark.
Fish Head, which is under marine protected status, is one of the best places in Ari Atoll for spotting sharks. Located in the mid-eastern region of the atoll, it is best reached by liveaboard as otherwise it is an hours-long speedboat journey. The pinnacle which plunges from 32-115 feet (10-35 meters) is covered in black coral bushes and dotted with caves and overhangs. Residents include up to 16 grey reef sharks and thousands of blueline snappers. Due to unpredictable current and the depth at which most of the marine life is spotted, this dive is most suitable to intermediate and advanced divers.
The above may be the two most famous sites in the Ari Atoll, but the fun doesn't stop there. The atoll is home to hundreds of amazing dive sites with at least a few accessible from every island.
The Ari Atoll is famous among divers for its volume of pelagic species. It is not uncommon to see manta rays, whale sharks, hammerheads, guitar sharks, turtles, grey reef sharks and eagle rays all within a week’s diving.
While the Ari Atoll may be heaven for big species, it features a good deal of macro life as well. Frogfish, zebra morays, nudibranchs, blueline snappers and hundreds of other colorful fish species reside here.
Wherever you dive in the Ari Atoll, you are sure to be slack-jawed at least once a day by the sheer number of pelagic species you will encounter.
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The Ari Atoll (also known as the Alifu Atoll) is located west of Male. It is known among divers as pelagic heaven. While corals and smaller marine life exist, divers flock to the area for the common manta, whale shark and hammerhead shark sightings.
The atoll’s tropical climate has average temperatures between 80°F (27° C) and 88°F (31° C). The water temperature is consistently 77 - 86°F (25 - 30°C). While diving is accessible year-round on the atoll, some seasons are better than others for above the water activities. From December to March, dry weather and calm seas arrive during the north-east monsoon. From May to November, the weather is generally wetter with rough seas during the south-west monsoon. The worst and most volatile weather comes during the change between monsoons in December/January and April/May.
Due to the government’s relaxation of tourism laws, the Ari Atoll has recently benefited from a tourism boom. 20 of the atoll’s 105 islands are reserved for resorts. Many of the other 85 islands now have homestays and B&Bs although it’s imperative to check that these local islands have a dive shop before booking in. The Ari Atoll is also a popular destination for economical liveaboards as many of the best dive sites are spread out around the atoll.
In high season (December to April), the famous dive sites may be crowded with divers although there are plenty of sites to go around. Go to a lesser known site and you are likely to have it to yourself. During low season (May to November), discounts on packages including activities and accommodation can be negotiated with both luxury resorts and local hotels.
Diving may be the reason you come to Ari Atoll, but there is so much more to do. Spend your days snorkeling with manta rays and whale sharks. Alternatively, take a tour to a deserted sand bank for an afternoon picnic. On the way back, stop for a little octopus spear-fishing and cook up your catch on the BBQ. You can also learn how to windsurf or spend some time kayaking. Of course, the beaches are perfect for relaxing the afternoon away before watching the sun dip down into the water.
Male Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is well served by flights originating in Europe, although a stop-over in the Middle East may be required. If coming from Asia, expect to stop in Sri Lanka before continuing on to Male.
If you’re staying on the Ari Atoll, you will need to transfer by seaplane (30 minutes), speedboat (1 hour) or by local ferry (4-6 hours).