For those that seriously love scuba diving, myself included, a dive liveaboard experience is the ultimate experience. Not only do you get to cruise around some of the most beautiful scenery available, but the diving will almost always be excellent.
I had the pleasure of going on my first liveaboard experience in the Maldives, aboard the Carpe Novo which is a part of the Carpe Diem fleet of boats. This trip was a full week visiting the central Atolls of the Maldives including South Male, Vaavu, South Ari, North Ari, and Baa. The diving was absolutely fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience on my inaugural liveaboard.
We saw some incredible concentration of fish unlike anything I’ve seen, mantas, whale sharks, and more. The crew, dive guides, food, and the boat itself were top class and made me incredibly sad to leave on my last day.
This post will go in depth about the incredible diving I had in the Maldives and the sites that we visited. If you like loads and loads of pictures of colorful fish and corals, this will be the post for you.
If you’re also interested in visiting the Maldives cheaply, make sure to read my ultimate guide to traveling the Maldives on a budget!
Diving on the Carpe Novo
Carpe Diem is the largest liveaboard provider in the Maldives. They have three similar and beautifully constructed boats: Carpe Diem, Carpe Vita, and the Carpe Novo. All three boats travel all over the different atolls of the Maldives depending on the season. I chose the Carpe Novo mainly because the dates worked out and it was the largest and newest of their fleet.
The Diving in the Maldives
To sum it up, the diving in the Maldives was much better than I thought. I’d reach so many things online about how the coral is dead and the diving is just overall unimpressive. Forget the naysayers.
There will be many pictures, videos, and detailed recounts of my dives in this post but to sum it up, the Maldives has some of the densest fish life I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen such a high concentration of fish in all my time diving. This is not just one special site either but seemingly every dive site we went to, we were bombarded with triggerfish, snappers, angelfish and other reef fish.
The corals are not in the best shape I will say. It is certainly not as colorful as the Red Sea or other parts of Southeast Asia. Perhaps that is because the water is a consistent 28 to 29 Celcius (the warmest water I’ve dived in) but nonetheless the fish life is superb. The central Atolls are characterized by soft corals while the southern atolls have more hard corals. I think if you like to see bright colorful coral, the Maldives will disappoint.
If you like extremely fishy dives, along with big pelagics like mantas, whale sharks, and other sharks, the Maldives is definitely the place. There is also decent amount of macro life here as well but I would not come to the Maldives just for this.
Cost of the liveaboard
I booked my liveaboard on the Carpe Novo, which is their newest and largest boat. The pictures I saw online blew my mind. For the most part, I always thought liveaboards to be quite rustic with bunk beds/twin beds, small basic bathrooms, and modest amenities. Turns out I am horribly mistaken because there are many liveaboards out there that specialize in luxury.
I made my booking on divebooker.com and was very happy with their service as they were very thorough with helping me with the entire itinerary, as well as providing free DAN insurance which is required on all liveaboards. We chose the more expensive rooms with a higher floor and large windows and paid just over $2,000 for the week. Liveaboards in the Maldives are surprisingly affordable compared to other destinations around the world and considering how expensive the Maldives can be.
If you suffer from sea sickness, then the higher floor is the way to go as it is less choppy higher up, as well as quieter being further away from the engine.
Luxurious in every way
The Carpe Novo was luxurious in every way. Our rooms were much bigger than I was expecting, with a large king sized bed and a bathroom larger than any I’ve had living in New York. My room also had beautiful ocean views and comfortable A/C.
The roof deck was pure bliss. Views of the nearby islands as we cruised through the Maldives was something special. Can’t think of a better way to pass a surface interval! There were plenty of lounge chairs, comfortable cushions, and a covered area for everyone to lounge out on.
The boat itself is also of beautiful construction of design. It looks more like a luxury yacht than a boat for diving. From my conversations with the other divers, everyone seemed to agree that this was one of the if not the nicest boat they had been on.
I’d highly recommend this trip for those that are nervous about being confined to a boat for a week on their maiden liveaboard voyage. For those that get sea sick, I found the boat to be very calm even when we were moving in choppy weather.
Food on the Carpe Novo
The food was absolutely on point. From my experience talking to the other divers, they all had positive things to say about the food on all the previous liveaboards they had done. Safe to say, I never went hungry on the Carpe Novo. The food was abundant and delicious. Food was a good combination of local style cuisine and western cuisine (although I would have been totally okay with 100% local cuisine). Most importantly, they always had fresh Maldivian chilies available to add extra spice and flavor to the food.
For breakfast, we would have eggs, beef bacon, and a wide assortment of fruits. Some days, we had the local Mashuni (tuna, coconut, onions, chilies with roshi bread) which I wish they would have just done every day.
For lunch, there would always be a curry, with fish or chicken and more fruits. For dinner, we had some amazing food including steaks, lamb chops, fish curries, freshly grilled fish, and more. One night, we did a beach side BBQ where they stuffed us with seafood including fish, prawns, and calamari. All food was served buffet style and I could have asked for more food in between meals but I was always amply stuffed after my dives.
Three meals a day is included in the price of the liveaboard. Alcohol is separate but prices were very good especially compared with what I was paying at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa. Beers were $4 and a bottle of wine was $25 or so.
The Dive Guides
The dive guides on our trip were superb. We had 4 divemasters for 16 of us and each group was 4-6 people big. The divemasters and instructors on the liveaboards in the Maldives are almost all local as they work on the boat year round. They have dived all over the Maldives and are very familiar with the dive sites.
The Daily Schedule
We had 3-4 dives a day. Before every dive, we met in one of the rooms on the main boat to discuss the dive site, before boarding the smaller dive dhoni. This dhoni would take us to the dive site where we would do our dives (60 minutes or 50 bar) before coming back to the main boat. The schedule was something like this
6:00 to 6:30am: Wake up
6:30am to 7:00am: Dive briefing
7:00am to 8:30am: Load up the dhoni, go to dive site and complete our dives
8:30 to 9:30am: Breakfast
9:30 to 10:30: Surface interval
10:30 – 12:00: Second dive briefing and dive
12:00 – 13:00: Lunch
13:00 – 14:30: Surface Interval
15:00 – 17:00: Third dive briefing and dive
Of course these times were often changed depending on the dive sites but for the most part, it stays true to the liveaboard motto of dive, eat, sleep, and repeat.
For this liveaboard, we chose the somewhat standard Central Atoll route. It started in Male, and ended in Dharavandhoo which is the island next to the infamous Hanifaru Bay where the lucky few can witness hundresd of mantas feeding at once. Sadly, we went at the end of November, and the season had already ended (best to go July to Sep). The crew audibled (with our consent of course) to skip Hanifaru bay and we spent most of our time in the South & North Ari Atolls. Because the trip ended Dharavandhoo, I had to book a domestic one way flight from Dharavandhoo to Male in order to catch my international flight home (a separate cost).
Carpe Diem’s fleet has routes that visit all of the Maldives depending on the season. I was on the “Manta Trip” route which makes sense as Hanifaru Bay and the Ari Atolls are known to have many mantas. We still saw many mantas during our trip, as well as one whale shark.
The fleet also visits the other atolls depending on the season. For example, during the winter and spring months, the boat will visit the deep south as outgoing currents draw in the megafauna. From my conversations with the dive guides, they all raved about the southern atolls which I can understand as I briefly dived the south while staying at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa. Will have to return again without a doubt!
Day 1-2: Checking in and South Male Atoll
We were met by representatives of the boat at Male International Airport and transferred to the liveaboard at 2:30pm. The first day was just spent orientating ourselves with the boat, getting to know the other divers, and preparing all our equipment.
Dive #1 – Lankan
Our first dive site was nearby to Male as this is where we spent the night before. It is known to be a manta cleaning station. There were at least 5 other liveaboards in the area that all started from Male going on various routes. It turns out that us, and every other liveaboard decided to do their check dive at this dive site at this time. There were at least a hundred divers in the same site trying to catch a glimpse of the mantas.
The one redeeming part of the first dive was on the way back to the main boat, we saw a huge pod of dolphins swimming near our boat. There must have been at least 100 of them following us!
Dive #2 – Velassaru Caves
Located nearby the Velassaru island resort, this dive site is in the South Male Atoll and was a 30 minute cruise from our previous dive site. It was a much better dive site than the previous one but I suppose manta cleaning stations are never meant to be pretty.
There was much more fish life as well as corals in decent condition. We saw loads of different types of fish, morals, big jacks, and a few eagle rays. However, compared to the dives we would do in the coming days, this was not that impressive.
Dive #3 – Miyaru Faru:
At the end of the first day of diving, I decided to use my drone to take some shots of the boat with the sunset. Really gives you an idea how impressive this boat is!
Day 3: Vaavu Atoll
We stayed the night in South Male and today we finally were leaving the area. I think the areas around Male as a whole are unimpressive. I would actually recommend liveaboards to just skip the Male Atoll altogether as there is so much better stuff to see elsewhere.
Dive #4 – Kandoomaa Thila
One of the better dive sites in the Male Atolls, Kandooomma Thila is a wicked pinnacle with loads of fish. We also saw morays, sharks, groupers, and two eagle rays on this dive.
Dive #5 – Lhofushi Kandu:
Lhofushi Kandu was perhaps the craziest dive we did. Maldives is known for its strong currents and as our trip was during the full moon, the currents were even more crazy. This dive site was a drift dive along a wall but quickly turned into a whirlpool dive with currents coming from all directions. Many of the other divers really struggled on this dive as the currents pulled and pushed us against the reef. I didn’t find it overly challenging but I can see why some struggled.
Dive #6 – Miyaru Kandu
For the third dive of the day, we were heading to an area known for strong currents to see sharks! I’m a big fan of currents having done my divemaster course in Komodo, and I quickly came to know that the Maldives has this in abundance.
Upon descending, we immediately came upon a large group of black tip reef sharks. We hooked on to the reef and didn’t do much the rest of the dive besides just let the current do its thing and enjoy the show. We saw at least 10 different sharks along with schools of triggerfish and others.
Thank goodness we were diving Nitrox as being down at 25m means I can only stay down so long. I was having such a good time that my no deco got down to 1 minute before drifting and slowly ascending away from the action. There was still plenty to see after the fact.
Dive #7 – Alimathaa Jetty (Night Dive)
This is definitely one of the most unique dives I’ve ever done! Alimathaa Jetty is one of the most famous dives in the Maldives and for good reason. It is the ultimate night dive experience. An abundance of plankton (and I think leftover fish) draws in large numbers of nurse sharks, marble rays, jack fish, and trevallies. Our guides completely undersold this dive saying we “would find a sandy bottom and there could be nurse sharks”.
We descended just as the sun set, and within 5 minutes, I saw a huge nurse shark swimming nearby. Being a night dive, relying on your small torch for light while a huge nurse shark swims by you adds to the allure. When we eventually settled on an area, we hooked in and enjoyed the show. I saw at least 20-30 nurse sharks, 5-10 marble rays, and some of the largest trevallies I’ve ever seen.
The nurse sharks are the biggest I’ve seen and not shy either. They would regularly swim within touching distance of me. It was quite a sight seeing all these large fish swimming around divers in a frenzy. The fish seemed completely unfazed by what was at least 50 divers underwater which makes me believe that they are completely used to being fed in this dive site. Nevertheless, a great dive!
Day 4: South Ari Atoll
After an epic night dive, we had dinner and cruised overnight westward to the South Ari Atoll. We spent a good chunk of our time here and I’d say this was definitely the highlight of the trip. If I had any suggestions, I would just skip South Male altogether and start first in Vaavu.
For the 4th day, we were on the hunt for whale sharks. The main boat docked nearby Dhigurah Island which is known for whale sharks. The plan was to do our first dive, have breakfast and then look for the whale sharks. If we found any, we would snorkel with the first, before attempting a second dive with them. Very ambitious plan as whale sharks are huge and move deceptively fast.
Dive #8 – Kudarah Thila
Kudarah Thila is a great site, which enjoys many incoming currents. The pinnacle features 4 coral heads that enjoy soft and hard coral growth of all colours. The current wasn’t so strong in the morning and the visibility was quite decent.
Upon descending, we immediately were engulfed in a sea of yellow snappers. It was insanity. Endless amounts of yellow snappers congregate here around the coral heads, along with large but not as extreme schools of sweetlips, soldierfish, and jacks. It kind of reminded me of the jackfish tornado in Sipadan, although not quite as extreme.
Nevertheless, it was hard to pay attention to much down here besides the endless swarm of yellow fish. This is a great dive site to take pictures as their colors make for some unique shots and is probably one of my most memorable dives of the trip. Definitely a top dive site!
Dive #9 – Ari Beyru:
After another amazing breakfast, we did our second briefing early so we could have more time to look for the whale shark. After searching for a half hour, we didn’t find anything so we did our second dive at a nearby reef. This was a drift dive that was nothing to write home about.
Whale Shark Snorkeling
After our second dive of the day, we decided to give it another go to search for the whale sharks. Success this time around! Other boats had found one nearby Mamagili Island. When we got there, the plan was to get dropped in front of the whale sharks path, and wait for it to come to us, before swimming as fast as we could.
Turns out, every other liveaboard and day trip boats from nearby resorts all came here too! Similar to the our check dive on the first day. Luckily, we were dropped off about 50 meters in front of the whale shark. I jumped into the ocean, swam as fast as I could to where the guides were pointing, looked down, and there it was swimming right towards me! It was my first encounter with a whale shark after so many years of diving, and what an amazing feeling it was watching this gentle giant glide so gracefully below me.
The bliss was short lived as the whale shark swam past me and I was greeted by a mob of other people. It was absolute chaos as other divers and snorkelers were all swimming as fast as they could to keep up with the whale shark and get the best photos. Naturally, I joined in on the fray and was whacked repeatably by other people’s fins and arms. I’m pretty sure I dished out my own fair share of fin to the face. It was as if that whale shark was the last piece of food on Earth, and everyone was trying to eat it. Or if there were sharks behind us and the slowest swimmers would be chowed first. It was so chaotic, it was comical. I actually felt bad for the shark!
The boat picked us up and dropped us off ahead of the shark again and I followed the guy for another 20 minutes or so before calling it good. Chaotic yes, but still very very well worth the experience!
Dive #10 – Dhigurah Arches
Coming off the immense high of seeing the whale sharks, we did our last dive around Dhigurah. There wasn’t muich to see on this site as visibility was quite poor. I did see two black tip sharks and two sting rays at the end of the dive. Otherwise, nothing memorable which was okay as I was still smitten about the whale shark.
BBQ Dinner on the beach
A great day was capped off by a BBQ seafood dinner on land! There is a long stretch of sandy beaches on the island of Dhigurah where our boat, along with a few others set up shop for that night’s dinner. This was by far the best meal of the trip as we were served endless amounts of tuna curry, fish, prawns, calamari, and more.
Day 5: South and North Ari Atoll
Day 5 is special. The first dive was absolutely incredible and we finally saw manta rays!
Dive #11 – Five Rocks
Five Rocks is in Dhigurahshu Kandu, just northeast of Digurah Thila. This pinnacle has broken into five pieces that reach from the sandy seafloor at 40m to about 12m. Strong currents again result in a stunning dive full of fish life. Triggerfish, snappers, and soldierfish dominate the landscape here. The corals also appeared to be in much better and more colorful conditions here than I have seen in other dive sites. The big pinnacle in the middle was absolute fish mayhem. It is one of the most picturesque and iconic diving images I can think of.
Dive #12 – Mahi Rock
Dive #13 – Fesdhoo Wreck
This dive site is composed of a wreck and a thila. As the thila is quite small but beautiful, the locals decided to sink a 30 meters ship next to it to offer a good and complete dive site for divers. We started off on a shallow reef before slowly descending down to 25 meters where the wreck lies on a sandy bottom.
This wreck is in good shape, full of coral and fishes. We didn’t penetrate the wreck as the boat is quite small unlike the SS Thistlegorn in Egypt. Anyway there was plenty of action on the boat as schools of blue triggerfish, soldierfish, glassfish, and snappers could be scene all over the place.
Dive #14 – Fesdhoo Lagoon (Night Dive)
Fesdhoo is known for its mantas and we were hoping to get lucky and dive with them at night! At around 6pm, the dive crew brought out big light and placed them at the back of the boat. Light attracts plankton, which in turn draws in Mantas. The plan was to wait for 1 hr, and we would dive if mantas were seen.
I pulled up a chair and waited anxiously. Within 20 minutes, I could see a large white and black shape take form in the water swimming towards our light. Few moments later, I could see the manta breach the surface doing its signature back flip as it chomped Manta found!
We did our dive briefing quickly and everyone was amped to get in the water to dive with mantas. We descended below our boat and grabbed a spot in the sand to enjoy the show. At this point, there were a total of 4 mantas circling around us! I have dived with many mantas in Komodo, Indonesia but never at night.
As it’s always been, it was incredibly beautiful and calming to see these gentle giants swim around me. Mantas are not shy either as they love the bubbles scuba divers create. I had a few mantas fly directly above me where I felt like the Manta would collide with me!
After we finished with the dive, the mantas were still at the boat feeding. There were even more at this point! I brought my dinner to the back of the boat the endless manta backflips before jumping into snorkel with them. There were 5 or 6 mantas by this point and I spent the rest of the night irresponsibly freediving with them.
Day 6: North Ari Atoll
Day 6 was a special day with perhaps the best dive sites we’ve seen yet.
Dive #15 – Fish Head
Keeping with the theme of all our previous dives, Fish Head was the culmination of the most fish dense dive site I’ve ever seen. I thought I had seen some ridiculously fish heavy sites already, like the yellow snapper dive of Kudarah Thila and yesterday’s Five rocks dive.
Turns out, it can get even more densely concentrated than those. Fish Head is one of the most famous dive sites in all of the Maldives. It’s a protected reef by the Maldivian Government, and no anchoring or fishing is allowed. It is a coral hill (Thila) lying on a sandy bottom at 40 meters, the top of this hill being at 8 to 12 meters.
It is inside the atoll but in front of an important channel of the atoll, so the current can sometimes be really strong at Fish Head. Because of the strong currents here, the diving is absolutely spectacular.
The concentration of fish is absolutely bananas. Schools of angelfish immediately greeted me upon descending in numbers I’ve never seen before. Swimming around the dive site, we encountered different clusters of fish in different areas, but all in massive quantities.
Triggerfish were present in huge quantities like everywhere else in the Maldives, soldierfish, batfish, glassfish, and other fusiliers call this place home. As well, many schools of hunting fish congregate here including snappers, jackfish, barracudas, tuna, moray eels, and even giant trevalies were seen. Grey reef sharks were cruising in the distance.
I saw a few turtles here but couldn’t help but be distracted by the endless schools of fish surrounding it. I was trying to take pictures of my fellow divers but was blotted out by all the fish around me. I feel like the dive site should be renamed fish soup or fish buffet!
Dive #16 – Moofushi Kandu
Moofushi Kandu is a pinnacle that is famous as a manta cleaning station. Having striked out seeing mantas on our last two day time dives, we were all hoping for the best on this dive. We saw other dive boats in the area which was a good sign. Divers from other boats were just completing their second dives of the day when we started and reported back that mantas were there! Immediately upon descending, I saw mantas. As the current is strong here (what else is new), the reef hook is your best friend at this dive site. I saw a total of 7 manta rays here. Unlike other manta cleaning and feeding stations I’ve been to in the past, not only were there plenty of mantas, but also other huge schools of fish roamed nearby adding to the scenery.
We stayed in the same area for the entire time watching the mantas swim near us doing their signature backrolls. We even saw two mantas attempting to mate which is characterized by the male chasing the female at incredible speeds. Amazing!
A few turtles and black tip reef sharks swam nearby as well making this one of the better manta cleaning stations I’ve seen!
Dive #17 – Maaya Thila
Another great dive, as Fish Head, also protected as a Marine Reserve by the Maldivian government. Although grey reef sharks are also quite common at Maaya Thila, the smaller white tips are the center of attention, often with dozens of them circling the reef. Maaya Thila is about 80 meters in diameter and can easily be circumnavigated in one dive – if the current is favorable which it was.
It wasn’t an issue as we spent most of our dive admiring the huge amount of fish diversity and concentration. Like the other dives, there was insane amount of fish life with your standard sharks swimming by in the blue. As this was one of our last dives, I couldn’t help but fin backwards slowly and watch the glorious sight before me.
Day 7: Rasdhoo
This was our last day of diving sadly. We only had one dive scheduled in Rasdhoo, and then a 6 hour boat ride to Dharavandhoo.
Dive #18 – Madivaru Corner
Like every other dive site we’ve been on in this fabulous trip, we immediately descend into fish chaos. I saw some lionfish and morals at the beginning but once we reach the plateau at about 18 metres, we can just hover above the reef and watch the show. The currents are strong so we hook in and watch as 15 white tip reef sharks hunt for their morning snack.
Eagle rays swim pas us as well to diversify the show, along with many jacks and barracudas. After watching the sharks for 15 minutes, we drifted with the current to another area where there were two huge Napolean wrasse. These are definitely my favorite fish I’ve decided as they are huge, lumber around slowly like the own the place, and just look cool.
On our way back to the main boat one last time, I flew up my drone to take one last shot of the group!
Arriving in Dharavandhoo
After our last dive, we packed up our equipment and began the 6 hour journey from Rasdhoo to Dharavandhoo.
Normally, the route would have arrived in Dharavandhoo a night or two prior so to witness the epic Hanifaru Bay. We arrived in the afternoon of our last day, mainly as all of us had domestic flight transfers back to Male and the ship was picking up another group of divers to take the reverse route back to Male.
Day trip Sandbank and Snorkeling
After breakfast the next day, everyone said their goodbyes and headed to the airport. We booked our flight to leave in the afternoon so we had 5 hours to kill. We found a guy on the island to take us on a day trip to explore some of the sandbanks in the nearby islands as well as snorkel.
Summing it up
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better first time liveaboard experience with Carpe Diem Liveaboards. I will definitely be back to the Maldives to dive the Southern Atolls but until then, will most definitely target more liveaboard experiences. The Red Sea is on the immediate list of places to go along with the Galapagos and Raja Ampat!
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