DSC05243The Maldives is famous for its sandy white beaches, azure lagoons and verdant palm trees but in fact 99 per cent of this tropical paradise lies beneath the sea. Donna Richardson took an open water course and discovered the magical world of wonder beneath the waves.

With my dive guide Mohammed Shivaz
With my dive guide Mohammed Shivaz

The idyllic coral islands of the Maldives rank as some of the best dive destinations in the world. The rare beauty of this amazing underwater world has made these islands a “must see’ destination. There are many dive sites catering for all levels of diver. The underwater visibility sometimes exceeds 50 metres, and the warm water  makes diving in the Maldives a pleasure. There are a few great diving schools on the mainland of Male’ and the smaller islands of Hulhumale’ and Vilingili too. The dive schools in Male’ will ask to see dive certification before they take you out, but some of the island schools are more relaxed about paperwork and will take you out on trust. I tried a mixture of schools in Male’, Hulhumale and Male’ and found one on Male’ more expensive. On a couple of occasions my guides left me unattended and I suffered nose-bleeds from descending too fast.

The underwater world is like another planetSince I had already experienced a few dives, I was able to join a dive group straight away. I stepped on the boat and joined six other divers, all of varying ability. Our dive spot was some 20 minutes journey by dhoni, so I familiarised myself with my surroundings and chatted with my diving companions who included a family from Germany, a South African independent traveller and a Korean couple. There was also plenty of preparation to do. First we had to make sure and test our tanks, check our life jackets, grease and wipe our goggles and breathe through the regulator.

Then once we reached our dive spot, one by one, we strode off the boat into the water below. As you begin your descent to the deep with your dive buddy, the coral walls come alive with aquatic life. Angel fish glide past blissfully, soldier fish nibble at your fingers, trigger fish stalk you menacingly and Napolean Wrasse stare quizzically at you with their curiously funny faces.

IMG_2542You are at one with this wonderful magical universe.

The feeling of weightlessness is so liberating, you feel like a floating astronaut in this alien world with only the sound of the gasps from the regulator as you breathe in and the bubbles in your ears as you breathe out.

IMG_2575The beautiful coral gardens of the Maldives tend to be dominated by the hard calcium type corals rather than the soft spongey ones and there are lots of brightly coloured seaweed and some anemones too – overall it is a feast to the senses.

Depending on the dive spot there are numerous caves, thillas and wrecks to explore. Banana Reef, just off the IMG_2550Kurumba resort’s house reef is a good place to start for beginners and discovery divers, while Manta point is a fantastic challenge for the experienced diver – named so because it is just off a major manta cleaning station where you can observe these gentle giants. You dive straight into a current so you have to descend fast enough and be a good swimmer.

IMG_2594Green turtles are also fond of this area and if you are lucky you can even spot a whale shark. Overall the Male’ atoll is a great place to learn how to dive. There are plenty of land-based schools which will to take you to the best spots in dive dhonis kitted out with all the latest equipment. However, you can also choose to take an intense diving course aboard a Diving Safari Boat, which has the added advantage of being fully-licensed so you can have a cold beer after your dive.

Whichever way you learn to dive, you can be sure that with thousands of dive spots around the archipelago, it truly is a divers’ paradise.

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