I wanted to experience the spectacular diving and waters of the Maldives. I did not want to spend a few month’s travel budget on a few days at a private-island resort.
Most any visit to the Maldives will require an additional transfer. The international airport is on an island next to the capital island of Male. There are hotels on Male and the nearby island of Hulhumale, which is useful for the beginning or end of a holiday. Most things you will want to do require visiting another of the 1500 plus islands. To get there you must transfer from the capital by seaplane or boat.
The key to an affordable visit to the Maldives is to stay on an inhabited, “local” island. One that has guesthouses and cheap transfers.
Independent tourism is relatively new to the Maldives. People have only been allowed to operate private guesthouses for a few years. Options for mid-range travelers are not widely known and publicized. However, independent, affordable places do exist on many islands.
I wanted to dive with whale sharks and mantas, and do some well known reef dives. After exhaustive research, I chose the island of Dhangethi, in an area called South Ari Atoll. This turned out to be a great choice. We had a wonderful week, full of amazing dives, for less than half the cost of the cheaper liveaboards and far, far less than a posh resort. As much as 95% less than some of the big names.
How to get to to the island of Dhangethi
There is a ferry, a few times a week, for approx $5USD each way.
There is a daily speedboat for $35USD each way that takes 1.5 hours. Your lodging will organize your transfers. There is no additional cost versus trying to sort this out on your own.
Compare my $70USD round trip transfer to a private resort transfer which can range from $350-$1030USD per person. This is a significant savings on transfers alone!
Lodging, Meals, and Diving
Finding a great package deal on diving and lodging is what convinced me to go to Dhangethi.
I found a cost-effective package with South Ari Dive Center. I don’t want to post actual prices because everything in the Maldives varies greatly based on the season. I went in June, which is not high season. You can easily check their website or booking sites (like booking.com or hotels.com) for your exact dates.
Lodging: There were a range of accommodations, from basic to more upscale. I chose the Mala Boutique Hotel. We had a large room with a king- size bed, A/C, private bath, hot water, cable TV, and free WiFi. The furnishings were simple. This suited our needs.
Service: I felt like we got 5 star treatment. The staff works so hard and was always available and happy to help with anything. The grounds were kept tidy. Our room was serviced daily.
Food: We added half board to include breakfast and dinner. It was cheaper to add meals to the package prior to arrival. The meals were tasty and expertly prepared. They were happy to work with any restrictions.
Diving: This is the reason we came to the Maldives. Diving is never cheap. Adding dives to the room is the most affordable way to dive in the Maldives. In our 7 nights we did 14 dives, two per night included in the package. We had an excellent range of South Ari Atoll dive sites. We dove with whale sharks and mantas, as well as the famous Broken Rock and Kudarah Thila sites.
I am a dive master with a great deal of experience throughout the world. South Ari Dive center is worthy of their five star PADI rating. They were safety conscientious, had emergency oxygen, and gave a boat briefing. Dive briefings were thorough. The boat was very large and comfortable with water, coffee, and even towels!
We were accompanied in the water by enthusiastic instructors and guides. Groups were divided appropriately based on experience. The boat crew was extremely helpful. The boat had easy entry and exit making diving simple and safe.
Land based diving vs Male based live-aboard
There were some decent deals last minute on live-aboards in the Maldives. The cost was still more than a land package. Both of the live-aboards I considered anchored for a night in front of our hotel.
Why I am glad I chose land based versus a live-aboard.
- I got to spend more time in the area I most wanted to see.
- The guides and dive center on land are experts on these specific sites.
- If the weather or animals are not cooperating you can try again another day. We had great luck. However, a couple of divers before us did not find whale sharks on their first try. No problem, they went back and found them another day.
- You get to experience the Maldives where people actually live. We used local shops, watched local sports, sought out bats. Huge bats! Dhangethi is a small friendly community worth supporting.
- We had smaller groups with the more advanced dives arranged accordingly throughout the week.
- You can easily spend the afternoon or a day off paddle boarding, windsurfing, on a fishing trip, or laying on the beach. Dhangethi does have a bikini beach, where foreigners can wear bathing suits.
I can really only think of one. There is no booze. Alcohol is illegal in the Maldives, outside of private islands and off-shore boats bars. Dhangethi did not have a boat you could ferry to and have a sun downer. At least not in June 2019, this could change though. I embraced this opportunity to dry out. I was busy diving and did not find this a major issue. On the positive side, I slept fantastically and despite eating every bit of food they brought my pants feel a little looser.
- There can be strong currents on some of the best reef sites, especially Broken Rock and 5 Rocks (my personal favorite). The sites are also deep, between 20-30 meters. The manta and whale shark sites are appropriate for novice divers but many of the reefs require more experience.
- Get the idive Maldives app. This had great descriptions of all the area dive sites with maps, fish information etc.
- Do a night dive. The soft coral really comes to life and night diving there was fun and full of interesting creatures.
- The aft, outside section, of the transfer speedboats had the most legroom and air flow. The windows were kept closed inside.
- Get a local sim card. My Google Fi phone did not work! A local sim was easily available at the airport. I paid $20USD for a week with 17GB of data. Tethering is allowed. Note, this is only good for 7 calendar days, not seven 24 hour periods. On the recommendation of the two available companies, I went with Dhiraagu. Dhiraagu has 4G service in Dhangethi.
- The cost of the speedboat includes someone guiding you to the docking site. Sometimes the boat changes location. The guide collecting us had an app tracking the boat and knew exactly when it to venture out into the heat.