Far out in the Indian Ocean, nearly 600 kilometres to the south-west of India, lie the beautiful coral atolls of the Maldives. These really are the desert islands of our dreams — warm turquoise waters lapping against white sandy beaches edged with gently swaying palm trees! Many of the 1,192 islands that make up the archipelago (only 300 are inhabited) are also ringed by pristine coral reefs, famed for their marine-life which attracts divers and snorkellers from around the world. For many people these exquisite islands and encircling coral reefs require little introduction, but the waters surrounding the Maldives hold a less widely known, but equally exciting natural attraction, cetaceans. In the past two years, 18 species of whale and dolphin have been recorded in these waters. Spinner, Bottlenose and Risso’s Dolphins are all common, as are Short-finned Pilot Whales, Sperm and Dwarf Sperm Whales. Even the Blue Whale, the largest animal thought to have ever inhabited the Earth, is seen regularly; and in recent years there have been increasing sightings of several of the beaked whale species, that group of rarely observed, deep ocean cetaceans that we still know very little about.
With such an abundance of marine-life on offer, the best way to explore this archipelago is by boat. We have therefore taken the exclusive charter of the 32-metre MV Ari Queen — a comfortable cruise vessel that accommodates just 15 guests in en suite, air-conditioned cabins — for this voyage. This will be our home for seven nights as we explore the many bays, atolls and reefs in search of cetaceans, huge Manta Rays, graceful White-tailed Tropicbirds and an abundance of other marine-life.
Our holiday begins with a flight to Malé, the capital of the Maldives. After a night to enjoy our first taste of this tropical paradise, we will board the Ari Queen and head out to explore the multitude of islands and atolls that dot these turquoise seas. Our exact itinerary will be kept flexible and in the hands of our guide, Dr. Chas Anderson, a professional marine biologist who has lived and worked in the Maldives since 1983. Each night we will anchor in a sheltered lagoon within one of the many atolls and start each day with the opportunity to snorkel on the reef. We will then head out to sea in search of cetaceans and other wildlife, returning to shelter once again in the evening, to snorkel, eat and sleep.
The great attraction of whale and dolphin watching in the Maldives is the diversity of species that can be seen here. On this trip we can expect to see about a dozen species, the calm clear waters often allowing unrivalled views. Large pods of Spinner Dolphins are a common sight leaping out of the water and twirling in the air as their name suggests. Risso’s and Striped Dolphins are also regularly seen, together with Cuvier’s Beaked Whale and Short-finned Pilot Whale. Dwarf Sperm Whale, the smallest ‘whale’, is common in the Maldives, but rarely seen elsewhere. Indeed, this cruise probably offers the best opportunity to see this elusive species anywhere in the world! Other species to look out for include Bryde’s and Sperm Whales, pods of False Killer Whales and a few rarities such as Rough-toothed Dolphin and Blainville’s Beaked Whale. For the very fortunate there is the ultimate goal of a Longman’s Beaked Whale, one of the rarest species in the world, but one that Dr Anderson has seen, and photographed, several times in these waters!
Birdlife on the Maldives is not prolific, but there are some interesting and beautiful species to look out for. The graceful Whitetailed Tropicbird is likely, along with Audubon’s Shearwaters and the menacing outlines of Lesser Frigatebirds. Of all the bird families, however, it is the terns that dominate here and we could see 10 or so species including Saunder’s Little Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Black-naped Tern and Lesser Noddy.
The Maldives are rightly famous for their sea-life and, in addition to the cetaceans, our cruise will introduce you to a wealth of marine creatures from the diminutive clown fish to the mighty Manta. Over 1,000 species of fish have been recorded here and you can expect to see over 200 of these whilst snorkelling. Hawksbill and Green Turtles are another treat to look out for on the reefs, whilst flying fish are abundant in the open water and regularly flushed into the air as we cruise from one atoll to the next. Even a Whale Shark or two is possible! There will also be the opportunity to snorkel with Manta Rays, one of the ultimate marine experiences. The sight of one, or more, of these magnificent creatures (which have a wingspan of over two metres) effortlessly gliding past beneath will not only fill your thoughts on the long journey home but be sure to remain in the memory for life.
Tyne & Wear
I loved this holiday from start to finish (particularly the snorkelling). This was my first holiday with Naturetrek so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very well looked after, right from the pre-departure information that was sent out, all the way through to the end of the tour.
Chas Anderson was a superb tour leader and I enjoyed his nightly lectures very much. His lecture on the deck about the stars was an amazing experience.
Mr & Mrs B.
Jenny was an enthusiastic and thoughtful leader who looked after her 'flock' extremely well. Chas was an outstanding guide to the wonders of the Maldives combining amazing academic expertise with an unfailing human touch. The Ari Queen was an extremely comfortable vessel which was very well run. The staff were friendly and helpful, the food was excellent and plentiful - we loved the great variety of fish we were given, often caught the previous evening off the boat.
The trip was very well organised and the staff on the Ari Queen were very helpful. The food, considering it was on board was very good, very imaginative and also could not have been fresher as it was virtually sea to table. Chas and Jenny also very good and were informative and helpful. A thoroughly good holiday.
The whole holiday was an amazing experience - the boat, crew, food and Chas with his wealth of knowledge to share with us. If you told anyone that the hour-long 'lectures' each evening were sensational and left us wanting more information, they probably wouldn't believe you! The sight of a mother blue whale coming alongside the boat, looking like a submarine hull it was so huge, and then realising that it had a calf beside it was overwhelming - not something you expect to see in real life!
Mrs S. C.
A brilliant holiday - sun, sea, wildlife and snokelling - what could be better!
Mr & Mrs F.
(Paul Marshall) gave us lots of encouragement as novice snorkellers and without his help we would never have seen a manta ray...We learnt a huge amount about whales, dolphins and reef fish on the holiday as well as really enjoying life on the boat. The quiet efficiency of the captain and crew was impressive, and the relaxed style of the organisation made for a very good atmosphere.
Miss E. S.
The snorkelling was fantastic, the manta rays and even a whale shark were swimming with us...The Spinner Dolphins put on a fantastic display. Thank you so much for a really memorable holiday.
Mr & Mrs T
We were delighted to have such wonderful encounters with Pilot Whales, Risso's Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins....snorkeling with Manta Rays and Whale Shark, and (we were) amazed by the topography of the Maldives themselves....The overall feeling we had on our return was that we had been to an exotic world and loved every minute of it.