Swimming with whale sharks in the Maldives

One of the experiences that had been on my bucket list long before the silly "Do it for the 'Gram" trend was embraced by Millennials and/or Gen Zers all over the world involved swimming with some of the most fascinating gentle giants of the ocean: whale sharks. Contrary to popular belief, there have been quite a few sightings of them here in the UAE as well, a fact which I have been mentioning quite often during my regular Dubai city tours over the past few years. Glad I did that, as one of my tourists overheard me saying I wanted to swim with them but hadn't made up my mind yet as to where (the Philippines were definitely out of the question) and suggested the Maldives. And while I do love the Maldives and have been to the islands countless times, I am not one of those people that are so blinded by the turquoise waters and seemingly idyllic surroundings that they no longer notice anything else. Knowing that the Maldives are far from being the paradise some people think (or knowingly deceive others) they are, I was quite skeptical at first, but promised myself I would nevertheless look into it later. And I did.

What I found during that research looked indeed pretty promising, so when December came and with it some unexpected days off right before my birthday, we booked our flights to a teeny-tiny island in the South Ari atoll and off we went!

A teeny-tiny island which is in fact one of the longest, but also one of the least populated islands in the Maldives and where there are only about a dozen accommodation options, most of them small-sized guesthouses or boutique hotels. Social distancing at its best!

The best part? To see sunrises and sunsets you only need to be on the right side of the island at the right time... 

During our time on the island we went on three aquatic trips - one of them a (so-called) traditional dhoni (diving) excursion with a rather bored crew and a dozen extremely serious divers raucous tourists and the other ones private romantic half-day snorkeling trips, just the two of us and the best possible skipper and guides. Unexpectedly, we got lucky on all three of them.  

Not only did we swim with whale sharks without any (Instagram-obsessed) crowds on two consecutive days with great visibility despite some passing spells of rain, but we also had the most amazing close-up encounters with turtles, blacktip, whitetip and grey reef sharks as well as manta rays and even spotted one rare humphead wrasse (aka Napoleon fish) and one (even rarer) ornate eagle ray!!!!

Shout, shout, let it all out... ♩♪♫♬ :D
Not to mention the dolphins frolicking beside our boat on one of those trips and the fabulous rainbow that accompanied us during the latter part of our last private excursion...

Would I recommend the Maldives for snorkeling and/or diving? Oh yes, over and over again, from all the similar places we've visited so far for similar reasons it still holds the top position along with French Polynesia for excellent visibility and rich marine life!

To check out some videos of the snorkeling experience and island surroundings please click here.

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