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Top Class Cruising in the Maldives

Sean Chinn

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Four years on from my first visit to the Maldives, I find myself back on M/Y Sachika with Top Class Cruising to spend a week cruising and diving the Central Atolls.

Sachika is every bit as comfortable, spacious and clean as I remember. Even the basic rooms have more than enough space for two people to share, with all their equipment that comes with going on a dive trip. There is no dive deck due to the fact that all the diving is done from a separate Dhoni. This allows for spacious rooms with huge ensuites for all guests.

For those willing to upgrade to the upstairs suites you will find a bit of luxury with four poster beds. The main draw being when you open your curtains in the morning you are rewarded with a stunning view over the silky smooth waters of the Lagoons. How about an early rise to enjoy the stunning colours of sunrise glistening off the water?

The staff onboard worked tirelessly to keep Sachika clean and tidy for us to enjoy our week. Cleaning up after 21 guests must surely take some work. The kitchen staff produced wonders daily with flavoursome food on offer at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The curry dish that I was particularly fond of proved popular as it would need refilling every time it was served. Just the right amount of spice for me with a nice kick to it.

The creme de la creme came on beach BBQ night though, as we enjoyed the sunset on a desert island followed by an amazing BBQ meal laid on by the staff. It was truly delicious. One thing I would like to add as an advisory is that one of our guests was vegetarian and felt her needs weren’t really catered for. She felt she just had the basic rice and noodles to choose from. Maybe the chefs could do a few vegetable curry dishes instead of meat? After all, it was the sauce that was truly delicious and it would be every bit as tasty with vegetables instead of meat.

The Dhoni Dive Boat has enough space for 25 divers to comfortably kit up without causing too much aggravation for each other. It is equipped with a compressor onboard meaning that once you have a tank and your kit is secured it will stay there all week to be filled for each dive. No need to keep changing tanks. There’s also comfortable bench seating at the back of the boat for chilling out before and after diving, and a sundeck on the 2nd floor.

The Dhoni staff are very accommodating and always there to lend a hand. Making sure to provide water to all divers after a dive to prevent dehydration. Remember to bring your own reusable flask though to save using too many plastic cups. Little things go a long way.

Being an Italian owned and run boat, the dive manager and guides are made up of a mixture of Italians and local Maldivian guides. I found myself with Big Ali who was my guide four years ago. Still as professional, he would make recommendations for the dive and depth but was happy to go with the majority of our group and how they felt. He was also very easy to spot underwater wearing white fins, shorts and rash vest so he stands out amongst other dive groups.

I helped to organise this trip with my local Scuba School in Studley and all the guests spoke highly of the other guides onboard – Little Ali, Chiara and Matteo. Dive sites were well briefed before each site and we knew exactly what to expect. Big Ali’s knowledge of what current to expect to jump into was amazing and always right.

The trip all ran smoothly with Chiara as Dive Manager and three dives a day was comfortable with ample time to relax on the spacious sundeck in-between dives. The boat has plenty of shade to take a break from the sun and plenty of sun loungers to go around. If you want to really chill out and drift away, you can hop into the jacuzzi and look out over the varying shades of blue water. You want to make sure you are on the sundeck for sunset and then stay for the night when it is clear. Turn the lights off on the top deck and marvel at the stars. A bar sits at the back of the third floor with comfortable rattan furniture allowing for more chill out space with drinks readily available.

All in all an amazing week onboard Sachika with some incredible diving and interactions. Check back next week for part two when I tell you all about the diving!

www.topclasscruising.com

Sean’s trip was organised by The Scuba Place. For more information and to book call +44 (0)207 644 8252, email reservations@thescubaplace.co.uk or visit www.comedivewithus.co.uk.

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Dive that Funky Thila

Maldives DTA Team

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A Guest Blog by Jaidev Karunakaran with images by Tunjay Sadikoglu.

I knew I was going to have a special trip when I saw the dolphins. Not just one or two, but a whole pod of them: racing ahead of the boat, slicing in and out and exploding out of the water, spinning and twirling and crashing back in. It was like they’d spent years performing in a water park show, had escaped, and were now putting on a performance just for fun, exulting in their freedom.

I knew I was going to have a special trip when I went snorkelling and saw four hawksbill turtles. One was close enough to touch, lying in a sandy clearing surrounded by coral.

But all these good omens did little to prepare me for what I saw when I went diving.

I was in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in the Maldives, to see for myself the good things I’d heard about diving in this southern part of the country. The area around Male atoll, in the central part of the country, is the most developed resort wise, and as a result what most people see when they dive. Though it provides rewarding experiences and one sees a lot of fish, it has suffered due to development, pollution and coral bleaching. One gets the feeling of decay and forlornness in many dive sites, as though one is looking at a once-great civilisation, now in terminal decline.

This is not the case in Gaafu Dhaalu, as I was soon to discover.

My dive buddy is Tuncay Sadikoglu, a grizzled Turkish Cypriot former paratrooper who’s swapped jumping out of helicopters to jumping out of boats and now runs a dive school called Dive Kingdom at Ayada Maldives, the best resort in Gaafu Dhaalu. The first dive site he took me to, called ‘Coral Garden 2’ was just that: a vast, undulating garden of corals in colours and shapes and sizes I’d never seen before, even on TV. This was no city in decline, this was a thriving metropolis teeming with the most colourful residents in every size from giant pelagics a few metres off the reef to tiny beautiful luminescent, incandescent fish darting in and out of ridges in the corals. We spent forty- five minutes floating over this beauty, like drones over some strange city, forgetting we were underwater. Finally, I could feel myself rising, the dive ending, the surface nearing, the surface being breached.

As we waited to clamber onto the boat, I began to wax effusive and rain superlatives on what I’d just seen. Tuncay just looked smug and said, “Wait until you see Fanka Thila. It’s like fireworks exploding everywhere.”

‘Thila’ means ‘underwater island’ in Dhivehi, the local language. It being low tide, Fanka Thila was just 12-13 metres below sea level and I knew Tuncay was right with my first glimpses of the place.

A white-tip reef shark was the first to greet us, then quickly scamper away. But it was the fish and coral that caught my attention. If Coral Garden 2 was a kind of semi-orderly informal garden, Fanka Thila was a tropical rainforest of outrageous exuberance, a multicoloured canopy mobbed by fish, with broad branches of red fan coral jutting out everywhere.

We saw many large clumps of sea anemones, waving wildly, and weaving in and out- beautiful yellow- and- white anemone fish, forever curious, forever timid. The largest lobster I’ve ever seen got out of a hole to shake its antennae at us, then backed off as we got closer. And everywhere the fish, in a profusion I didn’t think possible, in colours so bright and fluorescent, a literal explosion of fireworks in our eyes.

We were soon surrounded by a ball of glassfish so large that they blotted out the water around us and for a few moments we felt like we were in a shimmering, pulsing, darting black cloud. Then we were out and drifting over a slope of coral different from anything else I’d seen before- short, knobby, shiny brown ridges stretching out to the edge of the reef, reminiscent of grassland.

Tuncay uses this place as a marker to end his dives in Fanka Thila, so we started our slow descent to the top, me looking back to try and catch my last glimpses of the place.

All I could do the rest of the day was sing paens of Fanka Thila, and urge everyone I met to dive there at once.

Fanka Thila is not a place to see big fish like mantas or whale sharks. The biggest animals you see here are white tip reef sharks and turtles. But Fanka Thila is a place where the little guys, the corals and anemones and pretty fish, take the big stage and put on a great show. And, as audience, all we have to do is applaud and look back in wonder.


Fact File

Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll is easily accessible from Kaadedhdhoo Airport, which is about an hour’s flight by Maldivian from Male Domestic Airport.

Kaadedhdhoo airport is one hour by speedboat from Ayada. Flights also land thrice a week at Maavarulu airport, which is twenty minutes from Ayada by speedboat.

While Ayada is the best place to stay, there are other more affordable resorts in the vicinity. One can also stay in a guest house at Thinadoo, a short ferry ride from Kaadhedhoo.


Jaidev Karunakaran worked in Male’ for four years, where he learnt to dive. He has dived in Male, Baa, Raa, Ari, Gaafu Dhaalu and Addu atolls and seen mantas, reef sharks and whale sharks. He has also dived the British Loyalty, the biggest wreck in the Maldives.

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There’s nothing quite like a Snorkeling holiday in the Maldives!

Ruth Franklin

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1200 islands of 26 different atolls make up the island paradise of the Maldives. Once prehistoric underwater volcanoes, the coral reefs and ecosystems that surround these picture perfect islands offer some of the world’s very best snorkeling locations. There’s no better destination than the pristine tropical waters of the Maldives for first time snorkelers or veteran underwater lovers. With an average of 200+ sunny days per year, the Maldives really is second to none when it comes to choosing an idyllic snorkeling escape.

What is Snorkeling in the Maldives Like?

You’ve probably seen the picture perfect images of the Maldives floating around the internet, popping up on your Instagram feed or plastered across what it seems like, pages of every other travel magazine. Thoughts of ‘there’s no way that ocean water can be real’ or something along the lines of ‘that’s definitely photo shopped’ may have crossed your mind more than once. Take our word for it from us here at Secret Paradise, as we can assure you that yes – the water is really the colour depicted by the magazines. In fact, the island waters here reflect a spectrum of blue tones that seem to change façade with every spec of light. This island paradise is just waiting for you to dive beneath the surface to discover its abundance of incredible reef life and the spectacular coloured corals.

If you’re privileged enough to delved into the underwater world of the Maldives, you can expect nothing but excellent clarity and visibility, combined with blissful year round ocean temperatures of 26 – 29 degrees Celsius. You may also be thinking that a snorkeling holiday in the Maldives is probably out of your budget … Again, let us reassure you that there has never been a more affordable time to travel to the Maldives. A snorkeling vacation is very reasonable and can begin from as little as USD$50 per night … let us show you how.

What Are the Options for Maldives Snorkeling Holidays?

Here at Secret Paradise, we offer quality and value for money snorkeling day trips and bespoke Multi-day Island hopping itineraries. On our tours, expect to explore the uncharted local islands of the Maldives, an alternative to an expensive resort style vacation.

Staying on a local island in a guesthouse allows for exploration of some of the Maldives’ very best snorkeling sites and marine life, whilst experiencing the local tradition and culture of the Maldives. Think palm trees, white sandy beaches, sun bathing and of course snorkeling, all combined with wandering locally inhabited islands, tasting Maldivian foods and seeing local traditions first hand. Enjoy being transferred from your local island via a traditional wooden dhoani boat, to stunning nearby snorkeling sites – the very same sites that resort guests snorkel at, all for a fraction of the cost! Our affordable snorkeling holidays and day trips will leave you with long lasting Maldives memories.

Is The Maldives Best For First Time or Experienced Snorkelers?

The answer to this question is both. The Maldives is spread across a thousand small islands scattered throughout the Indian Ocean, meaning it offers vast ocean environments, perfect for both beginner and experienced snorkelers and everyone in between.

The islands here in the Maldives consist of both shallow and deep-water lagoons. Beginners can simply choose to snorkel the reefs adjacent to the shoreline, in the safety of still water. Intermediate snorkelers can explore reefs a little further off shore whilst advanced snorkelers who are more daring have opportunities to try the local ‘drift-snorkeling’ method, using the aide of the ocean currents to explore the underwater terrain. As the ocean currents here in the Maldives are extremely tidal, our local guides will accompany you to ensure that you experience a safe yet ‘bucket-list’ type of underwater snorkeling experience.

What Is The Best Time of Year For Snorkeling In The Maldives?

The snorkeling season of the Maldives runs yearlong. As the Maldives is located near the equator, it is susceptible to two monsoon seasons, better known as the wet and dry seasons. From May to November (the wet season), the abundance of reef life is more varied and the visibility levels are better on the western side of each island. December to April is generally known as the ‘dry’ period, where the eastern side of each atoll is best for snorkeling.

Buy or Rent Snorkeling Equipment?

When it comes to packing for your Maldives snorkeling vacation, deciding upon whether to buy or rent your snorkeling gear is certainly a great question and one that needs to be given substantial consideration, as everyone’s snorkeling needs are different.

Firstly, decide how often you think you may snorkel on your Maldives trip. Do you think that number is worthy of purchasing your very own snorkeling gear? Let us help you make a wise travel decision.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like owning your own snorkeling equipment – being assured that your own mask, fins and snorkel fit your face and body perfectly, not to mention they haven’t been worn by the many tourists before you. It’s a great little luxury if you believe you will be snorkeling frequently throughout your Maldives stay. It will also save you the hassle of searching for the snorkeling equipment that is right for you.

However, remember transporting and carrying your own snorkeling gear can often be bulky and heavy, and the last thing you want is for your equipment to be damaged in transit. Renting your snorkeling equipment is essentially easier, as your gear you won’t need to be transported from place to place. Fins especially take up a substantial amount of room in your luggage.

Another alternative is to purchase your own face mask and snorkel before your trip and hire your fins whilst on holidays. A mask and snorkel combination is small and lightweight – it takes up minimal space in your luggage. This way you will be assured that your mask will fit you comfortably, it won’t leak and it is sanitary, plus you won’t have to awkwardly lug fins around in your luggage.

Our Secret Paradise Packing Tip:

Cushion your mask between clothes to ensure the lens won’t be damaged in transit. As fins are durable, pack them on the outer edge of your luggage to prevent your other belongings from being damaged.


Discover more of The Maldives with www.secretparadise.mv

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