For a long time, the Maldives has been on my bucket list. It has been one of those locations which I’ve always mentally associated with romance and sharing it with someone special. As a result, I’ve always avoided looking at options for a solo, or even girls holiday. However, with the need for a holiday in the sun becoming more important, and the chances of finding someone special to head there with, not improving, I began to discuss the idea with a friend. Her views were similar, but as we now live on opposite sides of the globe, if we wanted to catch up, the Maldives seemed like quite a good option, if not quite half way between us.
The word ‘diving’ soon began to work its way into conversation. She wanted to see ‘big things’ – whale sharks, other sharks etc. Me, I’d just be happy to dive in aquarium like environments and get some sun with a great friend. But where? There are lots of resorts so where to base yourself to get all of this? A bit of dive site research one morning showed that the ‘big things’ were on the south and eastern side of the atolls, although reef sharks, turtles and a plethora of fish could be found in most locations. It wasn’t long before liveaboards became the best option. I’m not a big fan of boats, stemming from holidays when I was a kid and the cross channel ferry was guaranteed to see what I’d had for breakfast in the Little Chef just outside of Monmouth….but the chances of the seas being reasonably friendly in the Maldives in January were quite good. Looking at prices too, it became obvious that if we wanted to dive as much as we did, by the time we’d added it on at a resort (and the food), we’d be paying quite a lot for not really spending any time there. On a boat, for less money, we’d get the best of sailing between the atolls, all diving included and all food and soft drinks included. It was just a question of which boat to choose. I’ll admit, we did spend quite a lot of time coming up with shortlists which met our criteria – right locations, nice boat, nice room, not too expensive, sun deck, separate dive dhoni… the site liveaboard.com made life easier.
We picked the central atolls trip onboard Carpe Novo, the newest of the Explorer Ventures fleet in the Maldives. Sleeping 20 in a range of cabin styles, and complete with large separate diving dhoni, a staff of 14 including dive crew, chef, barman and others, this was a perfect option. We got lucky (well, not really lucky as I’d included “cabin with big windows” on my wish list) as the last cabin was a twin on the upper deck.
The central atolls trip sails from Male to North Male atoll, across to North Ari, South Ari and back across to Vaavu before returning to Male. Nights were clear and star spotting was easy.
The week consisted mainly of waking up at 6am for a 6.30/6.45 dive; breakfast; 10.30am dive; lunch; 3pm dive; sun; drinks; dinner; sleep. And repeat. I can’t say it was a crazy party trip, although I’m told that the trip before us were up til 3am every night! The bar was well stocked, and affordable, with beers at $4 and wine at $7 a glass.
Chef created amazing meals every day without restocking for the week. Breakfasts were eggs (omelette or fried), occasionally French toast, fruit, beef bacon, sausage, porridge and yogurt. Lunch was pasta with a sauce, salad, meat (and always a chicken curry) and veggies followed up by ice cream; guessing the flavour from the colour of the tub became a game – green? No that wasn’t mint! Dinner was three courses – soup, pasta or rice, sauce, chicken or fish or lamb, veggies and a dessert. All amazing and hearty. There was one night when we all disembarked for a tiny island and had a BBQ on the beach, with a log for a bar – even a short, sharp downpour couldn’t dent the excitement and enjoyment. On the evenings when the boat crew were fishing, they were more than happy to let the guests join in the fun.
Over the course of the week, there were approximately 18 dive options including one night dive – ranging from shallow (15m) to the deeper 30m options. There were two wreck sites – sunk deliberately for marine life and diving. There were also sites which attracted specific marine life, including manta rays and sharks. We didn’t see any whale sharks, but did see lots of nurse and grey reef sharks, white tipped reef sharks, turtles, snapper, pennant fish, clown and angel fish, moray eels and of course stingrays and manta rays. Two highlights were spending a half hour anchored to a rock watching circling sharks, and also on the ocean floor whilst manta rays swooped and fed overhead. After that experience you can see where the X-wing fighter inspiration came from in Star Wars!
The Maldives are indeed beautiful, remote and romantic. However, they are not exclusively for honeymooning couples, especially if you’re a diver, or just fancy some sunshine. Liveaboards are a great option and a perfect way to meet some new people and see more of the Maldives than sitting in one resort for a week.
Flights from London are direct on BA, or via Dubai with Emirates. Handily, these get in around 10am in the morning – perfect for a 2pm boat check in.