South Ari Atoll (a.k.a. Alif(u) Dhaal(u) Atoll) is considered by many experts to be the best area for scuba diving in The Maldives. Its location and the way the atoll was created by Mother Nature, means that there's so much life there, all year round. This includes large filter feeders and pelagic predators as well as schooling reef fish, invertebrates and much, much more.
As its name suggests, the Atoll is the southern half of Ari Atoll (Alifu Atoll). Ari Atoll was separated into north & south administrative divisions in 1984. On the western side of the atoll, Moofushi is the northernmost island of South Ari, and Himandhoo the southernmost island of North Ari. There are nearly 50 islands in total and most of them are uninhabited by locals, but many are 'resort islands.' Like most of the Maldives' atolls, inside there are many 'underwater islands' or pinnacles known locally as thilas. Between the thilas deep-water channels (kandus) keep a constant flow of nutrient-rich water supplying the local marine ecosystem. The currents aren't always strong, meaning that divers of all levels can enjoy diving at South Ari Atoll. But the currents through these channels are vital for the local and visiting marine life and make for some of the best scuba diving in The Maldives.
South Ari dive sites (in particular order) are as follows
You can dive all year round at South Ari Atoll, but the best weather and sea conditions are in the first five months of the year (Jan-Apr). In May the weather is usually very good, but this is when the monsoon changes from north-east to south-west. June & July are the wettest months. August to November have reduced visibility but more chance of large filter feeders. December is similar to May, due to the monsoon changing back.
With more than 50 dive sites at South Ari, everyone's taste is catered for in what's possible in tropical seas.
South Ari Atoll is the southern half of Ari Atoll. It's located on the western side of the central Maldives. Its northernmost border is level with the lower half of South Male and its southern tip is level with Felidhoo Atoll.
After arriving in The Maldives by international flight, you can go to your South Ari Atoll resort by seaplane or maybe by boat. But to best enjoy diving at South Ari you should join a Maldives scuba diving liveaboard cruise, also known as a diving safari. These normally leave Male at the weekend, and sail for seven days & nights, spending the most time at the best locations for the time of year.
With so many dive sites, it's clear that there will be some which are suitable for all levels of diver but thrill-seekers may not be excited by these. There are plenty of dive sites for all levels, including for beginners, Open Water, Advanced, and experienced and professional divers.
South Ari Atoll is best known for the larger marine life species, which includes Hammerhead Sharks, Whale Sharks and Manta Rays. In fact, Mantas and Whale Sharks are seen here almost all year round if you're lucky. Also, South Ari's corals are not as colourful and abundant as many other areas of The Maldives. Divers come here for the larger fish more than for corals.
When you choose your Maldives diving liveaboard, make sure that South Ari Atoll is on the planned itinerary! Most of the itineraries include South Ari, because it offers the best diving in The Maldives. But a few itineraries such as in the far north or south may not include it. Due to the many dive sites and lots of large pelagic visitors, South Ari really is the best atoll to dive in The Maldives.