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The Best Liveaboard Trip in the Maldives?

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The Scuba Place recently hosted a group of divers in the Maldives.  This trip report is all about their vote for the BEST Maldives Liveaboard and the BEST Itinerary.

It goes without saying that the Maldives is a bucket list destination for scuba divers, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the best way to experience the Maldives is by doing a liveaboard safari – from both the quality of diving and value for money.

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There are numerous itineraries to choose from and these can differ in many ways, and some are the same but just called something different, which doesn’t really help the first-time Maldives diver make their choice!  We have just arrived back to cold and wet Blighty having spent a week on board the BEST BOAT doing the BEST ITINERARY………and we can’t wait to share why we feel this way.

The Scuba Place - Maldives Trip Report

Firstly, The Best of The Central Atolls is the title of our boat operators’ itinerary. We hit all the best sites of the North and South Malé Atolls, Felidhoo Atoll, and North Ari Atoll.  We’ve done this itinerary a few times and our boat continues to find the best sites including some new ones to add to our list of favourites.

Secondly, Sachika is our number one choice in liveaboards in the Maldives. We have worked with Top Class Cruising, the boat operator and management company for over a decade. Sachika won the ‘Best Liveaboard in the Maldives’ for 2018, 2019 and 2022, and the ‘Best Dive Guide’ for 2022 was awarded to the lead guide on board Sachika. These awards are given by both the Maldivian Port Authority and the annual Maldivian Tourism Awards.

The Scuba Place - Maldives Trip Report

Let’s discuss the BEST boat – your potential home from home for a week.  What sets Sachika apart from many is the accommodation. The cabins are very big, well-appointed, and have proper bathrooms that you can actually get into without turning sideways. Each of the standard cabins has a full-size double bed plus a single bed, or twin beds. Individual air conditioners, well-lit, with functional portholes for great ventilation.  These are supremely comfortable.  It gets bigger and better – a Junior Suite that occupies the whole beam of the boat towards the bows gives a lot more space and luxury for a very small premium – and this cabin even has a small bathtub! And bigger and better still are the three suites on the upper deck, with 4-poster beds, windows that open, and a private staircase down to the salon.

The Salon itself is spacious, and seats 20 guests plus the crew for meals comfortably on tables that can be arranged to accommodate large or small groups. A lounge area, a games cupboard and a small library, plus a charging station (UK 3-pin plugs are standard on board) for all things electrical, an indoor bar and a coffee station make up the rest of this central space. Out the front of the dining room is a covered seating area – the perfect place for a coffee whilst watching the sunrise before the dive briefings.  

Towards the stern on the salon deck is a balcony overlooking the platform – the perfect lookout to see nurse sharks, dolphins, manta rays and even whalesharks at night as they come to feed on the plankton attracted by the halogen lights placed over the water.

Towards the stern on the salon deck is a balcony overlooking the platform – the perfect lookout to see nurse sharks, dolphins, manta rays and even whalesharks at night as they come to feed on the plankton attracted by the halogen lights placed over the water.

On the deck above is the main bar and seating area, side access to the suite cabins, and steps up to the sun deck where there are numerous loungers and a covered area with a 6-person jacuzzi.

The Scuba Place - Maldives Trip Report

In case you haven’t been to the Maldives it’s interesting to note that, unlike most other liveaboard destinations, diving isn’t done from the main vessel, but from a dhoni.  The dhoni is a large, purpose-built dive tender that comes alongside to collect you for a dive and returns you to the liveaboard after the dive. Therefore, the boat is quiet – no compressors or tanks banging.  Your kit stays on the dhoni so all you need to carry is your towel and camera.

All in all, Sachika is a pretty special vessel to spend a week on from an accommodation perspective, but we also want to mention the crew, as they are a special part of a dive trip.

The boat is operated and managed by Top Class Cruising, an Italian management company with a long track record and pedigree. Their staff are exceptional – super warm and friendly, fun and engaging, totally professional and expert – everything that you could wish for. On our trip, and this was our 7th week on board Sachika over the last decade, they fixed problems before anyone knew there were problems!  They keep the boat immaculate and provide the nicest little touches (towel sculptures in the cabins, Italian snacks at happy hour, celebration cakes et al) without being asked, and the catering is just superb. The chefs have been sent to Italy for training and wow does it pay off! Expect pasta of the highest calibre, Maldivian curries, baked fish and meats and with plenty of choice at every meal.  This is not a ‘lose-weight’ trip!

So, is this the best boat? We LOVE Sachika, and our clients over the years have nothing other than great things to say, so YES, for us, she is our BEST boat.  There are so many to choose from, so many different characteristics, and of course, so many price categories. When it comes to value for money, comfort, service, expertise, and quality, Sachika is the best that we have been on pretty much anywhere, let alone the Maldives.

So, what about the BEST itinerary?

We have experienced a majority of the itineraries available in the Maldives, and this Best of the Central Atolls is our favourite by a mile and then some.

We found a recent Deep South itinerary to be disappointing from a coral health perspective with loads of coral bleaching and the shark diving felt a bit chaotic, encroaching into the realm of unnecessary danger in our opinion. It is also consideraby more expensive as some of the shark dives are an additional cost. The additional domestic flight puts the cost of a Deep South trip over and above better shark diving destinations such as the Bahamas so this didn’t float our boat – although as effective controls are implemented, I am sure this will become a far safer environment to dive.

The North to South itineraries, again require an additional domestic flight upping the price.  It offers some great diving, but we also experienced some not-so-great diving too.  We felt there wasn’t much that was better on this itinerary than the Central Atolls itinerary. The whalesharks off the back of the boat at night were an unbeatable experience, but singularly so in comparison to our chosen favourite route.

 Often called The Best of the Maldives, the itinerary we chose covers the atolls in North Malé, South Malé, Felidhoo, and Ari.

The Scuba Place - Maldives Trip Report

Our BEST liveaboard journey begins in North Malé Atoll, where you’ll have the chance to explore some of the most incredible dive spots, right next to the capital city.  For example, immediately after our check dive at Kurumba, we dropped in at Hulumale Wall, hovering over the sandy bottom that is home to literally hundreds of large sting rays and marble rays. We were happily watching these big creatures when two tiger sharks and a great hammerhead joined us, circling the rays (and us) for a good 10 minutes! There aren’t many better ways to start a dive trip!

From there, we hit Kandooma for more sharks and some beautiful eagle ray interaction, and then the famous night dive with hundreds of nurse sharks hunting at Alimathaa Jetty – if you know, then you know. If you don’t, then this is a bucket list dive that just has to be done!

The dives in the Felidhoo Atoll the next day delivered more grey reef sharks, white tip sharks, black tip sharks and even silvertips too – plus turtles, eagle rays and plentiful reef fish as we dived the thilas at Kuda Rah and Angaga, plus Miyaru Kandu.  South Ari Atoll was our next port of call, where we dived the Digurah Arches, Rangali Madivaru and Hureuelhi Beyru – whalesharks, eagle rays, turtles, schooling reef fish and numerous octopi kept cameras focused and minds blown!

We then started our journey northwards again, staying in the Ari Atoll, diving the wrecks at Kudima and Fesdhoo, plus some more amazing reefs and marine life hotspots, including Fish Head, Maaya Thila and Hohola Thila.  The usual suspects met us at these dive sites – sharks of all species, but especially exciting to see more silvertips, more eagle rays, and mantas within touching distance at Camel Rock, a specific cleaning station frequented by these gentle giants.The usual suspects met us at these dive sites – sharks of all species, but especially exciting to see more silvertips, more eagle rays, and mantas within touching distance at Camel Rock, a specific cleaning station frequented by these gentle giants.

And there was more manta action too on a night dive off the back of the boat at Fesdhoo Lagoon. For this spectacle, the crew put the powerful halogen lights over the water off the back deck, leaving them there while we ate dinner to allow the clouds of plankton to build. Dolphins, reef squid and even a mantis shrimp stopped by to grab a snack, and then a couple of mantas turned up…….time to kit up and jump in!  Dropping onto the sand at approximately 10m depth, everyone formed into a circle, and pointing their torches toward the surface, creating a ‘cage’ of light beams, giving the plankton a cylinder of light from the seabed to the surface – a dining table for the mantas!

Four of five of these majestic beauties swooped and soared through the light column, barrel rolling and somersaulting whilst taking huge mouthfuls of plankton, and this spectacle lasted for an hour! Getting out of the water was a real struggle – we all wanted to stay in and wait for more mantas to arrive!

And then finally, and sadly, we made our way back to North Male Atoll for one last dive at Bathala Thila, and as well as the usual shark sightings, we spent time looking for smaller critters on the reef, finding a sizeable frogfish, numerous nudibranchs and a carpet of anemones covering the whole reeftop – a beautiful way to end a stunning week.

And it isn’t all about diving either! Almost daily excursions off the boat to a desert island or sandbar for sunset cocktails and happy hour keep your feet firmly grounded, and the traditional beach barbecue at night on a private island is as always, spectacular – gourmet food, the skies lit with stars, tiki torches on the beach and the company of your dive buddies is a great way to spend an evening. Add into this mix of non-diving activities unlimited snorkelling and stand-up paddle-boarding and you get an idea of how the surface intervals can be spent.

After the very last dive, the crew took our kit, washed it and put it out to dry for us, and we were left to wine and dine, reflect on an amazing week, hop in and out of the jacuzzi and grab a cocktail or two – the usual last night activities.

Saying goodbye is always a sad event on these trips – the crew are so good they become like family. You know you are going to miss the catering and service – having your omelettes put in front of you before you ask for them – but it is far more than that.  And that is why we go back, almost annually.

So, is this the BEST boat and the BEST itinerary?  We think so.  If you want immense marine life interactions, minimal sailing times, off-boat activities and the very best dive sites in the Maldives, then this itinerary takes some beating. If you want really great service, large comfortable cabins, great food AND phenomenal diving, then the combination of this itinerary and Sachika will give you that.

Our next trip? October 2024, with prices from £2795 including flights, Nitrox, all taxes and ATOL Protection.  Check out the brochure and itinerary here.

Key Facts :

  • Getting there : Our flights were with Emirates flying from Heathrow to Male via Dubai. We left London in the early evening arriving in Dubai in the early hours of the morning after a 7-hour flight.  A 2-hour layover before a quick 4 hour flight to Male.  We were greeted by staff from Sachika and settled in the food court to complete paperwork and await the arrival of a few more passengers.  Then out of the airport, across the street and on to the dhoni for a quick 10-minute ride to the liveaboard.  Our flight home left Male just after 9am, so we were up and on our way to the airport early, arriving back to Heathrow around 19.00 making for a very easy travel day.  Alternate airports and flights are readily available. 
  • Air temperature : Tropical – average daily temperature throughout the year is 24 to 33°C. The wet season is linked to the southwest monsoon and can range from April to October. 
  • Water temperature : 26-30°C. A 1-3mm full suit or shorty will suit most.
  • Visa requirement : UK passport holders are permitted to enter the Maldives without a visa for an initial period of 30 days.
  • Immigration and health protocols : An online form at https://travel.immigration.gov.mv/ is required prior to arriving and departing the Maldives.
  • Currency : US Dollar are accepted on the liveaboard for extras. Cash or credit card with a 4% fee.
  • Electricity : Sachika has every type of adapter you could need and provides a charging station in the dining area. The standard plugs are UK 3-pin style.
  • Internet and Wi-Fi : There is wifi available for a charge for the week it worked well in our room on deck.  There are a few spots without coverage, but that usually occurred while we were crossing at night.

Price Guide: For 2024 expect from £2795 per person based on two sharing a standard cabin for 7 nights with flights, NITROX and 17 scheduled dives, and Maldivian taxes included.  2 or 3 extra dives were offered at a reasonable fee.  Full board including soft drinks is also included.  You’re not likely to find another Maldives liveaboard at this price point that includes NITROX, soft drinks and taxes.

Our Advice: Pick the BEST boat – Sachika and the BEST itinerary – The Best of the Central Atolls.  You won’t be disappointed!  Get in touch and let us help you design your dream diving holiday to the Maldives!

Packing tips: 

  • Rechargeable fan(s) : If you’ve read any of our recent trip reports we recommend these over and over again. We can’t believe we travelled without them for so many years! Join the fan club and grab one off Amazon… you won’t regret it!
  • Microfibre towel or poncho : large beach towels are provided but a few divers had microfibre towels that worked a treat!  Sachika had branded ponchos for sale and some from our group grabbed them and loved them.

Learn more at: https://www.thescubaplace.co.uk/post/the-best-liveaboard-trip-in-the-maldives

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About Author

The Scuba Place, established in 2010, is an ABTA and ATOL bonded Tour Operator, led by John and Mona Spencer-Ades. Specialising in creating custom-built dive holiday itineraries as well as off the shelf packages. John started his diving career as a teenager on the beaches of Cornwall and is a PADI Dive Master, having logged over 2500 dives. Mona, a PADI Rescue Diver, started diving in 2004, and has logged over 500 dives. Mona hails from Houston, Texas and moved to the UK in 2016, after marrying John in Mexico, and joining The Scuba Place as Operations Director

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