Fancy a dose of budget-friendly adventure in paradise? A liveaboard trip in the Maldives delivers just that – here's how to make it happen
When’s the best time to go to the Maldives?
The weather is hot and sunny from December to April – but as it's high season, this is also the most expensive time to visit. For the best value, visit just before and after the high season, although be aware of the monsoon seasons: July to August and November to March.
How do I go about choosing a liveaboard trip?
Select carefully. In some cases, Maldivian operators offer better prices than agencies, but not always. Ask how long operators have been working with their ship, how long they have been in operation and if they run back-to-back cruises. Find out what kind of insurance they have and when the ship was last refurbished. If you don’t get clear answers to any of these questions, steer clear!
You can book easily while you're travelling – there's plenty of choice. For a full list of locally-operated liveaboard cruises, visit the Maldives Tourist Board
What kind of itineraries can I expect? Can I tailor-make my own?
Most liveaboards operate within a 90km radius of Male’, and itineraries remain flexible as the weather can change quickly. If you want a tailormade itinerary, make a full charter booking,which entails exclusive use of the ship and occasionally a big-group discount.
A popular voyage is through North and South Ari Atoll and back via Felidhoo and South Male’ Atoll. Another route is to go north through North Male’Atoll, then north-west to Baa and back south via Rasdhoo Atoll. Cruises to remote areas can be troubled by supply problems, but that’s part of the adventure. MV Sheena is one of the few good liveaboards offering such cruises. Itineraries start from Medhufushi (Meemu Atoll) and cover Meemu, Laamu and Thaa.
I want to go with a tour operator I know and trust – is that possible?
Yes – there's plenty of choice. Opt for a Traditional Dhoni Cruise
with G Adventures to travel in an authentic fishing vessel that's been converted into a multi-berth liveaboard boat. The itinerary centres around relaxing on board, with snorkelling and island-hopping excursions too. Explore's Maldive Dhoni Cruise
trip follows a similar loose structure – with meals cooked on board, featuring the day's freshly-caught seafood. The Maldives Dhoni Cruise
with World Expeditions also follows a leisurely pace, with nights spent moored off uninhabited islands. Specialist operator Dive Worldwide
has a wide range of diving holidays for all abilities. Yacht, Maldives (Shutterstock)
I’m worried I’ll get bored. How long do I need?
In one week you can learn to dive, surf or sail, visit two or three local islands, have a beach barbecue and perfect your backgammon skills. If you can, stay for two weeks, but book a non-stop cruise otherwise you’ll be back in Male’ picking up new guests at the end of week one.
Blue seas and sugary beaches – isn’t this just for honeymooning couples?
No, liveaboards are great for solo travellers. There are no single supplements if you are happy to share a twin room. When you make your booking, ask for a single-friendly cruise.
So, which are the best dive/snorkel spots?
Guraidhoo Kandu and Cocoa Corner (South Male’Atoll) for sharks, rays and thrilling drifts; Dhiga Thila, 5 Rocks and Kudarah Thila (South Ari Atoll) for incredible coral formations and fish life; and Fotteyo (Felidhoo Atoll) for psychedelic soft corals, swim-throughs and a near-vertical drop-off.
For snorkelling, the best sites are at the outer edges of the atolls, where many top reefs survived the coral bleaching caused by El Niño in 1998. Madhivaaru Rangali (Ari Atoll) and Lankan Caves (North Male’) are reliable manta points. Whale sharks are best spotted off the south-west corner of Ari Atoll.
If diving is a passion, consider choosing a specialist tour operator when booking your trip – Dive Worldwide has several itineraries, ranging from 9-day Baa & Raa Atolls Liveaboard and 7-night Best of Maldives Liveaboard trips to longer, more specialist options such as 13-night Maldives Dive Safari and Southern Atolls Rays & Sharks.
Hawksbill turtle, Maldives (Shutterstock)
I don’t dive – what else is there to see & do?
When you book,make it clear that you require a non-diving programme. The capital Male’ has the most varied attractions, the best being the fish market, Sultan’s Park, the graveyard, Grand Friday Mosque and the National Museum. To experience tranquil fishing-village life ask a crewmember to be your guide, or accompany the cook on his supply run. You can while away your days snorkelling, canoeing, surfing, sailing, wakeboarding and dolphin-watching.
Motorboating around the Maldives – that’s not very eco-friendly!
Good point. There are a few liveaboard sailboats, though they still rely on motor power to bolster mileage. But there are ways to reduce the impact of your cruise. Ask about the operator’s waste and fuel management. Good operators take all refuse to waste processing stations and have fuel-efficient engines. Some liveaboard trips have a conservation focus, too – try Dive Worldwide's Manta Trust Expedition
for the chance to get involved with a local charity's manta research efforts, travel with a marine specialist, and dive up to three times per day.
Any health or safety tips?
Not really – vaccinations aren’t needed and the desalinated tap water is fine to drink. There aren’t any mossies out at sea, so you only need insect repellent for island visits. Consider seasickness medication. Main image: Luxury Maldives vacation at sea (Shutterstock)