Addu Atoll forms the southernmost part of the Maldives. It is a heart shaped atoll which lies just a tiny bit south of the equator. Despite the proximity to the equator, Addu atoll has some of the best corals in the world. This is largely due to the fact that the coral has been sheltered from the warm waters of the ocean and hence have not been bleached. Not only are the corals colourful, they are thriving. Depending on which part of the coral garden you decide to explore, you will find different varieties of coral and you can even spot humongous coral structures. That being said, each coral reef can be explored. Snorkelling in the Addu atoll is one of the best ways to explore it.
SNORKELLING IN THE ADDU ATOLL
We’ve been snorkelling every chance we could and in the process, we’ve been snorkelling in almost every country we visited in South East Asia. Snorkelling in the Addu Atoll however took our breath away. It was the only time we have ever seen blue rod coral. The blue isn’t just any blue. It’s fluorescent. The coral almost seems like it glows underwater. The coral on the reefs not only have colour (i.e. aren’t bleached) but they also are growing.
WHY SHOULD YOU BUY YOUR OWN SNORKELLING GEAR?
Let us be honest. Snorkelling in the Addu atoll can get expensive. Renting any form of gear is expensive so if you are a budget traveller you may want to work around it as we did. We bought our own snorkelling gear at home and carried it to the Maldives. At the end of the day, we do a lot of snorkelling when we travel so it isn’t something that is going to waste. In addition to that we had our own gear, so we had something that fit us well and gear that we were comfortable in. We weren’t dependent on the rental shops and we definitely did not have to run and return the snorkelling gear when the deadline drew near.
The downside to bringing your own gear is that you have to carry it. Snorkelling fins especially are pretty bulky and take up space in your backpack (assuming you are backpacking). We were perfectly happy to make that trade off.
DRESS CODE AND SWIMWEAR
One of the things that I worried about when it came to snorkelling in the Addu atoll was the dress code particularly in terms of swimwear. Being a Muslim country people are conservative and hence it is nice to abide by their cultures. Bikinis on public beaches are definitely a no go though the locals really don’t say anything. Wearing a t-shirt on top of the bikini however is acceptable. One of the locals did mention that the government has plans to make the Gauken’di beach a bikini beach in the near future.
WARNINGS TO PAY HEAD TO WHEN SNORKELLING IN THE ADDU ATOLL
The atoll is filled with reefs. In fact, every side of the islands has its own reef. Each reef has its own variant of corals. While it may be tempting to just take the plunge everywhere and anywhere we would strongly advise that you refrain from doing just that. The exterior portion of the atoll is lashed by waves. This can be seen on the western coast of Gan, Feydhoo, Maradhoo-Feydhoo, Maradhoo and Hithadhoo islands. The combination of strong currents and waves makes snorkelling in these areas extremely dangerous.
Bridges connect the islands from point to point. The water is deeper than most places and again it seems tempting. Currents however pass under the bridge especially as the tides change. While you can find an interesting number of fish swimming in these waters, one should be careful that the current doesn’t over power you. In order to have the best of both worlds, people swim a little away from the bridge where the current isn’t as strong.
Be vigilant about the tides. The tide comes in and goes out very quickly. Know the area you are snorkelling. You can get hurt really bad if you swim in the shallows and get stuck. Coral gives some nasty cuts. If you do hurt yourself on coral, make sure to clean the wounds well and keep them clean. They can get inflamed and infected easily.
Well enough of all the warnings. Let me tell you about all the beautiful spots that we found to snorkel in.
LOCATIONS FOR SNORKELLING IN THE ADDU ATOLL
As we have said before there are so many options where one can go snorkelling in the Addu atoll. In fact, if you head to any of the dive centres you will find that their maps are dotted with different spots. That being said, Shawn and I had an opportunity to visit quite a few of them. Some of them require a boat to get to, others are easily accessible from the four connected islands in the atoll.
THE GAN ISLAND REEF
The Gan island reef was accessible from our room.
The Gan island reef is gorgeous, but I wouldn’t say that the spot has the best snorkelling in Addu atoll. The reef is on accessible if you stay at the Equator village which means that it is one of the few beaches that you can wear a bikini too. We did most of our snorkelling here since we were lucky enough to spend five days in the resort (we got upgraded but that is a story for another day.). A lot of the reef is pretty shallow so navigating out can get rather difficult. Luckily if you ask around (or follow the path everyone takes) you will find that there exists an easier way to end of the reef. Phew… I’m so glad we found the path other wise the shallows gave me palpitations.
THE SHANGRI-LA VILLINGILI RESORT REEF AND THE CANAREEF RESORT REEF
Like all good resorts in the Maldives, the Shangri-la Villingili Resort and the Canareef resort have their own private beaches and access to the reefs. This means that their guest can enjoy snorkelling in the Addu atoll without getting off the resort. I don’t know if the Shangri-La allows external guests to enter but the Canareef allows you to use their facilities for a price. Many of the resorts/hotels provide transportation to Villingili. That unfortunately is a little heavy on the pocket. The best (and affordable) way to get to Canareef is via the ferry. You can take your cycle/motorbike across for a fee too. If you don’t have your own mode of transport, you can use the local bus or a taxi once the ferry docks. Shawn and I unfortunately did not visit Canareef since we were rather tight on time.
THE BANANA REEF
Snorkelling in the banana reef of Addu atoll requires a boat.
Banana Reef cannot be accessed directly from land. You need a boat to head out an explore the reef. Unlike the other reefs, the banana reef is not connected to any island. In fact, it lies somewhere in the middle of the atoll though it is closer to the Villingili island and Canareef resort. Don’t expect to swim out to it though. It is still a good distance away. The reef got its name because it is shaped like a banana. The coral is not that spectacular but the fish that you see around are gorgeous. Since it is in the centre of the atoll, you get to see larger fish than you do when snorkelling near Gan island. If you do go snorkelling in the Addu atoll and want to see fish, I would definitely suggest Banana reef.
We regret that we did not have time to head out to this point to snorkel.
Gauken’di beach is another gorgeous place to snorkel out of. We stopped by this beach on our tour of the island and intended to come back. Unfortunately, the rain played truant and we missed our window of opportunity. We do plan on heading there the next time round though. We did walk a bit in the cool waters and from what we could see, Gauken’di beach definitely is one of the best places to go snorkelling in the Addu atoll.
Gauken’di beach also has the Hankede bridge close to it which is a great place to spot fish. The locals however warned us that the currents in the area can be strong so swim a little away from the bridge to get the best of both worlds without being in danger. One of the locals told us that often people see reef sharks when swimming in the area. So, don’t forget to add Gaukend’di beach to your list of places that you should go snorkelling in the Addu atoll.
The Koattey area was one of the most pristine places for snorkelling in the Addu atoll.
The Koattey reef is located in Hithadhoo island. The Koattey park is currently being developed by the Maldivian government. Getting to the reef however requires some transportation because it is quite a distance to walk. The reef however is probably the best we ever saw. The downside is that this area often has currents, so you need to be an experienced snorkeler and a strong swimmer. We spotted a Moray eel and a lion fish here. There were a lot of other fish like the Napoleon also swimming around too.
THINGS YOU SHOULD CARRY WHEN HEADING OUT ON A SNORKELLING TRIP
Like we said before, renting equipment can get costly in the long run. It all depends on how often you want to snorkel and how many days you spend on the islands. Renting equipment for snorkelling in the Addu atoll definitely is more expensive than the rates you are used to in South East Asia. There aren’t any large enough shops to buy the equipment when you get there either so if you want to buy the equipment you need to do so before hand.
SNORKEL MASK SET
Buying a snorkel mask should be all about comfort. It should form a perfect seal around your eyes and nose so that it does not allow any leaks. At the same time, it should not be too small that it obstructs your field of vision. The easiest way to do this by trying on the mask without putting the band. If it stays on due to the vacuum and isn’t dependent on the strap, then you are good. We have also found that we prefer masks which have a cloth band rather than plastic. They are easy to manage, and it does not get tangled with the hair that easily.
Snorkelling fins help in a multitude of ways. They keep your feet covered and prevent any accidental injuries when swimming. This is particularly in regard to banging your feet against the sharp coral. It also gives you an added thrust when swimming which helps reduce the amount of energy you expend when swimming. The downside is that the fins are bulky and take up a lot of space in your luggage.
If snorkelling fins aren’t an option and you are still looking for something to protect your feet while you swim, then you may want to take a look at the different types of swimming shoes available in the market. I have a pair of crocs that I wear that does the job nicely, but they do not give the same thrust that fins do. Their sole purpose is to protect your feet. Shoes that confirm to the contours of your feet are a better idea because they do not cause any obstruction when swimming.
AN UPF SWIMMING T-SHIRT
I’m going to be honest. I don’t know what to call this. The t-shirt is meant to protect you from the sun’s heat when you are swimming. In fact, a lot of the t-shirts have a UPF of 30+. At first it wasn’t something that I was interested in. After Shawn’s bad sunburn in Indonesia, we knew that it was something that we wanted to invest in. I tagged along and bought myself one too. One thing that we hadn’t considered about snorkelling in the Addu atoll was that we were close to the equator. The sun is hot and while you don’t feel it when swimming it burns your skin. Using a t-shirt to keep the sun at bay is definitely a good idea.
As we just mentioned, the equator sun is really hot, so you don’t want to get caught snorkelling in the Addu atoll without sunscreen. Make sure you get an oil-based sunscreen so that it is waterproof, or it won’t help when you are in the sea. We have been using banana boat for some time and have been happy with it. Also ensure that you test the sunscreen on a small patch of skin if you are using it for the first time. Everyone has different allergies and you don’t want to have a reaction.
MICRO FIBRE TRAVEL TOWEL
A micro fibre travel towel isn’t an essential. You can use the hotel towels if you are at a resort but if you are using the local beaches you will need something to dry yourself off with. The micro fibre towels occupy less space and they absorb a lot of water which makes them a great idea.
It is very easy to forget to drink water while you are having fun snorkelling in the Addu atoll. The intense heat makes dehydration a very real possibility. That combined with the exercise that snorkelling in itself is makes the need to rehydrate very real. We did not find the tap water drinkable so we were at the mercy of bottled water throughout our trip.
Snorkelling in the Addu atoll is breath taking and it doesn’t matter which part of the atoll you go to. You can spot so many different kinds of marine life on a good day. Large fish, octopus, turtles, rays, reef sharks, etc. I don’t know most of the names of the fish that we saw but we sure loved watching them. As off today, Addu atoll is not very populated. It is calm, clean and beautiful. With some of the most beautiful coral in the world it is definitely worth visiting.