On the doorstep of one of the Maldives’ most exclusive luxury resorts, two of the world’s most exceptional underwater experiences await snorkellers and divers of all abilities. Anantara Kihavah Villas invites travellers to swim with manta rays during the graceful giants’ annual migration to the Maldives – currently underway and one of the most spectacular in recorded history. Literally metres away from guests’ villas, awe-inspiring colonies of yellow soft corals gives rise to the house reef’s fame amongst divers as “The Golden Wall”.
Anantara’s Manta Majesty
“This year’s migration to Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll is particularly exciting,” says Joseph Lassus, Anantara Kihavah Villas’ resident marine biologist. “According to reports from the Manta Trust research team based in Baa Atoll, when the mantas arrived in May this year, there were more sightings of pregnant mantas than in the last 10 years. We are noticing this as well with the mothers getting bigger as the season progresses. With a pregnancy term of 12 – 13 months, this means that next year we can expect to see a lot of baby mantas in Hanifaru Bay. Already on a recent snorkeling trip we came across a newborn pup, which is really quite rare to see, roughly measuring 1.2 metres from wing-tip to wing-tip.”
Curious and friendly, mantas – unlike stingrays and eagle rays – do not possess stingers. Wingspans on the magnificent adults range up to 5 metres across. They feed on a variety of plankton, which accounts for their large, gaping mouths. The best place to spot manta rays in the Maldives, Hanifaru Bay, is located minutes from Anantara Kihavah Villas.
The bay is situated in Baa Atoll, a UNESCO marine protected biosphere covering an area of 303 hectares. From May to November each year, huge amounts of krill and plankton here attract all kinds of marine life. These ideal conditions make it the world’s largest natural manta ray feeding destination.
Access to Hanifaru Bay is regulated by park rangers. The expert guides at Anantara’s Elements water sports centre maintain close relationships with the rangers, giving Anantara’s snorkellers inside information on the mantas’ latest movements. Privileged sightings news in hand, the resort’s boats head out on the 20-minute ride to the protected area.
With no previous snorkelling experience required, tours depart three to four times a week from Anantara Kihavah Villas. Tour guides scout the spots where mantas frequent, usually in Hanifaru Bay or in nearby currents where plankton and krill swim. Once in the water, snorkellers are then treated to an amazing underwater ballet as giant mantas glide and somersault in mesmerising patterns. The mantas often swim within centimetres of snorkellers, drawing near and incredibly managing to avoid contact at the last second. On any given day, Anantara’s visitors to Hanifaru Bay can see anywhere from a couple of mantas to more than forty depending on plankton levels. Getting this close to these majestic creatures is truly an unforgettable experience.
Behind the Fame of The Golden Wall
The house reef at Anantara Kihavah Villas has become known by the local divers as ‘The Golden Wall’. Joseph explained, “The beauty of this dive site results from the incredible amount of sedentary life forms inhabiting the wall, completely covering its steep surface, edges and overhangs. This provides an immense variety of habitat to many local species of fish, lobsters, sea stars, etc. The area is clearly dominated by widespread colonies of soft corals. The many different species display a huge range of colours, such as the orange, magenta or mauve spiky soft corals and cauliflower soft corals.”
Speaking of the natural wonder, Joseph said, “To have this quite literally on our doorstep means an amazing dive no matter what the conditions are. Among all the bright colours displayed, the particular presence of yellow and golden coloured variations make it clear to any diver why this reef is best called The Golden Wall and a must-dive reef when in the Maldives.”
Booking the Experience
The multi-award-winning Anantara Kihavah Villas provides a stylish haven just 35 minutes by seaplane from the Maldives’ capital, Male. The Ocean Discovery Package for two persons is bookable on anantara.com and includes: five nights accommodation in a Beach Pool Villa or Over Water Pool Villa; daily buffet breakfast; and for both guests – a Dolphin Discovery excursion, Turtle Quest or Manta Ray Snorkelling excursion, a choice of one Scuba Dive or one Scuba review course, a 30-minute Seabob water sport experience and a local island visit.