Manta and Giant Whale Shark Trips from Vilamendhoo, the Maldives


Or what is there, under the sea?

By Irina.

In the fall, we got anxious to see our familiar fishes on the Maldives.

Airview of one of the Maldives islands

The Indian Ocean has plenty of beautiful tropical islands, but only a few of them offer “manta and shark trips” to their visitors. One of them is Vilamendhoo Island Resort.

Vilamendhoo Island. The Maldives
Vilamendhoo Island

Vilamendhoo Island. The Maldives
A beach of Vilamendhoo Island

The impressions from our undersea adventures completely exceeded expectations. Excursions to that breathtaking world are similar to trips into space! So, what is there, under the sea?

Whale Shark Trip

8:00 a.m. and twenty-four adventurers are on board. Something tells me that ten would have been much better. Our guide informs us that, while whale sharks may attain the size of a city bus, they are not dangerous. They don’t fear people and move along their own course, so if you want to follow them you should be a very confident swimmer. “Forty minutes later we will try to find one especially for you,” he promises.

It should be mentioned that manta or shark trips last for four hours. Then you return to the island hotel, which now is disappearing in a distance.

Vilamendhoo Island. The Maldives.

After half an hour of drifting we have not found anything and, feeling frustrated, turn back to Vilamendhoo Island. As a bonus our group is promised a stop to swim with manta rays that we have seen on our way. However, the Man in the Heavens has already made his own decision.

After half an hour on a way back we met another three excursion boats in one place and saw seven dozen of their passengers floundering in the water. A brief discussion among the teams and…

“This is your chance—overboard!”

We did not know how many whale sharks were swimming in the water, but there were nearly a hundred people including us on the surface. Sure enough, everybody used elbows and flippers to full capacity—the water simply boiled! Somebody’s flippers knocked my snorkel twice. It is understandable, we were all hunters here. I was shocked when I saw my first giant whale shark: what a hulk, and… Is it swimming toward me?!

However, one hundred of people is too many for one animal. You can hardly move closer. It’s a hustle and bustle, and with the divers and their bubbles from the deep, you cannot even take a picture. Finally, Victor and I were completely lost in a jumble.

Whale shark. The Maldives.

Giant whale shark. The Maldives.
Giant whale shark

Whale shark with people around. The Maldives. The Indian Ocean.

I glanced at our receding boat and noticed that the guide indicated the opposite direction from the “boiling sea.” About ten of us understood his signal and moved forward, working our flippers like mad.

When we were sailing around the big and small islands, searching for whale sharks, I complained to my husband: They can’t send us overboard right here. It’s too dangerous. Huge ocean waves crashing on a reef are quite close. If they throw somebody on the reef, we will not escape casualties.

One of the Maldives islands.

However, when the shadow of a second whale shark gleamed in the water, everyone who pursued it increased speed. It’s crazy! You see this wonderful animal and completely forget all the danger. You can not even raise your head to ascertain in which direction the shark is moving (along with you, naturally).

I have never swum with such speed before. I could have been faster only if a white shark chased us. I reached our giant whale shark, took a picture, and experienced immeasurable joy.

Giant whale shark. The Maldives, the Indian Ocean.
Giant whale shark

Giant whale shark. The Maldives.

Underwater photo of a giant whale shark. The Maldives.

Meanwhile, the whale shark was calmly moving further and further away. Exhausted, I started to fall back. I had kept up for some time but then said to myself, what for? To take twenty pictures more? But how get back? So I left the shark in peace, took my snorkel off, got my breath, and turned around trying to find our boat.

I was lucky because there was a familiar couple who gave up a bit earlier and was quite close to me. It is easier if you’re not alone in the ocean. While I was trying to identify what it would take to get back to the boat, one of my neighbors took his flipper off and started to signal to our ship.

Ten minutes later the crew took us aboard. How do they manage to sort all of us? As for me, I failed to recognize my boat–they are all white and far away. However, when I finally noticed the familiar bandana on the upper deck—it was Victor—I was certain that now I was saved.
Victor is under the wheel of the yacht during the whale shark trip in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives.

Manta Rays & Turtles Trip

The next morning at 8:00, a full international team consisting of 13 persons boarded the yacht again in order to find giant mantas in the gentle Indian Ocean.

Victor is on the yacht during the whale shark trip in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives.

When we noticed mantas, the crew commanded, “Overboard!”

I jumped off, although I have never jumped before. After all, nobody provided a gangway. I surfaced, breathed in, breathed out. Okay. I’m alive. Let’s go!

There were four beauties, gracefully soaring in the water. They were not giant but still larger than a small man. What maneuvers they were doing. They seemed to glide directly at you and at the last moment did a wing beat and turned around. Or they pass beneath you, and you freeze trying not to hurt their skin with your flippers. I felt like touching one, but it is forbidden, and a bit scary, by the way.

Manta ray on the Maldives.
Manta ray

At the beginning, everyone floundered chaotically in the water in some sort of euphoria. Half an hour later some of us come to our senses and periodically looked at the guide on board who kindly directed us with his finger. With his help my husband and I found ourselves tête-à-tête with this wonder of nature, at last.

To take a picture of manta rays is really hard. They are not afraid of people and move in close. They simply do not fit into a frame due to their great size. Pictures from a distance came out foggy because of the plankton in the water. I guess our mantas were eating, as they kept their jaws open all the time. Visibility was poor, about two meters.

The participants of our trip try to take photos of manta ray. The Indian Ocean. The Maldives

Manta ray. The Indian Ocean. The Maldives.
Dansing manta ray

Manta ray. The Indian Ocean. The Maldives.

I did not want to leave. Such a delight! But we were promised a meeting with turtles, and our ship took a new course.

On the way to the turtles’ island, I imagined frisky games with them, because I thought turtles are not as exotic as manta rays, and there would be plenty of them. Nothing like that! We anchored near a lifeless reef, gray in the deep; we have a better one on Vilamendhoo Island.

Murena. The Maldives.

We were drifting around searching with no chance of success. I stuck to our guide, suspecting that he was the only experienced man here who could spot the turtles. Just as I thought, fifteen minutes later he touched my shoulder and pointed to the depth. There was the same gray bottom, bare rocks—but he insisted. The water was deep and visibility was poor. I barely noticed a small turtle rising from the bottom. The guide called for the others, and I started the photo session, at the same time acting as the locator beacon—where I am, there is the turtle.

Aquatic turtle. The Maldives.
Aquatic turtle

Aquatic turtle. The Maldives. The Indian Ocean.

Aquatic turtle. The Maldives. The Indian Ocean.

When we crowded around the poor animal with all our underwater cameras, everything went wrong. While all were chasing the turtle I noticed one more at the side. I pulled my husband out of this whirl and we started a new chase. These turtles are so nimble! But we caught up with the animal and swam side by side.

Aquatic turtle. The Maldives. The Indian Ocean.
Maldivian aquatic turtle

Aquatic turtle. The Maldives. The Indian Ocean.

Aquatic turtle. The Maldives. The Indian Ocean.

Then I made a mistake. I couldn’t resist the urge to stroke it, and I was forgiven for the first time, but after the second act of affection the turtle escaped to the depths. The miracle which we were searching for at the Maldives finally came true, and we were happy. Now, we already have tickets for another visit to these paradise islands, and I hope in October we will meet the giant manta rays again.

Vilamendhoo Island. The Maldives.

Delux Villa on Vilamendhoo Island Resort and Spa
Delux Villa on Vilamendhoo Island Resort and Spa

Delux Villas on Vilamendhoo Island Resort and Spa

Vilamendhoo Island. The Maldives.

Vilamendhoo Island. The Maldives.

Vilamendhoo Island. The Maldives.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort and Spa. The Maldives.
Vilamendhoo Island

More about the Maldives:

Dancing with Manta Rays
Underwater Life of the Maldives: Corals
Underwater Photos from the Maldives. Fishes: Small, Big and Very Big.

46 thoughts on “Manta and Giant Whale Shark Trips from Vilamendhoo, the Maldives

  1. I felt as if I were right there with you and Irina, even getting my snorkel kicked by over-zealous tourists. I’m sure it was worth it so you could experience these wonderful creatures under the sea. Beautiful photos and a great, detailed write-up. Thanks for sharing this fantastic experience.


  2. love the photos, let it be the Maldives in the Fall, in Winter, in Spring, anytime really…:) I hope to go again soooooooon. Love the place! thanks for sharing your memories.


  3. Thank you for sharing your adventure! It brought to mind my snorkling with giant sea turtles in Hanama Bay on Oahu some years ago. I got so enamored with the experience that I ended up near the mouth of the bay and had to fight a rip to get back in. Never again will I snorkle alone (read height of stupidity) and I had always hated that I have ample calves and quads but they saved my life that day – along with the flippers!


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