Diving Dhangethi with South Ari Dive Center
Two Weeks on Dhangethi with South Ari Dive Center
This summer I had a fantastic opportunity to stay on Dhangethi with South Ari Dive Center for 2 weeks and 32 dives. I went during the rainy season, but was very lucky to have fantastic weather for most of the trip. When we arrived, there was torrential rain, and my first memories were of quickly loading our luggage onto the cart and driving through the pouring rain to get indoors as fast as possible. Other than that, the rain mostly stayed away during the day!
A bit about Dhangethi Island! It’s a small island surrounded by turquoise waters and white sand beaches that is less than 1km long and 1/3 of a km wide. About 700 people live there. It has a few guest houses, 3 restaurants, and several grocery stores and souvenir shops. Its major industry is ship building (and tourism/diving). It is served by a daily speed boat from Male (even on Fridays.) The local religion is Muslim, and laws are strict about bringing in other religious materials. The days are timed around the daily prayers, with stores closing during prayer times. Other laws to be aware of when you are visiting Dhangethi are the ones involving alcohol (it is not allowed, at all) and modesty of dress (cover knees and shoulders, even when swimming.) There is one “bikini beach” at the south end of the island where more revealing swimming attire is permitted.
I spent my time at the Mala Boutique Inn, diving with South Ari Dive Center. Mala Boutique Inn was very nice, my room was clean and had everything I needed (bed, bathroom, place to put my camera gear, towels.) The package deal included full board as well, which was very convenient. It was a great pleasure to eat breakfast on the beach every morning, and to watch the crabs scuttle across the beach at night. The food was a mix of asian and European, with fish (and chicken), veggies, and fresh fruit at every meal. I’m pescetarian, and there was always fresh fish for me to eat! They even went out of their way to get me mango and coconut, which are my favorites! I bought a 32 dive package and then 3 more dives because wanted to dive as much as possible. It was off season, so there weren’t many divers, which was absolutely lovely. Being off season meant that I didn’t get to experience the absolutely fantastic visibility that the Maldives is known for … but missing the crowds was worth it. The team at South Ari was really great, with captain, boats, tanks, in good order. They carted my gear out to the boat every day, set it up and let me check it over. They even helped me lug my enormous underwater camera out to the boat! On the dive boat, they had dry towels, water and hot drinks, and were good at reminding us to stay hydrated. Dive sites were a mixed batch. There has been a lot of coral bleaching in recent years which leaves many of the reefs in rough shape. The best reefs are deep and in medium-strong currents, so come prepared to deal with some current. I definitely got better at handling currents in my time there. Surprisingly, there was very little trash on any of the dive sites, even the ones close to islands.
Whale sharks and manta rays! The Maldives are known for these things! And you can definitely see them with South Ari Dive Center! We went on a whale shark excursion, and had the amazing privilege to dive with a whale shark! I warn you in advance, snorkeling with the whale shark is chaos. There is current, there are LOTS of people, there is one whale shark who seems remarkably unbothered by the swarm of little people kicking and splashing above. Diving underneath the crowds, though, was magical. Highly recommend! The manta ray excursion was less chaotic, but still a bunch of people hanging out at the manta cleaning station. But when you see the mantas, it is pure joy to watch them soar through the water.
Over the course of 32 dives, we saw a lot of cool stuff! Most notably a pair of guitar sharks, a school of bicycles, some shipwrecks, massive schools of blue stripe yellow snappers, rainbow soft corals on 7th heaven, giant sea fans at 5 rocks, octopi, turtles, reef sharks, marbled rays, eagle rays… My favorite dives were the shipwrecks, and the sites 5 rocks, 7th heaven, and the one with the huge schools of snappers.
Things to do above water on Dhangethi:
- Take a swim or bask in the sun at bikini beach
- Try a new water sport like kite surfing or paddle boarding (there’s a place just to the East of Bikini beach)
- Check out the shipyards and see Dhoni in all stages of construction
- Find the two massive banyan trees at the center of the island, which are over 400 years old
- Eat a magnum from one of the shops, and check out the souvenir stores
- Watch the local volleyball or football teams practice at the athletics field at night
- Hang out on one of the undholi (swing seats) dangling from a tree
- Chat with the locals!
- Snorkel by the pier (don’t forget to wear a rash guard or wetsuit to stay modest)
- Comb the beach for cowry shells (you can’t take them home though, so leave them somewhere near the water for others to enjoy!)
- Observe the local wildlife, from herons to fruit bats to cats (no dogs though!)