Ari Atoll is located towards the west of the capital Malé and is separated into two administrative districts – North and South Ari Atolls. Only 18 of the islands are inhabited by local communities with the rest developed as island resorts. On the east of Ari Atoll there is a 40 km channel named Dhigurahshu Kandu that separates it from South Malé Atoll. To the west of Ari Atoll, the sea floor drops to a sheer 2,000 metres or so. This region attracts a myriad of marine life including Hammerhead sharks and Whale Sharks making it a popular diving destination.
The Maldives from the air is a spectacular sight. As your airplane descends over this tropical paradise, hundreds of little islands appear, each with its own ring of white coral reef enclosing its own blue lagoon. The 1,190 islands of the Maldives form an archipelago of 26 major atolls and extend 820 kms north to south and 120 kms at the widest point. They do not exceed more than six feet above sea level, inviting fears that this paradise is under gradual threat from global warming and rising sea levels. Many islands are still deserted and used for drying fish or agricultural purposes. About 200 are inhabited island, nearly half of them exclusively resort islands with the resorts occupying an entire island. Most of the Maldives’ islands are under 500 sq metres in area. The capital, Male, is home to about half the country’s total population which is about 300,000 people.
Ari Atoll can be reached by sea plane which will take from 20 - 30 minutes from the Hulule International Airport depending on where your resort island is located. Speedboat access will take over 2.5 hours and is not recommended. Some of the more up market resorts such as the W Resort & Spa have their own seaplane and will meet you at the airport and transfer in style to their island resort.
Choosing you accommodation
Each of the resorts is located on its own white sandy island surrounded by a turquoise lagoon, house reef and then the shimmering Indian Ocean. The resort islands are relatively small; some have even been artificially expanded to create more land mass. Ari Atoll has a variety of accommodation ranging from budget and mid-range resorts to super-luxurious boutique resorts. Although most resorts provide the tropical beach holiday experience, facilities vary and some are more focused on scuba diving and water sports. Whether you are looking to escape on a romantic honeymoon, a fun-filled family holiday or an adventurous scuba diving exploration, choosing the right island resort makes all the difference.
Diving Resorts: With over 40 diving sites around Ari Atoll, most of the resorts have dive centre that offer PADI certified diving courses, snorkelling and diving excursions. The value for money Chaaya Reef Ellaidhoo is set on a coral reef that has a long wall with caves and a small ship wreck which is inhabited by sea fans, whip corals, schools of exotic fish, sting rays and moray eels and is popular for night diving. The mid-range resort Velidhoo has a Euro-divers diving centre and is popular with keen divers. The five-star Mirihi, Leela Beach and Diva also offer good diving facilities.
Family Resorts: Sun Island Resort, Lily Beach and the super luxury Conrad Maldives Rangali offer a range of fun filled indoor and outdoor activities for children. Diva resort and spa goes even further with two clubs for children - Kids and Teens clubs where children from upto 19 years have plenty to do such as arts & crafts activities, awareness regarding Maldivian culture and marine life, snorkelling in the lagoon, and indoor games including play station, table tennis, and table football. Most of these resorts will arrange for a baby sitter with prior notice. Some of the accommodation, especially water bungalows which are built over the water with steps descending down to the surrounding lagoon for purposes of snorkelling and swimming, may not be safe for very young children, while the older children will find this quite fascinating.
Spa Resorts: The super luxury boutique resort Conrad Maldives Rangali, has a separate tranquil Spa Island with its own exquisite spa water villas built over the lagoon. Here, rejuvenating spa treatments are done right in your own villa. W Retreat & spa has a magnificent spa which is an architectural delight and offers spa treatments as well as yoga and other wellness programmes. The luxurious Banyan Tree Madivaru offers a novel concept of African style tented villas blended with pampered tropical island living. Here, the spa comes to you and transforms your private living space into a tranquil in-house spa overlooking the turquoise ocean.
Honeymoon Resorts: Mirihi is a stylish and contemporary resort with a laidback feel. This beautiful secluded island is wonderful for a romantic honeymoon. The super luxury W Retreat & Spa is an architectural masterpiece and promotes `living as art’. All their luxurious villas are built over the water and have private sundecks with plunge pools. The secluded and romantic Rangali Island at the super luxurious Conrad Maldives is a resort within a resort with its own exquisite water villas, tranquil spa and restaurants.
Eco Resorts: Madoogali, located in North Ari Atoll shows a deep commitment to nature conservation and regularly cleans the house reef manually and conducts marine conservation awareness programmes. At W Retreat & Spa, the in-house Marine Biologist conducts regular awareness programmes on the exotic marine life and will accompany guests on excursions.
The Indian Ocean waters surrounding Ari Atoll is excellent for diving and large fish from the open seas such as hammerhead and whale sharks can be spotted here. As a result, during the peak season the more popular dive sites can have many groups at the same time. It is important to choose resorts with good dive masters who will take you to the less crowded but equally fascinating dive sites. Some of the more popular dive sites in this region are:
Maldivian Culture & heritage:
- Maaya Thila – a Protected Marine Area with where white-tip reef sharks can be seen along with colourful soft coral.
- Halaveli Wreck – a 38 metre cargo ship which was deliberately sunk in the early 90’s where sting rays are found.
- Fesdu Wreck - a 30 metre trawler that is home to Moray eels, groper, and a good coral growth.
- Orimas Thila -another Protected Marine Area with overhangs, caves, and crevices that has soft coral, sea fans, anemones and clown fish.
- Mushimasmingali Thila – a Protected Marine Area also known as Fish Head is a world famous dive site with caves and overhangs that have good growth of black coral and grey reef sharks.
- Kudarah Thila – for more experienced divers, this Protected Marine Area has an entire field of sea fans, black corals, sharks, batfish, and other unusual species.
- Okobe Thila – located near North Malé Atoll, this Protected Marine Area with steep ledges, caves and overhangs with a variety of marine life including pelagic, reef fishes and anemones.
Watersports: All the island resorts offer watersports, ranging from snorkelling, fishing, and sailing. Some of the larger resorts offer an array of water based activities including water skiing, wake boarding and knee boarding, windsurfing, parasailing, kite surfing, canoeing, catamaran sailing, water bike, water scooter/jet skiing, and banana boat riding.
Cruises: Many of the resorts arrange for whale and dolphin spotting cruises, sunset cruises and island hopping excursions to nearby deserted islands. The BanyanTree Madivaru has its own 28 metre traditional yacht where even romantic dinners are organised.
Fishing: Big game fishing, sunrise and sunset fishing, line trawling and spin fishing is organised by resorts such as Madoogali, Holiday Island, and Sun Island resorts.
Thoddoo, Rasdhoo, Mahibadhoo, Maamigili, and Fenfushi in Ari Atoll have Maldivian communities that have lived on these islands for centuries. Some of these islands have ruins and artifacts of ancient Buddhist and Hindu settlements prior to the arrival of Islam. These artifacts can also be seen in the National Museum in Malé.
Get to know this wonderful tropical island nation and its warm and friendly people by visitingthese islands. Local fishing communities live and work on these islands. Shop at some of the local souvenir shops on these islands and support the local cottage crafts. Enjoy traditional Maldivian dance and drumming.
Malé is the capital of the Republic of Maldives and is built on an island which is just four sq. kms surrounded by the Indian Ocean waters. Perhaps one of the smallest capitals in the world, Male’ is the seat of government, industry, and trade. Over one third of the 300,000 population of Maldives live in Malé. Very unlike the resort islands where life is laid back and unhurried, Malé is a busy modern city dominated by high-rise buildings, paved road ways, shops, cultural sites, and cafes. Visit Malé to get to know the people of Maldives, their cultural heritage and sumptuous local cuisine.