By Shi Xin Wu – 3rd Jun 2021

Swimming with whale sharks

Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll Maldives

      Amidst this seemingly endless Covid-19 pandemic, people are now seriously deprived of exhilarating travel adventures, awe-inspiring tours, and warm welcomes in visiting distant friends and relatives. Many of us are eagerly looking forward to our next trip and taking a breather. Though on the brighter side, nature and wildlife are thriving in their natural habitat during this unprecedented period due to the absence of excessive human interference. One such place is Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives, a UNESCO biosphere reserve designated as a marine-protected area.

      Home to fascinating aquatic wildlife, the Maldives has become a familiar habitat for manta rays. Throughout its surrounding ocean, these graceful sea creatures are easy to spot. Hanifaru Bay, in Baa Atoll (north of Maldives), is world-renowned as one of the grandest stomping grounds for these majestic marine species as they feed. From around May to November, a concentration of planktons attracts the school of Manta Rays, sometimes accompanied by whale sharks and other plankton feeders. The bay region is swarmed by as many as 200 over Manta Rays during this aggregation period. Watching the feeding frenzy of these incredible creatures is a sight to behold as they swam in patterned behavior near the surface of the ocean. They formed a chain, swam in line with maws wide open. Some called this phenomenon a whirlpool or cyclone feeding. They would circle and do vortex spin at an expansive area approximately the size of a soccer field. However, in some cases, when the number of animals increases to over a hundred, the feeding frenzy could turn chaotic. They break ranks, swim in all directions, and might inadvertently bump into each other due to congestion. 


Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll Maldives – June 2018, Snorkeling with Manta Rays. photo credit: Shi Xin Wu, The Lazing Wanderer.   

The Maldivian government issued a series of memorandum to safeguard and preserve the marine sanctuary. In the year 2009, Hanifaru Bay was declared a marine protected area and followed by the official proclamation from UNESCO in 2011, which includes the Bay area into its World Biosphere Reserve. Currently, there is a limit set to a maximum of 5 boats and just 80 swimmers/snorkelers. (Diving in the bay region was prohibited since and only snorkeling is allowed). Visitors can access Hanifaru Bay in a variety of ways through sea vessels. Resorts, guesthouses, and liveaboards offer tokens and can arrange sea transfers. All visitors are to be accompanied by licensed and certified Hanifaru Bay guides.


Hanifaru Bay– Manta Rays and Whale sharks are spotted in the month from May ~ November. Photos credit by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Swimming with Manta


Hanifaru Bay – Dharavandhoo Island, is the main local island in Baa Atoll, where the domestic airport is situated. (Google Map)

To increase the chances of catching these manta rays in their season, we encourage you to book a stay in a resort for a couple of days or a week. Typically, the resort has firsthand information from the spotter when mantas start to congregate in the Bay. And for further amazement, to have a greater possibility of witnessing the feeding frenzy, we advised that you book your stay over a full moon. The tides are higher at this time, and they tend to capture more planktons. Swimming with Manta Rays is such an enchanting and unforgettable experience. Why not pen it down for your next trip? Recommend some of these resorts that you might want to consider for your stay – located in Baa Atolls, are Westin, Soneva Fushi, Kihaa, and Dusit Thani.


The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort – A 5-star luxury resort just 18km from Hanifaru Bay. Perhaps booking a week stay and get organized for a Manta snorkeling trip. One of our best sellers in 2019, by The Lazing Wanderer.

The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort