Hanifaru bay is the biggest manta feeding hotspot in the world, and yes, you can even swim with the Manta Rays of Hanifaru Bay. The underwater bay is actually quite small and the uninhibited island Hanifaru, like many other islands in the Maldives, is just a tiny sand patch. The grandness comes from the number of reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi) that show up just in time for plankton happy hour and have a lavish feast together with some fellow filter-feeding whale sharks. The site is a protected marine park and the whole Baa Atoll, where Hanifaru bay lies, has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
This remote atoll is known for having some of the richest coral reef systems in the world. Why are hundreds of mantas from all over the Maldives attracted to Hanifaru Bay? The answer lies in a very unique combination of factors. The rare shape of the bay and its geographical position are the first things that play a key role. Hanifaru bay is a long and narrow (channel-like) bay with a dead-end, which serves as a scoop for all the plankton being carried up from the deep sea.
The second factor is the southwest monsoon current in the Indian Ocean, which pushes nutrient-rich water into the western opening of the bay from May through November. The third and crucial factor is the lunar tide, which pushes against the oceanic current. So much for the facts, now to understand what exactly is going on: If there is no counter-tide, the mixture of zooplankton is simply washed over the bay into the outside of the atoll. Logically, at high tide, the plankton should simply be carried to the inside of the atoll, but instead it stays trapped in the bay! Why? Plankton is swept up from the deepest sea and once at the surface, it shies away from daylight and instinctively dives back down.
The combination of oceanic and tidal currents encapsulates a huge amount of zooplankton – one bringing it up and the other capping it on top, thus creating a thick soup, on which the filter-feeding giants come to feast. When all factors are right there are up to 200 manta rays coming together from all over the Maldives for a magnificent feeding performance at the tiny Hanifaru Bay.
Hanifaru bay is on the east side of the distant Baa Atoll, approximately 115 km north of Male and the Velana International Airport (MLE). Depending on where you are staying, you can either take a sea plane directly to your resort or a domestic flight to the Dharavandhoo Airport (DRV) followed by a boat transfer. The flight time is approximately 30 min.Being a marine park, access to the Hanifaru Bay is regulated and happens by means of taxi vessels departing every hour from the Dharavandhoo island (the main local island in the Baa Atoll, where the domestic airport is situated, just 2 km away from Hanifaru).
You will need to obtain a visitors token at the Hanifaru Visitor Center, which gives you a 45-min access to the biosphere reserve. The current price is 30$ and all the profits go to the Baa Atoll Conservation Fund. Direct access to the Hanifaru Bay is not permitted, however, resorts, guest houses and liveaboards can arrange for the visitor tokens and transfers. You can either be dropped off at a designated area outside the bay and then swim to it, or go to Dharavandhoo and catch the water taxi that will take you to the heart of the action.
All visitors need to be accompanied by a certified Hanifaru bay guide. The manta season is considered to be between May and November, during the southwest monsoon current in the Indian Ocean. The best time to visit Hanifaru Bay is between June and early October.
Insider tip: If you want to increase your chances of witnessing the manta madness try to book your stay over a full or new moon, when the tides are higher, capturing more plankton in the bay.
Insider tip 2: There are many manta cleaning stations in the Baa Atoll, where you can put your strobe back on and head out for some spectacular diving. Scuba diving is no longer permitted at Hanifaru bay, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have an amazing experience swimming with the mantas and whale sharks. As most of the action happens close to the surface you will be amidst the giants and have incredibly close encounters simply by snorkeling.
If you would like to swim with the Manta Rays in Maldives and check out other awesome excursions in Maldives then look no further than our Experience pages!
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