Located in a vast UNESCO Biosphere Reserve called Baa Atoll, an administrative division within one of the world's most geographically dispersed countries, Hanifaru Bay is paradise, to say the least. Maldives is an archipelago comprising of more than a 1,000 coral islands, spread over an area of plus-minus 90,000 square kilometres. Untouched white sand beaches, a breathtaking abundance of marine life, pristine blue lagoons, and of course who can ignore the artful blend of the navy blue ocean waters with turquoise fringed bays of the shallow reefs. If there is a place known to provide unparalleled aesthetically pleasing views, this is it.
The Hanifaru Charm - Manta Rays and Whale Sharks
Locally known as 'Vandumaafaru Adi', Hanifaru Bay is designated as a marine protected area thanks to its reputation as playing grounds for manta rays and whale sharks that congregate here during peak seasons of the south-west monsoons, usually between June to November. Although, it is also well known to start as early as May and as late as December.
Spreading over an area of just over a football field, the keyhole-shaped bay holds captive millions of microscopic plankton that get accumulated here due to strong winds and water currents. These tend to float very close to the surface and hence act as perfect meals for two majestic ocean giants, sharks and rays. It is particularly known to be the largest feeding station for the Manta Rays in the world and the feeding frenzies during peak seasons are quite the spectacle. On the other hand, the area is also one of the few places in the world where whale sharks gather to mate. According to sources, witnessing up to 200 manta rays accompanied by whale sharks is not a rare experience here.
Snorkelling in Hanifaru Bay
Hanifaru Bay is known to lay out and etch an unforgettable memory in the minds of its visitors, providing one of Maldives' best known underwater adventures. Although diving has been banned and no longer permitted in the bay waters, you can snorkel up close with the manta rays and whale sharks. This obviously does not come without rules and regulations as snorkelers are requested to maintain a minimum distance from these gentle leviathans. A distance of 3-meter radius from the head of the whale shark and 4 meters from its tail should be maintained compulsorily. Also, it is important to remember that touching or stroking the animals is strictly forbidden, as is approaching the animals from ahead or crossing paths with them.
Due to disturbances by human intervention, the population of manta rays and whale sharks visiting the bay areas dropped drastically in the early 2000's. This has since called for the implementation of eco-friendly guidelines to be followed. To visit Hanifaru Bay, it is necessary to purchase visitor tickets from the Hanifaru Visitor Center on Dharavandhoo island. You can also buy tickets from officially designated resorts and liveaboards which are approved by the Baa Atoll Conservation Fund (BACF). A boat taxi then transfers the visitors to Hanifaru. This ticket allows you to enjoy the company of these marine animals for 45 minutes, under the guidance of a certified snorkelling guide. The Environmental Protection Agency takes up the responsibility to safeguard the bay from human interventions or any other setbacks.
Activities in Hanifaru Bay - Experience a World Like Never Before
With crystal clear visibility ranging from 20 to 40 meters, Hanifaru Bay and its surrounding reefs are an excellent destination to practice underwater photography (without flashes). Snorkelling and underwater photography are two activities that don't fail to impress you. It is said that witnessing the manta rays' feeding frenzy in the bay waters are a sight to behold. The animal's wingspans extend anywhere between 4 to 8 meters. Now imagine hundreds of these giants occupying an area no more than a football field! A whirling extravaganza unfolds in the cyan tinged waters that follow a patterned behaviour as they funnel across the surface and into the depths of the seas. Hanifaru Bay truly comes to life when it is encountered from the depths below.
Apart from manta rays and whale sharks, there is rich biodiversity of other marine life such as eagle ray, stingray, moray eel, hammerhead sharks, dolphins, sea turtles and many more. Snorkelling excursions here are unique, superlative experiences that tend to imprint an everlasting memory. Some service providers also offer night snorkelling expeditions, when it is best to engage in a vista of bioluminescent plankton and other nocturnal creatures that are usually aloof during the day. The waters of the Indian Ocean are a treasure trove for marine enthusiasts, and the untouched environs of the pristine islands add to the charm of a flawless vacation. Hanifaru Bay will rejuvenate your body, mind and soul, and leave you wanting for more.
Photos of Hanifaru Bay
More on Hanifaru Bay
How to Reach Hanifaru Bay
The only international airport and the main gateway into Maldives for tourists is the Male International Airport. The bay's closest point of access is at Dharavandhoo domestic airport, a couple of kilometres south of the bay itself. Up to five small passenger jets operate daily between the capital city Male and Dharavandhoo. The flight duration is approximately 25 to 30 minutes, and the distance between the two is roughly 110 kilometres.
You can also treat yourself to an extraordinary experience by travelling in a seaplane to your destination, although this requires prior planning and confirmation. Sea transport such as ferries and speedboats to nearby destinations also ply on a frequent basis but are subject to weather conditions.