Snorkeling on Vilamendhoo was an awesome experience. I’d say I spent at least a couple of hours a day (usually a lot more) swimming the reef, both inside and outside the reef wall. Vilamendhoo has a reputation as having one of the best house reefs in the Maldives, and I can see why, as it was easily some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever done. My only disappointment was the amount of coral bleaching that appears to have taken place, as the coral wasn’t a colorful as expected, but that didn’t seem to bother the sea life, there was plenty to observe as we swam along the reef wall. Due to the time of year, the water wasn’t as clear as I was hoping either, but that did little to stop me, I loved every minute of my time in the water.
The way the island sits, there are plenty of snorkeling opportunities for everyone, regardless of whether or not you’ve done it before. If you[re not comfortable in the deeper waters along the outside edge of the reef, stay in the more shallow areas and enjoy the sea like that frequents the coral area inside the wall. In my case, I spent most of my time circling the reef wall from the outside. There are 10 channels that allow safe access to the outside of the reef, as you don’t want to be swimming over and possibly touching the coral in the more shallow areas. Once you get out along the reef wall, the ocean comes to life. One minute there may be just a small handful of fish swimming around, the next minute you might be surrounded by dozens of Schoooling Bannerfish. This is an environment where you need to always be looking around, too. Never know when you might run across a turtle, eel, or even a black-tip reef shark. I’m pretty sure we saw at least one of those each day!
Rather than continue to describe the fish, I put together a little highlight of my time in the water. I’d go back again in a heartbeat for the snorkeling alone!
Finally, on to the primary goal of our trip, swimming with whale sharks! One of the first things we did after arriving at Vilamendhoo was sign up for excursions. On our second full day on the island, we met at the registration building to head out on our first trip in search of these gentle giants. We’d signed up for the 4 hour whale shark excursion listed on Vilamendhoo’s page here, and were fully aware that there was no guarantee of finding them. You head out on your boat and have about a 45 minute ride to Whale Shark Point of South Ari Atoll.
If you get seasick easily, come prepared. Have something on hand to deal with it, because the ride can get bumpy. If I recall, it was rougher on the way out than it was on the way back. Jen and Bayley were fine, as they had patches, but one guy on our boat was not prepared, and was pretty sick before we even got to our destination. The crew took good care of him, ensuring that he had plenty of water, was sitting in a good location to get air, and checking in on him from time to time.
On arrival at Whale Shark Point, the guides spend their time on the bow of the ship looking for whale sharks as the captain slowly drives up and down the area. We spent a couple of hours looking with no luck, other than a possible sighting from another boat that we hurried off to, only to find the beast had gone deep before we arrived. At one point they parked the boat along a reef and let us snorkel, but shortly after getting in the water we got a call that a couple of whale sharks were spotted by another boat a short distance away, so we all hurried back in to the boat and headed to that spot. On arrival, you could make out the shapes in the water, and a couple of us jumped in with our gear on to see them, but all we caught were shadows as the whale shark went deep. Keep in mind that things happen quickly on these trips, so you want to be geared up at all times just in case you need to jump in quickly. It’s also sort of a free for all, with everyone focused more on the whale sharks and less focused on those around them, so be careful as you swim towards your goal!
This first trip ended up being a bust, as we saw no more than the shadow of a whale shark as it disappeared. Oh well, we knew that was a possibility, so as soon as we got back to the island, we signed up for the 9am whale shark excursion set to go out on Wednesday so we could try again. At the same time, we also signed up for the manta and turtle excursion scheduled for the day after that. Unfortunately, when Wednesday rolled around, the weather that morning was pretty rough, with occasional heavy rain and a pretty good wind, which resulted in cancellation of the whale shark excursion. We were pretty disappointed, as it likely meant we weren’t going to be seeing whale sharks, so we chatted with the guides and excursion desk to see if there was any alternative. Vilamendhoo to the rescue! They had room on the 8 hour Ocean Discover excursion the following day, which includes whale sharks, mantas and possibly some turtles, so we signed up for that. They did say that it was a family trip, meaning there might be kids on board. No biggie, we were happy to have one last shot.
Waking up Thursday morning, we were happy to see that the storm overnight had passed, leaving us with a little overcast but otherwise fine weather to depart. We met at the registration building just before 9am, received our briefing, and boarded the boat in search of sea life! The schedule of stops was Manta Point, Whale Shark Point, lunch on board, and some snorkeling in an area known for turtles. So how did things go? Were there a bunch of manta rays? Did we finally see whale sharks? I’ll let the video answer those questions 🙂
As you can see, we saw a lot of manta rays at Manta Point, two different whale sharks at Whale Shark Point, and even that lone turtle after lunch. This was one of the best excursions we’ve ever done, with some awesome guides! Our goals achieved, we returned to the island tired and happy. It was an incredible way to spend our last full day on the island, and the spread they laid out for lunch was pretty solid, too!
Our time on Vilamendhoo represents what I consider the most amazing warm-weather vacation we’ve ever taken, and we’d all agree we’d go back in a heartbeat. The resort is beautiful, the people are warm and friendly, and the water is perfect. It’s a trip that we highly recommend, and if you’re interested, feel free to contact us for more information. We’d be happy to help you plan an amazing vacation in a beautiful island paradise!