Immerse yourself in nature & culture

Things that make Ari Atoll so unique even in the Maldives

Exploring the Enchanting Natural Beauty and Marine Animals of Ari atoll


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If you have never seen a green-on-green landscape stretching deep into a powder blue sky, then Ari will surprise and delight you. This region boasts lush, verdant landscapes that seem to merge seamlessly with the sky, creating a mesmerising vista. The dense foliage, swaying palm trees, and vibrant tropical flowers add to the charm of this picturesque destination. Nature lovers and avid photographers will find themselves captivated by the beauty of Ari’s landscapes, which provide the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable adventure.
The reefs in Ari atoll create an underwater haven, home to a rich variety of marine life. The South Ari Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of the rare places in the world where there are whale shark sightings year round. The MPA consists of a 42 km swathe of sea around the southern base of South Ari Atoll.
In addition to the whale sharks, the atoll’s diverse marine life, thriving within vibrant coral gardens, makes Ari Atoll the idyllic spot for those seeking an extraordinary underwater experience.


Some of the marine creatures awaiting you in Ari Atoll:

Whale sharks & Manta Rays at South Ari Marine Protected Area (MPA)

Known as the gentle giants of the ocean, a whale shark is a slow-moving, filter-feeding carpet shark known to be the largest fish (non-mammalian) in the world. There are many spots in the Maldives that are frequented by these delightful creatures, but one of the rare spots in the world where they can be sighted year-round is the protected waters of the MPA region of South Ari Atoll. 

In addition to whale sharks, you can often see manta rays gliding around gracefully and feeding in the plankton rich waters.

Photo credit: authentic.ocean

Photo credit: lahfaan_m an raaaifff

Hawksbill turtles

Hawksbill turtles are common throughout the Maldives, but the aptly named Kahambu Thila in South Ari (Kahambu being the local name for Hawksbill turtles) is one of the most popular spots in the nation to interact with sweet creatures. The area is resplendent with anemone that is a favourite food of this endangered species of turtle, and they can be seen lazing around the area, feeding happily. You can tell them apart from their green sea turtle cousins by their sharp curving beak which has a more prominent edge. 

It is important to note that all species of turtles in the Maldives have protected status, and it is strictly prohibited to catch any turtle or interfere with their nests or nesting process.

Humphead Wrasse

Humphead wrasse is a species of wrasse that can grow up to six feet long , easily told apart by the large bulge on their heads which develops when they reach adulthood. You can often find them giving you a side-eye with their large round eyes, but they are easily scared, docile creatures. Humphead Wrasse can live for over 30 years, and are extremely important to the underwater ecosystem as they feed on predatory species such as the crown-of-thorns starfish, among other crustaceans and mollusks. 

Called Maa hulhunbu landaa in the local language, this species has protected status in the Maldives and is on the global endangered species list.

Photo credit: MUI

Reef Sharks of Different Varieties

There are a few varieties of reef sharks that are found fairly commonly in South and North Ari Atoll.

Photo credit: Club med

Silvertip Sharks

Silvertip Sharks are called Kattafulhi Miyaru in Dhivehi, and are a species of fairly common sharks in the warm waters of the Maldives. Their rounded snouts are a distinctive feature, as is the white colouring on the tips of all their fins, which is where the name comes from.

Grey Reef Sharks

Grey Reef Sharks are fairly common in the waters of the Maldives, called Vahboa Miyaru, which directly translates to ‘Roundhead shark’, named no doubt for its rounded, long, and blunt snout. Grey Reef Sharks are also famous for their big, round, and bright eyes. Oftentimes people mistake these for their silvertip cousins, but you can easily tell them apart by the lack of white coloured tips on the fins of Grey Reef Sharks.

Whitetip Reef sharks

Whitetip Reef sharks have a more square snout than its silvertip cousins, and no white marks on the tips of its pectoral fins. A unique thing about these sharks is that they don’t have to constantly be moving for respiration. They often rest during the day in caves or other hidey-holes, solo or in groups, and sometimes stacked on top of each other almost like a puppy-pile.

Please keep in mind that you should never approach any reef shark underwater, and should always consult with your dive master if you wish to view them. Also good to note that all species of sharks in the Maldives have protected status, and so shark fishing or catching them are strictly prohibited.

Anemones & Clownfish

There are a large number of different species of anemone in the Maldives, in addition to the previously mentioned brown coloured variety that is the favourite snack for hawksbill turtles. And with anemones come clownfish, also known as anemonefish (and famously called nemo everywhere in the world!). 

Clownfish are tiny, bright orange fish that live inside the venomous anemone due to a protective layer of mucus that covers their bodies and provides them with immunity from the anemone’s toxin. Their bright colours attract other fish to the anemone, effectively helping the anemone hunt, while the venomous qualities of the anemone in turn provides a safe space for the clownfish to live.


Have you ever seen a nudibranch? 

If you haven’t, don’t worry, they’re so small they’re very easily missable. Nudibranch species are found throughout the warm temperate waters of the Maldives. Famous as the most beautiful sea slugs in the world, Nudibranchs come in a variety of different species, shapes and colours, and can be found scattered throughout different coral reefs. 

It’s recommended that you bring a macro camera to really truly appreciate the vibrance of these underwater slugs. Just make sure you don’t try to touch them to get a better photo, and never move them from their environment as you could easily harm these delicate and beautiful little creatures.  


In addition to these exciting marine creatures, Ari Atoll’s resorts and guest houses actively engage in coral planting initiatives to restore and protect fragile coral reefs. Visitors can participate in these conservation activities and contribute to the preservation of this delicate yet precious ecosystem. This comes together with the opportunity to interact with marine biologists and gain firsthand knowledge about the atoll’s unique marine life, adding an educational aspect to the adventure. Inquire with your property to take part in these conservation efforts and make a difference 

The Ancient Folk Story of Mathiveri Finolhu’s Mysterious Formation


Photo credits: teddscmv via unsplash


The Maldivian archipelago is a treasure trove of ancient folklore and folk stories interwoven with elements of culture, tradition, and of course, cautionary tales. Passed down through generations, one of these is the story of ‘Boanbe’- of how the island of Mathiveri in Alifu Alifu Atoll, belonging to the Ari region, lost their station as a powerhouse of the atoll and how the cay (or sandbank) now known as Mathiveri Finolhu became separated from the island with the spontaneous formation of a Fungandu (lagoon).

Photo credits: kudey_ismail


Mathiveri Finolhu is an island that belies its modest dimensions, holding immense cultural significance. Situated to the north within the expansive canvas of the Maldives, this elongated strip stretching 450 metres in length, but a slender 50 metres in width, stands in stark contrast to the archetypal round shape of Maldivian isles. Mathiveri Finolhu is currently used as a picnic island that locals and visitors alike are welcome to travel to at no additional expense. As a matter of fact, the preferred method of travel is to just swim there, as it lies a mere whisper away from the larger expanse of Mathiveri Island.

Photo credit: Ahmed Saeed via unsplash

In the bygone days, Mathiveri was an island flourishing with power and a multitude of inhabitants. There was a particular era where a single family housed more than 40 men and where seven Island Chiefs (Katheebu) reigned under the watchful eye of a ‘King’ or Superior Chief (Ras Katheebu). With the immense strength of the island at the time, they created specific, peculiar, and burdensome rules that were imposed on those who lived in neighbouring lands. One such curious ritual, meant to be adhered to without question, demanded any fishing boat entering the channels of Mathiveri to collect a bucket of sand and a bit of sea lettuce from the northern shores. All the fishing boats from the nearby islands always obeyed this rule, and things were good for a time.


Photo credits: teddscmv vis unsplash


However, the harmony was disrupted when a fishing boat from neighbouring Ukulhas Island dared venture past Mathiveri’s domain without paying heed to this odd tradition. It is unknown whether this was done on purpose by the Ukulhas fishers as rebellion against the unnecessary decrees, or whether it was an honest mistake. The men of Mathiveri were enraged by this breach and did not bother trying to speak to them to find out why they didn’t follow the rules. Propelled by collective wrath against the presumed disrespect, they stripped themselves of all clothing and dignity, voyaging to Ukulhas the next day while the men were away fishing. They wreaked havoc, vandalising and destroying the peaceful island.


Photo credit: maldivity


Returning from their violent rampage, fate proved to have an equally cruel answer to their vainglory. They stumbled upon a sight on the beach near the uninhabited isle of Velidhoo (now Velidhoo Island Resort)– the lifeless form of a stunning woman. While they were warned of the possibility that this might be an evil otherworldly being (Han’di), most of the men disregarded the caution and went closer and closer to the corpse, despite the impassioned pleas of the elders.

The consequences of their transgressions were swift and unrelenting. When they returned home to Mathiveri island, the sunlight dimmed to a haunting yellow, a strange unknown illness plagued the people, and death swept through the men, claiming lives one by one. With limited knowledge of religious burial practices, the deceased were laid to rest without the proper rites as the monumental tragedy continued to unfold. The ancient mass burial ground can still be seen today in Mathiveri Island and is a popular site for adventurous visitors. 


Photo credit: Nika Isand Resort

As the population dwindled to a mere fraction of its former glory, the few remaining inhabitants became desperate enough to seek council from what they had previously considered ‘lesser islands’. They summoned a religious figure from Dhaalu Rinbudhoo, who advised a temporary exodus to the neighbouring Kuda Folhudhoo (now known as Nika Island Resort) until the malevolent haunting in Mathiveri subsided.


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The religious guide ordered the sacrifice of a red rooster at the precise juncture where Mathiveri connected to its long and beautiful sandbank. As the rooster met its end, convulsing in its final throes, a remarkable transformation occurred. The land began to shift and quake, forming a deep lagoon or ‘Fungandu’, severing Mathiveri and the sandbank now known as Mathiveri Finolhu. Further instructions were given – the construction of a road, now known as Roashanee Magu, dividing the island. Residents were warned against inhabiting one side. 

With the completion of the religious rite, the curse that plagued Mathiveri gradually ebbed away. The people, bearing the weight of their transgressions, returned to their island, hoping to rebuild their once vibrant community while remaining more mindful of the perils of overstepping the boundaries of decency and the price paid for undue violence. The Boanbe story continues to live on through oral traditions in Mathiveri Island as a reminder that even the mightiest of powers can crumble and the most prosperous of places can fall.


Photo credit: kudey_ismail


Many many years later, Mathiveri is now a thriving guesthouse island with several charming places to stay, even on the aforementioned Roashanee Magu. The lagoon splitting Mathiveri and Mathiveri Finolhu has become an attraction rather than a reminder of a folktale from the distant past. Visitors are rightly enthralled by the undamped beauty of Mathiveri Fungandu and Finolhu, and remains a popular local spot for swimming, snorkelling, diving, picnics, and photoshoots for islanders from all over Ari. 


If you are making the trip to Mathiveri Island to explore the remnants of this ancient story, there are a few other stops that you should make. 

One of the most interesting cultural sites in the island is the Aasaaree Miskiy, which translates to Ancient Mosque. While there is usually some dissonance when trying to find out exactly how old such a structure is, we know exactly when the Aasaaree Miskiy at Mathiveri was constructed. A bronze plate placed in the mosque states that it was built on 15th of Jumaadhul-akhir 1146 (21st November 1733, Friday), making the mosque an astounding 285 years old, the oldest structure in the island. It was Ali Kaleyfaanu Fui Umar Kaleyfaanu from the previously mentioned Rinbudhoo Island who constructed this mosque, and prayers are still conducted there. However, traveller’s are always welcome to visit and marvel at the enduring craftsmanship of ancient Maldivian stonemasons.



Another ancient sight in Mathiveri island to marvel at is the giant Nikagas (Banyan Tree). Residents of the island claim that this tree is over 200 years old, and it isn’t hard to see why. The giant tree is the first thing that every person would see when arriving at Mathiveri Island, rivalling the island’s cell phone tower in height. Every visitor is recommended to visit this ancient tree and tie a knot on one of the hanging roots for a prosperous holiday and journey ahead. 

With all these rich cultural stories and places of significance to visit, Mathiveri island has become a flourishing tourist destination for those looking for the quintessential serene Maldivian experience. Visitors are spoiled for choice with a wide variety of guesthouses littered around the island, several lovely places to eat, and warm welcoming smiles from the locals everywhere they go.


Swimming with whale shark at South Ari Marine Park



One of the highlights of Ari Atoll is the South Ari Marine Park, located in Alifu Dhaalu. Established as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the Maldivian government in 2009, the marine park is one of the undisputed hotspots for whale shark spotting in the Maldives. 

This marine park is incredibly unique as it is the only year-round whale shark aggregation site of its kind in the world.In the programme’s 15 years of research MWSRP have come to believe that the predominantly juvenile male whale shark individuals are using the area of SAMPA as a secondary nursery. More specifically, we found that this unique Maldives aggregation consists of 91% male individuals with a calculated maturity age of 25 years and longevity of around 130 years. We have also found this ‘staging ground’ for juvenile sharks.


Photo credit: sujugasim


Most of the coastal whale shark aggregations take place in shallow waters with close steep slopes and deep waters in their proximity. Studies show that whale sharks could be feeding in deeper waters and that whale sharks would then surface in shallower and warmer waters, to thermoregulate and recover from their deep dives. Steep slopes favour upwelling currents and we have depths of over 1000 m outside SAMPA. Whale sharks descend to at least 1982 metres.



With its nutrient-rich waters and warm temperatures, the South Ari marine park is perhaps the closest that the whale sharks have to a ‘home’.While whale sharks are found all year round, the highest congregations are observed between August and November.

Four local islands face the marine park; Dhigurah, Dhidhdhoo, Maamigili, and Fenfushi. The local islands are joined by four luxury resorts: LUX*  South Ari Atoll, Holiday Island, Sun Island and Conrad Rangali.


Photo credits: maalu_i


When encountering whale sharks, it is important that we do not cause any discomfort or disruptions by following code of conduct.

– Do not touch the whale shark. 

– Keep 3-4 metres distance 

– Do not obstruct the whale sharks path 

– Do not swim on top of the whale shark

– No Flash Photography 

– Reduce Noise

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