by Chris Walker Bush
September 21, 2016

You won't see any lions or leopards in the flawlessly manicured jungle gardens of a Maldives resort.

Don't expect to see elephants or buffalo frolicking in the crystal clear water.

There aren't any rhinos lurking behind villas or in five star restaurants.

But there's still game-viewing to be found in the Maldives, and it's beneath the country's emerald waters that you'll find what is colloquially known as the 'Maldives Big Five'.

Maldives Big Five

Like the African wildlife from which it takes its name, the Maldives Big Five is taken from five large and difficult to find inhabitants of its warm, clear waters.

Whale Shark

whale shark maldives Image courtesy of Christian Jensen

The gentle giants of the shark family, the world's largest fish is also one of its most fascinating to see up close.

Feeding in a similar manner to large whales like humpbacks and blue whales, whale sharks have no interest in larger food - and a chance to snorkel or dive near these stunning creatures is a huge selling point for some Maldives resorts.

Whale sharks typically frequent the region's warm waters between April and November.

Sharks

Black tip reef shark Photo courtesy of Doug Finney

There aren't any great white sharks in these waters, but adventurous types can still find plenty of toothy predators to see out on the reef.

Reef sharks such as black-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks are smaller, but no less impressive than their larger cousins. Darting through the reef in search of game, they can come quite close to swimmers.

Farther off the coast, you can find man-eaters such as oceanic whitetips, tiger sharks, and hammerheads. These sharks rarely come close to islands, as the reef waters are too shallow for them.

Rays

manta ray Image courtesy of Justin Henry

Fascinating creatures who seem to soar through the azure waters like great birds, manta rays and eagle rays are an impressive sight.

The smaller eagle rays are a more common sight, moving in 'flocks' over the reefs - while the larger manta rays are found in deeper waters.

Both species are harmless to humans, and can occasionally come quite close.

Sea Turtles

sea turtle Image courtesy of Ian Kennedy

The beautiful sea turtle is a not uncommon sight on the reefs of the Maldives, and their unique coloration and serene nature make them a popular sight with tourists.

While the temptation might be there to grab on and hitch a ride, these are wild animals and doing so puts them at great risk. It's definitely a "look, don't touch" scenario.

Dolphin

dolphins maldives Image courtesy of Nadia & Massimo

The playful clowns of the sea, dolphins and small whales such as pilot whales are an immensely popular attraction in the region.

Dolphin cruises are the best way to see these energetic mammals, as they'll often jump about in the wake of the boat or flirt with the awed crowds on deck.

Where to Find the Maldives Big Five

The waters of the Maldives are alive with life regardless of which resort you stay on, but some resorts boast better house reefs than others.

W Maldives prides itself on having one of the best house reefs in the Maldives, and we certainly were impressed when we spotted sharks, sea turtles, and eagle rays in a single hour long snorkel along the shore.

If seeing the underwater Big Five is on your bucket list, ask your Shadows of Africa consultant to recommend a Maldives resort renowned for diving and snorkeling.

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