I've been lucky enough to visit the legendary Soneva properties in the Maldives four times, and every time, I have had a dive experience to savour for a lifetime. I first visited Soneva Fushi in 2011 and immediately fell for their 'no news, no shoes' ethos. So many people parrot the concept of barefoot luxury but it's important to remember that the visionary couple Sonu and Eva Shivdasani (Soneva, geddit?) pretty much single-handedly invented the concept and were among the first to truly embrace sustainable luxury travel.

The rest of the luxury travel industry has since caught up to a certain extent but Soneva remain the standard by which all other resorts must compare themselves.

Manta rays swimming in a cleaning station in the Maldives


I've written other blogs about the wonders of Soneva (see our Heroes blog) but we're here to talk diving, so let's dive in. Soneva Fushi is near to Hanifaru Bay, the location of unquestionably one of the finest manta ray experiences in the world, where every year 1000s of mantas congregate to gorge on plankton.

It's only a 20-minute boat ride away from Soneva Fushi so when the conditions are right (May to November) Soneva Fushi is one of the best places to stay to experience this. I was there in April, 'sadly', so instead we headed out to a well-known local manta cleaning station, dived in and waited. I say waited, but it was probably only about ten seconds before the first manta - my first ever - glided into view and began performing that graceful backwards roll that increases the plankton intake when they are feeding. We floated to the side, watching as it performed more elegant 360s and was joined by another, even bigger, manta in a coordinated display that remains to this day one of the most special marine sightings I've ever been lucky enough to experience.

That was the one and only dive I did on that trip, but six years later I was back at Soneva Fushi to see how - if possible - they had improved over the intervening years. Needless to say, the addition of the Bara Bara bar on stilts over the lagoon and Fresh in the Garden treehouse restaurant had, in fact, achieved the impossible and improved on perfection, but I also headed to Soleni dive centre to see if there was a chance to sneak in a dive. Turns out there was, and an opportunity to see a new dive site that they were just developing. Off we went, and duly saw another couple of mantas. Those two dives remain the only time I have ever seen mantas in the Maldives, and meant I was two for two at Soneva Fushi.

Two children holding diving certificates


Those two dives were special, but my Soneva dive experiences with children in tow were even more special. I happen to think that diving is one of the greatest of all parent/child bonding experiences: sharing the pre-dive excitement, those wide-eyed moments of wonder on the dive itself, and then enjoying a post-dive debrief on the boat afterwards. And there's only one thing better than diving for the first time with your children: diving for the first time with your children at one of the Soneva properties.

Back in 2017 my twin girls did their PADI Bubblemaker try dive aged 10 at Soneva Fushi and still talk about the experience to this day. No deep end of a resort (or worse, municipal) pool for them to try out diving for the first time. They went from a short theory introduction in the dive centre to the warm and crystal-clear waters of the shallow lagoon at Soneva Fushi, and then proceeded to dive along the beautiful house reef. Both India and Siena had an instructor (Fabio and Katya, respectively) who had tanks on, and the girls held on to their weight belts and used the instructors' spare regulators, never straying more than of three metres below the surface. Meanwhile I was being a monumental distraction with my snorkel and mask on, diving down to take photos and videos on my GoPro.

child scuba diving giving the OK sign


I will never forget the look of sheer elation on their faces when we got back to shore. I was still buzzing when that afternoon I took a boat out to Soneva in Aqua, their luxurious one cabin liveaboard boat with five crew (skipper, chef, Barefoot Guardian butler, dive guide and wellness therapist - you can even take an astronomer or surf instructor!) that you can charter for totally private and personalised dive adventures in the further flung corners of Baa Atoll and beyond. Soneva in Aqua is a gem, and I can't think of many more romantic ways for couples who love diving to spend time. Mooring up off deserted sandbanks where breakfast is served with your feet in the sand, snorkelling pristine lagoons, watching dolphins jumping at the bow - I think a combination of time at Soneva Fushi or Soneva Jani and a few days on Soneva in Aqua might be the dream honeymoon.

On the subject of Soneva Jani, in 2023 it was George's turn, aged 12, to try diving, this time at Soneva Jani. I'd seen Soneva Jani a couple of months after it had opened when I zipped over there from Soneva Fushi on the 2017 trip. First impressions? The Gathering, the glorious hub of the resort, three storeys tall, spacious and built on stilts in the lagoon, was amazing, as were the overwater villas (complete with slides into the lagoon), but the place hadn't bedded in yet and felt like it was missing the secret sauce that makes Soneva Fushi so special. Six years on it was a place transformed. Immaculate, beautiful and every bit as soulful as Soneva Fushi.

Children with a scuba diving instructor in a class room


Of course, though, the diving would provide the ultimate comparison between Fushi and Jani. George plopped in under the jetty by the dive centre so we could check he understood the basics and then we were off by boat to the best local site. It couldn't have been more magical. Great visibility, a healthy reef, fish by the thousands, morays and then - almost unbelievably - a pod of dolphins overhead, something I've never seen. Vincent the instructor looked at me and shook his head in amazement at how lucky George had been first time out.

We cruised along a wall awash with fish, hovered over huge and healthy coral heads, zoomed in close to see lion fish and purple lipped clams, stopped to admire the extraordinary colouring of a trio of oriental sweet lips - horizontal black and white stripes and yellow fins with black spots, as if they'd been designed by committee - hovering around a rocky outcrop.

aerial view of a resturant on a white sand beach at sun set


We got back up to the boat, gladly accepted a delicious freshly made fruit juice and sat down opposite each other as we turned for home. George looked me in the eye and said, 'that was, by far, the most amazing thing I've ever done in my life.'

Safe to say that Soneva had delivered another outstanding dive experience, and that the worldwide family of divers has a new member.

The header and final image were both taken by Richard Waite