Indonesia is an epicenter of underwater biodiversity, hosting a greater variety of marine life than anywhere else on earth.
The South China Sea, the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean converge here, on the world’s largest archipelago of more than 18,000 islands, and the result is spectacular diving. Thriving off Indonesia’s vast coastline are more than 600 coral and 3000 fish species. While places such as Bali, Komodo, Java and Sumatra bring jungles and tigers and land-based adventure to mind, the underwater world here is simply in a class of its own.
The diving is nothing short of outstanding. There’s exhilarating drift diving, extensive reef diving, fantastic night diving, unique muck diving and breathtaking steep walls. Tec divers probe the deep trenches and wreck divers love the many World War II relics. Still one of the few relatively undiscovered dive locations, Indonesia has something for divers of all levels.
Bali, one of the most popular places for learning to dive, is also a hot spot for giant sunfish encounters and has some stunning drop-offs. East of Bali is Komodo, where nutrient rich currents underpin a vibrant ecosystem and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Off Lombok, the Gili Islands are casual, beautiful and tranquil, with turtles, cuttle fish, octopus, lionfish and scorpion fish to delight new divers.
To the north, Sulawesi features fabulous diving at Wakatobi, Lembeh Strait, Bunaken and Manado. Wakatobi’s world-class drop-off is famed for its action and color, with everything from blue ringed octopus and ghost pipe fish to resident sea turtles cruising past soft corals and gorgonians. Lembeh is renowned for muck diving. With a sharp eye, you’ll find banded snake eels, pygmy seahorses, octopus, scorpion fish and literally hundreds of extraordinarily well-camouflaged critters. Almost anything could be hiding in the black sand.
Best known for its tigers and orangutans, Sumatra’s diving is also stellar. The best sites are found off the northwestern coast in the shelter of islands such Pulau Weh. The deep waters here are home to abundant marine life,ranging from giant pelagics to marvelous macro critters.
The USAT Liberty Wreck, a 119-meters/390-foot US Army transport ship, was torpedoed in the Lombok Strait during the Second World War and lies just 30 meters/100 feet from shore in Tulamben Bay off Bali’s northeast coast. The deepest point is about 30 meters/100 feet. The structure attracts great barracuda, napoleon fish and scribbled file fish among myriad other marine denizens.
A National Marine Park, Menjangan Island revels in legions of tropical fish, lush seascapes and pristine coral environments. It also has sea turtles, sharks, rays, eels and great schools of jacks.
Nusa Penida and its tiny sibling, Lembongan Island, are current-washed pelagic attraction devices. Over the healthy hard coral substrate, look for sunfish, mantas, sharks, eagle rays, turtles and big shoals of trevally and sweet lips. The currents can be strong as well as surprisingly brisk.
Just off of Lombok, the three Gili Islands – Trawangan, Meno and Air – are small, casual islands boasting white, sandy beaches and excellent diving. Currents can be quite strong and drift diving is the norm along the walls, ridges, canyons and slopes. You’ll encounter cuttlefish, octopus, lion fish and scorpion fish. If your trip coincides with a full moon, you’ll also get to see the school of huge bump head parrot fish that visit the area. Others critters include a variety of rays, sea snakes, reef sharks, moray eels, the occasional whale shark, masses of turtles (both green and hawks bill) and an immeasurable variety of hard and soft corals. The environment is well cared for as the Gili Eco Trust collects contributions from visiting divers and snorkelers to fund special projects such as beach cleanups, recycling initiatives and reef conservation activities.
Komodo Island is directly south of Sulawesi. The national park is legendary for its “dragons” – the world’s largest living lizard – but it’s the ocean that draws divers. With strong currents, Komodo is best for intermediate to advanced divers. But, those strong currents also bring nutrient-rich waters and sustain a remarkable variety of marine life. Dive Komodo and you’ll likely see a multitude of fish and some larger pelagics and marine mammals such as mantas, dolphins and sharks.
Labuan Bajo is the gateway to Komodo, Banta and Rinca Islands and Komodo Marine Park. There are dozens of dives sites within day boat reach and hundreds in reach of dive safaris 8-10 hours away. The best known of these, Manta Alley, End of the World and German Flag, lie to the South of Komodo.
South of Rinca Island the water is cooler and more exposed to the Indian Ocean. Dive sites here include Cannibal Rock (a lush seamount covered with extraordinary invertebrate life, pygmy seahorses, frogfish, dozens of nudibranchs and abundant Coleman shrimp) and Batu Tiga (frequented by big pelagics such as mantas, sharks, masses of trevally and eagle rays).
To the north of Gili Lawa Laut are Crystal Rock and Castle Rock, where reef sharks, turtles, barracuda, yellow fin tuna, wobbegong, grey reef and bull sharks thrive. Lighthouse Reef offers nearly endless drift dives (bring a surface signaling device) on a variety of dive sites with sharks, turtles, dolphins, mantas, trevally, surgeonfish and rays regularly encountered.
North Sulawesi offers a plethora of dive sites and is suitable for divers of all experience levels. Near Manado, one of the top dive destinations, Bunaken Marine Park, comprises 89,065 hectares / 220,000 acres and boasts clear water, steep walls and world-class coral gardens. You are likely to encounter large schools of fish, spinner dolphins and pilot whales. You can also spot many of the other 2000 species in the area – including seahorses, scorpion fish, octopus, sea fans, sponges, whip corals, hard corals and nudibranchs. Near Molas Beach, just outside Manado on the mainland coast, you’ll find the wreck of the Molas. This Dutch freighter sank during the World War II and its hull has become home for many fish species.
Lembeh is renowned for macro diving over a moonscape of black sand. The dive sites at Lembeh Strait have wonderful names: Nudi Falls, Hairball, Police Pier and Angel’s Window. Hairy frogfish, stargazers, flamboyant cuttlefish, Ambon scorpion fish, mimic octopus,decorator crabs, seahorses, snake eels and leaf scorpion fish top the list of what divers flock here to view.
Batee Meureuron is a rocky outcrop washed by strong currents. It’s a great place to see clown fish in their host anemones, stingrays, turtles, moray eels and big schools of black snappers hanging out in the shallow water between the rocks. Seulako’s Drift lets you fly while diving. You’ll soar over rocks, hard corals and gorgonians in the deeps and fields of soft leather corals in the shallows. It’s a high voltage dive. For a unique experience, the Hotsprings are a must see. In a small area, hot water bubbles up from the sandy bottom. The cracks and vents change shape and size every dive. It’s definitely worth diving.
Those who make the journey to Wakatobi are well rewarded. Above water, the islands are stunning. Below, the diverse and memorable house reef is home to creatures ranging from the small and strange to giant mantas and resident turtles. In addition, the readily accessible coral garden at Teluk Maya harbors Pegasus sea moths, pipe fish, and an endemic pygmy seahorse species. Many dive sites feature thick forests of vibrant soft corals, which hide lots of animals. Seamounts dominate the extraordinarily photogenic dive at Blade where sea fans, sponges and corals abound and seem to have positioned themselves in the most picturesque places on the reef.
The waters of Raja Empat (not “Ampat.” Spelled correctly, it means “four kings”) boast more than 1200 marine life species. This is generally live-aboard country with some stunning dive sites. The reefs at Kofiau are crammed with colorful soft and hard corals that hide myriad creatures while blue and gold fusiliers flow like living rivers of color overhead. These coral bommies and gardens harbor some of the highest marine biodiversity in the region. At Northwest Misool, a blue water mangrove maze of trees meets the color of the reef. If you’re a photographer who likes over/under images, you’ll want to take up permanent residence. The Passage is a narrow river of sea between Waigeo and Gam Islands, the coral here grows pretty much to the surface and you’ll find piles of nudibranchs, sharks, cuttlefish and octopus among the soft corals.
Indonesia Dive Summary
Depths: From snorkeling to beyond 40 meters/140 feet.
Visibility: Six meters/20 feet to more than 50 meters/160 feet, depending on area and timeof year.
Currents: Mild, but currents vary throughout. In some areas,currents can be very strong.
Water Temperature: Temperatures range from 20-28° C/71-85° F throughout the year, depending upon site and island.
Dive Season: All year but the best time to visit is from May to September. The monsoon season runs from December to June. Sunfish sighting season runs from July to October.
Weather: Indonesia is tropical with a consistently warm, humid climate. Temperatures range from 23-30° C/73-86° F in coastal areas throughout the year. At sea or in the mountains, the climate tends to be cooler. The dry season runs from June to October while December and January can be very wet.
Access: There are direct flights from most countries into Bali and Jakarta. You can access the rest of the region from either of those hubs. Shore diving and boat diving – including live-aboard trips – are common.
Skill Level: From non diver to advanced. Certain areas in Indonesia are perfect for learning to dive while opportunities for advanced divers, especially in current-rich environments, also abound.
Scuba Gear: Tropical dive equipment is common. PADI Dive Centers and Resorts frequently offer full hire facilities, usually including dive computers, but it’s always best to bring as much of your own equipment as possible.
Length of stay: Two weeks allows for some travel between the islands.
Featured Creatures: More than 3500 marine species live in Indonesian waters. From pygmy seahorses and schooling hammerhead sharks to manta rays and sunfish (mola mola), the marine animals are spectacular. Octopus, moray eels, cuttlefish, turtles, sharks, jackfish, dolphins, emperor angelfish, groupers, goatfish, sweetlips, frogfish, pipefish, lionfish, scorpion fish and leaf fish abound. Invertebrates also flourish here. Divers can check out sea fans, sponges, soft corals, feather stars hard corals, hydroids, whip corals and colorful nudibranchs.