True Travel Times
When it comes to marine diversity, Indonesia is well and truly leading the pack. Pristine waters and an array of colourful fish that appear to have been plucked straight out of a Disney film lure divers and snorkelling aficionados of all levels to the islands year on year. There are literally hundreds of breathtaking spots to partake in some ocean exploration, whether you’re a beginner or more advanced.
When you’re imagining quintessential dive spots in Indonesia, the image you conjure in your mind may actually subconsciously be of Raja Ampat. Not only is it one of the most famous dive spots in Indonesia as a whole, diving here is actually one of the most popular activities to do in Indonesia full stop! Located just off the northwest tip of Papua, Raja Ampat is an archipelago of 1,500 tiny islands. The marine life in the area is absolutely out of this world, and one can expect to see up to 1,200 fish species, meaning that no two dives will ever be the same. In addition to fish, you may even be lucky and catch whale sharks, sea horses and the little-known “walking” sharks, which truly are a sight to behold.
When to go: The best time is October – April.
The proclamation that each spot is among the “best” in Indonesia is going to be a popular assertion throughout this article, but that does not mean that each claim is not true in is own right. There is something different to offer at each dive site here, from running into a school of dolphins to swimming among whales. The water here itself is enthralling, spinning into whirlpools or whipping into huge currents in the distance. Always make sure that you are diving safely, and never push yourself out of your comfort zone – but if you’re up to it, Current Alley is a worthy spot. Some of the best sites without the currents include Kal’s Dream for barracuda and black tip sharks, or Mike’s Delight for the oh-so-alluring (yet oh-so-venomous) banded sea krait.
When to go: You can dive around Alor all year, but the best conditions are from March – December.
PULAU WEH, SUMATRA
This beautiful volcanic island sits at the tip of Sumatra, and marks the spot where the Indian Ocean and the Pacific meet. Tourism is not unheard of here, but the whole region still has a relatively untouched feel. The area is remote, but as such it is peaceful and a true paradise. Two of the most unmissable sites are The Canyon, featuring everything from porcelain crab to titan triggerfish, and the Underwater Volcano, which is such a unique experience. Cracks in the ocean floor allow volcanic hot waters to stream out – but don’t worry, when they meet the ocean water, they’re cooled down so that you’re not at risk!
When to go: During the dry season, from April – November.
Diving in Lambeh is not really ideal for beginners, so if this describes you, then you might want to read on ahead. However, it’s likely that this location will catch the attention of more experienced divers, but not for the reasons that you might think. Whilst dives here are not particularly challenging, the seabed here is fascinating in its own right. The area is noted for being one of the best spots to partake in “muck diving” in the world, thanks to the fact that the sea bed is covered in a dark, murky sand. This may not sound particularly appealing, but when you see the kinds of creatures hiding among the water’s secret spots, you may just change your mind.
When to go: For the best variety of marine life, visit between July – August.
If you love nature, you’ll love Wakatobi, a group of islands off the southern tip of the larger island of Sulawesi. Here, you’ll find an underwater national park that was practically made for scuba diving, thanks to the fact that there are relatively few currents. Gaining access to the islands is potentially challenging – you can only reach the area by small plane – but once you’re there expect a magical experience, with 25 coral reefs to be explored and 900 marine species to be seen. This is one of the best luxury destinations for divers and underwater photographers to enjoy alike.
When to go: All year!
KOMODO NATIONAL PARK, FLORES
If the word “Komodo” sounds familiar to you, then yes, this national park is indeed the home of the famous Komodo dragon. the world’s largest lizard has called the area home for years and years, but the national park has only been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. Of course, the area also has plenty of striking marine life to display to divers, and there are plenty of environments to discover as well. Currents here are strong, however, and so it’s recommended that only advanced divers attempt to go out into the open waters. While you’re there, the best spots are considered to be Batu Bolong, Castle Rock and Manta Alley – although it’s really impossible to go wrong with any of them!
When to go: March – October has the best conditions.
BLUE LAGOON, PADANG BAI
Bali has gained a reputation as a huge party destination, but that absolutely does not mean that it should be a write off for travellers looking for a more refined experience. Blue Lagoon is one of many stunning dive spots on the island, and it is particularly suited to beginner divers. Visibility here is absolutely marvellous, which is just as well – there’s plenty to see! Check out squid, rays, stonefish, frogfish and many more, and prepare to be overwhelmed!
When to go: The best dive season is from May – November.
CRYSTAL BAY, NUSA PENIDA
Nusa Penida is an island which is also located incredibly close to Bali, but it’s a spot for more advanced divers with specific goals in mind. Many flock here to catch a glimpse of Mola Mola, otherwise known simply as oceanic sunfish. They can be found at depths of around 30m, along with many other forms of fish.
When to go: The site is clear for diving year round, but for Mola Mola, visit between July – September.
MENO WALL, GILI ISLANDS
The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands, and Gili Meno one of them. It can be found just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia – which is known for being a not-so-hidden gem for divers and snorkelers. Coral here is relatively unspoiled, and we particularly like Meno Wall, off the west coast of the island. If you venture down to depths of 18m, you’ll see an array of interesting fish with bold names like lionfish and soldier fish, but you should be find providing that you keep out of their way. Turtle fans? This one’s for you. The area is affectionately referred to as “Turtle Heaven, because of the Hawksbill and Green Turtles which call it home. Don’t forget those underwater cameras!
When to go: Year-round, with the best times between May – September. Try to avoid December and January, as heavy rain affects visibility.
We could say this about almost anywhere in our list, but we think that the Togian Islands won’t stay a secret for too much longer! These relatively unexploited islands are literally a dream, and you will feel like both an adventurer and an explorer when you visit. Not only is it a tropical paradise with a lot of versatility, there is wreck diving to be experienced as well. Try Bomba Wall, an ideal spot for divers wanting to explore small caves and cavities, Reef House, a fantastic snorkeling and shallow diving spot, or perhaps most exciting, Bomber Plane, a beautiful spot to try a wreck dive.
When to go: Year-round, though March to November would be best.
Here you will find yet another area that’s still rather unspoiled by human touch. It’s rather difficult to get to, but it is more than worth the trek, especially once you dip into the pristine waters. Strong currents affect many of the sites at times, and so it is recommended that you have an advanced certification to attempt your dives. Once you are there, Gunung Apo is a very unique site to see how all is not lost when volcanic lava destroys coral – it has indeed been reborn!
When to go: March – April and September – December respectively.
The marine diversity here is among the richest on the planet, which is hardly surprising when you learn that the spot is famous for the fact that a living Coelacanth was found some years ago here, quite literally a living fossil that is genuinely millions of years old. History lessons aside, the waters here are also home to some far more recognisable creatures, like whales and dolphins, turtles, sharks, tuna and even sea snakes and sea cows.
When to go: March – October.
BANKA AND BELITUNG ISLAND
Explore corals, reef slopes and pinnacles to your heart’s content here, on an island with more than 25 dive sites, where it’s also possible to drift dive as well. You’d be forgiven for believing that you’d stumbled into an underwater candy store, as you marvel at all the colours with their swirls of pink, cream and lilac hues.
When to go: During the dry season, April – October.
BARRACUDA POINT, BALIKPAPAN, EAST KALIMANTAN
There is not one place on this list that could ever be described as anything close to “forgettable”, but Barracuda Point takes things to the next level. East Kalimantan is an Indonesian province in the island of Borneo, and here you will find exactly what gave the spot its namesake. On the reef point close to the jetty, you won’t be able to miss the tornado effect of swirling barracuda fish. It’s certainly a sight to behold!
When to go: April – December. From January to March, the area experiences heavy rains.
KAKABAN ISLAND, KALIMANTAN
There is really and truly nowhere else on the planet like Kakaban Island. This special location is honestly one-of-a-kind, allowing divers and snorkelers a painless insight into the world of jellyfish. Visit the inland lake for the chance to swim with thousands upon thousands of them, allowing you to become transfixed while utterly unthreatened – they are entirely stingless! Expert divers can even go beyond the novelty and explore the Blue Light Cave dive elsewhere on the island, a fascinating cave dive that is as exhilarating as it is exciting.
When to go: Year-round, but best visibility is from March – October.
THE THOUSAND ISLANDS, JAVA
Names can be deceiving – there are “only” 110 or so islands here in this mini Archipelago. 78 of them are considered as national marine parks, meaning that there are plenty of spots worthy of checking out. As there are plenty of shallow, so-called “slope dives” here, the magnificent reefs are accessible to all, including beginners who wish to stay closer to the beaches.
When to go: December – April.
Both a rare opportunity and a breathtaking experience in equal measure, dives at Morotai are all about exploring wrecks. Designated as a historical site, there is a huge array of war ruins here, including plenty of memorabilia from the Second World War. Among the natural inhabitants, you will find the remnants of warplanes and other wreckages. We recommend going with a guide to get the most out of the experience.
When to go: Year-round, although the best time is from March – July.
CENDERAWASIH BAY, IRIAN JAYA
Sharks suffer from such an awful reputation, but this is often misleading. This is especially true when referring to whale sharks, which are actually more like the gentle giants of the ocean! The enormous Cenderawasih Bay in North East Papua is home to a gigantic marine park, where you can take your time pondering coral gardens and dramatic vertical walls, while taking in the presence of whale sharks in staggering numbers. There are also Japanese WW2 wrecks to be explored here, along with four species of turtles. This is a place of many extraordinary underwater treasures.
When to go: Anytime, although the seas are roughest between July – September, and November – December.
Off to the south of Sulawesi hides Selayar, a quaint and remote archipelago of several islands. The region is the definition of unspoiled, and the gateway to Taka Bonerate National Park. The area has been granted protected status, and as such, the corals here are almost ethereal, and not to be ignored.
When to go: Diving year-round is possible, but conditions are optimal between April – September.
Venture entirely off the beaten path and head to Maumere, a place entirely lacking in scuba infrastructure and resorts, yet absolutely abundant in astonishing underwater sites. You will not encounter many other people here, but you will make up for this with plenty of amazing beaches and marine life to be seen instead. If you are up to a challenge, there are some wonderful wall dives all around Babi (Pig) Island, as well as some perfect spots for macro dives. The ocean is your oyster at Maumere, so take your time to explore!
When to go: For the calmest waters, head here from April – October.
Not many people can lay claim to having seen the curve of the earth, but if you select Gorontalo for your diving escapades, you will be one of them! The area lies right along the edge of the equator, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, with over 500 species of coral. There is plenty of pelagic marine life; fish and other animals that are either close to the surface or to the bottom of the ocean. These types of creatures tend to be big, so they will give you plenty to look at!
When to go: The typical diving season is from November – April.
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