Komodo, Bali, Java. Household names, these places are synonymous with adventure and the exotic. And that’s before slipping below the surface of any of Indonesia’s 18,000 equatorial islands. The underwater world here hosts a greater diversity of marine life than anywhere else in the world. This is overcrowding at its best.
Starting in the middle, you’ll find Bali, one of the most popular places in Indonesia when it comes to learning to dive. But, Bali delights beginners and experienced divers alike. It’s a hotspot for mola mola encounters, especially from June to October off Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. For year round diving, the USAT Liberty Wreck, a WWI US Army transport ship sunk in 1942, is now a thriving artificial reef in the Tulamben region, and one ofthe world’s top dives. The Tulamben and Menjangan Island drop-offs alone justify the trip.
East of Bali lie Lombok and Komodo. Here, currents and cool upwelling pack nutrients into a vibrant ecosystem and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Off of Lombok are the Gili Islands of Trawangan, Meno and Air. Casual, beautiful and tranquil, Gili Trawangan is also a popular place to learn to dive. Its reputation for turtles, cuttle fish, octopus, lionfish and scorpion fish makes it popular with new divers.
North of this region is Sulawesi, home to Wakatobi, Lembeh Strait, Bunaken and Manado. Wakatobi has one of the world’s most photographed house reefs. This world-class drop-off is famed for its action and color, with everything from blue ringed octopus and ghost pipefish to resident sea turtles cruising among soft corals and gorgonians.
Off Lembeh, famous for muck diving, you’ll want a guide to help you find banded snake eels, pygmy seahorses, octopus, scorpion fish and literally hundreds of extraordinarily camouflaged critters that defy description. Almost anything could be hiding in the black sand. Bring a magnifying glass and a macro lens. Bunaken and Manado are, relatively speaking, around the corner from Lembeh and offer a kaleidoscope of wall, shallow reef, and big critter dives.
Still one of the few places left in the diving world to be truly discovered, Indonesia promises something for everyone.
HOT DIVE SITES:
Bali, between Java and Lombok, has rich and varied dive sites. Deep drop offs, steep banks, coral ridges and bommies complement outstanding wreck diving, volcanic outcrops and seagrass beds. Large pelagics, including mola mola (sunfish), mantas and sharks, often make an appearance.
USAT Liberty Wreck — This 119-metre/390-foot US Army transport ship was torpedoed in the Lombok Strait during the Second World War and lies just 30 metres/100 feet from shore in Tulamben Bay off Bali’s northeast coast. Part of the superstructure is close to the surface and accessible to snorkelers while the deepest point is about 30 metres/100 feet. Now completely adorned with soft and hard corals, crinoids and hydroids, the wreck is popular with underwater photographers. The structure also provides endless opportunities to see larger fish like great barracuda, napoleon fish and scribbled filefish. You’ll also meet up with sweetlips, grouper, angelfish and surgeonfish. You may spot the elusive pygmy seahorse and, in season, the sunfish (mola mola).
Menjangan Island — 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 whirlwinds of jacks.
ZenBeach — The site’s reputation as a newly explored much loved diving wonderland is just starting to ripple through the dive world.
Nusa Penida — Nusa Penida and its tiny sibling, Lembongan Island, are current-washed pelagic attraction devices. Over the healthy hard coral substrate, look for mola mola, mantas, sharks, eagle rays, turtles and big shoals of trevally and sweetlips. The currents can be strong as well as surprisingly brisk.
Locate a PADI Dive Shop on Bali.
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, rhinopias, frogfish, dozens of nudibranchs and abundant Coleman shrimp) and BatuTiga (frequented by big pelagics such as mantas, sharks, masses of trevally and eagle rays).
To the north of Gili Lawa Lautlie Crystal Rock and Castle Rock — dive sites that have it all: reef sharks, turtles, uncountable schools of fish, barracudas, along with occasional yellow fin tuna, wobbegong, grey reef and bull sharks. At slack tide you can explore among the soft corals, sea fans and gorgonians for eels, frogfish, sweetlips, butterfly fish and fluttering clouds of anthias. Nearby is Lighthouse Reef offering nearly endless drift dives (bring a surface signaling device) on a variety of dive sites with sharks, turtles, dolphins, mantas, masses of trevally, surgeon fish and rays regularly encountered. The nutrient rich seascape is covered in fans, big sponges and searods.
Locate a PADI Dive Shop near Komodo.
The house reef alone is worthy of the trek to Wakatobi. But, some sites here will become lifetime favorites. Above the water, the resort and islands are stunning.
House Reef — From the small and strange to giant mantas and resident turtles, this is an impressive and diverse house reef. Dive it day or night.
Teluk Maya — This accessible shallow coral garden harbors Pegasus seamoths, pipefish, and a type of pygmy seahorse only found here.
Pastel Reef — Thick forests of soft vibrant corals hide lots of animals, this is a beautiful dive.
Blade — Seamounts dominate this extraordinarily photogenic dive site. Sea fans, sponges and corals abound and seem to have positioned themselves in the most picturesque places on the reef.
Lembeh & Manado
This place is renowned for its macro diving over a moonscape of black sand.
Lembeh Strait — The sites 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 all top the list of what divers flock here to view.
Locate a PADI Dive Shop near Lembeh & Manado.
Raja Ampat, which translates as Four Kings, is a laboratory of diversity, It’s hard to argue with sites that boast more than 1200 species of marine life. Predator and prey vie for their share of space on the reef. A few numbers from Raja Ampat tell the story: 74 percent of all the earth’s known corals; almost 1400 species of reef fish; and more than 600 species of hard coral. Raja Ampat is generally live-aboard country with some stunning dive sites:
Kofiau — The reefs here 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 this region.
Northwest Misool — In this blue water mangrove world mazes of the trees meet 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 — A narrow river of sea between Waigeo and Gam Islands, the coral grows pretty much to the surface and you’ll find piles of nudibranchs, sharks, cuttlefish and octopus among the soft corals.
North Sulawesi offers more than 150 dive sites and is one of the world’s top dive destinations. Bunaken Marine Park covers a total surface area of 89,065 hectares/220,000 acres and boasts clear water, steep walls and world-class coral gardens that are readily accessible to both snorkelers and divers. You will encounter large schools of fish – along with spinner dolphins and pilot whales – that frequently visit the area. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a killer whale. But, aside from the big animals, you can spot some of the other 2000 species in the area – including seahorses, scorpion fish, octopus, seafans, sponges, whip corals, hard corals and nudibranchs. Dive sites include Manado Tua, Siladen, Mantehage and Nain islands. Near Molas Beach, just outside Manado on the mainland coast, you’ll find the wreck of the Molas. This Dutch freighter sank during the second World War and its hull has become home for many fish species.
Lombok and the Gili Islands
Just off of Lombok are the three Gili Islands – Trawangan, Meno and Air. These small, casual islands boast white, sandy beaches and excellent snorkeling and diving. Make sure you are properly trained, as currents can be quite strong and drift diving is the norm along the walls, ridges, canyons and slopes. During your adventure you can come across cuttlefish, octopus, lionfish and scorpion fish. If your trip coincides with a full moon, you’ll also get to see the school of huge bump head parrotfish 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) – along with an immeasurable variety of hard and soft corals. The environment is also 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.
Locate a PADI Dive Shop near the Gili Islands & Lombok.
Depths: From surface snorkeling to beyond 40 metres/140 feet.
Visibility: Six metres/20 feet to more than 50 metres/160 feet, depending on area and time of year.
Currents: Mild, but currents vary throughout. In some areas, currents can be very strong.
Water Temperature: Temperatures range form 20-28°C/71-85°F throughout the year, depending upon site and location.
Dive Season: All year but the best time to visit is from May to September. The monsoon season runs from December to June. Mola mola 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 spots 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.
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 tomanta rays and sunfish (mola mola), the marine animals are spectacular. Octopus, moray eels, cuttlefish, turtles, sharks, jackfish, dolphins, emperor angelfish, groupers, goatfish, sweetlips, frog fish, 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.
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). Most businesses accept either Rupiah or US Dollars.
Tipping: Definitely tip divemasters and live-aboard crews. Tipping is not mandatory, but 10 percent for good service is a general guideline.
Transportation: Taxis and local transportation within towns is available. Rental cars are best for places like Bali. For the rest of the region, rely on your resort for local access.
Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport - Jakarta (HLP)
Ngurah Rai Airport - Bali International Airport - Denpasar (DPS)
Religion: Predominately Muslim. Hindu in Bali.
Electricity: 220v/50Hz electrical outlets. Plugtypes can be C, F and G.
Airport Entry/Exit fees: AVisa on Arrival is available for many nationalities. Details can be found onthe Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia page. The departure tax is usually included with the airfare.
Ministry of Culture and Tourism Indonesia
Indonesia Travel Guide
Lonely Planet Indonesia
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