Marine life is usually hidden from our eyes. But once the diving mask connects and the oxygen flows through the regulator, a whole new world under the sea surface unfolds. Indonesia is blessed with one of the most diverse underwater ecosystems in the world. This vast archipelago is part of the so-called Coral Triangle, an area in the Pacific Ocean with a stunning array of corals, fish species and other fascinating creatures. Here are 10 of the best and most stunning dive sites in Indonesia.
1. Bangka and Belitung Islands – Sumatra
This archipelago southeast of Sumatra is a heaven for underwater photographers and those who are interested in macro life. Rare shrimps, nudibranchs, seahorses, and frogfishes float around the marine gardens of this island group. There are plenty of flat reefs overgrown with dark soft coral, almost like a mossy forest.
Experienced divers can discover the Lighthouse Shipwreck, with plenty of sea urchins and feather starfishes. Although the wreck sits at 10 to 15 meters deep, the strong currents make for a challenging dive. Most of the 25 dive sites of the Bangka and Belitung Islands are suitable for divers of all levels.
2. Bunaken – Sulawesi
At the northernmost tip of Sulawesi, the Bunaken National Park serves any type of diver. It’s perfect for those seeking big sea creatures, macro life, as well as vibrant coral. The list of marine inhabitants includes leatherback turtles, eagle rays, blacktip and whitetip sharks, and the occasional manta ray. If you hope to see sea turtles then head for a dive spot called Lekuan, which could be nicknamed ‘Turtle Capital’.
Bunaken is famous for its wall diving, with shallow coral gardens which are easily accessible for beginners and deep drops perfect to be explored by more advanced divers. The walls are full of sponges, giant clams and gorgonians – sea fans – that look like colourful underwater trees.
Bunaken is very popular and loved for its abundance of small species, as well as large pelagic fish.
3. Komodo National Park – East Nusa Tenggara
Although Komodo National Park is mainly famous for its vicious komodo dragons, this protected area near Flores might have an even more spectacular underwater world. Manta Point is a feeding and cleaning station for the majestic manta rays, while Batu Bolong is one of the most diverse sites. This dive spot in Indonesia allows you to see colourful butterflyfishes, green sea turtles, triggerfishes, and deeper down reef sharks circling around this massive rock.
Crystal Rock is another favourite among dive fanatics; strong currents attract large sharks and impressive giant trevallies, surrounded by big schools of small reef fishes. The sunlight sometimes even gets blocked by the abundant fish.
4. Wakatobi Islands – Sulawesi
Especially when it comes to coral, the Wakatobi Islands are nearly unbeatable. Not surprisingly, the Coral Garden is a site that’s usually visited by the happy few coming to remote Wakatobi.
Hard and soft corals in every colour imaginable stick to an enormous, circular-shaped rock. Prepare for vivid macro life, that perfectly blends in with the corals. Common sights include cuttlefish, several types of shrimps, and pygmy seahorses. Be on the watch for large fish and turtles passing by for a cleaning session, performed by the adorable cleaner wrasse.
5. Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is the small neighbour of Bali and home to some holy grails for divers in the relatively cold water. Plenty of manta rays feed here and in the right season. In July to October, you’ll may even spot the mola mola or ocean sunfish. This is one of the largest bony fish in the world, and Nusa Penida is unique for hosting these fascinating creatures.
The presence of interesting hard coral formations, sea snakes, colourful moray eels and large gorgonians make Nusa Penida an excellent all-around spot to dive.
6. Pulau Weh – Sumatra
Pulau Weh (Weh Island) is the westernmost point of Indonesia. It is probably the most all-around dive destination in Sumatra. Macro lovers can observe alien-like mantis shrimps and nudibranchs. On the lookout for large fish, it’s very likely to see bluefin trevallies, barracudas and groups of horse-eye jacks – which can almost be described as the ‘signature’ fish of this island.
The landscapes and dive sites are also diverse; advanced divers can discover the Sophie Rickmers Shipwreck which is where corals and reef fish in neon colours have nestled themselves since World War II. Even the safety stop on the way back to the surface is attractive because then the scale of this giant shipwreck becomes truly visible.
Due to volcanic activity, bubbles rise from the bottom, and shallow water is very warm around Pulau Weh.
7. Pulau Ai – Banda Islands
Are you looking for encounters with large pelagic species? Pulau Ai is still flying under the dive radar, but its cold currents bring species such as barracudas, tuna and occasionally thresher sharks to this remote isle. The steep walls around Pulau Ai are home to hawksbill turtles and big parrotfish. Keep an eye open for intriguing shrimps as well; the Coleman shrimp and emperor shrimp are quite remarkable inhabitants of this region.
The visibility reaches 30 meters, which is significantly better than many other dive sites in Indonesia. Besides that, Pulau Ai doesn’t have established diving infrastructure and is mainly visited by liveaboard boats. You’ll truly feel like a castaway diver, in the best sense of the word.
8. Raja Ampat – West-Papua
Numbers will never do justice to the underwater beauty, but magically Raja Ampat deserves a sum up. Raja Ampat has 75 per cent of all hard coral species in the world, 17 species of marine mammals, over 1300 species of reef fish, and about 700 species of molluscs. The mind-boggling variety makes Raja Ampat one of the best dive places in the entire world.
Citrus Ridge, with its yellow and green soft corals and softly grazing turtles, is loved by everyone who dives here. Cape Kri is the master of diversity though; it holds the record for most types of fish spotted during a single dive (374 species) and is home to whitetip and grey reef sharks, cuttlefish, groupers, and a whole lot more. True dive lovers simply can’t ignore Raja Ampat.
9. Togian Islands – Sulawesi
Just like Pulau Ai, the Togian Islands are home to large sea creatures. Pennant coral fish and barracudas school together here and chances are you’ll meet eagle rays and grey reef sharks. A bonus for adventurous divers is the B24 Bomber Wrec (YouTube link), one of the most intact wrecks suitable for diving in Indonesia. Lionfishes, manta rays and bigeye trevallies usually reside nearby the wreck, but the rare presence of hammerhead sharks and blue marlins adds an extra pinch of magic.
10. Tulamben Shipwreck – Bali
Forget Bali’s beaches and parties until sunrise, and search for the fish kingdom revolving around the shipwreck off the coast near Kubu. The USAT Liberty measures just over 120 meters. It was sunk during World War II after it was hit by a Japanese torpedo. Nowadays, common reef fishes swarm around this giant wreck. Here the sight of ribboned sweetlips, butterflyfish, anemone fish, and parrotfish are almost guaranteed when exploring this vessel.
Whether Indonesia is the best diving destination on earth or not, can be debated. But the biodiversity of Raja Ampat alone definitely catapults this country high up the charts. Deep reefs, shallow coral nurseries, unique marine mammals, wrecks, and hundreds of fish species cater to divers of all levels and interests.
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