Kadidiri, a Bajua people village near The Togean Islands.
DIVING Indonesia

The Togian Islands Complete Travel and Dive Guide

The Togian Islands is a true tropical paradise with beautiful powder white sand beaches covered in tropical rain forest and surrounded by pristine coral reefs in crystal clear water. This archipelago  of 56  islands and islets is located in the middle of the Gulf of Tomini off the coast of Central Sulawesi. Protected by continuous barrier reef the islands are famous for clear and calm waters in the sheltered area. Indonesia is made up by more than 17 000 islands and the 56 islands of the Togians are among the most remote. It takes 3 flights and several boat and ferry rides to reach from the touristy Bali, so prepare yourself for an off the beaten track adventure when traveling to the Togians. Being so remote protects several hidden treasures from global tourism; diving is excellent on the pristine protected reefs, the nomadic culture of the famous ‘sea gypsy’ bajo people is still preserved and it is one of the only places in the world where you can still swim alone with millions of harmless jelly fish in Mariona Lake.

Post updated – 2020/05/06

My dive buddy doing a safety stop in the crystal clear water of The Togean islands.
My dive buddy doing a safety stop in the crystal clear water of The Togean islands.

Traveling Highlights of The Togean Islands

Exploring this hidden tropical paradise was an incredible experience, everything, starting with the overnight ride on a local ferry to going spearfishing with the legendary bajo people.

Diving is the main reason travelers find their way here. The fauna and flora on these isolated island is incredible and most of the highlights are underwater. The water is crystal clear and we had over 30 m visibility on most of our dives, with diving varying from big fish, unreal coral, tiny critters to diving on a WWII B24 Bomber wreck!

Many endangered species live on the Togean Islands including dugongs, hawksbill and green sea turtles. It is one of the only populations of the gigantic endangered coconut crab that you can see walking and climbing he trees over these islands

The culture and lifestyle of the unique Bajo people “sea gypsies” people, living in their floating houses is something as a true aquaholic I have always wanted to see and really enjoyed. You can see how the nomadic  Bajau Laut people live in harmony with the sea in the settlement Pulau Papan.

Swimming in Mariona Lake, a jelly fish lake, where millions of these creatures lost the ability to sting, this is one of only a handful of places where isolation of jelly fish rendered them harmless over millions of years.

A big coconut crab, these guys often climb the palm trees. It is a species of terrestrial hermit crab and is the largest land-living arthropod in the world, it grows up to 4kg and 1m in length!
A big coconut crab on Malenge Island.

Where are The Togean Islands?

The massive island Sulawesi is one of about 17 000 islands that together form Indonesia and is the 4th largest island in Indonesia following  Sumatra, Borneo and Papua. Sulawesi has an odd shape with four ‘arms’ or peninsulas extending from the body of the island. The Togian islands are located in the  Gulf of Tomini between the northern Minahasa and East peninsulas.

Getting to the Togean Islands.

The Togean islands in Central Sulawesi can only be reached by boat, from the north the islands can be accessed from Gorontalo and from the south from Ampana.

From Gorontalo – Fly from Makassar to Gorontalo, take an overnight slow boat to Wakai, the Tuna Tomini operates twice a week, it is a 12 hr ferry trip

From Ampana – fly to Ampana – Wings Air/Lion Air fly to Palu and from Palu to Ampana everyday from any major city in Indonesia. Unfortunately you have to book two separate flights, but it can be done on the same day. The easiest way to reach the islands is with a daily public speed boat. Speed Boats leaves from Ampana to Wakai everymorning. you can get of in Bomba. A daily public ferry leaves to Wakai (5 hrs) or Bomba (2.5 hrs).

From Wakai, you can get to almost any other island in Togeans by public or private boats. Most resorts will pick up guests directly from the harbor 

I traveled overland from south Sulawesi to Ampana and by Ferry to Wakai, from here by boat to Kadidiri. From Kadidiri I traveled by ferry to Gorontalo in north Sulawesi and continued to Makasar from where I went to dive Lembeh Strait and Bunaken.

To go to Mariona Lake and Pulao Papan just ask the staff at Black Marlin  they helped us to find a local skipper to take us.

Which Togean Island to go to..

The three largest islands in the Togeans are Batudaka, Togean and Una Una, most people arrive at the port of Wakai on Batudaka island. The main islands have have good accommodation and facilities, but the hidden treasures are on the pristine little tropical islands spread out in the gulf of Tomini.

the togian islands map stingy nomads

Kadidiri

Kadidiri is touristy by Togian standards and is one of the small islands with the most resorts. I stayed in Black Marlin lodge here, there were a handful of other guests, it was great to meet other people. It was far from busy or touristy. Having people that know the area and facilities here made it easy to organize more adventures from Kadidiri. Diving was good, with pristine reefs in crystal clear water. We organised local outrigger canoe/boats to take us to surrounding islands and sites where we spent a couple of days.

Accommodation:

Katupat

If you really want to get away from the world, this is your place. Only accommodation is Fadhila cottages located on a small islands off Katupat. There is a small fisher village Lembanato on Katupat and the jellyfish lake Mariona Lake, is located on the island.

Malenge

Malenge Island is a real off the beaten track paradise, it comprises of two little islands – Papan and Kakoda Islands, linked by a 1800 m long, wooden, overwater trail. Snorkeling was nice from Malenge,

Accommodation: Sifa Dive Resort

Togean Islands Arriving at Pulau Papan after a long drive by local boat.
Togian Islands Arriving at Pulau Papan after a long drive by local boat.

Pulau Papan

This small Bajo community connected to Malenge Island by a long wooden bridge was great to see how these nomadic see gypsies live, still doing compressor diving and spearfishing with traditional gear. We asked around and stayed with some of the local people, it was a great experience they cooked rice for us and some of the fish we speared. I believe there are now several guesthouses on the island.

Una Una

Una Una is a beautiful volcanic island with black volcanic sand, coconut palm trees lining emerald waters on black beaches. Diving is great with big schools of barracudas and horse eye jacks, pristine healthy coral reef, turtles, rays and reef sharks. It is located quite far from the other islands.

AccommodationPristine Paradise Dive Resort Una Una

Diving in the Togian islands

Diving conditions was fantastic on my dives with 30 m plus visibility and 31C water temperature. In the center of the Gulf of Tomini this is known as the calmest bay in the world and I experienced great conditions diving here.

Diving from Kadidiri – dramatic drop offs, beautiful pinnacles and canyons with pristine reef and beautiful marine life such as moray eels, turtles, schools of barracuda and interesting nudibranches. The reefs here is said to host 314 species of corals, 541 species of mollusc & 819 species of tropical fish. Near the mangroves dive masters told me they have seen dugongs, unfortunately we were not so lucky!

Diving on the wreck of a B24 Bomber plane about an hour boat ride from Kadidiri was an interesting dive. The plane was part of an American bomb squadron that crash landed during WWII.When we dived on the wreck the visibility around the plane wreck was not as good as we had on the reefs, it was less than 10 meters. You can penetrate the main cabin and there were fish, nudis and soft corals around the wreck.

The B42 Bomber wreck from WWII was an interesting dive.
The B42 Bomber wreck from WWII was an interesting dive.

Diving from Una Una – awesome diving, more than 30 dive sites with reef covered in massive fans and beautiful coral with marine life ranging from pelagic species like rays and reef sharks, huge schools of fish, barracudas, jack fish to nice macro diving with frogfishes, seahorses, leafy scorpionfishes and a variety of nudibranches.

I had a great time here, but it takes time and effort to get to the Togean islands. Traveling only for Scuba diving, I would rather go to Lembeh, Komodo or Raja Ampat. Check out our article on all the Best Diving in Indonesia.

Interesting sea slug on coral growing on the B42 Bomber wreck.
Interesting sea slug on coral growing on the B42 Bomber wreck. Dive Togean Islands

Dive Season in the Togian Islands

The Togian Islands can be dive all year round, but March to December is seen as the best time to dive here. This is the dry season making diving more pleasant, but visibility and conditions is good for diving all seasons.

Liveaboard diving around the Togian Islands

The Togian Islands is difficult to access and the perfect spot for an off the grid liveaboard experience. There are four popular liveaboards that operate around the Togians.

The Sunshine

KLM Sunshine is a 30m intimate, luxury liveaboard with double cabins equipped with private bathroom. Operating around the pristine waters of Indonesia, home to a thriving ecosystem of over 600 species of coral and 3000 species of fish.Diving amenities include a spacious dive deck, rinse tanks, dive station, Nitrox and dive guides.

  • from US$ 179 / day
  • Gourmet restaurant onboard, serving delicious meals
  • a large sun deck with comfortable seating
  • Check out the KLM Sunshine

Swim at Mariona lake with the non-stinging jellyfish

Mariona Lake on Katupat, close to the main Togean island is one of 7 ‘jellyfish lakes’ in the world. The famous jellyfish lake in Palau was always on my bucket list, so I was super exited when I found out there was a similar lake in the Togians. In this rare lake jelly fish lost the ability to sting over millions of years of geographic isolation. Swimming with thousands of harmless jellies was beautiful and an unreal experience. To get to Mariona Lake ask at your guest house for a boat contact, we were 3 friends that shared a local boat and it did not cost an arm and a leg. The existence of this specific jellyfish lake is not very well known, we were the only people posing for selfies with the awesome jellyfish when we were there.

Swimming between thousands of harmless jelly fish was an unreal experience!
Swimming between thousands of harmless jelly fish was an unreal experience!

Staying with a local Bajo family

I have been fascinated by the Bajo people of Indonesia and the Philippines ever since watching the documentary Human Planet. The camera crew follows the lives of these Sea Gypsies living a nomadic life on the ocean. The documentary shows the amazing ability the Bajo spearfishermen have to hunt underwater with very primitive equipment and how fishing is done in these parts by compressor diving. We were privileged to stay in the Bajo settlement Pulao Papan in the Togean islands and have the opportunity to meet some of these unique people.

We paid a local boat owner at Kadidiri to take myself and 2 friends to Pulao Papan where he spoke to some local people and organized for us to stay in one of the houses on the water with a local family. The town does not get many foreign visitors and the kids were fascinated by us, following us everywhere.

Some of the local fisherman were fishing by doing ‘compressor diving’. They dive with a surface supply of air coming from a compressor on a boat and lay out a huge net on the sea bottom, similar to how commercial divers work underwater. While diving they chase all the fish on the reef into the net and pull the net into the boat. This is a dangerous practice mainly because of the risk of decompression sickness and is very harmful to the reef and marine life.

The toilet in the house we stayed in, we went diving in front of the house!
The toilet in the house we stayed in, we went diving in front of the house!

We had a choice between going compressor diving with them or to go spearfishing with their local expert one morning and opted to go spearfishing.

Diving with the Bajo people “sea gypsies”

The Bajo people do free dive spearfishing so they do not use Scuba equipment, they do this without fins and some of them still use traditional equipment they make themselves, wooden goggles and home made spearguns.

I do a lot of free dive spearfishing at home in South Africa and was very exited to go spearfishing with an expert using these traditional methods.

I tried using the authentic bajo goggles, a wooden frame fitted with a glass lens. It was difficult to see with the goggles leaking, I believe a lot of the bajo divers use modern masks nowadays, they were however diving barefoot, not using fins certainly makes it a lot harder to dive deep.

Local wooden masks
Local wooden masks

Wearing no fins with a gun in one hand made it difficult to dive deep. I managed to dive to 17m, but I could definitely not reach the depths Subin did on the documentary!

Evan managing a decent dive wearing only local gear.
Evan managing a decent dive wearing only local gear.

Diving with the local home made guns, these spearos are limited to target smaller fish. The guns are just not strong enough to shoot bigger game fish.

The guns are powered by a couple of rubbers cut from car inner tubes. To increase the distance they can shoot, some of the guns are very big with barrels up to 2m long.

I believe spearfishing is a very selective and environmental friendly way of fishing and did not shoot a lot of fish, since I was not keen to shoot small reef fish.

The local champion hunting the traditional way.
The local champion hunting the traditional way.

There were a couple of nice size blue fin trevally hunting in the shallows. These game fish were however very skittish when we got in the water. Approaching them with stealth was not very successful without wearing fins. We could thus never get close enough to spear them and the weak car tube powered spearguns were not powerful enough to try to hunt these bigger fish.

In the village Palau Papan
In the village Palau Papan

Mariona Lake and Pulao Papan were magic and is a bit of a mission to get to. Experiencing these place is definitely worth the effort if you travel to the north of Sulawesi.

Hike up at UnaUna volcano

An awesome day hike through the beautiful jungle up the volcano and into the crater. Organize a guide at your lodge. Inside the crater you can go for a swime and see signs of volcanic activity; boiling water, steam and sulfur. The hike takes about 5 hours.

More Sulawesi adventures!

  • Heading North. – Funeral ceremonies, hanging graves, coffee farms and a crazy bus chase in Tana Touraja.
  • South Sulawesi. – Not  well known as the north, but Pantai Bira has a lot of potential. We did some nice dives in the area.
  • North Sulawesi. – Diving the famous walls of Bunaken and the magical creatres of Lembeh Strait. One look at our photos and you will understand why this place is a photographer’s dream!

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5 Comments

  1. Hello Stingy Nomads, nice story..

    Plan to visit Togean on July.

    I am a spearo and I wonder whether spearfishing is allowable at the area, especially when i stayed on one of the diving resorts having my spearfishing equipment, which commonly banned spearfishing.

    It will be very helpfull of you could advise the skipper’s name and his mobile, as well as Bajau’s spearo at Pulau Papan so i can manage to met the them for a spearfishing trip.

    Thanks

  2. Hello!! Love this post. I am travelling to sulawesi and tongean this week can you tell me how you did to pass a day and sleep in a house with sea gypse? You went there and simply try to find like a “homestay”? Because I am looking for a non tourist experience..and I saw in flores a small village but dont looks autentic…
    Thanks a lot

    • Stingy Nomads

      Hello Sara, sorry for replying so late, we were hiking in Spain. We stayed with Black Marlin lodge in Kadidiri, they helped us to contact a local boat, the skipper knew families in Pulau Papan and dropped us off at the house of a local family, we paid them something for staying the night (we slept on the floor). I think the Malenge Indah bungalows were nearby.

  3. Pingback: Lembeh Strait diving in North Sulawesi - Stingy Nomads

  4. Pingback: Bira - Diving South Sulawesi - Stingy Nomads

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