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The Best Scuba Diving in Indonesia – Top Sites 2023

Indonesia is the country with the best diving in the world, that is my experience traveling diving and working as a dive instructor for years. The 17 000 islands making up this island country offer spectacular diving no matter what you love while diving; clean water, still water, or strong currents and everything from the smallest weird critters and rare species to the world’s biggest fish and amazing marine mammals. The water temperature is nice for diving all over Indonesia. The main islands are the easiest to reach by direct flights, from there smaller domestic flights, ferries, and a short boat ride are usually the way to get to the best diving destinations.

stingy nomads indonesia
Typica morning, going out for a dive in Indonesia.

The Best Scuba Diving in Indonesia – Where to Go

Indonesia is populated by about 2500 fish species, which is more than double The Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef. For incredible biodiversity, Raja Ampat is one of the best places to go. This country is a Mecca of muck diving, you can find the blue ring octopus, hairy frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish, pygmy sea horse, and many other wonderful creatures, the Lembeh strait is the place to go. Do dive in strong currents with big pelagic species like tunas, sharks and schools of massive manta rays visit Komodo Island. This is a bucket list destination for scuba divers. Looking for a real remote dive spot? The Banda Sea is one of the last frontiers to explore. Including the Banda Islands, Seram, Ambon, Wetar, Kai, and Aru Islands with steep drop-offs and huge schools of fish, the pelagic species, critters, and hammerhead sharks make a liveaboard trip to the Banda Sea very special.

manta komodo
Diving with manta rays on the beautiful, colorful reefs of Komodo Island near Flores.

Muck Diving in Indonesia

Muck diving is a type of Macro diving, you do not dive in mud or sewage in shallow waters, the dive conditions can be great. During muck diving, you hunt for small, weird, and wonderful creatures that most people don’t even know exist! The Lembeh Strait is my favorite muck diving spot, see our Lembeh Dive Guide, home to some of the strangest and most rare marine animals in existence. Ambon Island and the north of Bali around Amed also have excellent muck diving.

Drift Diving around Indonesia

Around Komodo, there are some amazing spots for drift diving with sharks, big fish, and manta rays. Diving in currents around Nusa Penida close to Bali is also top drift diving sites. Drift diving is often more suited for advanced divers so check with your dive operator. 

Diving Pulao Weh, Batee Tokong
Drift diving from Pulau Weh, Sumatra

Diving to explore the Biodiversity of Indonesia

Indonesia is in the heart of the Coral Triangle, also called the Amazon of the Seas, representing about three-quarters of the world’s coral species. Raja Ampat is one of the most biodiverse places to dive in the world with literally everything, thousands of species of beautiful corals and from the smallest alien critters to massive manta rays and whale sharks around these beautiful islands in West Papua, Indonesia. Komodo National Park near Flores and Wakatobi near Sulawesi is also incredible.

Liveaboard Diving in Indonesia

With thousands of volcanic islands spread over a large area and some of the best dive sites being very remote, liveaboard diving in Indonesia is one of the best ways to explore the coral gardens and remote reefs.

Why dive from a Liveaboard Boat in Indonesia?

  • Many remote spots are accessible from the nearest island, but you will be at these dive sites first in the morning while hundreds of divers are heading to the spots on slow boats, get in the water before they come and scare the fish!
  • It is awesome to wake up on the dive site and roll into the water after breakfast!
  • Night dives are often only possible at remote sights from liveaboard boats.
  • What can be better than living on a boat for a couple of days, waking up and diving some of the world’s best sites after breakfast and then all day…

Some Awesome Liveaboard Boats in 2023!

Budget

Mid Range

Luxury

Dive Season in Indonesia

Indonesia can really be dived all year round since the island nation covers such a massive area. There are two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. In most of Indonesia, the wet season is from October to April, and the dry from May to September. The most popular time to go to Indonesia is in the dry season, you can dive all year round. For the best conditions and better visibility plan to go in the correct season and you can always check with a local dive operator when is a great time. 

Best Time to Dive Around Indonesia

  • Gili Islands July-Aug, Dec-Jan
  • Wakatobi All year, best diving March – Dec and July-Aug
  • Komodo All year, May/June and Sep/Oct best diving, Dec – Feb Manta season 
  • Raja Ampata Sep-Apr Manta season, Good viz Nov-March
  • Bali Best diving May – Nov, Mola Mola Aug-Oct
  • Ambon Nov – May
  • Lembeh July – Aug
  • Banda Islands Mar-Apr, Sept-Dec
  • Pulau Weh May – September
Kadidiri a village of Bajua people, the 'sea gypsies' of Indonesia, Togean Islands, Sulawesi.
Kadidiri a village of Bajua people, the ‘sea gypsies’ of Indonesia, Togean Islands, Sulawesi.

Flores Island

Komodo National Park is a world heritage site and one of the new seven wonders of the world. The closest one of the main islands to the park is Flores Island.

 Diving around Komodo Island

  • Big Schools of Manta Rays
  • Pelagic Fish; Dog Tooth Tunas, Giant Trevally, Reef Sharks
  • More than 1,000 Species of Tropical Reef Fish

Diving in Komodo National Park in Indonesia, surrounded by massive Manta Rays, pelagic fish hunting, and thousands of different colorful tropical fish is still some of the best diving I have ever done. To reach Komodo National Park most trips depart from Labuan Bajo on the Island of Flores. The park is a UNESCO world heritage site that contains the three larger islands Komodo, Padar, and Rinca, and 26 smaller ones.  For more about traveling to Flores and Komodo see our travel article Komodo Island and Flores complete guide.

Getting to Komodo Dive Sites

Most diving is done from Flores Island on day trips or on liveaboard boats. Check out some amazing Liveaboard dive boats around Komodo.

Daily flights depart to Labuanbajo in Flores from Bali (DPS) and Jakarta (CGK). You can also take a bus-ferry combination from Lombok or Gili Trawangan, it is a cheap option, but is exhausting and in total takes about 24 hours. Taking a 3-day boat trip is the popular budget option taken by many backpackers. We discuss options to get from Bali to Flores in this article.

Batu Bolong is our favorite dive site in the central part of the park, diving here is like floating in a perfect aquarium with large Napoleon wrasse, big green turtles, barracudas, and a spectacular array of colorful marine life that live on the beautiful coral reef.

Manta Point is a highlight diving Komodo, a shallow drift dive floating over a manta cleaning station, divers are often surrounded by up to 20 large manta rays while hanging in the current witnessing the spectacle on the cleaning station.

The park has a lot more fantastic diving to offer, Castle Rock and The Cauldron in North Komodo are more unreal diving with plenty of sharks, turtles, and massive giant trevallies and manta rays are sometimes found at these sites.

The Komodo dragons on Komodo and Rinca island are an added bonus not to miss and you can visit the islands on a diving day. 

A variety of fish an aquarium can never duplicate at Crystal Rock diving around Komodo Island
A variety of fish an aquarium can never duplicate at Crystal Rock diving around Komodo Island

Sulawesi Island

The massive island Sulawesi is surrounded by Borneo to the west,  the Philippines to the north and Flores to the south, you can just imagine the amazing dive sites surrounding Sulawesi!

The island is known for spectacular coral reefs and some of the world’s best dive sites at places such as Bunaken National Park, the Togian Islands, Wakatobi National Park, and Lembeh Strait. To get to dive spots in the south such as Wakatobi and Bira, fly to Makasar and make your way from here. To get to sites in the north such as Bunaken and Lembeh, fly to Manado and continue traveling from here. See here for Liveaboard boats around Sulawesi. 

Diving Lembeh Strait

  • Unreal Muck Diving
  • Mimic Octopus, Rhinopias, Mandarin fish, Pygmy seahorse, Blue ring octopus, a very long list….

Lembeh Strait is renowned for the best muck diving in the world. Lembeh is a small island located to the north of Sulawesi Island. Between Sulawesi Island and Lembeh Island, runs a narrow strait called the Strait of Lembeh. Scuba diving in this strait you can see some of the most unique and spectacular creatures alive. See our Lembeh Strait Dive Guide for my experience and recommendations! See here for Liveaboard boats in Lembeh Strait

Giant Frog Fish
A Giant Frog Fish diving at Lembeh Strait

Getting to Lembeh Strait

The closest big city is Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi, catch a direct flight here from Singapore or a local flight from Bali or Jakarta. From Manado take a taxi or public bus to Ruko Pateten Pier and take a boat to Lembeh.

Diving Bunaken

  • Spectacular Wall Dives
  • 400 species of coral 
  • More than 2000 species of fish

Bunaken Island is located north of Sulawesi with crystal clear water and spectacular coral walls offering great blue water diving and some of the best snorkeling I have ever done. The island is truly a beautiful, tropical jungle surrounded by mangroves running into the ocean. Bunaken Marine Park was one of the first marine protected areas in Indonesia established in the early nineties. Steep walls drop into the deep covered by an amazing diversity of soft and hard corals. The drop offers excellent wall dives, keep an eye on the reef for species such as mantis shrimp and diversity of nudibranchs, look around you in the blue for many turtles, huge Napoleon wrasse, and large pelagics; sharks, tunas, and schools of barracuda. Diving around Bunaken you can see 400 species of coral and more than 2000 species of fish.

To get to Bunaken fly to Manado and take a boat from Manado Harbor to Bunaken.

Dive the Togian Islands

  • Dive on Una-Una, an active volcano
  • WWII B24 Bomber wreck
  • 314 species of corals,541 species of mollusk, 819 species of tropical fish

The Togean Islands is an archipelago of 56 islands and islets off the coast of Central Sulawesi. Check out our adventure diving in the Togian Islands. The islands are known for clear water, white sand, and rainforests. If you want to find an off-the-beaten-track paradise, the Togians is a place to go, you can only get here by boat and it took me a couple of days of travel to make it here. The water is crystal clear diving in Tomini Bay, known as the calmest bay on earth. Other than the amazing reef and variety of marine life in this crystal clear still water, there are some very interesting things to explore around the Togian Islands. Diving in a WWII B24 Bomber wreck was my first plane wreck. Staying with local people in a nearby Bajua ‘sea gypsy’ village was a very interesting experience and swimming in a ‘Jellyfish lake’ was amazing, one of a handful of places in the world where jellyfish lost the ability to sting over millions of years of geographic isolation. 

Getting to The Togian Islands

The Togeans do not have an airport, the closest airports are Gorontalo in the north and Ampana in the south, from both airports you have to take some connecting flights to get onto international flights. Getting from Ampana in Sulawesi to Kadidiri in the Togian Islands was an interesting mix of ferries and boats that took about 2 days. See the popular Liveaboards around the Togian Islands

Diving Wakatobi Islands

  • World Famous Macro Diving
  • Dive sites with the highest coral reef biodiversity in the world
  • Spectacular Wall Dives
  • Unreal biodiversity Turtles, sea snakes, nudibranchs, mantis shrimp

Wakatobi National Park is a marine national park situated south of South East Sulawesi. Wakatobi is an acronym for the four main Tukangbesi Islands: Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. With crystal clear water ranging between 26 and 30C Wakatobi is well known for some of the world’s best macro diving with unreal critters to be found on some of the healthiest coral reefs on the planet. Wakatobi is very remote and not easy to get to. It is a popular area for liveaboard diving.

Getting to Wakatobi

A big coconut crab at Kadidiri, the Togean Islands. They climb trees and grow up to 4kg 1m!
A coconut crab at our place on Kadidiri island one of The Togian Islands, Sulawesi.

West Papua

West Papua is located on the eastern edge of the thousands of islands comprising Indonesia. The province of West Papua is made up of two peninsulas, the Bomberai and  Bird’s Head peninsula as well as more than 2000 islands surrounding islands. Most of the diving in West Papua happens in the Raja Ampat and Triton Bay areas.

Diving Raja Ampat

  • Most biodiverse diving in the world
  • 1427 reef fishes
  • over 600 coral species (75% of the world’s coral species)
  • Whale sharks
  • Manta rays
  • A large variety of pelagics; e.g. sharks, tunas, kingfish and more
  • Great macro diving

The Raja Ampat Islands comprising hundreds of jungle-covered islands are an archipelago off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula in West Papua. These islands situated in the middle of the Coral Triangle are known as the most marine bio-diverse place on earth and the top bucket list spot that many dive travelers dream of. 

Spectacular colorful reefs covered in hard and soft corals are home to swarms of small fish such as damsels and fusiliers, bigger reef fish such as batfish, surgeon fish and sweetlips, very large species e.g. bump head parrot fish and napoleon wrasse and pelagic species including schools of tuna, trevally, barracudas and mackerel. Between these spectacular reefs teeming with fish, you also find the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, and majestic mantas gliding over the reefs. Raja Ampat is not only about the big stuff it is an amazing dive spot for macro lovers, there are frogfish, pipefish, blue-ringed octopus, pygmy seahorses, and nudibranchs only to name a few.

Getting to Raja Ampat

To get to Raja Ampat you have to first fly to Domine Eduard Osok Airport (SOQ) in Sorong, the largest city of the Indonesian province of West Papua. There are no international flights, so you first have to fly to Jakarta, Makasar, or Manado. The easiest flights to these airports are from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Flying Bali – Makasar – Sorong is a popular route. 

To get from Sorong to the Dampier Strait islands of northern Raja Ampat, go to Wasai on the island of Waigeo the capital of the Raja Ampat regency by public ferry, speed boat, or fly, all of these depart several times per week. It is a mission to travel to the area and Raja Ampat Liveaboards are the most popular way to dive what is by many seen as the best diving in the world. See the top Liveaboard boats diving around Raja Ampat

Bali

The spectacular Bali is famous for its volcanic mountains, rice paddies, beaches, and coral reefs. By far the most touristy of the 17 000 islands in Indonesia, Bali is well known for good reason, it is beautiful. Bali is not just a popular holiday spot, it has some world-class diving. There is some good diving to be done from the main island, but also from the small surrounding islands Nusa Penida and the Gili Islands. Snorkeling with giant manta rays at Manta Point from Nusa Penida was one of our highlights when visiting Bali. Other than diving there is fantastic surfing around Uluwatu, shopping, partying, and beach life in the tourist hub Kuta and if you like meditation and yoga retreats Ubud is the place to go. Check out our Complete Bali Diving Guide, for everything you need to know to plan a dive trip to his amazing island.

Diving from Bali

There is a variety of great diving to be done from Bali, the main island, and the small islands located fairly close by. Nusa Penida in Nusa Lembongan is often dived from Bali as a day trip or you can stay on these islands. The Gili Islands are 3 small islands closer to Lombok than Bali, but they are quick and easy to reach from Bali. There is good diving around the Gilis with warm water, sea turtles, moray eels, and a variety of other marine species. The Gili islands are too far from Bali for doing day dives, you have to dive the sites from one of the Gili Islands or from Lombok.

Wreck Diving – The USAT Liberty – this massive wreck is probably the most famous wreck dive in Indonesia. It is a shore dive starting from only 4m deep and descending to over 30m at its deepest end. The beautiful wreck is 120m long and you can see schools of big bump-head parrotfish, barracuda, turtles, stingrays, and even some nice muck diving around the wreck on the black sand with pygmy seahorses on fans, numerous species of nudibranch and other amazing critters. Dive guides take you from the beach to do one of the best wreck dives in Indonesia.

Muck Diving around Bali – in the north of Bali there are plenty of sites with black volcanic sand offering some fantastic muck dives with critters like frogfish, dragonettes, rhinopias, ghost pipefish, flying gurnards, nudibranchs, mimic octopus, blue ring octopus and more. Many of these sites are shore dives and can be reached by car such as Seraya and Secret Bay. Some of the dive sites in Padang Bay are a short boat drive away. Amed in the north of Bali has some world-class muck diving and nice drift dives. 

See the top Liveaboard Boats from Bali.

Diving Nusa Penida

  • Manta cleaning station
  • Mola mola sunfish
  • Excellent drift diving

Mola Mola and Manta Rays – Bali is one of the most famous places in the world to dive with mola mola (the oceanic sunfish) and manta rays. The dive sites to swim with two of the most remarkable large creatures in the ocean are around the small nearby islands Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan separated from Bali on the east side by The Bandung Strait. There is some fantastic diving around Nusa Penida, the highlights are the incredible cleaning station at Manta Point and swimming with mola mola at Crystal Bay.  Mola mola, commonly known as the oceanic sunfish is the heaviest known bony fish in the world weighing up to 1,000 kg! Nusa Penida can be dived as a day trip from Padang Bai in Bali. It is, however, cheaper to dive around Nusa Penida from the island itself than from Bali and there is a lot to explore around Nusa Penida, impressive cliffs, pristine beaches, bat caves, temples, and waterfalls, we enjoyed staying here for a couple of days diving. See our detailed Guide to Diving around Nusa Penida.

manta nusa penida stingy nomads
Swimming with Manta Rays around Nusa Penida, Bali

The Gili Islands

The Gili Islands are a group of 3 tiny islands; Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air near the coast of northwest Lombok Island. The Gili Islands are famous for sandy beaches with palm trees, crystal clear water, and colorful coral reefs.

Diving around the Gili Islands is very popular with many operators with great facilities on Gili Trawangan. Diving is nice, but not world-class, it is however a fantastic place to do a dive course. The visibility is good and the water is warm. There are some nice reefs with plenty of turtles, I even saw a big Napoleon wrasse and a couple of reef sharks on one of my dives.

Swimming with turtles around Gili Trawangan
Swimming with turtles around Gili Trawangan.

Gili Trawangan (“Gili T”) is known as the party island with a vibrant nightlife, many dive shops, and plenty of great places to eat. It is very popular with backpackers and is the most popular and developed of the 3 islands. It is a great place to meet other travelers. I am a dive instructor myself and I loved hanging out at the great dive centers on the island. Gili Air is a tropical paradise, it is a more chilled island with a great balance of activities, restaurants, some bars, great diving, and peace and quiet. Alya did her open water, advanced, and freediving course on Gili Air, she loved the island vibe, living on the beach, learning and knowing everybody on the island after a week or two. Gili Meno is known as the ‘honeymoon island’ it is the least developed, not touristy at all, and great if you want to escape other tourists.

Getting to the Gili Islands

Getting to the Gilli Islands – you can get to Gili Air or Gili Trawangan by fast boat from Padang Bai in Bali, the trip takes about 2 to 2.5 hours.

Sumatra

Sumatra, a large Indonesian island west of Java and close to Malaysia, the island is known for its tropical landscapes, wildlife, volcanoes, and some of the best surfing in the world around the  Mentawai Island chain. Sumatra is not a well-known diving destination, with most of the diving being focused around the small island of Pulau Weh.

Diving Pulao Weh
Honeycomb Morey Eel, The Canyon, Diving Pulao Weh

Diving from Pulau Weh

  • Excellent drift diving
  • Deep wreck dive on The Sophie Rickmers
  • Beautiful Reefs
  • Massive variety of fish

Pulau Weh is a small active volcanic island to the northwest of Sumatra and is part of the Bandah Ache province. The surrounding reefs offer some great ‘off the beaten track’ diving. We have heard stories about incredible marine life in the area. Our personal experience was that the diving is good, but not comparable with the best of Indonesia; such as Komodo National Park or Lembeh Strait. Nice diving with beautiful reefs, pelagics such as trevallies, barracudas, and reef sharks, we saw massive schools of small fish and nice macro life such as Leafy scorpion fish, Mantis shrimp, and Boxer banded shrimps. The Sophie Rickmers is a 134m long wreck, scuttled in a sheltered bay. This wreck lies in deep water between 37m and 55m and is done as a decompression dive only for experienced divers, dive schools require a minimum of advanced open water and rescue with 100 dives plus. See our Pulau Weh Dive Guide.

East Kalimantan (Borneo Indonesia)

Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo is a very remote island region in Southeast Asia with few dive centres and sees relatively few diving visitors. With healthy reefs, large schools of fish, good conditions, and clear waters the Derawan Archipelago off the east coast of Kalimantan is a great place to visit. Some of the most popular dive sites can be found on the Maratua Atoll, home to spiraling schools of barracuda, sharks, bump head parrot fish, eagle rays, and hammerhead sharks, Sangalaki with several manta ray cleaning stations, and Kakaban with four species of non-stinging jellyfish.

Pack for a Dive Trip

Disclosure: Stingy Nomads take part in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. When you buy something recommended in this post, we may get an affiliate commission — but it never affects your price or what we pick.

For any dive trip, I always pack my own mask, dive computer, camera, and a couple of small things. The Mares Smart is a very well-priced computer that I am very happy with.

Alya and I both dive with Mares Star liquid skin masks, super comfortable, low volume great for diving and free diving.

Canon G7x camera in combination with an ikelite housing is a very nice camera that replaced the old Canon G series, amazing photography without carrying a massive rig. The Go Pro Hero 11 is an amazing little action cam, I love the video footage I manage with this little camera.

Here are some small things worth packing, Sipadan is drift diving I never dive without my SMB on such dives!

SMB+REEL | RASH VEST | BUFF | KEY CHAIN O-RING KIT | ANTI-FOG | SURF HAT | POLARIZED FISHING SUNGLASSES | WATERPROOF DIVE LOGBOOK

Going on a dive trip? – Dive Trip Packing List+Tips

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Nicole

Wednesday 10th of April 2019

Hi what was the best place in your view?

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 11th of April 2019

Hello Nicole, depends what kind of diving you like. We loved Komodo and have been back more than once, unreal place the biodiversity just amazing from colorful little fish to many mantas, reef sharks and pelagic fish. If you like muc diving Lembeh strait on Sulawesi best I have seen, so many strange and wonderful little creatures. Diving around Bali good in some places some nice muc diving, did some very nice diving around Nusa Penida; mantas, marble rays and mola mola. Plan to go to Raja Ampat and Wakatobi later in the year.

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