stingy nomads indonesia
DIVING Indonesia

The Best Scuba Diving in Indonesia – All the Top Sites

Indonesia is the country with the best diving in the world, I can not imagine that my mind will easily be changed. After traveling around the world as a permanent nomad for eight years, doing a lot of diving and working as a dive instructor in several countries this is my favorite country to return to. Indonesia is made up by more than 17 000 islands, located in the famous coral triangle. Hosting about 25% of fish species and more than 70% of coral species found on the planet Indonesia offers spectacular diving no matter what you love while diving; clean water, still water or strong currents and everything from the smallest weird critters to the world’s biggest fish and amazing marine mammals. 

Are you a fish fundi – Indonesia has about 2500 fish species inhabiting it’s beautiful reefs, that is more than double The Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef, don’t miss Raja Ampat!! Do you love finding tiny, weird creatures that most people did not know exist? This country is a Mecca of muck diving, where your dive guide will help you to find the blue ring octopus, hairy frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish, pygmy sea-horse and many other wonderful creatures hidden in the black volcanic sand, the Lembeh strait is the place to go. Or do you enjoy flying in strong currents with big pelagic species like tunas, sharks and schools of massive manta rays? There are plenty of strong currents flowing around the protected islands and coral reefs with thousands of giant creatures swimming here in the crystal clear water, Komodo Island will definitely get your blood pumping. 

Indonesia has a lot more to offer than diving; the biggest island country in the world is known for beautiful beaches, active volcanoes and an incredible biodiversity in its tropical jungles sheltering rare animals like orangutans and tigers and is the only country in the world where komodo dragons live. Bali is great, but there are many more fantastic off the beaten track places and hidden little islands, look at this article for the best things to do and places to go in Indonesia.

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, conditions can be great. During muck diving you hunt for small, weird and wonderful creatures that most people doesn’t even know exist! The  name originates from the bottom composition, dark sediment often silty, muddy or “mucky” environment, the visibility can be good just do not stir up the bottom! The Lembeh Strait is my favorite muck diving spot, see our Lembeh Dive Guide, the area has a reputation as the best muck diving in the world being home to some of the strangest and most rare marine animals in existence. Ambon Island and the north of Bali around Amed also has excellent muck diving.

Drift Diving around Indonesia

During a drift dive you enter at one point and let the current carry you, the boat usually follows the dive leader’s buoy or waits for you to release the surface marker buoy. The best sites have a variety of marine animals to admire while flying in the current. Around Komodo there are some amazing spots with sharks, big fish and manta rays. Diving in currents around Nusa Penida close to Bali is also top drift diving sites.

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

Diving to explore the Biodiversity of Indonesia

I have already mentioned the incredible biodiversity of Indonesia, Raja Ampat is top of the list here with literally everything, thousands of species of coral and from the smallest alien critters to massive manta rays and whale sharks around these beautiful islands in West Papua, Indonesia. When it comes to amazing marine life Indonesia has so many of the top spots in the world like Komodo National Park near Flores and Wakatobi near Sulawesi.

Dive Season in Indonesia

Indonesia can really be dived all year round since the island nation covers such a massive area, about 4,500 nautical miles! There are good and bad seasons for the different islands making up Indonesia.

Best Dive Seasons 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

About Indonesia

Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania, spread out in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The country is made up of thousands of islands, the main islands are Sumatra, Java, Borneo (Kalimantan), Sulawesi, and New Guinea (Papua). Indonesia is the world’s largest island country and it is the world’s 4th most populous country. Java is the world’s most populous island and is home to more than half of the country’s population.

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.

Getting to and around Indonesia

The three main international airports are in Java – Jakarta (CGK), Bali – Denpasar (DPS) and Sulawesi – Manado (MDS). There are many international flights from Singapore and Malaysia – Kualalumpur (KHL). Flying is definitely the easiest way to get around Indonesia, the other option is a combination of ferries and buses. Local ferries are slow and some have very limited facilities. I have traveled around Indonesia with plenty of local ferries. It was really cheap, but not comfortable and you have to check the latest schedule since some ferry routes run only once per week.

Flores

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

 Diving around Komodo

  • 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 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. 

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 popular budget option taken by many backpackers. I have done this before, it is an amazing trip with lots of snorkeling and anchoring at beautiful little islands. We discuss options to get from Bali to Flores in this article.

The diving around these islands are spectacular, I have seen such a massive variety of animals here; pelagic species like dogtooth tunas and barracudas, a massive variety of reef fish species and even good muck diving, seeing my first blue ring octopus! Many visit Komodo National Park to dive on Manta Point, 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 is more unreal diving with plenty of sharks, turtles and massive giant trevalleys and manta rays are sometimes found at these sites. Batu Bolong our favorite dive in the central part of the park, is an experience not to miss, 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. 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

The massive island Sulawesi is surounded by Borneo to the west,  the Philippines to the north and Flores to the south, you can just imagine the amazing dive sites surounding 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.

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 isle 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!

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 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 a diversity of nudibranches, 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 mollusc, 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 the Togian Islands. The islands are known for clear water, white sand and rain forests. 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 on 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.

Diving Wakatobi

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

Wakatobi National Park is a marine national park situated south of South East Sulawesi. Wakatobi is an acronym of 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. 

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.

Getting to Wakatobi

Most people arrive at the capital town of Wanci on the main island Wangi-Wangi Island since this is where the airport and main harbor is located. There are daily flights to Wanci from Kendari, the capital of Southeast Sulawesi. There are a handful of ferries per week making the trip from Kendari to Wanci. 

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
  • Large variety of pelagics; e.g. sharks, tunas, king fish 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 is 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. bumphead 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, 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 Lumphur. 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.

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 island Nusa Penida and the Gili Islands. 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 en Nusa Lembongan is often dived from Bali as day trips 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, but not day dives from Bali, 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 descending to over 30m at its deepest end. The beautiful wreck is 120m long and you can see schools of big bumphead 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.

Muck Diving around Bali – in the north of Bali there are plenty of sites with black volcanic sand offering some fantastic muck diving with critters like frog fish, dragonettes, rhinopias, ghost pipefish, flying gurnards, nudibranches, 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. 

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 BayMola 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 daytrip 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 Pendida, impressive cliffs, pristine beaches, bat caves, temples and waterfalls, we enjoyed staying here for a couple of days diving. See our detailed Guide to Dive 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. The 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 openwater, 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 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 advanced open water and rescue  with 100 dives plus. See our Pulau Weh Dive Guide.

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.

I have had a couple of Canon S and G series cameras, this is now replaced with the awesome Canon G7x you can never go wrong with an ikelite housing for a camera in this price range. It is unreal the progress Go Pro has made over the last couple of years, not a toy anymore, but a tiny serious camera Go Pro Hero 8  you will also need a scuba housing to dive deeper than 10m with your Go Pro.

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

SMB+REEL | RASH VESTHOODED RASH VEST | ORCA TORCH | BUFF | KEY CHAIN O-RING KIT | ANTI-FOG | SILICONE SACHETS | SURF HAT | MICROFIBER LENS CLEAN KIT | POLARIZED FISHING SUNGLASSES | WATERPROOF DIVE LOGBOOK

All details and tips on packing for a dive trip ↓ ↓

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