20 Reasons to Dive Indonesia
These 17,000-plus islands are the stuff of dreams for divers of all levels.
Close-up of the eyes of an Odontodactylus scyllarus, known as the peacock mantis shrimp, harlequin mantis shrimp, painted mantis shrimp, or clown mantis shrimp, Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia, Pacific Ocean. - TF
Indonesia is a perennial Readers Choice favorite, and it’s not hard to see why. Raja Ampat, in the country’s far east, is synonymous in the dive world with a mountaintop experience — a place where you can reliably see what the undersea kingdom might have looked like when the world was fresh and new. From Bali’s unique Liberty wreck that’s an easy shore dive, the country’s underwater riches sweep east and north through the Flores, Banda and Celebes seas, encompassing the walls of Wakatobi, the critters of Lembeh and the currents — and dragons — of Komodo. And it all comes wrapped in the warm smiles of a welcoming people who have raised hospitality to divers to an art form.
Indonesia took home the following 11 accolades in the 2018 Scuba Diving magazine Readers Choice Awards:
1 ) SULAWESI SUPREME
You say “macro,” we say “Lembeh.” If you had to choose just one spot to explore the crazy world of muck diving and the otherworldly creatures therein, our vote goes to this much-loved strait off the northeast tip of Indo’s orchid-shaped isle, Sulawesi.
2 ) FIT FOR A KING
With all respect to Lembeh, the islands of Indo’s Raja Ampat — the province of West Papua — have too many amazing macro sites to list. (Under jetties at Arborek Village and Cendana Pearl Farm make a good start.)
3 ) BLUE MAGIC
Dampier Strait sites like Blue Magic are known for mantas, but don’t overlook the macro here too, including the elusive blue-ringed octopus. At almost any Raja Ampat site, keep an eye out for the small stuff and the big guys.
4 ) CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER
You don’t know macro until you’ve famed “Four Kings” off the eastern been to Indo, which is full of oddities the human imagination can hardly conceive, including bizarre worms, electric and swimming clams, crazy snapping shrimp that can take off your pinky, and all manner of juveniles that in no way resemble their parent fish.
5 ) TAKE THE PLUNGE
Look at almost any aerial photograph of Wakatobi Dive Resort off southeast Sulawesi, and the attraction is clear: dense, shallow coral gardens that fall straight off to the blue-black abyss. More than 20 of the resort’s dive sites include sheer wall dives that start at depths as shallow as 10 feet. Why go deep? Coral and fans subjected to the damaging effects of storms and surge at shallower depths grow much larger below.
6 ) FOLLOW THE ARROW
With its namesake white “V” high on the cliffs above, White Arrow dive site in Aljui Bay off Raja Ampat’s Waigeo Island is a rush — currents can propel you at a pretty good clip, but try to slow down enough to notice mating cuttlefish in winter.
Indonesia encompasses more than 700,000 square miles and is wider than the the U.S.
7 ) PELAGIC MAGIC
Komodo is sometimes described as the most diverse diving in Indo, and that includes walls like Batu Bolong in the national park, in the strait between Tatawa and Komodo islands. Its steep walls defy destructive local fishing techniques, leaving the area safe for pelagics like sharks, Napoleon wrasse, giant trevally and tuna.
8 ) JOIN THE PARADE
There’s a reason virtually every professional underwater shooter eventually beats a path to Indonesia. There’s a strong culture of underwater photography here — expect to bump into great shooters everywhere.
9 ) IMPROVE YOUR CHOPS
Indo is a great place to learn, from land-based instruction like Critters@Lembeh at Lembeh Resort to photographers like Tanya Burnett, a frequent Scuba Diving contributor who leads expeditions that include photo instruction. Burnett’s Island Exposure offers an Ambon-to-Raja safari on Pindito in March.
10 ) COLOR YOUR WORLD
Especially in a country where diving is far from universal among the natives, it’s amazing how closely the color palettes and patterns of Indonesia’s underwater world are reflected in the colors and patterns of its rich textiles and artwork (which make great souvenirs, as well as good subjects).
There's a reason virtually every professional underwater photographer makes their way to Indonesia at some point.
11 ) EMPTY YOUR BUCKET
Although Indo is not a small place — it encompasses more than 700,000 square miles and is wider than the U.S. — virtually every one of its many dive destinations offers an incredible percentage of what’s on your bucket list as a shooter. Present one of Indo’s legendary critter spotting divemasters with an outlandish request, and watch in amazement as he locates the animal, no matter how elusive.
12 ) TOPSIDE TREASURES
In places like super-lush Bali and the nearby Gili Islands, beautiful topside scenes entice photographers as much as what’s below. Don’t miss the chance for a sunrise or sunset trek up a volcano.
13 ) GET THE POINT?
Almost any Indo site that ends in a point — and there are many — where ocean eddies come together has the potential for a bang beyond mere current, including updrafts, downdrafts and the occasional wee whirlpool. For those with the training and confidence, it’s great fun. (No, really!)
Crazy currents and tornadoes of barracuda congregate at dive sites like the Channel in the Derawan Islands'.
14 ) READY, SET, GO
Crazy currents and tornadoes of barracuda, gray reef sharks and thresher sharks make ripping dives like the Derawan Islands’ the Channel, in the Celebes Sea off the island of Borneo, a favorite of local divemasters.
15 ) BE PREPARED
Finally you’ll get to use that reef hook and giant SMB you’ve been carrying for years. Many operators will expect you to not only have these tools, but also to be familiar with their use — and demonstrate it. A signaling device such as the Nautilus Marine Rescue GPS is a good idea. Your life may depend on it.
16 ) THE LIVEABOARD LIFE
You’ll be amazed by how many liveaboards are plying Indo’s waters, from Arenui — the crème de la crème, with a price tag to match — to Wakatobi Resort’s Pelagian, *Indo Siren*, two Aggressor Fleet yachts with six separate itineraries, and a host of other boats at all price points. Whatever you choose, there’s no better way to cement the skills that make an advanced diver than submerging 35 times on your vacation.
The Arenui liveaboard offers a luxury experience for divers.
17 ) DIVE STRONG
Tourism has a big footprint in Indonesia — it’s expected to reach 15 percent of the country’s GDP next year, and to become its largest source of foreign currency — and divers play an increasing role, with new dive-tourism initiatives planned for Wakatobi, Morotai and Komodo.
18 ) SAY “OM”
Indonesia has many offerings for divers with a bent toward the natural and alternative. With holistic retreats and ubiquitous yoga-themed lodging and experiences, Indonesia’s dive destinations are also expat- and vegan-friendly.
19 ) BE THEIR GUEST
The culture of hospitality in Indonesia can be startling for first-time visitors. Luxury experiences like the Arenui liveaboard will spoil you for life, with a ratio of 22 staff to 16 divers. That’s extreme, but just about anywhere you go you can find incredible value for your money, whatever you are spending.
20 ) SIMPLY THE BEST
Ask just about any diver who’s been: Indonesia is the destination to beat whenever divers are talking bucket lists or best dives. And it’s genuine — not marketing. It’s not a cheap trip for most North American divers, but trust us, it’s money well-spent.