Indonesia is one of the top diving and snorkeling destinations in the world, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, many uninhabited. Situated in South-East Asia just above Australia, it hugs the Equator and has a tropical climate with two seasons (monsoonal wet and dry). The temperature usually hovers around 26-30 °C (79-86 °F) in lowland areas.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are among the most popular activities that Indonesia offers to visitors. You can hop on diveboats at bustling port cities or sleepy fishing villages. You can chill out in quality resorts on some of the world's most famous beaches. Or just get off the map on secluded islands to experience astonishing marine diversity.
Top diving attractions include fantastic coral reefs past most beaches; peaceful whale sharks, the largest fish in the world calling Indonesia home and shipwrecks like the USAT Liberty near Tulamben, Bali. You can marvel at manta rays getting cleaned by small fish in Waigeo or dive near Cape Kri in Raja Ampat where a world-record 374 fish species was identified in one dive in 2012. There are also liveaboards that call between remote islands and stop at isolated reefs to show you unspoilt natural habitats.
There are five major islands in Indonesia:
Groups of smaller and larger islands are scattered around and in between these major ones, covering an enormous area roughly 5,200 km (3,200 mi) east to west and 2,200 km (1,400 mi) north to south.
The scuba diving activities are as diverse as the country itself: past the fun dives there are current and drift dives, night dives offering glimpses of a different set of marine life and challenging dives down to famous wrecks. There are places known for muck diving and reef walls which drop to 40 m (130 ft) below the surface. Hundreds of dives can be devoted to identifying, photographing or videoing the fantastic array of underwater creatures.
All experience levels are catered for, starting from family snorkeling in front of affordable resorts to challenging current and drift dives in cold water, among large pelagics like ocean sharks and rays. Indonesia has good scuba diving instructors and schools who can take visitors from beginner to divemaster certification and beyond. It is much more fun to do your diving speciality training like drift diving or underwater photography at some of the world's best beaches and reefs.
You don't have to blow the budget if you frequent beach cafes and stay at beach houses, often incorporated into the dive shops in smaller places. If you'd like to whip out your platinum credit card and disappear beyond the gates of luxury resorts, Indonesia has several private beaches and pristine coral reefs that are right for you.
The most popular places for diving and snorkeling include:
You simply can't go wrong in Indonesia if you want to snorkel or dive.
Indonesia boasts 25% of the world's marine biodiversity on one fifth of the world's coral reefs so you just have to duck your head into the water to find seahorses, nudibranchs and anemone fish around a dazzling variety of coral. In additions to schools of small and large fishes, you can encounter turtles, rays, even whale sharks while snorkeling.
Due to the mild water temperatures and shallow reefs you can safely dive three or four times a day in several hundred places. Marine life like parrotfish, mollusks, batfish, sponges, emperors, dolphins, sweetlips, wobbegong sharks, scorpionfish, blue-spotted rays, cuttlefish, silver-tip sharks and moray eels are waiting for you, just to name a few among the more than four thousand species of fish and six hundred species of corals. The elusive mola mola or ocean sunfish with its 2.5 m (8 ft) length and distinct look, lacking a visible tailfin, is almost an ambassador of the Indonesian seas. There are epaulette sharks that walk on the ocean floor using their fins. Barracudas, tuna, manta rays, whitetip sharks frequent the colder currents. Sperm whales migrate past the islands.
Experienced divers do not have to go farther than the small islands in front of Candidasa, Bali or near Lombok to enjoy drift diving and observe large pelagics like sharks and rays in the colder currents. However, if you have more than two weeks in Indonesia or have been to Bali a number of times, seek out the smaller island groups to meet unique critters everywhere.
The best conditions for diving are typically between April and November, when waves are often small and underwater visibility is high outside the wet season. There are many spots with all year diving, though there can be some silt and plankton bloom in the water during the rains, reducing visibility. The water temperature can vary significantly from a balmy, tropical 25-30 °C (77-86 °F) found around beaches and shallow coral reefs down to a cooler 20 °C (68 °F), especially in ocean currents between larger islands or under the thermocline in deep water.