Bali, one of the top 10 diving and snorkeling locations in the world, is a medium-sized island in Indonesia. About 150 km (93 mi) wide east to west and 100 km (62 mi) long north to south, it lies 3 km (2 mi) east of Java, the massive island with Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. Being just 8 degrees south of the Equator does have advantages: Bali enjoys a mild climate year round. Daytime temperatures on the coast linger in the 20-33 °C (68-91 °F) range. The balmy ocean temperatures, on average 27-29 °C (81-84 °F), are even better news for snorkelers.
Bali is surrounded by coral reefs and smaller, uninhabited islands with even more reefs, a truly magical place for divers and snorkelers. All of the hundred or so dive sites are accessible from any starting point on the island if you don't mind an hour or two of travel in the morning. It is fun to criss-cross the island and see tropical farms, jungles, volcanic mountains and Hindu temples on your journey. You can also choose to stay close to a specific diving hub for a few days and only move on to the next region when you've had enough underwater adventures to last a lifetime.
Situated right in the middle of the Coral Triangle, Bali boasts over 2,500 fish and 700 coral species. There is a world-class wreck site, the USAT Liberty near Tulamben on the east coast. There are family snorkeling spots in front of the trendiest holiday resorts. Muck diving in nutrient-rich estuaries. Daily dives with a surreal diversity of marine creatures. Challenging drift and current dives among large pelagics like tuna, sharks and the oceanic sunfish.
There is a number of towns, villages and peninsulas that act as starting hubs for diving and snorkeling activities. Starting in the south of Bali and going counter-clockwise these include:
The most popular sites for diving and snorkeling include:
Most of the 4,000 fish species living in Indonesian waters also frequent the sea around Bali. Biologists have counted over 2,500 fish and 700 coral species in Tulamben, East Bali over a 2 week period and declared it the world's richest marine biogeographic zone. In addition to large and small tropical fish living on the reef among the reef sharks, turtles and rays some of the boat dive sites with ocean currents also attract large pelagics like tuna, whale sharks, dolphins and the weird-shaped mola-mola, the ocean sunfish that can grow to 3-4 m (10-13 ft). For those interested in pygmy seahorses or tiny bottom-dwelling creatures, there are muck-diving sites with nutrient-rich volcanic silt, especially on the north shore of Bali.
There are numerous snorkeling opportunities all around Bali. If you'd like to experience something extraordinary then you could head north to Pemuteran and take a boat ride over to Pulau Menjangan (Deer Island) located in a national park, there are various dive sites around this small island, almost all of which are superb snorkeling locations as well. Astonishing amounts of hard and soft coral (barrel, gorgonians, etc.) and hundreds of tropical fish species like batfish, boxfish, angelfish, cardinalfish, pufferfish and parrotfish munching on coral. There is usually no current and visibility often exceeds 20 m (65 ft).
If you'd like to take your family away from the resorts and easy-to-reach snorkeling spots near Sanur in the south of Bali you could do worse than going to Amed on the northeast coast of Bali for some relaxed diving. At the Amed Dropoff shore dive, there is an amazing diversity of tropical fish starting from about 10 m (32 ft) and a good amount of coral. You will see schools of yellowtails and fusiliers that often swarm around you to check you out. There are also angelfishes, blennies, chromis, and butterflyfishes and another few hundred species. Moray eels are guarding their crevices on the coral so check for the inhabitants before you decide to reach into any holes. This is an easy dive as you can find your own depth anywhere from snorkeling on the surface down to about 27 m (90 ft) as you move along the slope. If you're leaving Amed through the mountains after your dive, don't forget a proper safety stop even if you were in shallow depths due to the elevation you will be heading toward.
Bali is an ideal base for a longer Indonesian diving or snorkeling holiday. It has an international airport (Ngurah Rai) near Denpasar, Bali's capital, offering direct flights to and from many cities in East Asia and Australia. There are several flights to nearby Singapore, a major international flight hub. Domestic flights enable you to hop to different islands in Indonesia. You can also continue your diving trip by taking a fast boat to Lombok, Bali's even more laid-back neighbour. Fantastic diving opportunities await you there or on the tiny Gili islands near Lombok.
While all the hundreds of kilometers of Bali's coast line look very inviting for snorkeling and diving we only recommend guided activities through reputable operators. Your guides will not only direct you to the best spots but more importantly they know everything about local conditions like tides, currents, cold water upswellings and such. As Bali is at a crossroads between a shallow seabed and deep ocean there can be dangerous currents everywhere, even between the bay you are holidaying in and that small island or reef that seems to be a few minutes of breaststrokes away.
Gili Tepekong and Pulau Kambing (Goat Island) are tiny islands close to Padangbai on Bali's east coast. Both offer a couple of dive sites that are really only for the experienced thrill-seekers. There are deep walls, rock pillars, a swim-through cave and strong to very strong currents (including upswellings, undertow and surges) here. Though you need to equalise constantly and you will have to buckle up for the ride of your life you will also have a chance to see the large pelagics - whitetip sharks, batfish, sunfish, whale sharks - that are attracted to the current or the plankton in it. Thanks to the current visibility is usually amazing. There is so much coral here that you won't be able to rest on the bottom. Both places can be challenging at full moon and new moon due to the down currents.
Bali is one of the rare places in the world that offer year-round diving and snorkeling opportunities. There is a wet season from October to March and a dry season from April to September. The best underwater visibility is in the dry season until about October, the waves are also smaller then. However, the wet season may offer more large fish encounters due to the silt and plankton in the water. The start of wet season is also unpredictable, it can be October, November or even later in some years. Check our recommendations at the specific diving locations. Also, the main tourist seasons are July and August for European travelers and Christmas and New Year for Australian travelers when you may be competing with non-divers for accommodation at the most frequented places in the south of Bali.
Check out our Tulamben page for world-class wreck diving and some lovely diving spots nearby.