Looking to go off the beaten path? Try these under-the-radar dive destinations in Indonesia and you’ll be rewarded with unforgettable experiences and, best of all, uncrowded waters.
For rare marine species and underwater volcanoes. Part of Indonesia’s Maluku Islands, Ambon is a great place for excellent muck diving. Here, your chances of spotting rare critters like the psychedelic frogfish, rhinopias, and the eponymous Ambon scorpionfish, are decent. Ambon is also a seismically active region – it does sit on the Ring of Fire after all – so underwater volcanoes are a norm. At one dive site, you can descend with a bag of eggs to cook in the warm sand before bringing them back up to the boat for a lovely post-dive snack.
2. Pulau Weh
For volcanic dive sites and shipwrecks to explore. Speaking of underwater volcanoes, there’s also Pulau Weh. Situated on the northwestern tip of Sumatra, Pulau Weh – sometimes referred to as Sabang by the locals – is a small active volcanic island. Depending on your level of experience, you can choose from a variety of dive sites. There are shallow spots, deep ones [up to 60 metres], sites where currents are strong, and sites where you’ll only have to deal with gentle currents. There are a few wrecks to explore as well, but if you only have time for one, pick the well-known German steamship, Sophie Rickmers.
For dramatic underwater terrain. Many scuba divers are familiar with Bunaken National Marine Park in Manado, but only a few know the nearby site of Bangka, which can be done as a day trip from Manado. Diving Bangka can be challenging because of its many drift dives, but for the beauty of its magnificent reef slopes and dramatic pinnacles, it sure is worth it.
For big fish and an abundance of sea turtles. The dive sites in Derawan aren’t exactly close by or easy to get to, but when you’re underwater, you’ll realise that it’s worth the effort. You’ll see plenty of manta rays in Sangalaki, big fish like barracuda in Maratua, and overall, a dizzying amount of sea turtles everywhere. Also, Derawan’s Kakaban Island is home to a stingless jellyfish-filled lake – the other known one is located in Palau and, unlike Kakaban, has an entrance fee – where you can snorkel all day and do lots of freediving.
For macro photography and possible whale sightings. You get the best of both worlds in Alor. One dive it could be all macro, with you photographing creatures like sea moths, the mimic octopus, and seahorses, and the next dive you could be having an amazing encounter with the massive, disc-shaped mola mola, also known as ocean sunfish. If you’re lucky, you could also spot dolphins and pilot whales from your dive boat.
For unexplored dive sites with surprising marine species. Known as a getaway island to most Singaporeans, Malaysians, and even Indonesians, Bintan makes up part of Indonesia’s Riau region. Most think all you can do here are topside activities, but the diving it offers is also impressive. Some dive sites have only just been discovered in recent years, while more remain unexplored. Critters that have been spotted include the tiger shrimp, hairy shrimp, and even the mysterious mimic octopus.
7. Gorontalo and the Togean Islands
For stunning reefs that are home to a staggering array of marine species. Gorontalo’s underwater realm can only be described as a dream. Stunning sponges, sea fans, and corals can be found virtually everywhere, and the array of marine life is simply incredible. One dive site in particular is a must-visit; and that’s Traffic Jam. This wall alone is home to brightly-coloured fusiliers, butterflyfish, wrasse, boxfish, nudibranchs, and heaps more. After spending a few days diving Gorontalo, you can take a ferry to the Togean Islands for more remoteness, beautiful, pristine reefs, and a fair amount of large fish such as reef sharks and eagle rays.
8. Buyat Bay
For a diverse macro diving experience. Just a short distance away from world-famous muck diving haven Lembeh is the lesser-known Buyat Bay. Lots of hard and soft corals, as well as large boulders, make up the underwater topography here, and you can visit for more macro dives featuring pygmy seahorses, ghostpipefish, dragonettes and a wide variety of nudibranchs – a perfect add-on to your Lembeh itinerary.