Top Five Dive Sites in Indonesia: you can have it all

Think of anything you would want out of a diving holiday and you’ll find it in Indonesia: exciting sea life from the bizarre to the whopping huge, perfect coral, and a bit of an adventure. In no particular order, here is the Top Five dive sites in Indonesia for all budgets.

1. “SS Liberty” Wreck in Tulamben on the north coat of Bali

Lying only 50m from the beach in depths between 5 and 45m, SS Liberty is a World War II wreak that was torpedoed, run around with the idea of being repaired, abandoned and pushed to its final resting place by lava from a volcano eruption. It is unrecognisable as a ship now but that’s not the point. Dive here for schools of 50cm jackfish in their hundreds, massive rock cod, stunning hard and soft corals and intriguing macro-life (shrimp, pipefish etc).

Stay in Tulamben or Amed and dive it early morning or late afternoon to avoid the day-trippers from Kuta.

Price#: $
Ease of access*: 5
Big stuff*: 3
Corals*: 5
Critters*: 4
Current: Negligible (suitable for all divers)

2. “Sardine’s Reef” in the Raja Ampat archipelago off the western end of Indonesian Papua

Arguably the most “complete” reef dive in the world, you’ll find everything here: from the bizarre 1cm pygmy seahorse to 2m sharks, schooling barracuda and jacks, perfect hard and soft corals, cryptic octopus… it just goes on! “Sardine’s Reef” is not easy or cheap to get to but that is what has kept it so special.

Price: $$$
Ease of access: 1
Big stuff: 5
Corals: 5
Critters: 5
Current: Intermediate

3. “Castle Rock” in Komodo (a.k.a. “Hard to Find Rock” or “Full Moon”)

A challenging-at-times but always rewarding pinnacle site, “Castle Rock” is in the north of the Komodo region between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores, 500km east of Bali. Perfect hard corals gardens adorn this site but you’ll be distracted by patrolling white tip and grey reef sharks, hunting giant jacks and visiting manta rays and dolphins. Not a site for beginners but a must-see for all other divers.

Price: $ if on a day dive from Labuanbajo, $$$ if on a liveaboard cruise
Ease of access: 3
Big stuff: 5
Corals: 4
Critters: 3
Current: Advanced

4. “Manta Bay” in Nusa Penida just southeast of Bali

Arguably the most accessible “big stuff” site in Indonesia, as the name suggests come here for an unforgettable dive with manta rays, proper 5m ones in groups of up to 10. Many operators dive the site as a long day trip from Sanur in Bali but it’s preferable to stay on the laid-back island of Nusa Lembongan from which it’s a 20 minute ride to the site.

Price: $$ if on a day-trip from Bali, $ if staying on Nusa Lembongan island
Ease of access: 4
Big stuff: 5
Corals: 1
Critters: 1
Current: Not challenging

5. Any site in the Lembeh Straits, just east of Manado in northern Sulawesi

Most new divers react poorly to their first dive in Lembeh. Gone are the stunning reefs, toasty and crystal-clear waters that characterise much of Indonesian diving. Instead you’ll find black sand, chillier temperatures, low visibility and lots of garbage. However, it is amongst the detritus from the local port-city of Bitung that divers who love the bizarre, the odd and the down-right weird find their version of an earth-bound heaven: mimic octopus and wunderpus, crazy cryptic frogfish, harlequin shrimp, the much-maligned blue-ringed octopus, seahorses, Ambon scorpionfish, and pygmy seahorses. All these and more are to be found here on a daily basis. As a new diver all you need is an open-mind and a desire to learn more about the critter-end of nature’s spectrum. This is a destination where people are still finding new species fairly regularly. If that appeals then Lembeh is for you.

Price: $$
Ease of access: 3
Big stuff: 1
Corals: 1
Critters: 5
Current: Usually not

* Out of 5 by Indonesian dive site standards
# $ is cheaper, $$ is mid priced, $$$ is more expensive

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