Indonesia is a massive country, and because it’s broken up into over seventeen thousand islands it can be a bit confusing to know what is where, especially if you are a bit geographically challenged as I was before I moved here. I don’t want to make broad assumptions about people I have yet to meet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people might not know a lot that Borneo is not it’s own country and in fact three countries, the majority of which is Indonesia and known as Kalimantan. Or, that Indonesia also occupies about half of the world’s second-largest island, which I’m sure you’ve all heard of—New Guinea. The Indonesian side is known as West Papua and is the home of Raja Ampat, while east of the border is Papua New Guinea. If you already knew all this, gold stars for you! Anyway, the objective of this blog isn’t to make you self-conscious of your Indonesian geography, I know for a fact that many Indonesian people couldn’t point out Wakatobi on a map. The point of this is to simply break down one of the most beautiful countries in the world, by focusing on the locations which also conveniently happen to be Snorkel Venture destinations!
Fun Indo Facts
- 17,000 Islands
- 127 Volcanoes
- 300 Different Languages
- Center of Coral Triangle
- World’s Highest Coral and Reef Fish Diversity
Jakarta and Bali
I’m not going to spend a lot of time with these two locations but they do deserve mentioning as a lot of our trips will begin at either one of these locations. Jakarta as you probably know is the capital of Indonesia and located on the island of Java. Jakarta is, for lack of a better description, a big city really well known for it’s traffic jams. Lucky for us this is just a transitory stop where we are essentially just using the airport and it’s comfortable hotel to relieve some of the jet lag before taking off to our final destinations.
Bali on the other hand, while we also use the airport and it’s hotel the same way as we do Jakarta’s, is well worth a visit beyond the boundaries of the Airport. I would even suggest spending a bit of time here before or after the tour just to get a better feel for the island as it really is amazing. The island is full of interesting cultural sites, luxurious villas and boutique resorts, amazing food, jungles, and wonderful beaches.
Moving onto one of Indonesia’s most famous locations, Komodo. Komodo National Park is just a short one hour flight from Bali, and also one of Indonesia’s most iconic destinations. The park is made up of twenty nine islands, four of which are home to the Komodo Dragons. The snorkeling here is exceptional with over seven hundred species of fish and two hundred and sixty coral species. There is such a concentration of marine life in this park that you can readily predict what each snorkel session will be like. Manta rays are all over the place and can, quite frequently, be encountered in large numbers. Turtles are also prolific as well as other creatures like cuttle fish and large schools of fish. One of the beauties of Komodo is that the reefs are so diverse that no two snorkels will be the same. There are mangroves, sloping reefs, plateaus, walls, drifts, bays, manta cleansing stations, and of course the resort’s pier which attracts a ton of marine life.
A quick video showcasing our Komodo Tours
Alor is a small cluster of islands just east of Komodo and accessed by a short flight from Jakarta. Alor is still quite un touched by tourism and with only a couple snorkel and dive resorts in the area. This is not to say the snorkeling is any less spectacular than some of Indonesia’s other top destinations. It’s quite the opposite. Because Alor is only now just becoming familiar with snorkelers and divers, and the local villages have really looked after their reefs by practicing more sustainable fishing methods, the areas reefs have remained in a near pristine state. Fringing the entire coastline of the area you can find a truly some of the most colorful and diverse reefs on the planet. The cold water rising from the south brings in nutrients that sustain the smaller fish which in turn bring in the larger animals like super pods of dolphins and melon head whales, mola mola, and if you are lucky a blue whale or two! These larger species are difficult to snorkel with as they are quite shy, but no less spectacular when they pass just in font of the boat. Much like Komodo, the reefs in Alor are very diverse not only in coral species and marine life, but also in style. We have a few piers that make fantastic and highly unique snorkeling spots—one of which is our resort’s pier and only a few feet from your bungalow, but also some fantastic mellow drifts, walls, and sloping reefs, all of which just seem to keep going and going.
A quick video showcasing our Alor Tours
One of the other major islands in Indonesia is Sulawesi, it’s the big silly shaped one in the middle. It is also home to some fantastic snorkeling, outstanding resorts, and really easy to arrive to from Bali. In the north we have five island just off the coast known as the Bunaken Natioanl Park, and in the south east we have another marine reserve known as Wakatobi. But now, lets talk about Bunaken.
To arrive to Bunaken we have to take a short one and a half hour flight from Bali to Manado, and then hop on one of the resorts large boats for athirty minute ride to the resort. So easy! The snorkeling here is really amazing with shallow hard coral plateaus that fringe the varying islands and then suddenly drop into the deep blue. Back in the day sea turtles were hunted here for their meet and eggs, but since the tourism industry has established itself and the declaration of the marine reserve the local turtle population is booming! Green sea turtles frequent the white sand beaches in front of the bungalows to nest and with a bit of luck you can witness an emergence of hundreds of baby sea turtles as they make a mad dash to the sea. Currents are vey mild here in Bunaken and the visibility and conditions are fairly consistent year round. Many of the other locations around Indonesia have a distinct high and low season which coincides with the wet and dry seasons.
A quick video showcasing our North Sulawesi tours which are either combined with Raja Ampat or Borneo
Whether it’s the private charter flight from Bali to the resort’s own air strip, the idyllic palm studded islands fringed by white sand beaches, or the surreal underwater world, Wakatobi is definitely a place you wont forget.
Wakatobi is located quite a ways off the south east coast of Sulawesi in the Banda Sea. The islandscape looks very similar to the Maldives as the area is made up of many small low lying islands with white sand beaches. The robust reefs start at the surface, and at times when the tide is low the reefs actually break the surface. From here they gradually slope away from the atolls eventually dropping of into the blue water. There is no shortage of colorful reef fish here and the reefs are actually some of the most diverse in the world with seven hundred different species of coral. Currents do tend be be quite mild as well, similar to Bunaken, and also like the Bunaken, Wakatobi’s weather and sea conditions remain pretty consistent year round.
A quick video showcasing our Wakatobi Tours
Raja Ampat is, as I said in the beginning, part of West Papua. Raja does take a bit more effort to arrive to as the flight from Jakarta is about four hours, but I promise it is absolutely worth the couple extra hours in the plane. Raja Ampat is often referred to as the crown jewel for snorkeling in Indonesia, and for many people, the world. It’s reefs are teeming with life, big and small, and astonishingly vibrant.With over 1,766 fish species and counting and over 550 coral species, Raja Ampat is the most biodiverse marine environment in the world. What’s more is that since this massive area has been declared a marine sanctuary, the marine life is thriving, and species like sharks and manta rays which were nearly wiped out years ago are coming back fast and showing some really impressive numbers. Don’t worry, the sharks are honestly more scared of you than you should be of them.
Something to make note of with regard to Raja Ampat is that it is a very very big area. If you compare Komodo National Park with Raja Ampat, it’s like six times bigger and made up of over 600 islands with endless bays, sea mounds, lagoons, and mangrove labyrinths. In light of the marine sanctuary’s large size, it’s a good idea to have a rough idea of the different regions of Raja before you book a trip as each region is slightly different. If you choose a resort which is located in the northern portion of Raja, that’s where you will concentrate your snorkeling, in the north. If decide to do the option in the south, an area known as Misool, then your tour will be focused there. There is the liveaboard option which will do a bit of the north and the south, but once again, even with a liveaboard the area is so big you still won’t even come close to seeing it all. In my own personal experience, I worked on a liveaboard in Raja for five consecutive years and every year we would still be finding new places to explore. It’s a truly exciting place full of mystery and beautiful surprises.
What’s the snorkeling like in Raja? Well, it has it all, and in vast quantities. Big schools of batfish, jacks, barracudas, mantas, sharks, the occasional whale shark, all the reef fish you could ever imagine, and the odd chance of a whale spouting on the horizon. It’s epic.
Kalimantan- Indonesian Borneo
Kalimantan has more than some of the oldest, densest jungles in the world where giant ginger primates dwell, it also has chains of idyllic islands surrounded by beautiful reefs. A remote island off of Borneo might seem like a real trek to arrive to, but it’s really only two short flights from Jakarta and a thirty to a forty-minute boat ride to Nunuken Island, then it’s snorkel time! The reefs that surround the island are typical Indonesian reefs—abundant, vibrant, and thriving.
There are also good chances to encounter mantas feeding or cleaning on one of their cleaning stations. But what is most intriguing, at least for me, is the ‘lake’ full full full of stingless jellyfish and fringed by beautiful mangroves.