Indonesia is a massive country, and as a result of being broken up into tens of thousands of islands, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic country, and the 14th-largest country by area. The country occupies the area between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian and consists of some of the most dynamic islands on earth, like Sulawesi, Borneo, Papua, and Halmahera. These are not only some of the largest island in Indonesia, but also some of the most biodiverse above and below the waterline. So, since Indonesia is so enormous and has so many different islands each offering a very unique snorkeling experience, we like to break it up into a few different regions, like North, South, East, and West as this is the only real way to accurately describe snorkeling in Indonesia.
North Indonesia generally tends to represent the global image of Indonesia with its lush tropical islands, white sandy beaches, and stunning shallow coral reefs. North Indo is where you’ll find Bunaken National Park, Raja Ampat, and Halmahera, among many other fantastic snorkeling areas.
Again, each of these areas has its own unique characteristics that make them completely different from one another, but in general, these North Indonesian snorkeling destinations offer snorkelers more of a quintessential tropical snorkeling experience. White sand beaches are prevalent if not right in front of the resort, the islands are covered in dense tropical jungles, the climate is as predictable as it gets in the tropics with blue skies and the occasional afternoon rain storm that quickly passes through, and of course, the reefs are stunning and come right up to the surface.
With the exception of Raja Ampat which has a more strict snorkeling season, North Indonesia can be snorkeled year round. That’s North Indonesia in general, but again, we’re talking about an area that extends over a thousand kilometers. Let’s talk about each a little more specifically.
Bunaken National Park – North Sulawesi
The big thing to note about Bunaken is that the currents in this area are generally very mild. During certain moon phases there may be a bit of current, but nothing outrageous by any means, and because the snorkeling sites are so expansive we can very casually drift over the stunning reefs.
The snorkeling in Bunaken National Park is your classic reef-snorkeling experience. Each of the different islands in the marine park has an expansive coral shelf or plateau that skirts the entirety of the island and extends for hundreds out from the shore. The reefs are generally made up of hard corals like table coral, stag-horn, and lettuce corals with some beautiful colonies of sponges, sea fans, and brilliantly colored soft corals mixed in. In terms of marine life, it’s all about lots of colorful reef fish and turtles thanks to the very successful turtle conservation in the area. The Bunaken area has over 325 species of reef fish, so things like anemone fish, lionfish, scorpionfish, damselfish, bannerfish, and a myriad of butterflyfish are all things to keep an eye out for.
Kusu Island – Halmahera
The currents can be noticeably stronger around Kusu Island. This is nothing to be worried about, but it does mean the sites do need to be approached with a bit more caution. Another thing to note about the Kusu area in Southern Halmahera is that because it’s a very new destination, there are very very few people around. You will almost always be the only boat on the site.
Where the reefs and marine life are concerned, aside from one very long and very shallow coral-covered sea mound, most are fringing reefs that extend from the shoreline and very gradually start to slope away from the island before either turning into really interesting walls or steep slopes. The reefs are very shallow and like most shallow reefs in northern Indonesia, they are predominantly hard coral with some large sea fans, sponges, and brightly colored soft corals mixed in. The reefs pulse with color and the sheer volume of reef fish is astounding. Halmahera’s Kusu Island—like North Sulawesi’s Bunaken National Park, is very much an area for reef fish enthusiasts.
Raja Ampat – West Papua
Raja Ampat is quite a complex area to explain in just a few sentences as it is an absolutely massive area, but we’ll try to hit all the bullet points. Raja Ampat is the most biodiverse marine ecosystem in the world. So, you can expect to see just about anything, from giant manta rays, reef sharks, schools of fish big and small, and of course all the colorful reef fish.
The reefs here are also insanely beautiful and come right up to the surface in areas. The shallow reefs are a mixture of hard corals, sponges, sea fans, and colonies of the iconic red, purple, and pink soft corals. The currents can be a bit strong at times in Raja, but like everywhere we snorkel with current, there’s nothing to worry about as we always drift with the current. The sites themselves are all very different, sometimes we’ll be snorkeling around tiny limestone islands with a coral plateau that turns into a wall, other sites will be long fringing reefs that we just drift over, while others might be a village pier completely covered in coral which houses large schools of fish, or even mangroves that sprout right out of the reef!