In the very southeastern region of Sulawesi, between the Banda and Flores Seas, sits a small group of islands known as the Tukangbesi Islands. Jacques Cousteau dove the region first, which he christened an “underwater Nirvana.”
Today, these islands are known as Wakatobi. Wakatobi Dive Resort has more than 43 documented dive sites. I have visited Wakatobi twice but only dived around half the sites yet in my opinion they are some of the healthiest coral reefs in the Indo region. And because of the resort’s stewardship and the community’s protection, these reefs seem to be improving. So, while I cannot give you a definitive guide to the dive sites of Wakatobi, here are some of my favorites.
This is my No. 1 choice. Roma Reef features a wide underwater seamount with giant barrel sponges that sit among the coral cover, all adorned with frills of multicolored crinoids. Sea fans drape from opportune edges into the current flow. Cabbage and lettuce corals form artistic mazes and massive sculptures of Capricorn coral create Fibonacci swirls under glittering glassfish. The top of the mount has a smaller pinnacle that is dense with life and a perfect end to the dive. Carpeted in leather corals and soft-coral plumes, Acropora corals plus a scattering of anemones, it is a haven for chromis to hide among and feed above. Banded sea snakes course through the corals, stopping only to delve deep into a hole seeking a hiding fish. Depth range: 16 to 82 feet (5 – 25 m).
Not always accessible depending on weather conditions, this also means Blade enjoys some of the best visibility. Here, narrow ridges that plummet into the blue abyss join several underwater mountain peaks. The top is so narrow and the fall so steep that if this site were above water, you would be too afraid to move in case you slipped. Here, you can soar above the ridges like an eagle in flight. Growth on the top and sides of the ridges and peaks is littered with plate corals, giant sponges, gorgonians and red sea whips. Everything is covered in crinoids enjoying the current. Depth range: 10 to 180 feet (3 to 55 m).
This site is a wonderful mix of many different terrains in one location. A coral garden slopes down to a white-sand bay, filled with sea pens and garden eels. The sand graduates down to a wide coral pinnacle, which becomes a steep drop-off on its opposite side. Thick coral and sponge growth covers the pinnacle, including a massive rose of Capricorn coral facing the sand. After exploring the deeper sands, pinnacle and drop-off, head to the right side to find a large undulation of potato coral that’s home to hundreds of chromis with hunting lionfish and banded sea snakes. Depth Range: 0 to 197 feet (0 to 60 m).
This is an incredible macro dive, great to do as a fourth dive of the day. It can even be an alternative to one of the boat dives, as you can dive it for as long and as slow as you like. The steep wall offers many overhangs and nooks full of life. Resident turtles sleep among the corals and there are nudibranchs of all types at all depths. Various anemones, especially near the boat jetty, are home to territorial anemonefish. If you are a real macro aficionado, don’t miss the rubble top inside the reef edge and the seagrass beds. You may find gobies, sea moths, nudibranchs, blue-ringed octopus, frogfish and more. Depth range: 0 to 130 feet (0 to 40 m).
Wakatobi Resort details
Wakatobi is a luxury eco-resort with four ocean-view villas, 15 beach bungalows, and nine palm bungalows. All accommodations are fully air-conditioned. A longhouse sits at the end of the dock and includes a relaxation lounge area as well as the dive center and large camera room. A separate restaurant serves dishes equal to any 5-star hotel and able to cater to almost every dietary need.
Electricity and camera-equipment capability
Both 220v and 110v outlets are available. There are large camera tables with storage shelves and compressed air inside a climate-controlled room. Two separate rinse tanks are maintained purely for camera equipment.
Wakatobi offers unlimited diving; how much is up to you. There are three boat dives per day. Custom-made boats offer ample shade, camera tables, and onboard toilets. You can also dive the house reef as a shore dive or use a taxi boat to see more of this incredible 1.8-mile (3 km) reef. You can also do night dives on the House Reef. Dive durations generally max out at 70 minutes and I highly recommend nitrox.
You can book your own dive guide to help you focus your dive on each site to best achieve your desires in what you want to see or photograph/video.
Wakatobi staff greet you at the international airport in Bali and will assist you to your hotel for the evening, which you can organize through Wakatobi prior to arrival (A one-night stay in Bali is recommend prior to your domestic flight). They will then notify you of the flight time the next day and subsequently assist you all the way through to your domestic check-in the next morning, as well as on your return flight to Bali after your stay.
Entry and Exit Requirements
You must possess a passport with at least six months remaining validity. For 30 countries, no visa is required to enter Indonesia. As of February 2015 your ticket price will include the departure tax.
Wakatobi is a year-round diving destination. Average daily temperatures are around 79 to 86 F (26 to 30 C). Water temperatures vary dependent on season and fall within the same range, so a 3 or 5 mm wetsuit is advised.