If you want to have the most amazing SCUBA diving experience possible, then you should logically head to Sulawesi, Indonesia, an area of the world touted as “the world’s best diving.” Many places claim to be the best. If you were to map all of these claims, you would see spatterings in the Caribbean, The Red Sea, The Indian Ocean – to name a few. However, you would notice that the highest concentration of “best dive sites” lies in the Pacific.
In fact, The Coral Triangle is one of the most ecologically rich and biologically diverse regions on Earth, so much so that six countries and seven NGOs (including my former employer, The Nature Conservancy) and government agencies have formed The Coral Triangle Initiative in an effort to protect this important region.
Diving Sulawesi, Indonesia
Like anything in life, it’s hard to claim to be “the best” of anything. It’s more realistic to say something is “one of the best” in its respective category. It’s just like traveling to many different countries and being faced with the question upon your return, “Which was your favorite place?” My answer is invariably “They were all so different. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I like x country for the food, y country for the architecture, z country for the striking landscape.” You get my drift.
Diving is very similar. If you want to experience the best wreck diving in the world, you should head to Yap in Micronesia. If you wanted to see the most brilliantly colorful soft corals in existence, jump over to Fiji’s Somosomo Strait. Shark diving? Again, Fiji (Beqa Lagoon) or Australia’s Coral Sea (especially the Scuba Zoo site). Wakatobi Dive Resort on the island of Tomia in Southeastern Sulawesi, Indonesia is one of these “world’s best diving” claimants (and one of the top-ranked on Google “world’s best diving” searches), and I would personally have to agree with their claim.
Australia’s Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef, Fiji’s Somosomo Straight and Great Astrolabe Reef, and Rangiroa’s high-octane drift dives (in French Polynesia) are the only other contenders, in my book, that could compete with Wakatobi’s reefs. Wakatobi emphasizes their fascinating variety of micro marine life. Does this seem anti-climatic to you? Many divers may feel the need to see big marine life, but if you think about viewing micro marine life as a scavenger hunt, it becomes very fun and interesting!
Wakatobi Dive Resort on Tomia Island, Sulawesi
What is WA-KAH-TOE-BE? There are three things to consider:
1) Wakatobi Dive Resort is a world class, luxury, eco dive operation and resort located in Southeastern Sulawesi, Indonesia on Tomia Island.
2) Wakatobi is the name of a regency and archipelago in Sulawesi Tenggara, the name “Wa-Ka-To-Bi” derived from the four main islands: Wangiwangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, Binongko.
3) Wakatobi is also a marine national park.
You can imagine my confusion when our trip leader continually referenced this mysterious land: “Wakatobi, Indonesia” – as no such island exists. I searched and searched on all of the maps the Inter-webs had to offer, even Google Earth. I was confounded. After further Internet searching, I discovered that the name refers to (in this case) both the renowned dive resort we would visit and the archipelago and regency made up of many small islands. The resort is physically located on the island of Tomia, Sulawesi. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere on the map scene!
We flew to the tiny, three-year-old Matahora airport on Wangi-Wangi Island, via Bali. Before 2009, the only way to reach this renowned, world-class dive resort was via a live-aboard boat over a two-day period
There are three levels of accommodations: Villas, Ocean Bungalows and Palm Bungalows. For the week we were there, my roommate and I bunked in the most “basic” of the three, the Palm Bungalows. By basic, I mean luxurious!
The restaurant offers a gourmet culinary experience in an elegant yet laid-back “no-shoes” atmosphere. The views of the serene Banda Sea against the stark white beach are so serene, you’ll want to stay for seconds, thirds, dessert, and more coffee or wine just to continue to be in that moment, soaking it all in.
There were many stunning sunsets, gourmet meals (seriously, and I am a foodie), lovely happy hours, professional/friendly/attentive staff, and most of all, some of the best SCUBA diving I’ve ever encountered.
However, even if you were a doggy-paddling, shark-dreading person who hated sticking your head underwater, you would likely appreciate the amenities of this award-winning resort.
The “house reef,” extending directly from the resort’s private beach, teems with vibrantly colorful marine life. Guests can snorkel on it at any time or arrange for a tank dive.
The resort offers two distinct diving experiences:
1) Stay at the resort: Opt to stay in one of the three aforementioned types of accommodations, and enjoy all of the amenities on offer (the food, the beach, the spa, cooking classes, movie nights, happy hours). The diving from the resort operates via day dive boats. There are six of them.
The boats go out three times a day; twice in the morning and once in the afternoon. Occasionally, if a dive site is father away, the boat will stay out between the two morning dives. The crew brings plenty of snacks and drinks. You will welcome the hot chocolate and coffee when you emerge, chilly and wet, from your dive! Despite being near the equator, being underwater for an hour brings your core body temperature down significantly.
All of these dives are completely optional. You may go as often or as little as you’d like. Each dive boat gets one night dive during the week. Again, this is optional, but HIGHLY recommended! The florescent marine colors really POP under spotlight torches, pulling them out of complete pitch-black immersion.
Of the 17 dive sites that we explored, my favorites were Sawa Utara, Roma, and Starship. Our night dive was on Sunia Baru, which was a very colorful wall.
It definitely helps to have a dive master with a keen eye. Muji was probably one of the best dive masters I’ve ever met. He was not only a great guide and navigator, but he wasn’t an overbearing, micro-managing dive master (i.e. he didn’t constantly monitor your depth and tell you to ascend, etc.) Most importantly, it seemed that every time we hit the water, Muji would take us straight to a hidden treasure. I can’t tell you how many (rare) pygmy sea horses he found (the largest one being no bigger than a pinky finger nail).
Also, keep in mind that you have unlimited access to the house reef (surface interval time permitting) for diving and snorkeling.
2) The Pelagian Dive Yacht: Spend your vacation diving on The Pelagian, a liveaboard which covers a larger area than diving directly from the resort each day. You also have the opportunity to muck dive from the Pelagian. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about the liveaboard experience aboard The Pelagian. Many divers come to Wakatobi and spend one week at the resort and one week aboard the Pelagian, rewarding themselves with both types of exciting and dynamic diving atmospheres.
Lets not forget a diver’s favorite activity, the quintessential happy hour. There were few who missed the opportunity to partake in expensive, fruity drinks-for-half-price at the end-of-the-pier Jetty Bar against a sultry sunset backdrop. Stories of shared and individual experiences unfolded as people from all over the world gathered to laugh, drink and be merry together. It was funny to find some other American southerners there, in addition to a group of rowdy and entertaining Brazilians.