If you’re planning your next diving or snorkelling holiday in Indonesia and looking for some inspiration, then what better place to start than our guide to unmissable ocean experiences – chosen by our team of experts on Indonesian travel and guaranteed to whet your metaphorical wetsuit. 

Read on to find out more about Indonesia's best diving and snorkelling experiences.

Swim alongside whale sharks

Whale sharks are one of Indonesia’s most sought-after marine creatures, but just a handful of remote regions offering reliable encounters throughout the year. In fact, just three detinations within this enormous archipelago deliver the vast majority of Indonesia’s whale shark experiences – Cenderawasih Bay, Triton Bay, and Kalimantan. At each of these remote destinations, whale sharks can frequently be found gathering around floating fishing platforms known as bagans. Visitors who make the extra effort required to reach these hotspots are rewarded with reliable opportunities to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive alongside the whale sharks as they hoover up anchovies and other bait fish escaping from the large submerged nets. 

Dive or snorkel with manta rays

Manta rays are another much-loved marine species found in Indonesia and the main hotspots for encounters are spread right across the islands. Bali is one of the country’s most accessible places to dive or snorkel amongst manta rays, as the smaller island of Nusa Penida offers encounters throughout most of the year. Though more remote, the island of Sangalaki also boasts a year-round manta ray population. Komodo National Park is another mainstream manta spotting destination, with up to a dozen often seen on a single site at certain times of year. Raja Ampat’s sightings are a little more seasonal, but the high number of striking black mantas – and the possibility of huge oceanic manta rays also making appearances – mean the experiences here are all the more exciting. 

Search for sought-after critters

Ambon's renowned psychedelic frogfish - one of Indonesia's most sought after critters
Ambon's renowned psychedelic frogfish - one of Indonesia's most sought after critters

Indonesia is undoubtedly home to some of the very best muck and macro diving on the planet. Cryptic critters can be found almost anywhere throughout this sprawling archipelago, but a handful of destinations stand head and shoulders above the rest. Sulawesi’s Lembeh Strait is widely regarded to be the ‘critter capital’ of the world, harbouring an unparalleled “hit-list” of weird and wonderful inhabitants – from mimic, wonderpus, and blue-ringed octopuses to flamboyant cuttlefish, pygmy seahorses, and pegasus sea months. 

Ambon is another incredible muck diving destination, and is host to the endemic psychedelic frogfish, along with almost every other macro subject imaginable. Though Alor is often best known for its powerful currents and striking pelagic species, sites around Kalabahi Bay and Beangabang Bay are home to their fair share of critters, including an abundance of Rhinopias. Bali also boasts its fair share of macro marine life, particularly around east coast destinations such as Tulamben and Padangbai.

Explore active underwater volcanoes

Indonesia is one of the most geologically active countries in the world. In fact, much of the archipelago could simply be described as one big chain of volcanoes, with dramatic peaks providing the background for countless photographs. But the beautiful volcanic scenery certainly doesn’t end there. Diving and snorkelling around active volcanoes is an eye-opening experience, with the unique environment giving birth to silty black sand, nutrient-rich reefs, bubbling gas vents, and lava flows frozen in time. Located off the northeast coast of Sumbawa, Pulau Sangeang is a popular stop for many liveaboards visiting Komodo, while Banda Api is a major stop for most liveaboards traversing the Banda Sea. Mount Batu Tara, on Komba Island, is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes and is sometimes visited by dive safaris exploring Flores or Alor.

Encounter the elusive mola mola

Also known as ocean sunfish, mola mola are somewhat of a holy grail for many serious scuba divers, and Indonesia is easily the best place in the world for an encounter. As the heaviest bony fish in the ocean, weighing over two tonnes and measuring several metres long, these bizarre, bulbous beasts have to be seen to be believed. And, what makes mola mola even more alluring is their highly elusive nature. In fact, the island of Nusa Penida, off the southeast coast of Bali, is the only place on the planet where their presence can be predicted with any real certainty. The deeper sites around Nusa Penida become a hotspot for mola mola during the height of the dry season, when the waters are at their coldest, though a little luck is still needed for a sighting. 

Spot schools of hammerhead sharks

While Indonesia isn’t the ‘sharkiest’ of dive destinations, it still manages to hold its own amongst some of the planet’s most infamous shark diving hotspots. The archipelago’s most reliable encounters occur in the Banda Sea, where powerful currents combine with the deepwater basin to form an ideal environment for migrating scalloped hammerheads. At certain times of year, these shy sharks can be seen gathering in large schools, creating bucket-list worthy experiences. Though there are technically two hammerhead seasons here – one between March and May and the other between September and November – most local divers agree that the latter is the best time of year to dive the Banda Sea.

Discover docile dugongs in the shallows

Dugongs are unique and elusive creatures that are thought to have inspired the folklore of mermaids. As dugongs so rare and incredibly shy, a dose of good fortune is required to witness them in the wild. But, thankfully, some of Indonesia’s top diving and snorkelling destinations are also ideal habitats for these remarkable marine creatures, meaning there’s a chance visitors might strike lucky at almost any moment. Dugongs are typically seen around shallow sheltered bays and mangrove-lined channels where they enjoy snacking on succulent seagrass shoots. Encounters are possible in both Komodo and Raja Ampat, as well as the Banda Sea and the Alor Archipelago. North Sulawesi appears to be another popular dugong hangout, particularly around the islands of Bangka, Gangga, and the southern mangroves of Bunaken National Park.

Visit one of the world’s best shipwrecks

A diver swimming past the hold of the Liberty wreck in Tulamben, Bali.
A diver swimming past the hold of the Liberty wreck in Tulamben, Bali.

Wrecks might not be the first thing that comes to mind when people mention Indonesia, and yet, one of the country’s most popular sites takes pride of place amongst the world’s top wreck dives. What’s more, it’s easily accessible for divers and snorkelers alike. The USAT Liberty lies just a few metres from the thin black sand beach of Tulamben, on Bali’s eastern coast, beginning less than five metres from the surface and dropping to depths of around 30-metres. Though badly corroded and partially buried in places, huge sections of the Liberty’s superstructure, engine room, and holds can be explored – all of which are densely carpeted with a variety of corals. In fact, several dives are needed to explore this 120-metre wreck in its entirety.

Ride rip-roaring currents

Sandwiched between the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Indonesian Archipelago is continuously swept by huge volumes of water passing back and forth. These torrents of water are funnelled between islands, creating some truly powerful currents. For this reason, drift dives are common at almost every Indonesian destination – though some are far more ferocious than others. Komodo National Park is one of the country’s most iconic current-fuelled attractions, with the central and northern areas promising heart-pounding roller-coaster rides that can test even the most experienced of divers. A site known as Shotgun is one of the more infamous experiences here, delivering genuinely adrenaline-inducing drifts. On this dive, a powerful ripping current propels divers between the islands of Gili Lawa Darat and Gili Lawa Laut, before firing them out into the blue on the other side. 

Gaze over kaleidoscopic coral reefs

Indonesia is perfectly positioned at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’, an area recognised as the global heart of marine biodiversity. And, the epicentre of all that spectacular diversity is found in Indonesia itself, with the country playing host to an incredible 574 individual coral species – roughly 72% of the world’s total. This means that divers and snorkelers visiting Indonesia can feast their eyes on some of the planet’s most vibrant and varied coral reefs. Raja Ampat is home to some of the richest reefs in the entire archipelago, with an abundance of awe-inspiring coral gardens on offer, particularly within the Misool Marine Reserve. The remote UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Wakatobi is another quality coral diving destination, boasting an eye-watering 900,000 hectares of pristine fringing reef.

Ready to start planning your trip to Indonesia?

Speak to our experienced team today

ZuBlu Team Photo 2024
Expert travel advice
Best price guarantee
24/7 customer support

Article written by
Matthew Oldfield
Co-founder, dive travel expert

Matthew has lived in Indonesia and Malaysia for the last 20 years, and explored some of the world’s best scuba diving destinations as a photographer. He is our resident expert at finding the perfect dive resort, the best time of year to explore, and destinations with the best street food!

You may also be interested by