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95 Dive Centres in Indonesia

Indonesia

Nestled between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans is the island nation of Indonesia – the worlds largest archipelago, made up of over 17,000 islands. Famed for its seismic activity, dragons, birds of paradise, and endangered species, Indonesia has everything an adventurous traveller could possibly want. Indonesia is currently seeing a huge boom in tourism due to improved airline safety, better infrastructure connecting cities to remote areas, and English being more widely spoken. People who would have never dreamed of visiting the archipelago are becoming regular visitors, and because of its enormous size, there is still plenty to explore and it is easy to get off the beaten path.

Although Indonesia is made up entirely of islands, it has a land area of 1,904,569 square kilometres, which makes it the 14th largest country by land size, however if you were to include total area (land and sea) it would be the 7th largest. It is far larger than western Europe, and contains a number of the worlds largest islands (although it does not contain the largest, which is Greenland).

It has a population of over 261 million, making it the 4th most populous country in the world, and the island of Java contains more than half of the population, making Java the most populated island on the planet.

The capitol and largest city is Jakarta, on the island of Java. The city population alone is over 10 million, however with those living in the Greater Jakarta metropolitan area, this figure rises to over 30 million, making Jakarta the second largest urban agglomeration in the world after Tokyo, Japan.

Currency

Indonesian Rupiah. Be prepared to become a millionaire and carry vast amounts of cash around with you, as the largest denomination is the 100,000 IDR note, which is roughly six pounds (as of August 2018)

Language

The official language is Bahasa Indonesian, which was adopted after the country gained independece in 1945. Despite their being an official language, many of the population do not speak it, instead using one of over 700 local languages. English is commonly spoken in the touristic areas, however in the more rural areas you may find yourself needing to mime or use a guide book/translation app.

Religion

Indonesia is an extremely religious country, and almost the whole population strictly follows either Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or Buddhism.

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, with over 225 million followers, making up over 85% of the population. Due to the nature of being an island state, religious groups are quite divided geographically. The vast majority of those living on Bali are Hindu, while most of those living in North Sulawesi or Papua are Christian. Despite the conflict of interests with regards to religion, there is very little trouble, and most people are respectful of other beliefs.

Before the modern major religions were introduced to the archipelago, several variations of animism were followed, and much of this has been incorporated into their beliefs today. Most Indonesians strongly believe in ghosts, spirits, and witchcraft, as well as their chosen religion. Mocking any belief is a criminal offence, so be warned.

Visa Requirements

Visas are required for almost all visitors to Indonesia, however a visa can be provided on arrival for citizens of most countries. Visas can be extended by visiting the immigration office, which all major cities have.

Visa information can be found at the Indonesian Embassy Website.

 

Best Things to do in Indonesia (Non-Diving)

Due to the enormous size of Indonesia, it can be very tricky to see all the best spots in one go, and made even more difficult by the transportation offers, which may be very cheap, but are often slow and sometimes a bit scary.

Trekking Volcanos in Java

If you are interested in hiking and seeing sunrises, then look no further than Java as your entrance point to adventure. The island boasts many volcanos, but the most famous are probably Mount Bromo and Semeru– located in central Java – and Mount Ijen – located in east Java.

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park can be reached by car from Surabaya in roughly five hours. Most people will arrange tours with their guest house, that see them setting off at 3am to watch the sun rise over the national park, before heading into the desert like area to climb Mount Bromo, which is constantly smoking, and is extremely loud.

If you would prefer to avoid the crowds that descend upon the sea of sand after sunrise, you can instead opt to climb Mount Semeru, which at 3,676 metres it is the highest point in Java. This must be arranged before hand as permits must be arranged, and hiking the mountain is not always possible as Mount Semeru is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, with minor eruptions throwing out ash, smoke, and occasionally rock, roughly every twenty minutes.

Heading to east Java, you will find Kawa Ijen, famous for its ‘blue flames’. Standing just under 2,800 metres this active volcano boasts both the largest blue flame event in the world, as well as the world’s largest highly acid crater lake. It is all very interesting to see, but the down side is watching the sulphur miners heading up the volcano and into the toxic fumes to mine the solid sulphur blocks. They make less than 10 USD a day doing this, and the sulphuric gasses drastically cut their life expectancy. This is not as easy a climb as Bromo, and you will need to start early to see the blue flames in their full glory, before heading to a viewpoint to watch the sun rise over the acidic lake.

See Endangered Species in the Rainforest

Indonesia is home to a number of the worlds oldest rainforests, and unfortunately, many are under threat by the logging industry and palm plantations.

The islands of Sumatra and Borneo are the only places in the world where you can see Orang-Utans (literally translates as ‘Man of the Jungle’) in the wild. There are many feeding spots where these peaceful primates regularly appear, but be warned that these spots are tourist traps, where semi-wild orang-utans make their way back to feed because they can no longer fend for themselves.

If you want real orang-utan experiences, there are national parks in Northern Sumatra and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) where you can do multi day treks to spot not only the orang-utan, but also other primates species, hornbills, snakes, and if you are very lucky, you might even spot an elephant or a tiger.

A good entry spot for the jungles of North Sumatra is Ketambe, which is only a six hour drive from the city of Medan. Here you can arrange an individually tailored trip deep into the forest. Most people go for either three or four nights, and porters will carry and set up your tent, as well as cook all of your food. An English speaking guide will take you on walks to suit your experience, and with a little luck you will be seeing all kinds of different species.

If bird watching is more your thing, you might want to head out to the remote West Papua, which is very sparsely populated. These untouched rainforests are not only home to the amazing Birds of Paradise, they are also home to a number of jungle tribes. You can take part in multi day treks that go deep into this virgin forest, spending the nights in tree houses.

Explore Ancient Temples

Indonesia's recent history has revolved heavily around religion. Every house you pass on Bali will have Hindu shrines. In the Christian parts every street has at least two huge churches, and everywhere you go you hear the call to prayer blasted out of mosque megaphones.

Indonesia is actually home to the largest Buddhist temple in the world – Borobudur. This is another early start where you can climb to the top of this enormous pyramid like monument, and watch to sun rise over a beautiful volcanic backdrop. This is one of Indonesia's most famous monuments, so don’t expect to have the temple to yourself. Often thousands of people will be there before sunrise, so once you get yourself a good spot to take pictures try not to move, as you probably wont get it back.

Roughly two hours from Borobudur is another enormous and ancient temple complex, however this one is Hindu rather than Buddhist. Prambanan is actually not a single temple, rather a complex of 240 temples. It is huge, and takes several hours to see all of it, however with the oppressive heat of midday on Java it can be difficult keep motivated after two hours or so. Both of these temples are easy to see over a couple of days, as Borobudur is around two hours drive from Yogyakarta, and Prambanan is close to the Yogyakarta airport.

Experience Bali

Known is the island of the gods, Bali may be small, but it has something to offer everybody. From beautiful beaches, to vibrant shopping streets, endless rice paddies, and active volcanoes.

Bali is also home to a number of famous Hindu temples, and most can be reached by either renting a motorcycle or taking a taxi. Some are better at sunrise, while others are better at sunset. The most famous is probably Ulun Danu Beratan, which is surrounded by a lake with a beautiful mountainous backdrop.

Be aware that Bali is extremely touristy, so if you were trying to avoid the crowds then this might not be the destination for you. During peak season the island welcomes millions of visitors, as as a result the traffic can be terrible and litter is an enormous problem.


Scuba Diving in Indonesia

Indonesia is widely regarded as the best country in the world for diving, and the further east you go, the closer you are to the centre of the coral triangle, which means more marine bio-diversity. Again, due to the size of Indonesia, it is almost impossible to cover everything in one trip, so we have included some of the highlights that you might want to stick on the bucket list.

Komodo National Park

Komodo National Park may be famous for being the only place on Earth to see the fierce Komodo Dragons, but there is much more to these islands than just the world’s largest lizard.

With a land area of 603 squared kilometres, land makes up only a third of the national park, with marine ecosystems making up the rest. The waters around it are teeming with life, and the swift currents that rip through the islands make it a hot spot for manta rays, mola mola, sharks and other pelagic species.

Komodo is more suited to advanced divers than beginners, and although it is possible to learn how to dive there, it is not really recommended because a bad dive early in your career could affect the way you think about the sport. Most people explore this region by liveaboard as it gives you greater access to the more remote parts of the park, however there are some resorts based on the larger islands.

Because there is so many big things to spot, it is easy to forget to look a little closer for the amazing macro life that can be found. Due to the currents, macro photography can be hard, but there are the occasional dives where the current settles down and allows you to take your time.


Best Time of Year for Diving Komodo National Park

It is possible to dive Komodo year round, however the majority of liveaboards will skip the rainy season and make their way over the Raja Apmat, as their dry season coincides with the Komodo rainy season.

The rainy season starts in November and carries on until March. The seas are normally flat during this period, however things can occasionally get a bit rough. April is considered the best month, as when the wet season gives way to the dry the visibility drastically improves as does the sea scape.

The best time for spotting manta rays in January and February, while the best time to spot Mola Mola is August. Before booking a trip you should see when the critters you would like to see are present.


Manado, North Sulawesi

Manado is the capitol of North Sulawesi, and the entrance point to four major diving destinations around the region.

One of the main attractions is Bunaken Marine Park – Indonesia’s first marine national park. The park is made up of five islands, all of which are surrounded by vertical walls and extremely deep water. The visibility can be as much as 50 metres, and rarely drops below 30 metres. The walls are home to a large number of turtles, schooling reef fish, and some larger species such as tuna and shark, but the real attraction to Bunaken (and the rest of North Sulawesi) is the macro life and the extremely high levels of marine biodiversity. One dive site has over 300 species of reef building corals, and an estimated 2000 species of reef fish live within the park, including the (previously believed to be extinct) coelacanth.

The deep walls and unpredictable currents make Bunaken not the best place for inexperienced divers. Up and down currents can happen in an instant, and some can even pull you away from the wall and into the blue. There are some sites that are suitable for beginners though, although these sites tend to be less interesting than the rest.

On the other side of the peninsula is Lembeh Island and the Lembeh Strait. Widely regarded as the best place in the world for muck diving, Lembeh will never disappoint macro enthusiasts. It is not uncommon to find blue-ringed octopus, hairy frogfish, and flamboyant cuttlefish – all on the same dive. The macro life is so prevalent that most dive operators will give you a critter wishlist to fill in, and most of the time this list can be completed well before your stay is over.

Best Time of Year for Diving Manado

Because North Sulawesi is a peninsula, there are year round options for diving around Manado, however November until February is considered the rainy season, and it will rain a lot.

Because both Bunaken and Lembeh are dived by resorts (rather than liveaboards) they are accessible year round, although between December and February big waves can hit Bunaken from the west, limiting the diving possibilities and reducing visibility. Bunaken is best between April and October, with May generally having the best visibility and August having the driest weather.

The Lembeh Strait is protected for most of the year, however during July and August, large waves from the south can force their way into the strait and limit diving possibilities. Apart from this, it possible to dive year round, but as it is muck diving, the visibility can reduce to almost zero after a rain storm washes mud into the water from the hills. For that reason, it is recommended to avoid visiting in the rainy season if possible.

Togean Islands, Central Sulawesi

Even in a country as highly rated as Indonesia, there are still some places where you can avoid the crowds. The Togean Islands is one of those places.

Here the marine life is quite similar to that of Bunaken Marine Park, but the diving is completely different. Currents are much slower and instead of having vertical walls, you have gentle sandy slopes with patch reef, although there are some deep walls for the more advanced divers.

The area is very rustic, so be prepared to stay in basic conditions. If you can deal with that, then you will be rewarded with quiet dive sites, beautiful shore dives, and cheaper prices.

Best Time of Year for Diving the Togean Islands

Because the Togean Islands are tucked in a large bay between two of Sulawesi’s peninsulas, they can be dived year round as the seas never get too rough.

Between March and December are considered the best diving months, but only because it is the dry season. Outside of these months the diving can still be amazing, however spending time on the surface is not as pleasant.

Raja Ampat, West Papua

Literally translated as ‘Four Kings’, Raja Ampat is actually an archipelago that comprises of more then 1,500 small islands and cays around four main islands.

If you are interesting in scuba diving or snorkelling, Raja Ampat is a must on your diving bucket list. It is the most diverse part of the coral triangle, which is the most diverse region in the world. Simply put, you will never see as much diversity anywhere else on the planet.

You can expect to see beautiful reefs with thousands of species of reef fish, tiny critters such as pygmy seahorses, nudibranch and frogfish, but also larger species such as manta rays, eagle rays, sharks, and the bizarre wobbegong carpet shark.

There are resorts on the larger islands if you prefer a land based holiday, but if you are comfortable spending over a week on a boat, liveaboard is defiantly the best way to dive the area, as the distance between the north and the south is quite far, but defiantly worth the trip. Some of the dive sites can have strong currents, while others are very sheltered and protected, meaning Raja Ampat has something to offer most divers.

Best Time of Year for Diving Raja Ampat

If you are staying on one of the islands, diving can be down year round, however you can expect rough seas, strong winds, and heavy rains between July and September.

The best time to visit is between October and April when the seas are calmer, however the region does experience massive plankton blooms between these months. This will reduce the visibility to an average of 15 metres, but it will also attract a great number of manta rays.


Banda Islands, Banda Sea

Nestled between Sulawesi and Papua is the Banda Islands. These remote islands are rarely visited by divers, although more recently liveaboards will stop here while sailing between Komodo and Raja Ampat.

Because of remoteness of these islands, the human population is low, which means there is little pressure on the reef from over fishing. The result is vibrant, healthy reefs teaming with life. The main attraction of these islands is the sheer volume of larger pelagic species such as manta rays, mobula rays, and recently discovered schooling hammerhead sharks. Cetaceans are also regular sightings, with orcas, spinner dolphins and sperm whales often making an appearance.

While it is great for larger species, it is also equally as amazing for smaller critters, including the native Ambon Scorpionfish, Mandarinfish, and recent sightings of the extremely rare Psychedelic Frogfish. The region gained fame when the BBC documentary, Planet Earth, documented a gathering of thousands of sea snakes that had never been observed before.

Currents are usually mild, however they can get strong. Because of the remoteness of these islands, we would not recommend them for beginners, as the only way to dive them is via a liveaboard trip that can be as long as two weeks.

Best Time of Year for Diving the Banda Islands

The Banda Islands are best visited in March and April, and then again between September to December. Rough seas and big waves can be present outside of these months, so the diving window is quite short.

Most liveaboards will only dive the Banda Islands twice a year – once when crossing from Komodo to Raja Apmat, and once on the way back.

 

A few things to Beware of..

Indonesia is generally a very friendly place, and you have little to worry about when it comes to dealing with people. Still, there will always be people who want to rip off tourists, and there are other things you need to be aware of before entering the country.

Smile!

Indonesia has an obsession with social media like no other place on Earth.

If you are visiting Bali, you will be mostly ignored, but if you visit other parts of the country, be prepared to be asked for a selfie at least once an hour. This even happens in places where tourism is common, such as Borobudor or Prambanan.

It may seem entertaining at first, but before long strangers will hand you their children to pose for a photo, and some people will start to form a queue to have their picture taken with you.

What is even stranger is when people start filming you on their phones. What do they do with these movies? We might never know...

Motorcycle Rental

This only really applies to Bali, as motorcycle rental is not very common elsewhere.
The roads around Bali are generally good, however many of the mopeds available for rent are not in the best condition. Crashes involving drunk tourists are quite common, and you will face a large fine if the crash involves a local.

The police set up road blocks around the island, and if you are driving without the correct licence or without a helmet, you will need to pay a fine (more of a bribe than a fine).

Taxis

Like elsewhere in the world, Indonesian taxi drivers have a nasty habit of ripping people off.

You can avoid this by ensuring they use the metre before you set off for your journey, and keeping your phone out as the driver will think you are using an app like Google Maps to ensure they are driving the right way.

You will find different taxi companies in different regions or cities, but one that is all over Indonesia is a company called The Bluebird Group. These are very reliable and the drivers will always use the metre as soon as you get in the car, and they will drive according to the law. They are very popular with the locals as the other companies often try to rip them off too. Because they are so popular, you might need to wait a while to get one, but arriving in one piece and not getting ripped off is defiantly worth the wait.

Private Cars

If you are looking to travel away from a city, instead of hiring a taxi, you will probably take a private car. These are like Uber cars, except they work for themselves rather than a company.

You can find the information of drivers on travel forums such as Trip Advisor, but be warned that they often don't follow the rules of the road. Think, speeding, dangerous overtaking on blind corners, mounting the path, all while chatting on their phone or checking out Facebook.

If you scour the web you can find the details of the good drivers instead of the bad ones, so if you value your life it is worth researching a bit. The upside is that they are very cheap (1,000,000 IDR for a ten hour journey) and they are willing to wait while you check out some attractions.

Drugs

Indonesia is infamous for its strict drug policies.

Prisons in Bali are full of tourists who thought they could get away with smoking some cannabis or taking an ecstasy tablet at a bar. Unlike most touristic countries, the laws apply equally to locals as they do to tourists, so only risk it if you are willing to go to jail. Those caught smuggling drugs in or out of the country may face the death penalty, so don’t get smart and think you can sneak some in from home.

Volcanoes

For many non diving tourists, the volcanoes of Indonesia are one of the main attractions, and you don’t need to be wary of them as such, but you should have a back up plan in case an eruption disrupts your travel plans.

There is always at least one volcano erupting in Indonesia, and the resulting ash clouds frequently disrupt flights – especially around the Bali area, which just happens to have the countries second largest international aiport.

Earthquakes

The same seismic activity that causes all the volcanic eruptions in Indonesia is also what causes earthquakes.

The country deals with major earthquakes regularly, and there are normally fatalities involved as buildings collapse and landslides cover entire villages. The worst side effect of an earthquake is tsunamis, and Indonesia has had to deal with some of the worst tsunamis in history.

There are signs pointing towards tsunami safe zones in all areas affected by them, and if you hear the tsunami warning, head to the evacuation zone immediately.

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