Sumatra's

SNORKELING FILES

by Fabrice Naps, France (April 03, updated June 06)

 

Note: Due to the inflation in Indonesia and the constant rises of prices, some prices may already be wrong, eventhough I have been there not so long ago. If it's the case, kindly help us keep the site updated...


In Sumatra :

Pulau Weh (updated Feb 05):

Aceh being open again to foreigners one can now go again easily to pulau Weh as it used to be before. There is even now a speed boat,only 45 mns!It leaves fom the main land at 1 pm and costs 25000 rps. You won t be disturbed by other foreigners,so come quickly and enjoy it before it s back to how it was few years ago!!!

I DIDN T HAVE THE TIME TO CHECK THE CORALS SINCE THE TSUNAMI,DO IT YOURSELF AND SEND US AN UPDATE!!!

So there should still be 4 places to stay on the island including Sabang town where nearly nobody stay (plus one close to Sabang, but mainly for locals with prostitutes etc):

  • Lluang angein (long wind) beach,there were bungalows in a very bad shape,very cheap and quiet,but you had to cook yourself. The coral is not good, but you can see manta rays. I didn t go there since the tsunami and thus dont know how it is now...
  • Gapang: quieter than Iboih.Bungalows in Baracuda are destroyed and so are most of the others,who knows when they will be rebuilt again.
    For now you can sleep at the 1 st guesthouse on the beach next to the dive shop (cheap,around 25000), or at Laguna or Hiptek (expensive,like 80000 for a non ac bungalow).
    All restaurants are gone as well (including papa jungle) but you can eat on the main Iboih-Sabang road. The corals are not superb but you can see some turtles.
  • Iboih beach: it was the most touristy, there were many bungalows but now many are gone. There s a lack of fresh water so some guesthouses had no bath,you had to take your shower in the well or in the public bath (not so great and not so clean). To avoid it you could go for exemple to "Oong",they have underground water and an huge mandi. Or just after Oong, is Julia or Yulia (it's the last guesthouse), they didn't reopen yet but i guess they will soon. The price in Yulia was about 20000 rps for a bungalow or 30000 for the ones near the sea,but maybe now it will increase, these prices were ages ago. Oong has always been a bit cheaper, now in 2005 the owner charges 25000 for a nice bungalow (you may get discounts for a long stay). For now you can stay only at either Eric's (just after the gate,he rents rooms and is a nice man) or at Oong, I guess that some more guesthouses will reopen in the next weeks. In Iboih beach itself there is nothing snorkelingwise. From Oong or Yulia, when you face the beach, swim toward the left side,you will arrive to a place where there are some nice coral hills,but I don t know what s left now. 
  • Another spot: Rubiah island, just in front of Iboih (the coral garden was on the other side of the island). There was a guesthouse in this island but check the present situation.

A must in Pulau Weh : rent a motorcycle and go around the island, nice landscapes !
 

Along Sumatra' s west coast :

There are many wild beaches. No coral but nice scenery. 

Around Meulaboh, 2 guesthouses: the famous camp Europa and another one more recent whose name i forgot. They both are in Kuala Doh, ask the locals, they will tell you. 

Further south is Tapaktuan. When you come from Meulaboh, ask the driver to drop you few kms before Tapaktuan at "air dingin" (tempat rekreasi) at Pak Djafar's place. There Pak Djafar rents individual bungalows and a very nice big house with 3 rooms, living room, terrace, kitchen and
bath. If you feel like cooking buy your supply in Tapaktuan and Pak Djafar or any fisherman will provide you the fish. There is a nice hike there to the "air terjun tudjuh tingkat" (7 stairs waterfall). From Tapaktuan you may find boats to Pulau Banyak. If not, go to Subulu Salam and then to Singkil where there are regular boats to Pulau Banyak.

Pulau Banyak is a archipelago with 99 island of whom only 3 are inhabited. It sounds nice but unfortunately all the forest on the islands (except on the big ones) has been cut to grow coconut trees and most the coral has been bombed. Due to the lack of tourists all the guesthouses on the islands are closed, except on Pulau Balai (the place where you arrive from Singkil). But don't bother to stay there: the beaches are dirty and since it is a very small island, there is nothing to do. Go to Tuanku Island (the biggest of the group). You can sleep by the locals (the Luqman family had good reports, but there are many others). Don't forget to bring some supplies from Singkil as there is not much else to eat than fish in the islands! There, you can make some trekking in the jungle or check if there are some corals left...To go there, don't charter a boat (they want a fortune for that). Just go with a fisherman who goes there to fish... Don' t go to the turtle island as it's a disgusting business where none of your money goes into conservation but in the pocket of evil guys. If you want to see turtles laying their eggs, read further my snorkeling files and you will see where to go to see it for free!  

 

Jawa:

A friend of mine has been to the 1000 islands near Jakarta and told me that the quality there was generally poor. The Karimun Jawa islands near Semarang are easy to reach by a twice weekly ferry from Jepara (a short bus ride from Semarang). You can sleep in the main town,or even better in pulau Menjangan where there are 2 guesthouses (free transportation from the mainland if you stay there) at:Wisma Apung(67000/77000 rps with/without bathroom, add 15000 rps per meal) or another one whose name i forgot (50000 for a room,a dd 11000 per meal).There's a reef at the back of Menjangan but it was not very good,and so was the snorkeling around the island. There's a resort that is being built on the island behind,but it will be expensive. There's as well the Kura Kura resort on Pulau Menyawakan and it's not cheap by far...

Boat trips were pretty expensive which prevented me from exploring the archipelago since the other snorkeling spots are far, who knows if it's worth, if you get there send us an up date, it would be much appreciated!!!

 

In Kalimantan (island of Borneo) :

One of the best and easy to reach spot is in east Kalimantan province: Pulau Derawan. You first go by pelni boat (schedules: www.pelni.co.id) to Tarakan (or if from Tawau, Sabah, East Malaysia, take the boat to Nunukan then to
Tarakan or direct to Tarakan but more expensive). In Tarakan, reserve as soon as you can a boat to Tanjung Batu (only one company and limited seats as it is a speed boat; it is a bit costly but the only other way would be to try to
find people from Tanjung Batu or Pulau Derawan and go with them, but you need to speak Indonesian and have time for this, but it would be cheaper if you are good at bargaining). From Tanjung Batu charter a speed boat to Derawan for about 100000 rps (1 hour), or cheaper, especially if you are alone, wait for a local wooden boat which comes back to Derawan (many local people go shopping in Tanjung Batu). Offer to pay 10000 rps (uang rokok) but you may even get a lift for free.

In Derawan, the cheapest place to sleep is at losmen Ilham (30000 rps a double) but it is not on the shore. Another one on stilts charges 40000 rps and another one takes 75000 rps including meals. This one can be worth as food is really not good and expensive on the island (no veggies) and, for the divers, he offers very cheap diving. To find it ask for "losmen orang perancis punya" (the guesthouse is owned by a Frenchman). 

Don't miss a trip to Sangalaki island where coral is gorgeous (from the beach it's dead in the beginning but then you will find the good one) and where you can see manta rays on their way to their cleaning station (amazing symbioses where small fish clean the manta by eating it's parasites). When you come from Derawan, you will see a small hut on Sangalaki's beach. It's there, at about 20 m deep. To go there you have to charter a boat. Speed boats are more expensive but faster. The price is difficult to quote as petrol rises all the time in Indonesia. For a normal slow wooden boat you should pay around 250000 rps for the trip to Sangalaki and Kakaban. But the thing is that people are quite rich on Derawan island and most don't want to move for a small profit so they will try to take more from you. Bargain hard as 250000 is, believe me, a good price as they don't need much petrole to go there. The French losmen (actually it's called danakan) has a wooden boat and 2 speed boats. One of the speed boats is owned by a friendly young balinese named Kadek who is very professional. The starting price for the trip is 400000 rps for Sangalaki only. Add 100000 rps more for Kakaban. But of course it's bargainable, especially if you are alone or only 2 people. Kadek is a nice young guy and he is not greedy, so he will give you a discount. If it doesn't t seem good to you, just go along the beach and try to speak directly with some fishermen in order to find a boat. Be aware if you see some young guys who speak English: they are not fishermen and just want your money. The fishermen don't speak English but it's always possible to communicate. Try to say "saya mau ke pulau sangalaki untuk lihat ikan pari, bapak minta bebarapa?"(I want to go to Sangalaki island to see the mantas, how much do you want?). Don't forget to bargain!

Don't miss as well Kakaban Island, where you will be able to swimm with inoffensive jelly fish in the lightly salted inner lake and make some very nice snorkeling along the drop off. 

Anyway, it's best to go Derawan island with some friends in order to share the costs. It will be a bit expensive though, but unforgettable!

 

In Sulawesi :

The South:

The spots near makassar (Ujung Pandang) are not worth...There is a spot in Bima. It's not the best and there are no bungalows on the beach but it s ok for few days if you are waiting for your pelni... Stay in Riswan (about 40000 with meals), he has rooms on the hill and you can watch the sea and the sunset.

Further south is Selayar Island with a good spot on a beach but it's expensive to stay there as it's western owned and aimed at rich divers. But you can stay in the main town and look around. I heard about a cheap guesthouse somewhere nearby...

Further south is Taka Bone Rate atoll, the 2nd largest in the world, unfortunatly almost totally bombed.If you want to see it by yourself, you can go there from Selayar by charter boat, but it won't be cheap and I am not sure it will be worth...


The South-East:

There is an excellent spot at Pulau Hoga (Tukang Besi archipelago). To go there, take a pelni to Bau Bau, then a boat to Wanci (Wangi
Wangi Island), then another boat to Kaledupa Island, then a last one to Hoga. It will take at least 2 days from Bau Bau. Be careful: the boat to Wanci is very early. Bring vegetables supplies as the food is very bad in Hoga (or maybe they have improved since last time?). The reef in Hoga (in front of Kaledupa) is really nice, big variety of coral. But don't expect an unspoilt place. There's an English research center where young students go as "volunteers" and pay around 1000 British pounds (the flight not included) for 2 weeks (in summer it can be pretty busy). So the locals think that you are the same (calculate yourself how much it is in rupias, nobody know exactly how much they pay but there are a lot of rumors!). That's why if you want to charter a boat to explore further south, they will ask for crazy prices (moreover there's an expensive resort on one island south) and that's why the accomodation is ridiculously expensive compared with what you get! But the coral is nice...
Actually there are many other good spots around Bau Bau but no accomodations, so you have to stay with the locals.


Central Sulawesi:

The main spot is on the Togian Islands, a lovely archipelago of about 55 islands. No cars nor buses, only boats... Unfortunatly the coral suffered a lot of bombings and cyanide fishing and there are not too many fishes due to over fishing. Another problem is the crown of thorn starfish that over breeds and eats the coral (it has already destroyed some reefs) because its predator -the napoleon fish- has been over fished. But it's still a very nice place to go,the coral is still ok on some places and the landscapes are great.
To reach there you can take a daily boat at about 10 am from Ampana to Wakai. If you want to go straight to Katupat or Malenge there is a direct boat from Ampana on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays: the km sumber hasil (subject to change of course!) and another one that continues to Gorontalo on Mondays and Thursdays: the km puspita. They both start at 10 am something. If there is no direct boat to Katupat or Malenge you can take the one to Wakai first and then ask local people while in the boat and share a chartered canoe with them until your final destination. For Bomba, it's another harbour, few kms away from Ampana. If you come from Gorontalo, the puspita leaves on Tuesdays and Saturdays at about 11 pm.All the prices for accomodations include 3 meals (mainly rice and fish), water, tea and coffee and paddling canoe in some places.

The main place where people stay is in Kadidiri Island (near Wakai), although I don't understand why as it's the worst place for snorkeling (almost everything is destroyed!). There are 3 guesthouses where prices range from around 40000 rps in Lestari up to 75000-100000 rps in Paradise (the new bungalows are more expensive). Don't stay in Black Marlin if you are not a diver as they have a tendancy to be unfriendly with non divers. In this area the best snorkeling spot is around Taipi Island, on the northern side, if they didn't bomb it since last time I was there, but there are not many fish.There are 2 reefs offshore, reef 2 has a drop off but is mainly bombed, reef 1 has still some average pockets of coral, but nothing fantastic and very few fish. Kota island (on your left when you look at the sea) has been bombed as well, so it's not worth. You can take a canoe and paddle around Kadidiri, but the coral is dead almost everywhere. Still, on the northern side, on the right after the channel in front of paradise you will find a bajo village and some nice scenery...
The day trip to Una Una is a must, hurry up before they destroy everything! It's already been a while since I heard about people going there for cyanide fishing as it's one of the few intact spot with many fish.

You can stay as well near Bomba Harbor and it's definitely the best place in the Togians for snorkeling as they  have the most reefs around, and I mean good reefs, not bombed ones!!! To reach there, there are daily boats from the small harbor near Marina Cottages, a few kilometers away from Ampana (it's NOT the same harbor than the one to go to Wakai). Boats leave around 9 or 9:30, they might go only to Kuninkinari, but never mind, it's very near from Bomba and charterizing a boat to go there would not be more than 10-15000 rps. Around Bomba you can stay in the village with basic and limited comfort for about 35000 or ask the boat man to drop you at either Poyalisa (on a very small island) for 50-60000 rps or at the excellent island retreat which boasts the best food and the best bungalows in all Togians... During the high season, it costs 17 usd (145000 rps) for the beachfront cottages (which are superb!) and 10 usd (85000 rps) for the mangrove ones (which are still very nice). Prices are negotiable in low season... 

As written above, Bomba has the most reefs. I could of course not check all of them but here are the ones where I have been: Pasir Tengah Atoll was good with its drop off and its big table corals and it's nice to see intact corals!! Nearby, Bulutuko was not as nice as it's a bit bombed (it's Togian!) but still not too bad, look for the drop off. Around Pulau Taupan's western and northern side there's a drop off as well and although it's a bit destroyed on the shallow part, the edge of the drop off and its wall are totally intact!!!!! Maybe the southern part is worth as well, just avoid to be too close from the village (on the eastern side) as it's destroyed around there!!! Tambagnoni Island (near Island Retreat) is not very nice but you can paddle there, if one day you have nothing else to do. The snorkeling around Poyalisa and Island Retreat is not worth... You can take a canoe and paddle around the coast and look if there's something interesting, but I didn't find anything (of course, I haven't been everywhere!) There are many reefs behind Batudaka Island, look at Island Retreat's map and choose where you want to go, I heard good comments about it!! There, they have as well diving equipement and a dive instructor.

In Katupat, you can stay in the village for 35000 rps. If you prefer to be on the beach, you have Pangempa island (Fadhila Cottage) for 60000 and Bolilanga island for about the same, both have friendly owners. You can dive as Fadhila Cottages has some new equipement, regardless of which accomodation you choose to stay. You can take a canoe and paddle between Pangempa and Bolilanga and around Pangempa, but don't expect good snorkeling, coral has been eaten by the crown of thorn starfish and therefore the quality is
poor. Check on the north eastern coast of Pangempa and the eastern coast of Bolilanga for few intact ones (actually look from your canoe and stop when you see something that looks nice) but definitly nothing spectacular. Much better are the reefs offshore. 

In Malenge, 2 guesthouses in the village: Malenge Indah for 35000 rps (very friendly people) and Lestari for the same (bad comments from both tourists and locals). Both have bungalows on beaches for 50000rps, the nicest beach being the one where are Malenge Indah's Bungalows (the other one is near a Bajo village). It's currently closed, but they will open it if you come in a group and plan to stay for a while (you can understand that due to the lack of tourist they wouldn't open it if you come alone...).Both places have not good snorkeling and generally what I have seen from the boat when I turned around Malenge was not very attractive.

Between Katupat and Malenge are some coral reefs but the classification depends: there's an atoll that is called sometimes reef 2, sometimes reef 3. Anyway, from this one, the best reef is the one on the left (with the islands on your back): it has a drop off on the western side and eventhough you can see some bombs traces it's still good, you can see sharks and spot eagle rays (the north eastern tip is totally bombed though, so when you reach it, just take a short cut and swimm in the shallow until it gets good again). The atoll is a bit more bombed but still not too bad, it has a dropp off as well on the west and the outside ring is better than the inside one. The first reef on the right of the atoll is quite bombed, especially near the center, but if you swimm away from it you will find some intact ones along the drop off (on the west) and some funny coral hills on the east. The 2nd reef on the right of the atoll is less bombed and quite ok. To reach all those places from Malenge it costs between 50 and 75000 rps depending on how many places you want to see. Don't forget to bargain!!! From Katupat, to see the atoll and the one on its left (the best one) it's 75000. The atoll and the ones on the right are closer from Malenge while the one on the left is roughly at the same distance from either places. In Dolong, no guesthouses, but you can stay with locals. There's a reef one hour away, but I didn't go there, when you are alone it gets very expensive to charter boats all the time!

There are actually many other reefs on the southern side of the archipelago (everything that has been mentionned here is on the northern side) but it's the same story, being alone, my small budget doesn't allow me to charter all the time and go everywhere. Anyone interested to share the costs?

There's another spot in Donggala, near Palu. The coral is not fantastic, but it's ok for a few days if you are stuck in Palu waiting for a pelni or something like that. Don't go to the guesthouses listed in the guide books, there are expensive. Look for a local one, it's half price!! 

Another spot is Banggai Islands, but no accommodations for tourists in bungalow style, you must stay with the 
locals and look for a place where the coral hasn't been bombed. There's a very long reef that is said to be 175 kms long ("karang panjang" or "rif panjang") around the archipelago but the problem is that it's often quite far away from the main villages which would imply charterizing, and if you are alone... You could try to follow fishermen, that would be far cheaper. There are also fringent reefs and barrier reefs but before going anywhere ask if it hasn't been bombed as those islands are famous for their bombing culture!!! I am honestly not sure that it's worth the effort to go there, but if you do so, don't forget to send an up date! If you want a precise map of the place, have a look at: http://www.wallacea-divecruise.com/banggaimap.html 

Backpacker's Tips : Wolfgang Schweitzer "Wus" (Oct 04)
« The above link does not work (anymore). However, on http://www.wallacea-divecruise.com/banggai.html  there is a link to a map of the dive sites of the Banggai islands.» 

 

The North:

Near Manado are Bunaken and Siladen Islands, where the snorkeling is quite nice. It's mainly a fringe of soft corals along a drop off, with many fish. Bunaken is the most developed island, where one can find accomodation on 2 beaches: the main beach (Liang) is unfortunatly quite dirty as all the trash from Manado gathers in its bay and snorkeling amongst plastic bags and empty bottles is not so nice. That's what happened to me when i was there, but maybe will you be lucky and come a day where there's 
no trash? Anyway, Panggalisang beach is cleaner and closer from the village where the boat lands, but there's a mangrove right on the beach. Many guesthouses, more or less similar, good food. The price used to be around 35000 rps, but i heard that now it's more like 70000 rps... Time changes!!  

The good snorkeling at Panggalisang is on your left when you face the sea. Near the village (on your right) all the 
coral is dead... There's now a 150000rps "entrance" fee, although they may ask it only to divers (but maybe as well to non divers, check the latest situation).

If you want a place with less tourist, a bit cheaper and where you don't pay this entrance fee, head for Siladen Island. The snorkeling is the same, there are less tourists (but of course less animation). 
One can witness gorgeous sunsets on Manado Tua Island, and the beach is nice...you get the boat at the same harbour than the one for Bunaken, but at a different place, ask the locals. Both boats are at about 2 pm, depending on tides.

 

In Maluku: 

The Maluku Archipelago is now divided in two: North Maluku province (capital: Ternate) and Maluku province (capital: Ambon)

Update Dec 03: The maluku are now open again to foreigners, so no need any more to play cat and mouse with the autorities!!! Just go there and enjoy...

There are some good spots in Maluku, but very few tourist's aimed beach bungalows style accommodations. Most of the time you will stay in villages and go around for your daily snorkeling trip.

In Ternate (north Maluku's province capital) there's nothing to see in terms of snorkeling. But from there, you can take a speed boat at the Gamalama jetty to Sidangoli (Halmahera island) for 10000 rps. Then you take a minibus (be early as they are scarce in the afternoon) or a truck to Malifut to see, if you like it, the "kapal busuk"(rotten boat), a Japanese wreck, stucked at a sandbank just few meters away from the beach. If you are a Japanese wreck freak, there are 2 more in Kao, but although you can see them from the beach, they are far and you would have to charter a boat to see them from a close distance.

North of Kao is Bobale island. No need to loose time there, the locals say that it has been bombed which I can believe, keep on reading and you will understand why...

In Tobelo, there are many islands in the bay, but the ones that I saw have been bombed. I didn't see all of them though, maybe some are still ok, but I wouldn't bet on it!!

On Morotai island, 2 main towns: Bere Bere and Daruba. A friend of mine has been to Bere Bere and told me that there was nothing there, so I went to Daruba and chartered a boat to the nearby islands. That was a loss of time and money: most have been bombed (there are a lot of explosives and bombs in Morotai, remaining from the 2nd world war, nice one!), and the other are used now to grow sea weed for commercial purposes and thus the coral has been uprooted and removed...

If you feel like exploring, there are some islands in the Buli bay (16 to 18 hours and 75000 rps to Buli from Tobelo) and in the Weda bay (from Ternate about 18 hours to Gane Barat, then 2 hours walk to Gane Timur, then charter a boat to the inhabited islands). If you do it, it would be nice to send an update. I would be happy to read something about it!! 

On Maytera island (3500 rps and 20 minutes by wooden boat from Bastiong harbor in Ternate), there are some corals left, for example between Akebay and Kaylupa, and further away. But don't expect a virgin reef, there as well you will see bomb traces, but it's still acceptable. Right in front of Akebay it seems to be a shark point as I saw dozens of them, black tips and white tips, in shallow water! Note that on the southern side of the island there's no road, so you will have to climb the hill and in many places there's no beach, only rocks, so the access is a bit difficult sometimes.

In Tidore (10 minutes by speed boat and 3500 rps from Bastiong) it seems that all the western coast is a reef, I  couldn't see all of it but what I saw near Ome village was very damaged, much more than in Maytera. What is  remaining is very nice, but there's too few to keep you busy for a long time! Still, all this coast between Rum (where you arrive from Ternate) and Soa Siu is a reef, so you may find some intact pockets...

I didn't bother to go to Makian as it's said that it's bombed as well, neither did I to Bacan and Obi as locals from  those islands say that there as well bombing is customary! Still, the islands are big so there may be some places where they forgot to bomb, but it would be time and money consuming to look for it and there's no guaranty that you will find something...

On Banda Islands, Banda Neira is the main town where you arrive with the pelni). In Neira, many guesthouses for about 25000rps a night, including breakfast: Vitta and Matahari have sea view, but are near the market. Delfika has no sea view, but a nice small garden. Rosmina and the one next door are 5-10 minutes outside from the town and are a bit cheaper (25000 rps with breakfast and dinner), but some friends that i had send to Rosmina complained about the bill and the suddenly inflated price, so make things clear! Other accommodations are available in Ai Island, 1 hour away from Banda Neira, at Losmen Revenge for example (nice food, nice people), and there's another one as well. There are many villages in Banda Besar where there will be always a room for you. Same in Run and Hatta islands if you wish to stay there. Note that neither in Banda Neira nor in Ai you have bungalows right on the beach. There are only rooms in houses, away from the beach. There's actually a guesthouse on the beach in Pisang Island (sometimes called Syaril Island), they want an overpriced 100000 rps including all meals, but i guess it's negotiable...

Banda islands are amongst the best places in the country as they didn't bomb too much and as there are still plenty of fish that start to be hard to see elsewhere, like napoleons for example. Around Banda Neira there are some snorkeling spots, like Malole beach, or the area near the air strip, but nothing fabulous.

On Pisang Island, the coral is very nice on the side where the bungalows are, but no drop off. On the other side, the coral is not as nice, but there's a drop off. Local boats go rarely there so you may have to charter (around 50-60000 rps, ask around the market).

On Ai Island (that you can reach by public boat every day from the market for 5000 rps), the best spot is at Pasir Panjang (long beach), ask Tchotcho the owner of Revenge to bring you there. Pick up a day where there's a strong current, go on the far end of the beach and make an unforgettable drift snorkeling above the nice corals of the plateau along the drop off: you will see heaps of sharks, barracudas, napoleons etc... but beware if there are big waves! There are other spots around the island, quite good as well, one is at a beach near the village, Tchotcho will show you.

On Run Island (70000 rps with a small "ketingting" boat, if there are waves, sensations guaranteed!!!), when you arrive, don't bother to snorkel on the front side between Run and Neilaka as the coral has been bombed. Go instead on the back side, the drop off is said to be nice (i could unfortunately not check it due to big waves).

On Gunung Api Island, there are 2 lava flows where corals have grown (Karang baru), there are not many fish, but the corals are very nice, especially on the 2 nd flow (huge table corals). There's a 3 rd lava flow on the southern side of the island, but don't loose your time there, there's not much to see.

On Keraka Island (crab island), the good side is the one which faces Banda Neira. It's not spectacular, but when you make a trip to Gunung Api you can stop there on the way back. At the side which faces Gunung Api, there's nothing. It's not far from Banda Neira, so actually you can paddle to go there if you feel like it, but don't do it during the wavy season!! You can also charter from Neira's market to both islands for about 30000 rps.

On Big Banda (Banda Besar), the good snorkeling is on the back of the island. Many spots are reachable by public boat first, and then by a short walk to the other side. It includes: Batu Indang beach (you will se a big rock with few trees in the middle of the sea), I swam only on the right side of the rock and it was fine, then if you keep on swimming it gets a bit destroyed, then it's good again. To reach there, take a boat (1500 rps) from the market to either Spancabi or Waling villages, then walk to Tutra village, and then ask for Batu Indang. Another spot is at the beach behind Lonthor, same story, take a public boat for 1500 rps to Lonthor, then walk. Actually there are plenty of spots behind Big Banda, it seems that there's a reef all along the island...

To go to some other places around Big Banda you may have to charter as public boats don't go everywhere. If you do so, it should cost between 70 and 100000 rps depending on how far you go behind the island. There's a drop off that is supposed to be nice just before you pass the cape on the strait between Pisang Island and Banda Besar (i could not check it myself, the waves were too big). Then, you pass the cape, turn around the island and arrive on the other side where there's a spot called Selamon. The coral is not the best but is still intact and there's a lot of big fish along the drop off. Then, if you keep on swimming you will see an alternance of good spots and destroyed spots, until you reach Cornoval that is a really nice one (it's a bit before Tanjung Cengkeh): very nice corals along a drop off and as almost verywhere in the Bandas you will see tons of big fish, napoleons, turtles, etc... but Cornoval is a bit far from Selamon, so, if you are lazy, or if you don't feel like swimming too much, ask your boat driver to give you a rope and to pull you there!

To Hatta Island it costs 200000 rps with a fisherman boat, but it's worth the money: the coral in front of both villages is really nice, and so is the marine life along the drop off. According to the locals there's an atoll nearby, but you need a very calm sea to snorkel it, which was not the case when i was there.

 

On the Kai Islands, near Tual (where you arrive with the pelni boat) you can find accommodations on Ohoilihir beach (Pasir Panjang). Ask Mira Inn in Tual for informations (Mira Inn is a good and friendly place to sleep in Tual). But note that the coral reef is very far from the beach and that you will need a canoe and a lot of paddling to reach it. Note also that the coral is not superb. The beach however is gorgeous. On other place around the island it's the same story: the coral is far and a lot has been bombed. According to a friend, it's still ok in Kai Besar Island, but no accommodations outside Banda Elat (the main village, to sleep and eat ask for Ibu Haji's house), so you will have to sleep with the locals.

On Saparua Island (part of the lease group near Ambon), there was a guesthouse in Kollor Village but it has been destroyed at the time of the inter-religious war so now the only one is near Ouw Village (rooms in a house, above a nice beach, should cost around 50-60000 including food). It's closed but if you stay for a while you can ask the friendly owner in Ouw and he will reopen it for you or you can stay at his house in Ouw if you want. Many nice spots in this area, in the surrounding islands.

Important: if you want to travel in Maluku province you must have now a permit, otherwise they may kick you out of the province, especially if you arrive through the airport of Ambon or through its main harbors with a pelni. If you arrive with a small ferry or speed boat from another island it should be fine, but note that this permit is -in theory- requested for all Maluku province area (although usually they don't ask for it in remote areas). So, if you want to be on the safe side, make arrangements with: posko darurat sipil maluku, I don't know if they speak English... but their phone is: (0911) 352181. The last time I tried to sneak in Ambon (April 2003), they caught me but I had time to speak with them about that, so here is the story: you must send a letter from Jakarta to the Maluku's governor, have an Indonesian sponsor and apply for a "rekomendasi", but it seems that it's granted only for NGO people and that it's not for tourists. Try to check by yourself as the custom officers I spoke with were not certain about that last point. If you prefer to sneak, avoid at any cost the big harbours, especially Yos Sudarso (the main one) since there's now an immigration office there. Actually, the best is to avoid Ambon, go straight to Seram, Buru, Banda, Key or wherever by pelni without stopping in Ambon where there's anyway nothing and don't bother with the permit...

Note as well that last time (march 2003) I was in the Banda Islands the police asked for it and told me to leave as I had not any, but there were no more pelni for 10 days, and eventually I stayed until the next one... So, if you intend to go there without permit, check the pelni schedule and come with a boat that is not immediately followed by another one, like this, what can they do? The police wanted as well a baksheesh of 50000 rps that I could manage not to pay by leaving Banda Neira and "hiding" on other places of the archipelago. Anyway it's not legal, so you are not obliged to give it, just say that you will leave with the next boat!
NB: this permit is for Maluku province only, not for north Maluku province (whose capital is Ternate) where you don't need any and can go wherever you want.

Buru Island. In Namlea (the main town), the Muslims inhabitants are not very friendly and quite suspicious and the police is fussy. If you go there anyway, ask your hotel owner to make you fill the foreigner's registration form and to bring it straight away to the police. Mine didn't and I have been almost deported!! Otherwise some good corals around, but to see a lot you will need a boat. Anyway, in the villages away from Namlea, the people are friendly, so don't bother to stay in Namlea (where there's nothing anyway). There's a village about 15-20 kms from Namlea, near a sort of lake (that is actually more like the sea which comes into the land) where there's a nice beach and some good snorkeling along a very long reef. 

Anywhere else in the Maluku, with the exception of Ambon (where there are some expensive ones but most likely they will be closed, check by yourself), there are no accommodations so you have to sleep in local houses. It can be nice, but sometimes heavy due to the constant attention... Some good spots in the far south eastern part of the province, but very hard to reach, for die hard travellers only!

Some spots to avoid are: 
- The Aru Islands (Dobo Harbour): the coral has been bombed, they do a lot of fishing in the area
and anyway the water is not very clear as the islands are swampy. Add that the locals want crazy prices for their boats and that there are almost no local transportations (if not at all!).
- The spot in Sawai(north coast of Seram): the guesthouse on stilts is nice (100000 rps full board), the food is good, people are friendly... but the snorkeling along the coast was not worth the effort to get there.
The islands nearby are said to be not really good either,but maybe there are some good spots further east? Seram is nice however for trekking, but here it's snorkeling files only, isn't it?:-)))

Still, there's a marine park on the south eastern part of the archipelago (Aru Tenggara), but it takes between 2 and 3 days to reach there by wooden boat, so you can calculate yourself how much it would cost!! As far as I know there are no public boats, but if you are in Dobo (the main town of the archipelago, sleep in losmen Risfany), check at the harbor master (Kantor Syah Bandar) if there are some perintis boats for this destination. Perintis boats are dirty cargoes which take passengers, they are very slow and unreliable, have no comfort, but are often the only way to go to remote places. You have to know as well that they are very irregular and that usually they pass on the same place only once every 2 or 3 weeks...

 

In West Papua (Papua Barat or Irian Jaya):

Many nice spots, unfortunately hard to reach and costly. They don't see many tourists but they think that we are richer than what we are and will tell you shamelessly crazy prices!! No tourists accommodations except on 1 or 2 islands in the Padaido Islands (near Biak) but you will have to cook yourself. If you want to stay a few days anywhere, always bring some food supplies, rice, noodle soups, garlic onions, chilies, etc..

A lot of nice spots around the Raja Ampat Islands near Sorong, but you will need time and patience to get there, unless you want to charter, but the prices are hair rising!! Actually, there are at least 4 perintis boats which go there (mainly to Waigeo, sometimes to Fam and Kofiau or even Batanta), they are very cheap but as said above they are not very reliable and the delays can be days (they often break down)!! Some of them have a 3 weeks route which mean that you will get stuck or will have to charter to come back to Sorong for a fortune. Definitely not recommended if you are on a tight schedule!! The offices are near the main harbor...

Another way, more flexible and that can allow you to go to small villages, would be to go to the "harbor" at the beach near the Boswesen market (in front of the big white church). On the right side of the beach are boats which go to north Waigeo, and on the left side (after the river) are the boats which go to south Waigeo. Other destinations on both sides include: Batanta, Salawati... Always remember that getting somewhere is not all, you have to get back as well. You can try to make your own itinerary by finding connections between those locals boats and the perintis, in combination with some hiking in order to see many places. But if you don't speak Indonesian it will be quite hard to organize the trip. Have a look on a good map, buy some food supplies and allow plenty of time...

The only guesthouse called Kobe Oser is in Saunek (South Waigeo district), it costs 40000m rps for a double (including as many coffee/tea as you want) and 7000 for an eat-as-much-as-you-can meal. You can of course sleep in any village by the kades/kepala desa (head of the village) but in that case it would be good to bring some food supplies.

Around Waigeo a lot of spots have been bombed but some are still ok: in Saunek Island, when you look at the jetty, swim to the left. In the beginning, there's only sand but after a while you will encounter the reef that is a bit damaged but still ok and there are plenty of fish. You can swim all around the island, but when you reach the last beach before the jetty (on the back of the island) there's not much to see anymore. Another spot is nearby Saunek Monde, same story, the reef is a bit damaged but still ok and there are swarms of fishes. Near Saporkren village, I swam on the left when you face the sea, and it was a succession of intact and bombed spots. The coral was nice when it was still intact, but it was a shallow reef (no coral anymore when it gets deeper) so not many fish... Around Jenbeser village there's a small reef 5 minutes swim in front of the village, you can see some fish and corals but nothing superb. Still, you can ask the nice cute kids to swim with you and play a bit with them while snorkeling!! Avoid at any costs Miospun Island, totally bombed!!

At Friwen Island, I swam along the eastern coast and then left to the channel between Friwen and Friwen Monday Island, in the shallow the corals were ok but it was bombed in the deep and as for Saporkren and Yenbesner it's not really worth the money to get there. Further west is Koy Island where the reef was better but you still see bomb traces. I swam along the eastern and southern coasts (on the western and northern coast it's shallow and there's nothing to see). The reef keeps on going on the eastern side but strong currents prevented me from going very far and from checking it but what I saw from it was looking nice. It continues as well on the southern side, I swam a while there, passed Koy but could not reach the end of the reef. It seems to continue far along Mansuar Island's southern coast and is maybe worth checking further away.

On Mansuar Island, where Mister Max Hammer has his guesthouse (165 dollars per day if you feel interested), the reef in front of the guesthouse was not bad (if quite a bit bombed) and there were plenty of fish, I even saw a spotted eagle ray. In this area, you will see some very nice purple and red soft corals that are not seen very often, but too much bomb fishing have impoverished the quality of snorkeling, it's a pity, it must have been superb before! Actually the best spots are around Saunek and Saunek Monde, no need to charter and pay a fortune to go elsewhere...

I heard from the locals that the islands around Fam and around Mutus were bombed and that people were cyanide fishing as well in these areas, so I didn't go there. I heard too that the 2 big reefs above the north western corner of Mansuar have been bombed as well, but as they are quite big there may be still something intact, check and send us an up date!! The area on the north coast of Batanta is actually much better: before Sen Island when you come from the north there's a small circular reef that is bombed on the edge but still nice in the middle with tons of fish. Then, around Sen Island, I swam around the north and eastern side and the reef was totally intact. It was not very colorful, but it was like swimming above fields of coral, as far as my eyes could see in all directions it was full coral!!!

Further east and not very far from Sen there's another reef, quite deep, where I could swim with huge manta rays (even bigger that the ones in east Kalimantan), that was really magic!!! This day the visibility was very poor due to the plankton and that's why they came, but I am not sure that it's every day the same. Further east are the Tapok Islands, I swam along the biggest one on the side that looks Batanta and it was nice as well, the coral was intact.

There are 2 reefs west of Sen Island, I could not check it, but I guess they are nice... Near Sorong I checked only Senapan Island but it was not worth. The locals say that all the area around Sorong (Doom, Jefman and Buaya Islands, Tanjung Kasuari, the eastern side of Salawati Island...) have been bombed so I didn't bother. Maybe some good spots around Kofiau? But it's far and hard to reach... Another good area according to the locals is above Waigeo's north coast: the Ayu Islands (read "ayiao"). 

Around the Teluk Cenderawasih (the paradise bird bay, go from Manokwari): Rumberpon (where the locals are very money orientated about boats stories), Roon Island... To reach those islands, you start from Ransiki (few hours away from Manokwari) and try to find a boat at the harbour. Better to sleep a night in Ransiki (ask for Pak Camat's house) and then go in the harbour in the morning as there are more boats. If you want to charter they will charge crazy prices (they don't even realize how ridiculous their prices are but they just think that we pay whatever we are asked!). Just wait and you will find a local boat to Rumberpon or to Wasior (you can negotiate to be dropped where you want to). No fixed schedule and don't forget to bargain!

In Rumberpon, there's a beach called Anieri. The beach is very nice but there's nothing to see in the water. For beach freaks only (you can sleep in local huts, bring your food). Some corals near Jembekiri Village (where most likely you will arrive with the boat from Ransiki).

Biak Island: the Padaido group nearby is famous among snorkeling freaks but locals are totally spoilt and will try (once more) to charge crazy prices. But if you are patient you will get local boats. Agree a price before and make clear that you don't want to charter. For the closer Padaidos, boats are from Bosnik (more boats on market days), just go there in the morning and see what's going on. For the far padaidos boats from "Kehutanan" (near Mapia Hotel, ask your way. It's on the street in front of the Mapia Hotel (cross the main road before), then, when the street forks, take on your left and then on your right, between houses, in direction of the beach. Beware that many people will tell you bullshits and try to mislead you so that you have to charter their boats). Go one day in advance, meet a "kapten" who goes there for his own business the next day and ask if you can go with him. Haggle like hell!!! (pak, mau ikut, tapi tidak mau charter, mau ikut sebagai penumpang biasa = sir, i want to go with you, but i don't want to charter, i want to do it as a normal passenger). There are some bungalows in the Padaidos but i forgot the names of the places (sorry!). Ask the tourist office in Biak. I have been to one in the far Padaido, the island was nice (orchids growing on the trees) but the coral was crap (there was a island nearby, reachable by paddling boat, where it was ok though, on the left part). Avoid the registration in the village in the island before the one where are the bungalows as they will ask for 50000 rps. For what? They themselves don't know! Anyway if you are obliged to go there, just refuse to pay. That's what i did, no worries! Many places have been bombed in the Padaidos, so you will have to search for intact ones... There's another island near Biak, but it's not part of the Padaidos and there the snorkeling is GREAT. You can sleep by the head of the village. Ask in Biak town...

Around Yapen Island (Serui harbour), a lot has been bombed but there are still some good spots. Look around. There's in particular a nice one, with nice landscape and super friendly locals, in a small village near Serui. Around Pulau Ambai (sometimes called Arumbai or Anumbai) most of the coral has been bombed, but it's a nice boat trip around the many islands of this small archipelago offshore of Serui.

 

Other places:

Bali:

Forget it! The only spot is at Lovina, it's not very nice and they want crazy prices for boat trips. There may be some spots around Nusa Lembongan or Nusa Penida, if you feel like exploring, but i am not sure that it's worth...

Lombok:

The Gili Islands are very touristy. In Gili Air, there was a nice spot on the east coast, but i heard that it has been destroyed by anchorage since the time where i was there (1997). Check...

Sumbawa:

The only spot is around Moyo Island. I was only on the south coast where the forestry office runs a guesthouse (when i was there there was no
restaurant, bring your food). The coral was intact, although not spectacular (like brownish color and hard coral only) but there may be some
good one along the north coast. It's where the boats on the 4 days trips between Lombok and Flores stop. Ask around. Unfortunatly it's a bit far
from the guesthouse.

Flores:

Around Labuanbajo, almost everything has been bombed, including the spots listed in the guide books and Rinca. There are 2 islands with
accommodations on nice beaches: Pulau Kanawa and Pulau Seraya. Prices are about the same although Kanawa is slightly cheaper. The snorkeling is not fantastic but it's the best (or the least bad!) in this area (except in Komodo at the pink beach). The coral is better in Kanawa but the marine life is better in Seraya (i saw sharks every time i went into the sea). The spots near Maumere have been bombed and damaged by the last earthquake. It's growing again but it's still small.
Still,a friend of mine has been to Ankermi's guesthouse (28 kms east from Maumere) and told me that the mud snorkeling there, if unusual, was interesting for all the small creatures that one can see.

East of Flores:

Many good spots on the islands east of Flores, around Pantar, Alor, Pura... There's a guesthouse in Kepa island (15 kms from Kalabahi, Alor's main town).It costs 75000 rps full board but it may increase in the next few months. The corals around Kepa are quite good on the south east, south and south west coasts, but beware of the currents. Read the old comments book at the guesthouse (don't miss the map drawn by my friend Frank) for more snorkeling spots in nearby Pura, Ternate, Pantar.

Backpacker's Tips : Marc, Canada (Dec 02)
« I just got back from
Pulau Kanawa and Pulau Seraya. The price is Rp 50.000 for two people in a bungalow at either site. Snorkeling is just as you describe it. They're talking now about levying a USD 30 fee next year to enter TN Komodo.» 

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I am a backpacker like you and I am not sponsored by anyone. I meant these snorkeling files as an help to my fellow travelers. If you follow them you will save some money, time and energy. So in return it would be nice to send some updates. If you have been to some remote places that are not listed here, it's always nice to get some info Let's share the underwater beauty of Indonesia! Thanks in advance. Fabrice.