Indonesia is a massive country with over seventeen thousand islands so it’s understandable when people get confused about what location is where. To help with that this short video will break down all of Indonesia’s top snorkeling destinations including what you can see and how we arrive. Don’t hesitate to ask any further questions, we are always happy to help!

Indonesia is a massive country, and because it’s broken up into over seventeen thousand islands it can be a bit confusing to know what is where, especially if you are a bit geographically challenged as I was before I moved here. I don’t want to make broad assumptions about people I have yet to meet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people might not know a lot that Borneo is not it’s own country and in fact three countries, the majority of which is Indonesia and known as Kalimantan. Or, that Indonesia also occupies about half of the world’s second largest island, which I’m sure you’ve all heard of—New Guinea. The Indonesian side is known as West Papua and is the home of Raja Ampat, while east of the border is Papua New Guinea. If you already knew all this, gold stars for you! Anyway, the objective of this blog isn’t to make you self conscious of your Indonesian geography, I know for a fact that many Indonesian people couldn’t point out Wakatobi on a map. The point of this is to simply break down one of the most beautiful countries in the world, by focusing on the locations which also conveniently happen to be Snorkel Venture destinations!

Indonesia map with Snorkel Venture locations

Fun Indo Facts

  • 17,000 Islands
  • 127 Volcanoes
  • 300 Different Languages
  • Center of Coral Triangle
  • World’s Highest Coral and Reef Fish Diversity

Jakarta and Bali

I’m not going to spend a lot of time with these two locations but they do deserve mentioning as a lot of our trips will begin at either one of these locations. Jakarta as you probably know is the capital of Indonesia and located on the island of Java. Jakarta is, for lack of a better description, a big city really well known for it’s traffic jams. Lucky for us this is just a transitory stop where we are essentially just using the airport and it’s comfortable hotel to relieve some of the jet lag before taking off to our final destinations.

bali rice fields and volcano

Bali on the other hand, while we also use the airport and it’s hotel the same way as we do Jakarta’s, is well worth a visit beyond the boundaries of the Airport. I would even suggest spending a bit of time here before or after the tour just to get a better feel for the island as it really is amazing. The island is full of interesting cultural sites, luxurious villas and boutique resorts, amazing food, jungles, and wonderful beaches.


Komodo Resort Aerial Perspective

Moving onto one of Indonesia’s most famous locations, Komodo. Komodo National Park is just a short one hour flight from Bali, and also one of Indonesia’s most iconic destinations. The park is made up of twenty nine islands, four of which are home to the Komodo Dragons. The snorkeling here is exceptional with over seven hundred species of fish and two hundred and sixty coral species. There is such a concentration of marine life in this park that you can readily predict what each snorkel session will be like. Manta rays are all over the place and can, quite frequently, be encountered in large numbers. Turtles are also prolific as well as other creatures like cuttle fish and large schools of fish. One of the beauties of Komodo is that the reefs are so diverse that no two snorkels will be the same. There are mangroves, sloping reefs, plateaus, walls, drifts, bays, manta cleansing stations, and of course the resort’s pier which attracts a ton of marine life.

A quick video showcasing our Komodo Tours


Pristine coral reef in Alor

Alor is a small cluster of islands just east of Komodo and accessed by a short flight from Jakarta. Alor is still quite un touched by tourism and with only a couple snorkel and dive resorts in the area. This is not to say the snorkeling is any less spectacular than some of Indonesia’s other top destinations. It’s quite the opposite. Because Alor is only now just becoming familiar with snorkelers and divers, and the local villages have really looked after their reefs by practicing more sustainable fishing methods, the areas reefs have remained in a near pristine state. Fringing the entire coastline of the area you can find a truly some of the most colorful and diverse reefs on the planet. The cold water rising from the south brings in nutrients that sustain the smaller fish which in turn bring in the larger animals like super pods of dolphins and melon head whales, mola mola, and if you are lucky a blue whale or two! These larger species are difficult to snorkel with as they are quite shy, but no less spectacular when they pass just in font of the boat. Much like Komodo, the reefs in Alor are very diverse not only in coral species and marine life, but also in style. We have a few piers that make fantastic and highly unique snorkeling spots—one of which is our resort’s pier and only a few feet from your bungalow, but also some fantastic mellow drifts, walls, and sloping reefs, all of which just seem to keep going and going.

A quick video showcasing our Alor Tours

Bunaken- North Sulawesi

Split shot of sea stars in sea grass and a sunset

One of the other major islands in Indonesia is Sulawesi, it’s the big silly shaped one in the middle. It is also home to some fantastic snorkeling, outstanding resorts, and really easy to arrive to from Bali. In the north we have five island just off the coast known as the Bunaken Natioanl Park, and in the south east we have another marine reserve known as Wakatobi. But now, lets talk about Bunaken.

View of pool and bar at Siladen Resort

To arrive to Bunaken we have to take a short one and a half hour flight from Bali to Manado, and then hop on one of the resorts large boats for athirty minute ride to the resort. So easy! The snorkeling here is really amazing with shallow hard coral plateaus that fringe the varying islands and then suddenly drop into the deep blue. Back in the day sea turtles were hunted here for their meet and eggs, but since the tourism industry has established itself and the declaration of the marine reserve the local turtle population is booming! Green sea turtles frequent the white sand beaches in front of the bungalows to nest and with a bit of luck you can witness an emergence of hundreds of baby sea turtles as they make a mad dash to the sea. Currents are vey mild here in Bunaken and the visibility and conditions are fairly consistent year round. Many of the other locations around Indonesia have a distinct high and low season which coincides with the wet and dry seasons.

A quick video showcasing our North Sulawesi tours which are either combined with Raja Ampat or Borneo

Wakatobi- South East Sulawesi

aerial view of wakatobi resort

Whether it’s the private charter flight from Bali to the resort’s own air strip, the idyllic palm studded islands fringed by white sand beaches, or the surreal underwater world, Wakatobi is definitely a place you wont forget.

Wakatobi is located quite a ways off the south east coast of Sulawesi in the Banda Sea. The islandscape looks very similar to the Maldives as the area is made up of many small low lying islands with white sand beaches. The robust reefs start at the surface, and at times when the tide is low the reefs actually break the surface. From here they gradually slope away from the atolls eventually dropping of into the blue water. There is no shortage of colorful reef fish here and the reefs are actually some of the most diverse in the world with seven hundred different species of coral. Currents do tend be be quite mild as well, similar to Bunaken, and also like the Bunaken, Wakatobi’s weather and sea conditions remain pretty consistent year round.

A quick video showcasing our Wakatobi Tours

Raja Ampat

Split shot of coral reef below and raja ampat islands above

Raja Ampat is, as I said in the beginning, part of West Papua. Raja does take a bit more effort to arrive to as the flight from Jakarta is about four hours, but I promise it is absolutely worth the couple extra hours in the plane. Raja Ampat is often referred to as the crown jewel for snorkeling in Indonesia, and for many people, the world. It’s reefs are teeming with life, big and small, and astonishingly vibrant.With over 1,766 fish species and counting and over 550 coral species, Raja Ampat is the most biodiverse marine environment in the world. What’s more is that since this massive area has been declared a marine sanctuary, the marine life is thriving, and species like sharks and manta rays which were nearly wiped out years ago are coming back fast and showing some really impressive numbers. Don’t worry, the sharks are honestly more scared of you than you should be of them.

Something to make note of with regards to Raja Ampat is that it is a very very big area. If you compare Komodo National Park with Raja Ampat, it’s like six times bigger and made up of over 600 islands with endless bays, sea mounds, lagoons, and mangrove labyrinths. In light of the the marine sanctuary’s large size, it’s a good idea to have a rough idea of the different regions of Raja before you book a trip as each region is slightly different. If you choose a resort which os located in the norther portion of Raja, that’s where you will concentrate your snorkeling, in the north. If decide to do the option in the south, and area known as Misool, then your tour will be focused there. There is the liveaboard option which will do a bit of the north and the south, but once again, even with a liveaboard the area is so big you still won’t even come close to seeing it all. In my own personal experience, I worked on a liveaboard in Raja for five consecutive years and every year we would still be finding new places to explore. It’s a truly exciting place full of mystery and beautiful surprises.

Large school of fish over coral reef

What’s the snorkeling like in Raja? Well, it has it all, and a vast quantities. Big schools of batfish, jacks, barracudas, mantas, sharks, the occasional whale shark, all the reef fish you could ever imagine, and the odd chance of a whale spouting on the horizon. It’s epic.

A quick video showcasing the liveaboard option for Raja Ampat, for more videos of our different Raja Tours check out our Youtube Channel or click here

Kalimantan- Indonesian Borneo

Kalimantan has more than some of the oldest, densest jungles in the world where giant ginger primates dwell, it also has chains ofidyllic islands surrounded by beautiful reefs. A remote island off of Borneo might seem like a real trek to arrive to, but it’s really only two short flights from Jakarta and a thirty to forty minute boat ride to the Nunuken Island, then it’s snorkel time! The reefs that surround the island are typical Indonesian reefs—abundant, vibrant and thriving.

There is also good chances to encounter mantas feeding or cleaning on one of their cleaning stations. But what is most intriguing, at least for me, is the ‘lake’ full full full of stingless jellyfish and fringed by beautiful mangroves.

A quick video showcasing our Borneo Tour which includes a stop in Bunaken National Park

I’ve noticed a couple trends among snorkelers with cameras. The first is that just about all of them want to photograph the wonderful reef fish we encounter our snorkel-ventures to show their friends later on. The second is that after a few snorkel session photographing reef fish, many guests will come to me and ask me how to take better photos of reef fish because all their getting are blurry shots of a fish’s bum. So, here’s a few tips I’ve found helpful in photographing reef fish. 

Tip 1: Stop Photographing Reef Fish

The main reason why reef fish photos typically come back as a blurry fish bum is because reef fish are one of the hardest subjects to photograph well. If you stop and watch a butterfly fish or any one of the billion species of wrass you’ll quickly understand why. They never stop moving and their movement is never in one direction—it’s chaotic and all over the place. Not to mention most of the species people really what to photograph are smaller than your hand, and when you’re duck diving down or bobbing along on the surface their movement mixed with yours creates a really non-ideal shooting scenario. So, if your goal is to come back with a collection of awesome photos to show to your friends—reef fish may not be your most ideal subject to focus on. 

Tip 2: Focus on the Big Picture

Rather than focus on getting individual reef fish in a single frame, I suggest focusing more on the big picture with a variety of fish included in the photo along with the reef and everything else. These types of photos are not only easier to achieve, but also tend to be a bit more impressive to the viewer. I love to look for patches where the reef is particularly impressive and also hosts quite a variety of fish as well. On our snorkel tours reef scenes like this are not in short supply. 

Tip 3: If you Absolutely Must…

If you can not live without your fish photos, then what I would suggest is picking an individual fish and follow it. Though their movement may seem a bit erratic, it’s all part of their daily routine and a lot of times you’ll be able to anticipate what they are going to do next if you start to study their behavior. For example, most anemone fish will actually come out to ‘greet’ you as you come close their anemone but then suddenly dark back into the protection of their anemone only to come back out again. Try to anticipate this in and out movement and time it with the moment you press the shutter. Just about every species of fish will have a more or less repetitive pattern of movement and if you spend a bit of time observing this you can time it with your photos. Not to mention, the the longer you spend calmly watching a particular fish it’s more likely that it will perceive you a a non-threat and you’ll be able to move a bit closer for a better photos. 

Cow fish looking into the camera with snorkeler behind

Reef fish photos are considerably harder to get right, but with a bit of patience and understanding they are by no means impossible. My personal recommendation would be to not spend the entirety of your time photographing them, and instead divide it up between big picture photos which include the reef as well as the fish with some time also devoted to individual species. 

There is nothing better than walking out of your beach front bungalow with fins and mask in hand and then casually slipping into the calm water just a few feet away into a complexity different world. Asia is home to some of the best house reefs in the world, where everything from mantas, schooling fish, mating mandarin fish, and of course stunning fields of coral are possible

Aerial view of Papua Explorers resort

What is a house reef? Well, it’s quite simple really. A house reef is the reef that is situated in-front of the resort. Typically house reefs are a bit more protected from current and waves since most resorts are built in bays or on a side of the island where the weather is more stable. 

Diamond spadefish below jetty in Alor

What are the benefits of snorkeling a house reef? Well, as you may have guessed, house reefs usually offer exceptional snorkeling without any of the fuss of jumping on a boat. You can come and go as you please and take your time with certain subjects. The more time you spend on the house reef you’ll become familiar with certain fish and you’ll start to notice their unique behavior. If you’re a photographer, being able to wait for the nice light is a major bonus while also being able to revisit particular subjects—anemones for example, so you can really get the shot you were after. Also, since most resorts will prohibit fishing on their reefs you can expect an abundance of friendly marine-life. 

Large school of fish in Komodo

Another awesome advantage of house reefs is that most resorts will have a jetty or pier for their boats. What this provides is a very unique habitat for animals. The pilings provide a sanctuary from current and predators, so most resorts will have a cluster of fish and other marine-life you wouldn’t otherwise find in the shallows. 

Wakatobi is one of Indonesia’s premiere snorkel destinations. The island of Wakatobi is a small idyllic island dotted with palm trees and fringed by a white sandy beach, short limestone cliffs, and endless coral reefs. In the middle of it all is one boutique dive and snorkel resort knows as Wakatobi Resort, which also happens to be one of Indonesia’s premier resorts and snorkel destinations. 

aerial view of wakatobi resort


Logistics of Arriving

Wakatobi is located off the south-east corner of Sulawesi amid a sparse chain of islands and atolls that barely reach the surface. It’s only accessed—easily—by a charter flight several times a week which is operated by the resort itself. The flight is only about two hours from Bali. Upon arriving the resort will pick us up in comfortable cars and drive us a whole six minutes to the pier where we will be picked up by one of the resorts comfortable wood boats. This leg of the journey takes about twenty to thirty minutes. Yes, the boats have a roof to protect us from the sun as well as welcome drinks and a comfortable restroom. 

At this point you’ll probably notice that our large checked luggage is not with us. Not to worry, the resort is unloading it from the charter flight and it will be delivered to our about an hour after we arrive. It’s a good idea to pack a change of cloths, essential toiletries, and medications in your hand carry luggage so you’ll have these essential things upon arriving at the resort. 

view from wakatobi bungalows

The first day is sort of an orientation day where we’ll have plenty of time to unpack, eat lunch, and get a thorough briefing of what is going to happened throughout the week. And yes, we will be able to get in the water for an afternoon snorkel session on their really quite incredible house reef. 

The Resort 

The resort itself is very nice. White sand pathways take you to your beachfront rooms which are beautifully built. The rooms are very comfortable with all the essential amenities and a bunch more. For example, if you want a specific type of pillow you just call down to reception and place your order off their pillow menu! 

Wakatobi resort has a fantastic restaurant where we will take all of our meals, unless of course you want a quiet night on your porch and decide to order room service. The food is buffet style and features delicious European and Asian cuisine and some amazing deserts. If you have special dietary requirements just let us know in advance and they will take care of the rest. 

Where activities outside snorkeling are concerned, there is plenty to do. Wakatobi resort has stand up paddle boards and kayaks while the beach just in front of your room is a perfect place to cool off after sunbathing. They can also organize village tours the the neighboring village as well as Indonesian cooking and language lessons. 

The Snorkeling 

Banded sea snake on coral reef

Like all of our group snorkel tours, Wakatobi resort sets us up with their largest most comfortable boat which is essentially at our disposal for the week. No divers allowed! We will also have our own snorkel guides who will also remain with us for the week and escort us to the areas best snorkeling sites.  All of our gear will be loaded up each morning by the helpful crew and put away each evening in separate boxes for each of us. The furthest we ever need to go to reach a snorkel site is thirty minutes, with the closest being just a few feet from the resort. 

Pristine shallow coral reef

I’ll be honest, after snorkeling in places like Raja Ampat, Komodo, and Alor for the past six years I wasn’t really expecting to be surprised by the reefs, but I was absolutely blown away. The reefs were some of the healthiest I’ve seen and were easily comparable to any of Indonesia’s top destinations. They were generally characterized by vast plateaus of hard coral, sponges, and occasionally sea grass and at the reefs edge they would either turn into steep slopes or vertical walls that dropped into the blue. On the slopes and walls the coral was just as vibrant and dense with lots of soft coral and a variety of sea fans.

Each site offered something a little unique in terms of marine life, while on just about all the sites we did we ended up finding crocodile fish, green sea turtles, and banded sea snakes. Given it’s location within the Coral Triangle, Wakatobi has an outstanding diversity of colorful reef fish. We found everything from nudibranches, schools of fusileers, eels, cuttle fish, blue ring octopus, and even had a blue whale surface just a few meters from the boat!

Coral reef with sun burst behind coral

In short, Wakatobi is an excellent destination for those who want an easier travel option within Indonesia while not missing out on any of the iconic reef scenes the country is known for. From the charter flight, to the food, to the snorkeling, and even the pillows; everything is tailored to fit your needs.