Indonesia is a vast archipelago of 17,000 islands located at the heart of the Coral Triangle. The country features some 30% of the world’s coral reefs. The archipelago hosts pristine coral gardens, which are home to the richest marine biodiversity on earth. You will never get tired exploring its warm, calm and crystal-clear waters. Head to Bali, Raja Ampat, Komodo or Sulawesi, where you can snorkel with clownfish, sea turtles, manta rays, sharks, and the fascinating ocean sunfish, known locally as "mola mola".
With 17,000 islands and 20% of the coral reefs on Earth, Indonesia is at the top of many snorkeling bucket lists around the world. Thousands of vibrant snorkeling locations are spread over the bays, drop-offs and lagoons of the country. That being said, visitors to the region mainly concentrate on a few very touristy areas.
Indonesia offers a vibrant array of marine treasures. Here’s where to snorkel to see them for yourself.
Bali is Indonesia’s top snorkeling destination. Even though its coral reefs are not the most beautiful in the country, they still allow snorkelers to observe the fascinating sea life.
The Amed region, on the northeastern side of Bali, is home to many spots to explore from the beach. The most famous sites in the area are the Jemeluk Bay, the USS Liberty Wreck (with, a few hundred meters further south, the Coral Garden), the Japanese Wreck, Amed Pyramids, and Lipah Beach. All of these areas have free shore access.
The small island of Pulau Menjangan, at the western tip of Bali, is home to what had been one of the most beautiful reef drop-offs in the area. Unfortunately, in recent years the reef has been damaged but is still worth seeing.
Lying between Bali and Lombok, the Gili Islands are a true snorkeler’s paradise. These three small islands fringed by coral reefs, are some of the best places in the world to swim with green and hawksbill sea turtles.
Turtles are easily spotted around the islands, both on shallow seagrass meadows and on coral drop-offs. Gili Trawangan,which is the largest and the most crowded of the 3 islands. Gili Meno is the island where you can discover The Nest, comprised of 48 human-sized statues. The third island, Gili Air all provide the opportunity for amazing snorkeling explorations.
Nusa Penida, a 30-minute speedboat ride from Bali, is famous for sightings of mola mola at Crystal Bay. It is also known for the population of manta rays at cleaning stations along the coastline, in particular at Manta Point and Manta Bay (aka Manta Point II).
About 310 miles east of Bali, Sulawesi (also known as Celebes) is another snorkeling hotspot in Indonesia. Located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, its reef drop-offs are covered with a diversity of hard and soft corals. It is home to hundreds of species of reef fish.
A short boat ride from Manado, the Bunaken Marine Park, comprised of five islands, has fantastic snorkeling. Head to Siladen Island, where the reef is inhabited by a dozen anemonefish species. You could also go to Bunaken‘s southern shore, often visited by sea turtles, to get the best snorkeling experience in the area.
Just across the northern tip of Sulawesi and a 1-hour drive from Manado, Lembeh is considered the world’s muck diving capital. If you are looking for critters, this is the place to go. In the Lembeh Strait, even at snorkeling depths, seahorses, frogfish, cuttlefish and mantis shrimp can be easily observed.
In Southern Sulawesi is the Wakatobi National Park where you can explore some of the most biodiverse coral reefs on the planet. This is an unmissable snorkeling location in the region. Comprised of four islands (Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko), it is heaven for snorkelers, divers and marine conservationists.
Flathead, scorpionfish, razorfish, Napoleon wrasse, sea kraits and snappers are all very common on its drop-offs. The stunning Wakatobi Resort, in particular, is considered to host one of the world’s best house reefs and is the perfect base from which to explore the region.
The Togian Islands, in the Gulf of Tomini (Central Sulawesi), is also a great option for those looking for an untouched snorkeling experience.
In the eastern reaches of Indonesia, the Raja Ampat archipelago, which includes 1,500 islands and islets, is often described as one of the most beautiful diving spots in the world. At the junction of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, this area features exceptional biodiversity.
Hosting over 1,500 fish species and 550 coral types, it is probably one of the most biodiverse marine habitats on the planet. From manta rays to sea turtles, dugongs and sharks, to the minuscule pygmy seahorse and fish variety, Raja Ampat has to be at the top of any snorkelers bucket list.
To snorkel in Raja Ampat, you can either book a stay in a resort or on a liveaboard cruise. The cruise will allow you to reach remote and less-touched spots. Among the most iconic resorts in Raja Ampat is the Misool Eco Resort located at the edge of a coral reef and lagoon visited by blacktip sharks and green turtles. The Papua Paradise Eco Resort and the Papua Explorers Dive Resort, with stunning house reefs and easy access to the Manta Sandy snorkeling site, are also great options.
At Lombok, just east of Bali, begins the archipelago of Nusa Tenggara, also called the Lesser Sunda Islands. This archipelago, bordered to the north by the Flores Sea, includes islands with different profiles and atmospheres.
Komodo National Park, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores, is one of Indonesia’s natural gems. Known for being the habitat of the Komodo dragon, which is the largest lizard currently living on the planet, it is also home to an exceptional underwater environment. Its snorkeling spots, where colorful reefs, sharks and manta rays abound, are among the most beautiful in the country.
If you want to explore the park from a hotel with a house reef, the Komodo Resort, at the gates of the Park, is one of the best options. Otherwise, you will find a wide choice of cruises in the archipelago, most of which depart from Labuan Bajo.
The Alor region, just east of Nusa Tenggara, will suit those looking for snorkeling on reefs that are still very well preserved, but off the beaten track. Colorful fish and invertebrates abound on the fringing reefs. The debris on the bottom of the reefs allow viewing of specific species such as scorpionfish, nudibranchs and mandarinfish.
An archipelago of more than 600 islands scattered between Sulawesi and West Papua, the Moluccas are an isolated and little-visited region of Indonesia. To snorkel there, you will have many locations to choose from. You can choose the main islands of Halmahera, Seram or Ambon, or choose the isolated islands of the south-west, also called the “Forgotten Islands.”
Ambon probably offers the best snorkeling on the main islands. You can discover pretty coral reefs there like in Pulau Hatala, which is an islet surrounded by coral. In Ambon Bay you’ll find a more atypical environment of muddy bottoms. This area is conducive to the observation of many “critters” such as the antennal, Rhinopias and seahorses.
About 62 miles south of the island of Seram, the Banda Islands are a dream location for snorkeling. This string of eleven islands, 7 of which are inhabited, offers spectacular coral reefs, overflowing with multicolored soft corals. The Pulau Hatta location, in particular, is worth a visit if you are traveling in the archipelago.
Indonesia is located in the Coral Triangle. This area of the Pacific Ocean also includes Malaysia, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands.
Rich in coral reefs and representing barely 1% of the ocean surface, this area has the greatest marine biodiversity in the world. It is estimated to be home to 30% of the world’s coral reefs and 35% of the world’s reef fish species (more than 3,000 species).
In Indonesia, snorkelers can witness a plethora of marine species, including an impressive range of reef fish and invertebrates, and loads of sea turtles. There are also also pelagic fish such as whale sharks, manta rays and sunfish (mola mola). Anemonefish, angelfish, scorpionfish, surgeonfish are all very common at reef, as is the banded sea krait, a sea snake frequently encountered on the reef flats.
The Lembeh Strait in northern Sulawesi, is a macro-life paradise. Although the region’s reefs are not attractive, its black sand and muck beds are packed with so many diverse and unique critters, including seahorses, frogfish, devilfish, nudis and octopuses.
If you are planning a trip to Indonesia, we recommend the excellent Reef fish ID: Tropical Pacific (also available in ebook), the invaluable reference guide to ID the fish you will encounter snorkeling across the archipelago.
In Indonesia, the climate is always warm and humid. With water temperatures on average from 82 to 86°F (28 to 30°C), snorkeling is possible all the time, although you need to bear in mind the rain, which can be heavy at certain times.
From November to April, during the rainy season, the heat is stifling (with a peak in January/February) and the humidity rate nears 75%. The dry season, between May and October, probably represents the best time for snorkeling in Indonesia, with low rainfall and an average temperature of 86°F/28°C.
Visitor numbers are high in Bali in December and January (during the Christmas holidays), and in July and August. Taking into account the climate and the busy tourist periods, the best months for exploring the country are May, June, and September.
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ADD A SPOT
Unmissable in the Gili Islands, especially at Gili Trawangan
Frequently sighted at Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air; often seen at Bunaken Island reef drop off
Found on many spots; common in Bunaken Island and Siladen Island
Abundant at Siladen Island
Important colonies on Siladen Island reef flat
Common at Menjangan Island
Occasional sightings throughout the archipelago; common at Menjangan Island
Frequently sighted on all reef spots
Occasionnaly observed in Bunaken Island
On all spots
Sea turtles and vibrant reef drop off
Free shore access
Vibrant reef drop off and shallow seagrass meadows
Vibrant reef drop off with turtles and shallow seagrass meadows
Steep reef drop off with colorful fish
House reef with a lush coral drop off and sea turtles
Vibrant reef flat and drop off with turtles and a great diversity of reef fish
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