Many Destinations, Abundant Sea Life
Indonesia snorkeling is easily some of the best in the world. Indonesia is located in the Coral Triangle, where you can find the world’s highest coral and reef fish diversity on Earth.
All of that life translates to some mind-blowing snorkeling. Floating over dense colorful coral reefs teeming with fish, hanging out over manta ray cleaning stations, watching the sea turtles and sharks that inhabit these reefs, seeing the large schools of pelagic fish out past the reef drop-off, getting up close to the interesting small nudibranchs, seeing the colorful giant clams, it just goes on and on.
Indonesia, located in Southeast Asia, is the largest island country in the world. There are over 17,000 islands spread out over more than 700,000 square miles (nearly 2 million square kilometers). The country spans both sides of the equator so is a tropical climate, except in some high elevations. There are 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia.
Nine of Indonesia’s national parks are largely marine parks, where the marine life is protected. Additionally, the country has about 200 (and growing) marine protected areas that are managed in various ways. These places can provide wonderful Indonesia snorkeling with abundant sea life that is not afraid of you.
In a number of areas of Indonesia, the amount and diversity of the sea life can be linked to an influx of fresh sea water flushing through the area with every tide. Sometimes there are upwellings of cool sea water from deep in the ocean. This moving water keeps these reefs healthy. Places where this is particularly evident are in Raja Ampat, Komodo, and Alor.
Indonesia Snorkeling – What Can You See?
Of course one of the highlights of Indonesia snorkeling is the incredible coral reefs. There are countless shallow reefs perfect for snorkeling. Many of the reefs are fringing around the islands, with plateaus you can explore. Then those reefs will often drop off quickly and there is always something interesting to see out in the dark blue water. There are vertical walls covered in coral that come right to the surface. There are sea mounts and pinnacles that reach the surface. And there are lagoons with sand and patch reefs, sea grass beds, and mangroves to explore.
As for corals, you can see nearly any kind you would like from a vast array of hard corals, like table and staghorn corals, to diverse soft corals, like leather corals, fans, and more.
The reefs are literally teeming with fish, in schools and individuals. Clouds of damselfish and anthias are everywhere. Gorgeous butterflyfish and angelfish are easy to spot. Massive schools of fusiliers streak by the reefs. If you are lucky you can recognize through their camouflage scorpionfish, frogfish, and crocodilefish. The colorful parrotfish and wrasses are a treat to see. Anemones of all colors are homes to the variety of clownfish you can watch here. The sweetlips, Mandarinfish and gorgeous lionfish will make your trip!
Many areas of Indonesia are known to be manta ray cleaning stations, so chances are high you can snorkel with the incredible giants. Particularly in areas where they are protected, sharks are regulars on the reef and a joy to see. If you snorkel at night you might get to watch the walking or epaulette sharks that are only found in the Coral Triangle and Australia. Out in the deep blue water you could see a Mola mola, whale sharks, eagle rays and more. And some of the best creatures to spot are in the same family, octopus, squid, and the amazing cuttlefish.
Indonesia Snorkeling – Where to Go?
We have personally been and can recommend three Indonesia snorkeling places. We will start with our favorite.
Spots We’ve Been Snorkeling in Indonesia
Raja Ampat, specifically the Misool region in the south, has astounding Indonesia snorkeling! There is a large marine protected area and that protection shows in the sheer number and diversity of sea life. Misool boasts massive numbers of fish and coral species, not to mention manta ray cleaning stations and sharks galore. Read all about our snorkeling experience in Misool here.
Alor, in East Nusa Tenggara province, has some of the healthiest reefs we have ever seen, and they are teeming with fish life. We even got to swim with a huge Mola mola! It is not a place that has been discovered by tourism and is a joy to visit. The currents and upwellings in the area are responsible for these healthy reefs, but require a knowledgeable guide for safe snorkeling. Read all about our experience snorkeling Alor here.
Komodo National Park
We loved the Indonesia snorkeling we found in Komodo National Park. This park offers protections for the marine life and many of the reefs are wonderful for snorkeling. There are places to see huge sea turtles here and some manta ray cleaning stations to swim with these incredible creatures. This park is accessible by boat for snorkeling. Read all about how we snorkeled Komodo here.
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More Indonesia Snorkeling Places
As mentioned, Misool is a region in southern Raja Ampat. But there are lots of other areas in Raja Ampat you can visit for Indonesia snorkeling. The most visited areas are in the north near the main city of Sorong. Raja Ampat, including Misool, has 600 islands and enormous variety of fish and coral species, and is known for its manta ray cleaning stations.
There are resorts, many of them eco-resorts, liveaboard boats, and homestays as accommodation options. It is important to choose accommodations that serve snorkelers, because if you are lumped in with divers, you may not have the best experience. Or better yet, check out the organized Raja Ampat group snorkeling trips our partner offers.
Cenderawasih Bay National Park
The largest marine national park in Indonesia, this is a very remote destination. Well-known for the year round whale shark population that is easy to snorkel with, it is primarily visited by liveaboard diving boats. Our trips partner is offering a Cenderawasih liveaboard snorkeling trip if you want to get to this wonderful destination.
Bunkaken National Park
Another wonderful Indonesia snorkeling area is on northern Sulawesi Island and on some neighboring islands. Bunaken National Park is primarily a marine park with some protection for the sea life. The park has huge biodiversity and rare and endangered animals. In the 343 square mile park you can see an astounding variety of hard and soft corals, beautiful fans, seven species of giant clams, 33 types of butterflyfish, Bumphead Parrotfish, and a massive variety of other fish species. Bunaken Island also has a large turtle population.
There are a wide array of accommodation options in the park, including resorts with house reefs, other resorts, hotels, homestays, and more. Unless you have a house reef, most of the snorkeling is accessed by boat. Since divers often visit reefs not suited to snorkeling, it is recommended that you make sure snorkeling is catered to. Our partner offers two Indonesia snorkeling trips that visit Bunaken National Park, Sulawesi and Raja Ampat and Borneo and Sulawesi.
Wakatobi National Park
Wakatobi is a region southeast of Sulawesi named for the four main islands in the area. The first letters in the names of those four islands, Wangi-wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko, make the portmanteau word Wakatobi. Wakatobi National Park is primarily a marine park with some protection for the sea life. As with other Indonesia snorkeling areas, Wakatobi has a wonderful diversity of corals and reef fish and is a fantastic snorkeling destination.
Accommodations are not high in number, but there are some dive resorts, hotels, homestays, and more. Probably the most popular and well-known is the Wakatobi Resort which reportedly has an excellent house reef. A lot of reefs in the area are accessed by boat. Check out this Wakatobi Resort group snorkeling trip offered by our trips partner.
Kalimantan is the part of the large island of Borneo that belongs to Indonesia. There are some smaller islands with healthy coral reef and lots of sea life offshore northeast of Kalimantan. You can visit a resort island in this area on the Borneo and Sulawesi trip linked to above.
Halmahera is an island group between Raja Ampat and Sulawesi in northern Indonesia. This area is just starting to be explored in detail and many of the snorkel sites have yet to even be named. There are many very healthy shallow reefs in Halmahera with astounding biodiversity, with hard and soft corals, and clouds of reef fish, and many pelagic fish past the drop-off.
Halmahera does not yet have much infrastructure for tourism, but there are starting to be some options in the resort realm. Our trips partner offers a couple trips with resort stay options, this Halmahera resort trip and this North Indonesia trip. There are already some liveaboard boats that visit the area. Check out this Halmahera liveaboard snorkeling trip offered by our trips partner.
Bali and the Three Gilis off Lombok
These are probably the most popular places for Indonesia snorkeling. Bali is an easy island to reach and welcoming to visitors. The best snorkeling is reportedly on the east side of the island, in and near Amed, but there is also some on a small neighboring island in the northwest called Pulau Menjangan. In Amed you can enter from the beach for many snorkeling spots. Pulau Menjangan is reached by boat tour.
The Gilis are three well-known small islands east of Bali off the coast of the larger Lombok. Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air are popular and busy, but have shore snorkeling around them, so you don’t need to get on a boat.
Suggestions and Questions From Other Snorkelers
- Has Anyone Been Snorkeling in Pulau Weh, Indonesia?
- Banda Sea Raja Ampat Snorkeling Liveaboard Trip Report
Best Time of Year for Indonesia Snorkeling?
Most regions of Indonesia have their own weather patterns, so you need to look into the area you are considering specifically. Generally Indonesia has a dry season between May and October and a wet season between November and April. As winds are most important for snorkeling conditions, they are generally predictable and moderate. There are monsoons and they generally blow in from the south and east June through October and from the northwest November through March.
For your Indonesia snorkeling trip, you will mostly likely fly into either Bali or Jakarta if you are arriving from distant countries. From there you can fly to all other areas of Indonesia on one of the domestic airlines. Here are a few destination airports: for Raja Ampat, you will fly into Sorong; for Komodo you will fly into Labuan Bajo; for Bunaken you will fly into Manado on Sulawesi. The Gili islands can be reached from Bali by ferry.