Wakatobi Snorkeling – Remote Destination With Healthy Reefs and a Fantastic Resort

Wakatobi snorkeling was very high on our list of places we wanted to explore, and fortunately we were able to do just that for a week in 2023, and were able to get a good sense for the health of the reefs, and the abundance of sea life. Wakatobi National Park is in a very remote area to the southeast of Sulawesi in Indonesia. You can see maps below.

Wakatobi is considered by many to be one of the best snorkeling spots in the world, we are happy to report that the reefs are in excellent health, and there is a wonderful variety of colorful corals and fish. It does lack some of the larger species of fish and pelagics, but you really can’t go wrong with Wakatobi snorkeling.

Wakatobi snorkeling - wire coral over reef with fish.

For this trip, we joined one of our snorkeling partner’s guided trips, with a group of snorkelers, and stayed at the Wakatobi Resort, on a small island just south of Tomia Island, which has a great house reef, although strong currents are a regular factor to be aware of. And the resort also took us out on their excellent boats to snorkel a number of the reefs around Tomia, as well as lots of spots around the atoll that is just across the channel to the west and south.

You can see lots of Wakatobi snorkeling pictures, a video, and read all about our experience below. And although we mostly focus on the sea life, we also share a quick review of the resort.

Watch Our Video to See What Wakatobi Snorkeling Is Like

Where Is Wakatobi?

Wakatobi is an acronym for four islands just off the southeast tip of Sulawesi in Indonesia, Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. They, along with many smaller islands and atolls form the Tukang Besi Archipelago. It is a very remote area to get to.

Map showing where Wakatobi National Park is.

Where Did We Snorkel at Wakatobi?

Closeup map showing Wakatobi Resort on island right next to Tomia Island.

As mentioned, we snorkeled the house reef a number of times, a short distance to the south of the resort jetty, and a long ways to the north. You can read more specific tips about snorkeling the house reef below.

We also went out twice a day on Wakatobi’s excellent boats. We snorkeled spots along the south and west shore of the resort island and Tomia Island, and a number of spots along the north and northwest edge of the atoll that is right across the channel from the resort.

It is a massive atoll, that mostly stays underwater, until low tide, when the top of the reef pops out. When this happens, it is very common to see locals walking on the shallow corals, collecting edible things.

The picture below shows what the edge of the atoll looks like from the boat.

What We Saw While Snorkeling Wakatobi

Wakatobi atoll reef edge from boat.
Snorkelers over a reef wall at Wakatobi.

The majority of the reef structures around Wakatobi are nearly vertical walls, with a narrow shelf of shallow corals at the top that stay underwater at a low tide, backed by very shallow areas that go dry at low tide. For sure, there are Wakatobi snorkeling spots that have a little bay with a more gentle slope of corals. But if you don’t like snorkeling right over the top of a drop-off, Wakatobi is probably not for you.

Fortunately we really enjoy snorkeling along walls. At higher tides you can snorkel right over the top of shallow corals. And at lower tides you can often snorkel with your face right next to shallow corals, which is wonderful for taking pictures of small stuff. And being along a drop-off normally means that larger fish, turtles and other creatures can be seen in deeper waters, and there are often colorful soft corals just a little ways down the wall to enjoy. And if you freedive, a wall offers lots of fun to dive down and check stuff out.

Fish Types and Quantities
Overall, the fish quantities in Wakatobi were pretty dang good. There were lots of fish. Not as many as a few other spots we have been in Indonesia, but better than any Caribbean or Hawaii snorkel we have been on.

Wakatobi snorkeling offered a really nice variety of fish, although there were mostly smaller varieties on the reefs. We enjoyed seeing Squarespot anthias, which was a first for us. There were many parrotfish and beautiful wrasses.

Schools of small fish over Staghorn coral in Wakatobi

The biggest fish were jacks, snappers, Longnose Emperor fish, barracudas, and some big puffers. There were lots of puffers. Notably we saw no sharks or other big species during our week of Wakatobi snorkeling. We talk about the reason for that in the section below about the protections provided by the Wakatobi National Park.

Longnose Emperor fish and wrasses over a coral reef in Wakatobi

There were decent sized schools of fusiliers, although nothing like we experienced in Raja Ampat or Misool. And there were hoards of triggerfish, both Black and Red-toothed. As well as many types of butterflyfish. And there were a few, but not a lot of eels.

There was a wonderful hoard if different anemones, with their captivating anemonefish.

Bubble Anemone with a Spinecheek Anemonefish

Wakatobi snorkeling offered another first for us, seeing Stonefish. We found a few of them on the house reef and at other locations. Crocodilefish were also fairly common, and a neat sight.

Crocodilefish in Wakatobi

We were pleased to find a few different Leaf Scorpionfish.

Leaf Scorpionfish sitting on a coral in Wakatobi

Other Creatures
In addition to fish and corals, Wakatobi snorkeling allows you to spot many other interesting creatures. We enjoyed seeing a good number of sea turtles, Green and Hawksbill, a good amount of octopus, many Blue-spotted Rays, a cuttlefish, and a number of Sea Krait snakes.

Blue spotted ray at Wakatobi.

There were a good number of different nudibranchs, which are always a joy to see.

Anna's Chromodoris nudibranch in Wakatobi
Red vase sponge in Wakatobi

Folks on a night snorkel saw many octopus, decorator crabs, cuttelfish, and shrimp. They also did get a lot of little stings, which is fairly common at night.

There were also a lot of sponges in different colors and shapes, from giant barrel to small.

There were a good amount of tunicates in different varieties, and beautiful feather stars and cushion stars.

Blue tunicates in Wakatobi

Corals Health and Variety
Overall the corals on the walls and just above them were healthy and abundant. There were a lot of beautiful dendronyphthya soft corals and gorgonian fans, in reds and oranges, and many leather corals. We found really huge Table corals, big areas of Staghorn corals, cup corals, and even some bubble and anchor corals.

Red fan soft corals in Wakatobi
Colorful red, orange and white dendronyphthya soft coral in Wakatobi
Large yellow cabbage coral in Wakatobi

Reefs Overall
As mentioned, the reefs around Wakatobi are very healthy. But there is not a lot of variety in the underwater topography. And although there is an abundance of coral and fish life, what you find site to site is generally very similar. Something to consider for longer Wakatobi snorkeling trips. Overall though, Wakatobi is really a top notch snorkeling destination. Certainly it offers far more volume and variety of life to see than any Caribbean or Hawaii snorkeling.

By the way, if you are enjoying these pictures and the information about Wakatobi snorkeling, you will love our free monthly Snorkeling Explorer newsletter.

Tips for Snorkeling Wakatobi Resort’s House Reef

If you look at an aerial view of the house reef at Wakatobi Resort you might think that it is very wide, with a broad area to snorkel. But actually the majority of the width of the reef is very shallow, and goes dry at low tide. Because of that there are not really many corals closer to shore. Instead, you will want to snorkel right along the drop-off, and in the shallow corals near the edge. So it is best if you can time your snorkel at high tide, and preferably near slack tide, for less current.

It is best to get in the water from the stairs out near the end of the resort jetty. And the resort has some buoyed swim lines to the south and north, that they ask you not to snorkel past, so that they can keep an eye on you.

And make sure you put your name on the Wakatobi snorkeling board, before getting in the water, and also make sure someone from the resort knows you are in the water.

Wakatobi Resort from the jetty
Bluefin Trevally.

For the short distance that you can snorkel to the south, before reaching the swim line, there are some nice corals in the shallows, and you also have the opportunity in this area to see Giant Trevally, and some big schools of parrotfish in the shallows.

And you can read more about currents below, but be aware that the strongest currents we noticed were right at the point, just south of the jetty.

Shallow coral reef with lots of fish on the house reef at Wakatobi Resort

Heading north, it is best to quickly swim a decent distance away from the jetty. The corals close to it are not very healthy, and the visibility tends to be lower. But if you get a ways north, and stick close to the drop-off, there is a wonderful shelf of healthy corals to explore, particularly at high tide, and the visibility often improved for us. There are also lots of fish, eels, Blue-spotted Rays, stonefish, sea turtles, and other creatures to see along this reef. You can swim a long ways north, until you reach another swim line, before heading back.

Stonefish partially hidden in the sand at Wakatobi.
Stonefish – a good reason not to go barefoot.

The drop-off heading north is also great to snorkel over, looking down at the variety of corals and sponges attached to the wall. You will often see different and larger fish species in the deeper water. And it makes for great freediving.

Huge Green Sea Turtle resting on a wall at Wakatobi

If there is a mild current, you can organize with the dive shop to drop you off at the buoy line in one of their smaller boats so you can drift snorkel back to the jetty.

Using a surface marker would be a good idea on the house reef, since you need to stay out near the drop-off, and there are some boats that may cruise by. It will also help the resort keep an eye on you.

Currents While Wakatobi Snorkeling

Wakatobi is located in a remote area, which is exposed to a lot of ocean currents, which is one of the reasons its corals are so healthy. All that flowing deep ocean water keeps the reefs cool, and brings in nutrients.

Edge of atoll with island in the background in Wakatobi

When doing boat snorkels, the current is never an issue. You just drift with it, and the boat picks your group up down current. You may switch directions multiple times during a snorkel because the current will change directions.

On the house reef though, the current can be a real factor, and must be carefully respected. It is best to snorkel the house reef on a high tide, and preferably close to slack tide, so you don’t have to fight the current as much. But the resort is also happy to drop you off in one of their little boats, at one end of the reef or the other, so that you don’t have to fight the current.

When we were there the current was strongest around the point just south of the jetty. Too strong to swim against at times, so you do need to be careful.

We think it is always best to swim against a current, and then to drift back to your destination, so you don’t run out of energy on your snorkel. But the currents can change direction at unpredictable times while Wakatobi snorkeling, so you can’t rely on that method entirely.

Wakatobi National Park Protections

Pyramid Butterflyfish on a coral reef in Wakatobi

Wakatobi National Park was established in 2002. Unfortunately though it does not sound as though the government does a lot to protect the area, even though they collect a lot of fees for using the park.

The Wakatobi Resort does have a relationship with the local villages, where they essentially lease the reefs close to the resort, making them a no-take fishing zone, and it sounds like it is fairly successful. Although it does not protect reefs that go dry at low tide, as locals could be seen walking on them regularly, collecting food.

The amount of no-take areas in the park overall is very small, at around 3.2%, and there is not an active ranger or police force protecting those areas.

And it was evident during our Wakatobi snorkeling that there was a lack of larger fish species, and predators, and the schools of fish were not terribly big, because of fishing. We did not see any sharks, or larger rays, and a local said that is normal.

How to Visit for Wakatobi Snorkeling

The Wakatobi islands are very remote. Fortunately Wakatobi Resort built its own airport on Tomia Island. So if you stay at the resort, you can fly directly to Tomia from Bali, on a private charter flight. No other airlines or resorts can use the airfield.

Prop plane at Wakatobi airfield on Tomia Island
Wakatobi Resort Private Airfield on Tomia Island

We joined one of the guided Wakatobi snorkeling tours that our partner offers. The big advantage to joining one of these guided trips is that you have a guide with you from Bali, and your group gets its own boat at Wakatobi, instead of having to join with divers.

Our partner has also negotiated with Wakatobi to have longer snorkeling sessions, so that your group is not restricted to the 70 minutes of divers. And your guide will also make sure that the boat only takes you to good spots for snorkeling, and will intervene if the boat crew try to put you into water that is too rough and windy. This made a big difference on our Wakatobi snorkeling trip, as we had a bit of wind from the east.

Our partner also has wonderful combination trips like this Misool and Wakatobi snorkeling trip (Misool is our favorite snorkel spot on Earth), or the Raja Ampat and Wakatobi snorkeling trip, or the Epic Indonesia trip, which is a month long trip to four amazing spots in Indonesia, with a relaxing break from snorkeling in the middle on Bali.

Wakatobi Resort does a good job in general with snorkelers who are not with a snorkel group. They keep an eye on snorkelers who are on the house reef, and offer to ferry you by boat to one end of the reef or another, so you don’t have to fight a current. But you do have to join a group of divers on the boats, and they get priority in terms of where you get in the water and for how long, and calm surface conditions will not be as important.

There are some other resorts and very basic homestays in the area. But reaching this remote spot is much more challenging without access to the airport, and involves long ocean ferry boat rides.

What Is Wakatobi Resort Like?

Generally we don’t review resorts or businesses, preferring to focus on the reefs. But the following may be helpful.

Wakatobi Resort sand drawings at sunset.

Wakatobi Resort is really really nice. It is probably the nicest remote resort we have stayed at, right up there with Misool.

The food and restaurant were excellent. The staff knew our names by sight before we arrived, which was both impressive and a bit over the top. The food at the restaurant was all buffet style, with many options. They dealt with our gluten-free issues with ease. The food was very good, if a bit bland at times for our palates.

The rooms and grounds were impeccable. For how long the resort has been in business, the woodwork and facilities were all in remarkably good condition, and well thought out. You can see many more pictures and details about the resort on this page.

Wakatobi Resort Ocean Bungalow

The Wakatobi snorkeling boats were easily the best kept, and nicest snorkeling boats we have ever had the pleasure to spend time on. They were big and stable, with full shade, and had excellent ladders for getting back aboard. The boats each have a big full bathroom, with a toilet, sink, and shower, just like in your room. And each boat was powered by twin Yanmar diesel motors, that were extremely well kept and clean. The resort guides that were with us in the water were also excellent.

Wakatobi Resort boat with snorkelers

Suggestions and Questions From Other Snorkelers

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