Diving Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia

Jim Lyle and Michael Zeigler put together a guide to diving one of the most pristine reefs in the coral triangle.
By Michael Zeigler & Jim Lyle

Dive Destination: Southeast Sulawesi

An Underwater Photography Paradise in Indonesia

Trip review by Jim Lyle with photos by Jim Lyle & Randy Harwood


Southeast Sulawesi is considered to have some of the most pristine reefs in Asia, and is located right in the center of the "Golden Triangle", famous for the diversity of fish and coral. Many people consider this area a "must do" at least once for all serious underwater photographers.



Marine Life

The reefs in Southeast Sulawesi are very healthy, with huge coral formations, sponges and many schools of fish.  Southeast Sulawesi is not the place for large pelagics, and although we did see two eagle rays and one black tip shark during our week stay, there were lots of schools of medium/small size fish to enjoy.  Many species of nudibranchs, unusual inverts and two species of pygmy seahorses added spice to an already satisfying fish stew! Frogfish, lionfish, sweetlips, jacks, angelfish, leaf scorpionfish, eels, cuttlefish, several kinds of anemonefish, and a zillion little tropicals were a delight.

See also: Best Diving in Indonesia - Top 10




Large seafan.  Photo by Randy Harwood



Green Sea Turtle.  Photo by Jim Lyle


The Diving

Diving is done from four, large traditional Indonesian boats, each carrying two or three dive groups of six divers and the DMs. It has been said, "the heaviest thing you have to lift at Wakatobi, is your fork."  The hard-working crew transfers all of your dive gear and tanks to and from the dive boat.  All you have to do is walk off and on. Entries are a giant stride from the side of the boat.

The dive boats go to different dive sites each day, so there is never more than one boat on a reef. The only divers you will see are those in your group.



Boats lined up, ready for a great day of diving.  Photo by Randy Harwood.


Typically, boat dives are at 8:00, 11:00, and 2:30.  Once a week, each boat does a night dive in place of the afternoon dive.  All boats have loads of room, snacks, water, beverages, and towels.  There is plenty of room for cameras and the boat carries an ample supply of camera rinse water.

Optional dives can be made on the house reef at 6:30 AM to 10:30PM.  The house reef at Wakatobi is easily the best house reef at any resort we have been to.  The reef is comparable to the other dive sites and is sometimes done as one of the boat dives.  A taxi-boat is available for those divers wishing to drop on the wall farther from the resort or up current for a drift back. The staff will willingly carry your dive gear to the water's edge and someone will meet you on your exit to take your tank from the "easiest shore dive in the World."

The dives were limited to seventy minutes.  "What??Photo by Jim Lyle

Yes, you read that right; every dive was seventy minutes of fantastic, multi-level diving - more than ample bottom time for most divers.  None of the return-to-the-boat-after-thirty-minutes-with-1,500-psi-remaining-in-your-tank dives that you get at many places!  I loved it!

Dive masters were assigned to groups of five to six divers.  These young men and women were wonderful and pointed out lots of interesting critters that we would have missed if left up to our own devices.  The dives were evenly divided between drift dives and ones where the dive boat was moored. The dive sites were carefully chosen with the tides in mind to avoid strong currents.



Camera room at Wakatobi Dive Resort


The majority of the divers at Wakatobi were underwater photographers. The camera rooms had ample space for all the camera gear, with lots of 110 & 220 volt charging stations.  Plug adapters are not needed; the power strips will take standard American two-prong plugs.



Best time to dive

In Wakatobi you can enjoy diving 365 days a year.  There is no period or season unsuitable for diving, and the resort has skipped only 4 dives in the last 10 years.  The climate is drier than in other parts of Indonesia, and the location is quite protected by the surrounding reefs and islands.


Wakatobi Dive Resort.  Photo by Jim Lyle.


On the water temperature front, the warmest water in Wakatobi is found in the upper water layer around late October, when temps may reach a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). The coolest time falls in the latter half of August with a minimum temperature of almost 26 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit).

From March until May the temperature averages 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit), June averages 27 C (80.6 F), July 26 C (78.8 F), September is between 26 - 27 C (78 - 81 F), October 28 to 30 C (82 - 86 F). From November until March the temperature averages 28 - 29 C (82.4 F- 85 F).

The water temperature range is ideal for coral growth and there is no coral bleaching in Wakatobi.

Book a trip to Wakatobi with Bluewater Travel here.


Where to Stay

Wakatobi Dive ResortWakatobi Diving Resort is beautifully situated on the beach of a small island, and is truly a vision of tropical paradise.  It consists of 21 bungalows; a long house containing the kitchen, restaurant, camera rooms, a gift shop, and various support buildings.  A couple of additional bungalows are planned, with an ultimate, maximum capacity of only 45 guests.  Each of the bungalows is roughly 400 square-feet with en suite bathrooms and A/C. The fresh water is desalinated, plentiful, and drinkable.

Internet access is available, both in the long house and individual bungalows, for a fee. The connection is slow, but adequate to send email to the folks back home.



Wakatobi bungalow.  Photo by Jim Lyle


The bungalows are spacious, with en suite baths, and A/C. Some of the units have been being remodeled with outdoor baths.  The water is desalinated and drinkable.

Ah yes, the food - second only to diving in the hearts of scuba divers!  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served buffet-style.  The menu was varied and tasty enough to satisfy anyone - from traditional American fare to Indonesian dishes. Plus, there were three kinds of dessert at lunch and dinner!  Considering that everything has to be brought in from Bali, the food was unbelievable. (Note: beverages other than coffee/tea were not included in the price, but were reasonably priced.)

Pelagian Liveaboard

In addition to the Wakatobi Beach Resort, you can also choose to do liveaboard diving. There are only a small number of liveaboards in Indonesia which visit Wakatobi, and the Pelagian is the only one that stays in the area year-round. 

The Pelagian is Wakatobi's best luxury liveaboard which takes divers the region's outer islands for access to new and varied dive sites. Perfect for the first time visitor or the returning diver looking for more.

Pelagian Master Suite


(photo by Didi Lotze)

“A trip of a life time. Incredible diving with experienced and friendly guides. The Pelagian is a Yacht of comfort, a crew that is always helpful and the good food of a 5-star restaurant. In one word –“Awesome!” – Paul Yeomans

The Master suite spans the entire width of Pelagian’s beam and boasts a king bed, large flat screen television with Blu-ray DVD player, comfortable sofa and spacious bathroom with rainforest shower.



Pelagian’s Outdoor Dining

(photo by Didi Lotze)

"The most beautiful and relaxing cruise / dive trip ever. The crew is extraordinary, the divemasters are terrific. You have achieved that wonderful feeling of care and perfection." - Tia Millman and John Madsen, April 2012


Getting to Southeast Sulawesi

You will need to make an international flight from your gateway city to Bali Indonesia. Several airlines operate convenient flights from both the East and West coast of the US and Europe. In most cases, your flight to Bali will involve a full day of travel and the crossing the international date line (if traveling from the US).

In Bali, we did a day tour of the shops; saw a traditional dance performance; and visited an ancient temple, the rice fields, and the volcano.  Handmade crafts are big in Bali and there are shops along every road.  We were warmly greeted everywhere we went and thanked for coming to Bali.

The next morning, we flew two-and-a-half hours on a chartered Dash-8 turboprop to the airstrip on Sulawesi; there, we were transported by minibuses to the shore for a twenty-minute boat ride to the resort.


Commuter plane from Bali.  Photo by Jim Lyle

From the landing strip, we were taken by minivans to the nearby town, where we were taken on board one of the dive boats for the twenty-minute ride to the resort.  On arrival, we ate lunch, had a briefing before everyone jumped in the water for a "welcome" dive.


Underwater Photos from Southeast Sulawesi


Photo by Randy Harwood.



Anemonefish.  Photo by Jim Lyle.



Anthias.  Photo by Jim Lyle.



Cuttlefish.  Photo by Jim Lyle.



Emperor Angelfish.  Photo by Jim Lyle.



Pygmy Seahorse.  Photo by Jim Lyle.



Further Reading


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips


Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.