If you love scuba diving and are wondering where to go next, check out Wakatobi Dive Resort in Sulawesi. This remote Indonesian island paradise has virgin coral, pygmy seahorses and nudibranchs galore.
I’ve been diving for about ten years now, and thanks to our travel schedule, I‘ve had the opportunity to dive in some amazing places all over the globe. While I thought nothing would top diving the atolls of French Polynesia, Wakatobi is easily right up there. In fact, if you combine the amazing diving with the idyllic setting of the resort and its amenities, the entire experience just might make it my top dive spot.
Discovery an underwater heaven at Wakatobi Dive Resort
To reach Wakatobi Dive Resort, we had to take a 2.5-hour plane ride from Bali. Even though Wakatobi is still far off the beaten path, the flight was relatively easy compared to the 3-days it took to get here from Bali in the late 1990s when the resort was founded.
You might wonder how somebody stumbled upon a place as precious and remote as Wakatobi Dive Resort. Well, it all happened thanks to a dedicated and restless Swiss man, Lorenz Mäder, who is so passionate about diving, he searched the world over looking for the perfect spot until he finally found it.
Many miles southeast of the main island of Sulawesi, which is already way “out there”, Wakatobi Dive Resort is pretty much as remote as you can get in this modern, well-traveled world. The dive resort shares its small island with a tiny fishing village, and that’s about it.
What makes the location of Wakatobi Dive Resort so special
Mäder literally discovered the epicenter of coral reef biodiversity; 85 percent of the world’s coral reefs are located in the Indo-Pacific region (about ten times the number of species in the Atlantic/Caribbean region).
Not only that, but Wakatobi Dive Resort is in the epicenter of the epicenter — a section of the Indo-Pacific where biodiversity is at its peak and the reefs the healthiest. Whatever direction you travel away from Wakatobi, the number of species and biodiversity literally start to decrease.
There are many reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is there’s no damaging runoff from large rivers or urban centers nearby, so the reefs are protected from siltation and pollution. The region also has a perfect temperature for coral growth (25°-29° C / 77°-84° F), and an average perfect depth of the reef of 20 m / 66 ft. (Shallow waters have too much temperature fluctuation and disruptive wave and surge action. Deep waters diminish the light, which decreases diversity.)
How a conservationist’s dream became a reality at Wakatobi Dive Resort
When Mäder had found paradise, he also had to protect it. Under threat by uncontrolled fishing, he came up with a great solution. He convinced the locals to stop destructive fishing methods and other practices that harm the 20 km / 12.5 mi of reef around the resort in return for receiving running water, electricity and part of the resort’s income, as well as employment opportunities.
This conservation effort has been a great success and the results are clearly evident. Wakatobi’s reefs are some of the few worldwide that are actually growing. It has been such a accomplishment, that the area around Wakatobi Dive Resort became a marine park and a UNESCO Marine Biosphere Reserve!
Exploring underwater (and over water) Eden at Wakatobi Dive Resort
Approaching Wakatobi from the air is nothing less than spectacular. Below us was a deep blue canvas on which some supreme force had painted pristine turquoise patches of reef unspoiled by the hand of man.
The resort itself is a haven of quaint bungalows artfully and unobtrusively scattered across a white sand beach covered with swaying palm trees, encircled by the “ house reef” and serenaded by the small ripples of a gentle bay. The vibe of the resort is so relaxed and inviting and the staff so engaging, it’s no wonder guests return year after year.
After adding a few pounds to our “natural” weight belt at the resort’s awesome restaurant and taking a relaxing nap in the lazy hammock outside our bungalow, we joined some of the other guests on our first dive at one of the roughly 60 dive sites that are within a short distance of the resort.
Wakatobi Dive Resort keeps the guide-to-diver ratio high (never more than four divers per guide) so we always felt safe and got all the personal attention we needed to find those hidden wonders.
The health and biodiversity of corals and fish underwater lived up to the resort’s claims and reputation, and then some. I’ve never seen such an incredible array of colors and corals, and this was just our first dive — there were many more to come.
Wherever I looked, fish of all colors and shapes played around the abundant soft corals, fluttering their delicate fins in the light current flowing with the gentle pulse of the reef.
Wakatobi is not the place to come for pelagians (big fish); it’s a macro diving paradise. You can spend hours increasing your list of “identified” nudibranchs and flatworms, shrimps, pipefish, as well as white and bargibanti pigmy sea horses.
It took me a few moments to adjust my focus on the abundant small versus the rare large, but as soon as I “got it”, it became a whole new, fascinating world to explore.
The best part of this kind of macro biodiversity is there’s so much to see, that you cover relatively little distance, use up less air and relax more. Meaning the dives at Wakatobi were some of the longest I’ve ever done. It felt less like diving and more like meditating. Even though we went regularly to 20-25 m / 66-82 ft., our time under water was always 60-70 minutes (our average time in other places around the world is 40-50 minutes)!
But the surprises didn’t stop there. Wakatobi Dive Resort also offers night dives, and something I’ve never seen before: fluo diving.
Wakatobi Dive Resort offers much more than just diving
With three boat dives per day and unlimited house reef dives, divers really get their money’s worth at Wakatobi Dive Resort. However, even if you don’t dive, you’ll love this place.
Eric had a couple of down days due to an ear problem and had almost as much fun lounging in his hammock, visiting the nearby local village, taking kayaking/stand up paddle boarding tours or just chilling in the resort’s restaurant reading a book after enjoying another one of the chef’s incredible meals. Apparently, it’s also a pretty good site for kite-surfing, but we simply had no time to give it a try.
And if you have a water lover with you, many of the dive sites are also accessible for snorkelers. The resort also provides extensive top-notch dive courses for those who want to learn how to dive or expand their existing knowledge and skill.
If you love to dive, the Coral Triangle offers more marine life, brilliant color, and sheer diving pleasure than you’ll find anywhere else in the world, and Wakatobi Dive Resort is located at the Coral Triangle’s marine biodiversity epicienter. Added bonus: you have the comforting knowledge that the reef and the marine wildlife here are loved and cared for. So, what are you waiting for?
Just send us a message indicating the nature of your inquiry (e.g., discount code Wakatobi) and we’ll give you a discount code that you can use to either receive a free spa treatment, a USD 100 resort credit, or a 30% nitrox discount with Wakatobi.
Have you been to a dive resort that makes you dream of coming back? Let us know in the comments below!
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