Wakatobi — a true macro diving paradise in Indonesia

I had actually no idea what exactly the term meant, but once underwater at the macro diving paradise of Wakatobi I couldn’t get enough of the tiny critters all around me.

Fan corals swayed back and forth in the slight current, schools of tiny fish ducked in and out of numerous odd-shaped cracks and crevices and flower pot corals seemed to imitate the heartbeat of the reef. I have dived in many parts of the world (e.g., French Polynesia, Australia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines), but the pristine beauty and variety I found at Wakatobi topped it all.

macro diving paradise wakatobi flower pot coral

The aptly named flower pot coral opens its blossoms rhythmically to feed on tiny plancton

As I got my breathing in control, I pried my eyes away from this magical scene and followed our dive guide Muji. He was pointing at something in front of him in the coral wall, but it took a while to realize what he wanted to show me.

French Polynesia, where I had most recently dived, was a world of big fish where the main players were sharks of all sizes that were hard to miss. Here at Wakatobi, it was all in the details.

It took me a while to adjust my sight, but then I didn’t even know where to look first. In front of me a thumb-long Racingstrip flatworm crawled across a brain coral, tiny orange colored Sansibar Shrimp (about 1 or 2 mm) sat on a same-colored whip coral, a partly transparent shrimp peek out of its bubble coral home and colorful blennies poked mischievously out of their holes, playing hide and seek when I got too close.

macro diving paradise wakatobi bubble coral shrimp

A partly transparent bubble coral shrimp peeking out from its home

Get extended dive time at the macro diving paradise of Wakatobi

I saw details I’ve never seen before. I barely moved along the coral wall, yet dozens of discoveries cast their spell on me. I’m usually a way-to-active person for meditation, but this really felt like I was drifting off into a parallel world. Without me even realizing it, our 70 minutes underwater were over.

I had to admit, I had my doubts when our dive guide from Wakatobi Dive Resort announced that we’d be down for 70 minutes. Seventy minutes? Most of my previous dives had been around 40-50 minutes. We didn’t go particularly deep, but at 20 m / 66 ft., this was no shallow swim over a coral bed. This was a whole new program; and this dive wasn’t the exception, but the rule!

Simply said, the reefs in Wakatobi Marine Park are a macro diving paradise. As such, there’s absolutely no need to swim big distances; everything is at your fingertips. If you want to see pelagics, this is probably not the right place. Sure, it gave me a kick to get up close to sharks in Tikehau. However, diving in this remote area of Sulawesi with its amazing little critters had its own special magic.

Wakatobi Dive Resort: anchor coral

An artsy anchor coral in Wakatobi Marine Park

The world’s most beautiful sea slugs at the macro diving paradise of Wakatobi

I almost got a little crazy trying to identify all the 20 different kinds of sea slugs (a.k.a. nudibranchs) I saw on each successive dive. Some of the more fascinating specimens were the large, frayed looking solar-powered nudibranchs that store part of the coral they feed on visibly inside and harvests it to create energy. Weird, huh?

macro diving paradise wakatobi solar powered nudibranch

A large solar powered nudibranch that officially reaches 14 cm/5.5 in, though I swear this one was way bigger

There were also pale lilac Willan’s Chromodoris, yellow rimmed Chromodoris Annae, blue-dotted Chromodoris Kuniei, the pocky Phyllidia Varicosa, and Snoopy-lookalike Jorunna Funebris, and each one appeared more beautiful than the other.

macro diving paradise wakatobi chromodoris kuniei

A beautiful Chromodoris Kuniei crawling along some coral

macro diving paradise wakatobi nudibranch 1

A pocky Phyllidia Varicosa

Looking at the color explosions these sea slugs showcase makes it hard to understand why land slugs are so ugly and boring…

Pygmy seahorses — the stars of this macro diving paradise

As fascinating as the nudibranchs were in the macro diving paradise of Wakatobi, there was another tiny creature on my must-see agenda: the pygmy seahorses (a.k.a. Bargibant’s seahorses) that call this reef their home.

These little fellows spend all their life on one sea fan and are therefore exceptionally vulnerable to changes in their environment. To find them, you need a well-trained eye, as they are no bigger than a thumbnail and imitate the soft coral they live on perfectly, both in color and shape.

Luckily, we had our amazing guide Muji, a local Indonesian who’s been working at Wakatobi Dive Resort for many years. He knew about my burning desire to see a pygmy seahorse, and after a couple of days, the moment finally arrived.

Muji was hovering in front of a large, red and white gorgonia and was pointing to a specific location on the coral. According to his underwater scribble pad there was a pygmy seahorse waiting for me. I came closer and saw … nothing; nothing at all. I was frantically searching for this little fellow, while my guide kept patiently indicating that it was right in front of my eyes.

And then I finally saw it! But only because this little guy decided to move from one branch to the next. These pygmy seahorses really live up to their name! It was incredibly tiny and very fragile looking. In order not to stress its delicate eyes too much, I only took a couple pictures. After all, I don’t want to be the last one to experience the joy of discovering this little gem.

macro diving paradise wakatobi bargibant pygmy seahorse

A bargibant pygmy seahorse perfectly camouflaged in its gorgonia home

Some surprises at the macro diving paradise of Wakatobi aren’t revealed until out of the water

When we finally surfaced, Muji had a big smile on his face and said to me, “I know it took a while until I made your wish come true, but in return I showed you two!”. I stop short and replied, “Two? I only saw one!“ He laughed and said “Practice makes the master!”.

I was very close to jumping back in the water to verify this, but then decided to go for the smarter move and checked my camera screen. And indeed: Right next to the pygmy seahorse I saw was a second one hanging in a branch!

My curiosity piqued and I searched the rest of the picture with my super zoom. And lo and behold, there were two more on the photo! Four in one take! When I showed this image to the disbelieving Muji, it was a surprise even for the “Master”.

macro diving paradise wakatobi bargibant pygmy seahorses

Would you have spotted all four seahorses if I hadn’t marked them?

We absolutely loved the world-class diving at Wakatobi Dive Resort, and recommend it to scuba junkies and landlubbers alike. Whether you want to try the latest gimmick in the world of diving, fluo diving, or simply look for a relaxing place with crystal clear waters, screensaver perfect views and an awesome cuisine, this is the place to go!

Wakatobi Dive Resort: boat staff

The magical beach at Wakatobi Dive Resort

discount wakatobi sulawesi indonesia

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 place that what a true macro diving paradise? Share it with us in the comments below!


In 2013 Michaela decided to quit the rat race as a Financial Manager in a multinational company to persue her passion of travel and photography full-time. She hasn't looked back since, and loves to discover places which are off-the-beaten path and not spoiled by mass-tourism. All she needs is jungle, waterfalls, beaches and elephants and she's in paradise!

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