Komodo Dragon, Rinca Island, Indonesia. Mike Aquino.
Marine experts put Southeast Asia's “Coral Triangle” in a league of its own: its biodiversity attracts scientists, who come to study the plant and animal life that grow in these fertile waters; and scuba divers, who seek rich colors and close encounters with the local wildlife.
Indonesia's seas form the southwestern corner of the Coral Triangle, encompassing the natural reserves of Raja Ampat, Wakatobi and Komodo Island. A tour of Indonesia's share of the Coral Triangle takes you through some of the globe's most beautiful undersea sights:
At Raja Ampat, the waters of West Papua contain over 75 percent of the world's coral species, and the radiant colors and shapes confirm it. There's plenty of ground to cover, with over a thousand islets and 9 million acres of real estate combined, and a multitude of habitats. Beyond the clear seawater, you can also trek through unspoiled jungle and dive into ponds filled with stingless jellyfish!
At Wakatobi, a National Marine Park off Southeast Sulawesi shelters the world's second-largest barrier reef, exceeded only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Around the Park, over 50 dive sites show off the area's undersea life, including over 940 fish species and 750 coral reef species – along with healthy populations of turtles and cetaceans.
At Komodo National Park, easy access from Bali (via Labuanbajo) provides a low bar to entry for visiting adventurers. Above water, you can go trekking on Rinca and Komodo Island to see the massive Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat, before climbing up Padar Island for an awesome sunset view. Under the sea, you'll discover over 20 dive sites covering over 132,000 hectares where you'll come face to face with manta rays, pygmy seahorses, turtles and other interesting denizens.
Spinecheek anemone fish in Wakatobi, Indonesia. Tom DeMeyer / Creative Commons.
Preparing to dive in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Neil Stead / Creative Commons.
View from Padar Island, Komodo, Indonesia. Mike Aquino.
Similar Southeast Asia Experiences
There's an embarrassment of riches for divers in Southeast Asia: the trick is knowing where to start. Other key diving destinations include the waters off Brunei; Koh Rong in Cambodia; Tubbataha and Apo Reefs in the Philippines; Sipadan in Malaysia; and Phuket in Thailand.