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Diving in Sumatra

Volcanoes, rainforests and beautiful coral reefs, Sumatra has something for every kind of adventure seeker.

Diving in Sumatra

Quick facts

Diving in Sumatra doesn’t really come out on top of the list for Indonesian diving destinations but it has treasures to behold, and offers a more personal experience as dive sites are less crowded. Up at the northwest tip of Sumatra, Pulau Weh is the highlight. Accessed via Banda Aceh, Pulau Weh is located in the Andaman Sea and can be dived year-round with warm water temperature averaging at 84°F (29°C). This small volcanic island is a tropical paradise with white sand beaches, stunning scenery and crystal clear water. Pulau Weh is an ideal destination for those who want to chill out and relax without the hustle and bustle of tourist towns. When you are not diving, soak up the sun on the beach, swim and snorkel in the sea, watch the sky turn red at sunset and enjoy this idyllic island destination. Blessed with great visibility that sometimes extends to 131ft (40m), diving at Pulau Weh consists of wall dives, coral gardens and boulders. At the outer reefs, there are also several exciting drift dives to experience. Being a volcanic area, there is also a black sandy reef called Anoi Hitam. Notably, there is a custom on the island not to dive from 7pm on a Thursday to 2pm on a Friday. Another dive destination in Sumatra is Padang. Originally discovered by the surfing community, it is also possible to dive there year-round in warm waters. Visibility is about 50ft (15m) closer to land but further out, there are some beautiful pinnacles in the open sea to visit. Macro dives are plentiful here and underwater conditions are typically easy and calm, suitable for new divers. The third area for diving is at the Riau Archipelago. Dive centers are based on Bintan Island and there are several healthy coral reefs and sandy bottoms to explore for critter hunting. Currents pick up here during December to February and this is a time for drift dives.

When to go

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Pantee Peunateung – A sloping reef to around 25 meters / 82 feet before a vertical drop off. Stunning topography and at the deeper levels the wall is covered with colourful gorgonian sea fans, sharks patrol the blue and eagle rays pass overhead. The shallower slope is a great spot for critter hunting among the rocks including moray eels, octopus, shrimps and lobsters but don’t forget to keep looking out to the open ocean or you’ll miss the huge schools of jacks, trevally, triggerfish and fusiliers. This site is action packed. Arus Balee – This pinnacle site is bursting with colour and teeming with fish. Vibrant reef fish swarm over the corals as black tip reef sharks cruise by. Other common sighting here include giant groupers, giant trevally, tuna and seasonal schooling mobula rays. For those who like macro life, ribbon eels are frequent sightings as are spider crabs on the gorgonians and moray eels which are often accompanied by a couple of cleaner shrimp working away. From big to small, you’ll find it here. Batee Tokong – This is a firm favourite for many divers and for good reason. The site features a pinnacle, wall and sloping reef and the marine life is just as diverse – and even more abundant. A deep plateau is a must for those who want to see sharks, the slope is where you’ll find groupers and trevallies swimming as well as lionfish, numerous species of moray eels, ribbon eels and an array of critters amongst the gorgonian sea fans. If you like diversity then this site should be on your list. Top Dive sites in Pulau Weh: Sophie Rickmers (Wreck) – Built in 1920 as a cargo steam ship, the Sophie Rickmers was scuttled by her own German crew in 1940 to avoid being captured by the Dutch. Laying upright and in tact she sits at around 55 meters / 180 feet with the wheelhouse just below 30 meters / 100 feet, so you’ll need your PADI Deep Diver Specialty or TecRec certification to dive it. This incredible wreck is now completely encrusted in coral, surrounded by schooling fish and visited by marble rays, giant grouper, giant trevallies and when you inspect closely a whole host of macro life. The Canyon – If you like interesting topographies then this is a dive site not to be missed. The Canyon features a cave, swim through archway, wall, slope and of course – lots of fish. The abundance of gorgonian sea fans are a highlight here along with schooling barracuda, Napoleon wrasse and passing reef sharks, eagle and manta rays.

What to see

A highlight at Pulau Weh is its variety of moray eels. From giant morays, fimbriated morays, snowflake morays and blackcheek morays, they are everywhere. At coral gardens, look out for seahorses, nudibranch, ghost pipefish and bluespotted ribbontail rays. Pulau Weh is also well known for its larger inhabitants such as reef sharks, manta and eagle rays, tuna, jacks, trevallies, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish and Napoleon wrasse. Night dives at Pulau Weh are rewarding, revealing many types of crab and shrimp. At dive sites with walls and boulders, you can often spot whitetip sharks and large reef dwelling stingrays. At Padang, find scorpionfish, leaf fish and pipefish camouflaged in the reef. Out at the pinnacles, there are groupers, sea turtles and schools of barracuda and trevally patrolling the area. Sandy bottoms around Padang often reveal hiding stingrays. At the Riau Archipelago, take slow and easy dives around Bintan Island to comb through the pristine coral reef for a myriad of small critters like gobies, octopus and shrimp.


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Sumatra lies across the equator and is the largest island that is entirely in Indonesia. To Sumatra’s southeast is the island of Java, separated by the Sunda Strait and to the northeast is Peninsula Malaysia, separated by the Strait of Malacca. Off the west coast of Sumatra is the Sunda Trench, the deepest trench in the Indian Ocean and also part of the Ring of Fire. It is because of this that Sumatra has had some of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the world.

Sumatra is a populous island, with 54.3m people making up about 21% of Indonesia’s entire population. Altogether, there are ten administrative provinces within Sumatra and its largest city is Medan. The island has a mountain range called Barisan Mountains with the highest peak being Mount Kerinci at 12,484ft (3,805m). A very popular tourist destination, Lake Toba, also lies along this mountain range towards the north. Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world and also the largest lake in Indonesia.

Sumatra is a treasure trove of endemic animal species like the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Elephant and Sumatran Orangutan. Tourists can see orangutans at Bukit Lawang which is located within Gunung Leuser National Park, a beautiful protected rainforest.

For lovers of the sun and sea, Sumatra has much to offer. Pulau Weh at the northern tip of the island offers spectacular scuba diving. The west coast of Sumatra is a popular surfing destination. Those who prefer resorts can head to Bintan Island in the Riau Archipelago, which is near Singapore.

Other attractions

Travel to Lake Toba for spectacular and unique sights. Visit protected nature reserves and conservation areas to see the orangutan or go surfing along the west coast of Sumatra. You can also trek to see live volcanoes like Mount Sibayak.

Getting there

Fly to Kualanamu International Airport in Medan or to Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport in Banda Aceh via airlines like AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines, Firefly and local Indonesian airlines. From Banda Aceh airport it is 30 minutes by taxi to Ulee Lheue Jetty and then 45 minutes by speedboat to the island (or 1 hour 30 minutes using a slower public boat). Once on the island motorbike taxis are available. To reach the Riau Archipelago for destinations like Bintan Island, take a ferry from Johor in Malaysia or from Singapore.


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Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.

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