Scuba diving in Wakatobi on a budget
Wakatobi national park is a UNESCO listed marine park at the southeast tip of Sulawesi island. Even if it often ranks in the top dive sites in magazines and review, it’s not as well known a dive spot and it takes a bit of time to get there. As many off the beaten track area, it’s a fantastic and quiet place. Underwater it is one of the most diverse, full of life and magical coral reef I have ever seen, after one week of scuba diving there, we had not exhausted the variety of corals and dive sites.
Each were rich in fish: schools of barracudas, angle fishes, puffer fish or giant trevallies. Turtles were sighted at every dive as well as loads of macro. Black tip and white tip reef sharks were cruising around on few occasions.
If you are a diver and snorkeller, you want to make your way to Tomia inside Wakatobi national park. If you want beach time, I would suggest Hoga island off Kadelupa. Whatever you decide, the best way to get there will have you transiting in Wangi Wangi island where the airport is located. At the time of this article, Garuda had stopped their daily flights and promised to replace it with a flight from their low cost airline Citilink in 2020. Today Wangi Wangi has only one flight per day from Kendari with Wings air.
The flight schedule does not allow you to do the trip to Tomia or Hoga in one day, you will have to transit both at the arrival and at the departure for one night in Wanci town. So total journey time is 2 days each way.
Wanci town is a simple town with not much to do – it’s good enough for transit. There are plenty of homestays and no hotel apart from the Patuno resort next to the airport. From the airport to Wanci town, it’s about 20min and cost 100,000 IDR per car from the modest table/taxi counter at the exit.
We wanted to go to Tomia for one week of prime Wakatobi scuba diving. To do so, we travelled from Jakarta to Wangi Wangi the first day and stayed one night in a local homestay called Wisma Maharani. Most people on the island don’t speak English so be patient and bring key words with you in Bahasa language. The homestay was clean and very comfortable with an aircon and a mandi shower. A very simple breakfast of coffee and bread was provided in the morning. The price per night was 250,000 IDR. You can arrange with the guesthouse the transport to the pier where the boat leaves the next day and they will know which pier to drop you as well as at what time. The car from the guesthouse to the pier cost 50,000 IDR. You can also ask the taxi from the day before and arrange with him to pick you up and drive you to the pier the next day.
Our boat was the local wooden ferry leaving at 9 ish am but we arrived at 8 am and we actually left at 10 am, so my suggestion would be : don’t stress, get there early and wait until it’s time to go and relax. Inside the boat there was mattresses on the floor, so you can lay down and wait. The journey took us 5 hours and we arrived around 3pm in the afternoon of the same day. I would suggest to pack up snacks and water for the trip. The locals are very friendly and we got offered snacks ourselves.
Other guests in Tomia said that they use the fast boat for 150,000 IDR which takes only 3 hours to get from Wanci to Tomia and leaves early afternoon around 2 pm. But we got also told that the fast boat leaves also at the whim of the boat captain – so early morning around 6-7 am ensure someone is checking if they are leaving this day so you know whether you should make your way to the slow ferry or can wait the afternoon for the fast ferry.
In Tomia, we dove and stayed with Tomia scuba dive, the operation of the friendly and professional Dr Yudi ! The diving operation is simple and professional and the rooms are very clean and comfy. The rooms are all inclusive and cost 450,000 IDR per person per night. For diving with your own equipment it is 1,500,000 IDR per 3 boat dives. You leave early in the morning and are back around 3 pm in the afternoon.
I must say Dr Yudi’s operation is friendly, casual and professional – the villa can accommodate 16 divers and has its own pool. They have their own boat as well. Most dive sites are within maximum 30 min from Waha village where the dive shop is located.
The way back is done the same way. Slow and fast ferry leave from Tomia at 6am. Get your accommodation in Tomia to arrange the pick up from the pier as it’s more likely that your accommodation in Wanci doesn’t speak English. Otherwise, plenty of Ojek (motorcycle taxi) awaiting customers at the pier when you arrive.
You will have one afternoon to kill in Wanci, another travelers mentioned that walking in the Bajo village (sea-gypsie) was an interesting thing to see. They advertise a museum there, but actually the building is empty by lack of fundings. Your final day will be used for travelling back home and the only flight to Kendari leaves at 6am. No need to get there too early, the check in counter only opens around 5:10/5:15 am. Once in Kendari, you will have to hop on another flight to either Makassar or Jakarta.