Wakatobi: Short travel guide.
You probably known that Indonesia has over 17.000 islands. 17.000! Some are very touristic like Bali and some still have indigenous tribes like Siberut. Wakatobi islands are one of those that are very slowly waking up to tourism. If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in remote islands or diving. Wakatobi is known to have one of the best dive sites in the world.
For us, the best travel destinations are off the grid tiny islands with good and healthy marine life, preferably in Indonesia (you know – if you’ve ever dived or snorkeled here, it’s hard to go back) and that’s why we decided to visit Wakatobi islands. Google maps portraits them as the tiniest dot and there is very limited information on the internet. We had a blast, improvised for 3 weeks and then decided to write this travel guide for Wakatobi islands that will help you if you want to visit.
It’s remote, it’s amazing, it has one of the most amazing diving sites in the world and above all, it has the friendliest people on Earth 🙂
Where are Wakatobi islands?
Wakatobi islands are 4 islands South East of Sulawesi, Indonesia with some smaller islands surrounding them. The name Wakatobi is merged from the names of four islands: WAngi Wangi, KAledupa, TOmia and BInongko. Wangi Wangi has the most developed infrastructure for tourists, followed by Tomia, Kaledupa (and Hoga) and Binongko doesn’t have any official guesthouses.
If you zoom out, you’ll see where they stand on the map.
How to get to Wakatobi?
Plane: Wakatobi has 1 airport on the main island Wangi Wangi, to where you mostly you fly via Makassar and Kendari. The plane will stop in Kendari but you won’t get off and will just wait on the plane. We flew with Wings Air, you can check the connections here. Return way ticket from Jakarta costs can be as low as 1.500.000 IDR (120 $).
There is also one small private airport on Tomia with charter flights from Bali (used for Wakatobi dive resort). The price is around 700 $ from Bali.
Ferry: There is an overnight Pelni ferry from Bau-Bau for about 150.000 IDR to Wangi Wangi.
When to go to Wakatobi?
Wakatobi seems to have a bit more compliacated climogram. Usually there was rainy season from December to March and then it slowly started to get better. But now it seems that the month of June is quite rainy and also August. We visited from end of May to June and I must say that half of the time it was sunny and half of it was raining. At times the rain was really heavy all through the day and it was not possible to go outside.
- December till March: Time when heavy rains hit the islands. There are loads of mosquitos, big rains and heavy winds. This is not the ideal time to visit.
- April and May: Shoulder season where there is some rain, waves and mosquitos. Conditions for diving are good.
- June to August: Rainy season again. Many waves and wind, the conditions for diving are not so good. Sea temperature is more cool.
- September to end of November: The best time to visit Wakatobi islands. There is no rain, no wind and no waves. Perfect condition for diving. Sea temperature is warm.
High season is from the end of June to October where most of the people come to Wakatobi (because of summer vacation) but the conditions are not ideal. The best conditions for diving are from September to October.
We asked quite a lot about the weather and rain and got several different information. I guess it really is changing trough years.
For Wakatobi you need Indoensian rupiahs. You can exchange money in Wanci (capital of Wangi Wangi – the main island) or withdraw from ATMs in Wanci (be careful of potential limitations of withdrawals from your card). We found BRI ATM worked better for us as it lets you withdraw 2.500.000 IDR and we could use it with our 4-digit PIN card. BNI (the orange one) gave us triuble since it wanted 6-digit PIN (we have only 4 digits) so I blocked one card before realizing I need to add 00 AFTER my 4-digit PIN. The withdrawal limit is 2.000.000 IDR. THERE IS NO ATMS OR EXCHANGE OFFICES ON OTHER ISLANDS. There are some local ATMs which don’t work with international debit or credit cards. Be sure to take your money with you.
You can rent a motorbike in Wanci from a local but it might be expensive (we didn’t), on Tomia they gave us a 100.000 IDR quote for the bike but in the end we paid 60.000 IDR somewhere else. Petrol is cheaper on gas stations than from the street vendors because bottles are smaller than 1 liter (1 l/bottle costs 10.000 IDR). If you don’t want to hire a motorbike or a car with driver you can use motorbike taxi. it’s cheap and efficient and in Indonesia called ojek.
How to travel between the islands?
Usually, there is one slow boat (wooden) that sails from Wangi Wangi to Kaledupa (and then Tomia, I guess some boats also to Binongko but you need to ask). The boat starts at around 10 h. To Kaledupa it takes about 2,5 hours and similar time to Tomia. Fast boat starts from Wangi Wangi at 13 h and takes around 1,5 h to Kaledupa and another hour to Tomia.
From Tomia both boats start at 6 h in the morning (be there earlier). Price to Wangi Wangi from Tomia is 100.000 IDR/person for slow boat and 150.000 IDR/person for fast boat.
All this might change if something happens (like Ramadan or aliens or any other events :D) so it’s best to ask the locals (as many times as needed). They probably know the captain 🙂
Slow boat is bigger and feels more stable. Fast boat is small and jumps on the sea a lot more than slow boat. if you have weak stomach be sure to take some anti motion sickness pills and go with the slow boat. There is also place and mats to sleep.
When we were there in June we used slow boat 2 times and it was fine, fast boat to Tomia was quite tiring as the weather was bad, the waves were strong and also the way of waves was countering the boat so it was extra jumpy. Going back is easier (at that time!).
Wangi means ‘smells good’ and Wangi Wangi means ‘it smells really good’ (this doubling of words comes comes handy in other phrases as well!). It’s the biggest island of Wakatobi with around 40.000 people. Most of tourists usually stop here on arrival. There are guesthouses, many restaurants, fruit/vegetable/fish markets, shops and dive shops. We slept at Wakatobi Adventure Dive guesthouse (it’s ok, but I think for 200.000 IDR you should get at least breakfast, water and coffee/tea). I think there is plenty of options for around 150.000 IDR – 200.000 IDR with breakfast. Wanci is the capital of Wangi Wangi and it’s actually a very nice town. There is not many tourists and people are extremly friendly, saying hello on every corner (we had to take an occasional photo, even with police officers). There is some good diving here, but they say the boats are quite unreliable so they like to use a car to get to the dive site called Sombu Jetty which we went to and we got to go to Shark Point (which was incredible!). The price of diving is 400.000 IDR per dive and we dived with our dive master who we dived on Tomia.
One quite interesting restaurant is Wasabi restaurant which lies on a tiny island just off shore. The prices are just a bit more expensive but hey, it’s the view you pay for right? The best time to visit is at sunset.
The time of June was very rainy in Wanci so we didn’t go to the beach (you have to drive) and we just waited for good weather to go diving. Wangi Wangi was actually our last island to visit as we went straight to Hoga and it was the time of Ramadan. We could still get food to eat so it wasn’t that bad. It’s definitely worth to visit for a couple of days.
Hoga is a small paradise island very close to Kaledupa. It has white sandy beaches and palm trees and really beautiful coral to snorkel and dive. It’s a laidback island which has little people there and most of the people work in tourism. They say only about 100 locals live on Hoga. From October to March there is quite a big problem with trash that comes from the sea (you can also see it on the island – from other islands) but the beaches in front of the resorts get cleaned.
You can come here with the regular boat from Wangi Wangi. If the tide is low you will need to take a smaller boat (ojek) to get to Hoga island because of the shallow sea. The price of the big boat is 50.000 IDR, ojek usually 10.000 IDR to the shore. Somehow we paid 100.000 IDR for a dive boat (which is a ridiculous price for a 5 (!) minute ride) organized by Wakatobi Hoga diving resort so try to ask the locals for a cheaper option of a normal ojek. I still don’t know what happened.
There are several options to stay on Hoga island. We stayed at Wakatobi Hoga diving (price of accommodation, 3 meals and unlimited coffee/tea/drinking water is 400.000 IDR/person, ask for discount if you stay for more days). The wooden bungalows are almost on the beach and are simple but clean. Two share a simple traditional bathroom (a toilet and shower ‘bucket style’). They can also arrange diving with Asrul for 500.000 IDR per dive. He has a very bubbly personality and is always up for a laugh 🙂
Nearby there is a more upscale Hoga dive resort with a bigger dive shop a but the rooms seem to be built very closely together and the price is higher – from 600.000 – 900.000 IDR with breakfast only. The meals are quite expensive. It is built like a small village where divers have different ‘stations’ like radio room, library etc. It is not on the beach but around 50 m from the shore. They say that they can accommodate many people.
Operation Wallacea is a reasearch place for marine life and offers diving and certificates. It starts operating in June and hosts more than 400 people till September. There is supposed to be one local dive shop but I still need to get information. I’ll update this post when I know. The price of diving is 400.000 IDR.
Another option are homestays. When we were there in low season everything seemed quite deserted although I’m sure we could find someone to host us. In high season there are many open. Price is around 250.000 IDR for accommodation and 3 meals..
There are no restaurants so you need to pre-arrange the meals. There is one small shop Afrodita with cup noodles (cheap!) and warm drinks.
There is electricity from 17.30h to 22 h in the evening (at least in the resort where we stayed) – they manually turn on/off the generator. There is H+ internet signal on Hoga and someone can arrange to buy data for you. 1 GB is around 50.000 to 60.000 IDR – expensive but you must know that you get many more internet, for 4GB and other which you can’t use on Hoga. No wifi (but maybe there is in other resorts?).
Sunsets are amazing on the side where resorts are. Beer is expensive, 55.000 IDR, coconuts for 5.000 IDR.
There is not much more activities than diving and snorkeling on Hoga. You can go spear fishing with the locals or stay in Bajo village (200.000 IDR/person, accommodation and 3 meals). Bajo people are spread out through Asia, have common language and don’t have land and so they build houses on the water. We haven’t been there but it’s supposed to be a really nice experience.
You can walk around the island (there is also a tiny village if you walk towards the North) but it is possible only at low tide, otherwise the water is too high. There are no roads on Hoga. There are not many roads in the middle of the island and people mostly use small boats to move around from one point of the island to the other.
You can also observe the beautiful birds, huge monitor lizards (they feed on the dead fish and can be often seen on the beach), flying fox, the stars and falling stars in the night (there is little light which is very good for observing the sky), or go to hunt for coconut crab (which feed on coconuts).
Snorkeling can be done off shore (you can borrow equipment in the resort or even better – bring it with you). A beautiful reef is right in front of resorts (in front of ours there is Pak Kasim’s and from Pier 2 to Pier 1). Ask for information about visibility and tides before you go. Post about snorkeling on Hoga is coming soon.
You can see our video about Hoga, which is in Slovenian (sorry!) but you can feel the vibe of the island.
The second island of Wakatobi islands and has several villages but no really nice beaches for relaxing. The beaches here are very practical – made for fishing, harvesting the algae or taking the sand/corals for building material. There are lots of mangroves and people grow agar agar here (called rumput laut). Usually tourist stay in Bajo village but we had the chance to visit Kaledupa’s village of Kasuari, where the dive master Asrul lives (btw, he’ll be opening his own dive shop so you can contact him for good prices) . It was a beautiful experience full of friendly people, learning Bahasa Indonesia and teaching them English. Asrul took us around to see the mangroves, Bajo village and many of his friends. Asrul arranged a room and 3 meals for us with his neighbors. It’s also a good way for local people to directly earn money and not through Western owned resorts. We paid 300.000 IDR for two people per day (we slept in one room and shared a bathroom squat style, bucket shower, drinking water is available in all households in big balloons). If you want to visit this village you can contact Asrul on: +62 821 9980 2543 or FB: Asrul Hoga.
From this village you can go to Tomia island from one of the piers on Kaledupa. One is right next to Asrul’s village (you also need to use the ojek boat to get to the big boat – 10.000 IDR/person).
Vlog about Kaledupa:
They say Tomia island has the best dive sites in Wakatobi and it is true. There is no damage or bleaching and there’s plenty of different fish. The famous and luxorious Wakatobi Dive resort is here, on a small island Tolandona near Tomia.
Boat from Wangi Wangi or Kaledupa takes you to pier at Waha village and here are most of the homestays. They are within of 10 min walking distance (to your left, if you’ve just come off the boat) so you can walk or ask a local to bring your bags for a fee. We stayed at Abi Jaya (rooms for 250.000 IDR including breakfast, negotiable if you stay for longer, meals can be arranged for 35.000 IDR), we also heard good things about Laboure Stay (price around 150.000 IDR).
There are a few restaurants but we were here in time of Ramadan so we just ate in our guesthouse or what we bought in the local stalls or afternoon market – pasar sore (tomatoes and cooked cassava, yum!).
In the evening there were several stalls with food, soup or es pisang (which means banana ice cream – it’s some kind of rice pudding with banana pieces, agar agar and flavour, topped with ice cubes).
Tomia is quite a big island and you can drive around and explore it. The cost of motorbike in our guesthouse was 100.000 IDR but we arranged it for 60.000 IDR with the help of our dive master. There is no real beach in Waha (only Akota beach, where is also the pier – good for sunset) but couple of km from Waha is beautiful Hundue beach (next to it it’s Kollo Soha which is used only for fishing) where off shore snorkeling is possible. Don’t let the trash in the beginning of the jungle turn you off, you’ll probably have the pristine beach all to yourself. Other beaches are Huantete and Polio on the other side of the island. At the time we were there was quite a lot of sea weed. The sand is more light orange and not so fine as on Hundue and Kollo Soha. These beaches are not really made for relaxing – the tourism is not yet developed for this and you will be probably gawked at if you’ll lounge there in your new bikinis. But you can snorkel easily if you want to. In the middle of the island there is a viewpoint or a hill with several benches and shacks to watch the island. You can see the sea and all of the islands around Tomia on the South side.
There are two ATMs on Tomia which don’t work with international debit or credit cards. Be sure to bring cash with you. Some people here are used to this problem and so someone can go with you to Wangi Wangi where you can withdraw money and pay them. In our case this was our dive master Ahmad (phew!).
Diving on Tomia is amazing. We dived with Ahmad which is the owner of the Wakatobi Marine Dive. He is an experienced and quiet man and a very good dive master. He really looked and showed us many things under water and is very knowledgeable with all the names. Contact him on WhatsApp: +6285340853831 (or call him if you have a local number). Internet on Tomia is quite weak (no wifi).
Blog post on Tomia diving is coming soon.
Island with probably the least of tourists and with very little tourist infrastructure. We didn’t visit but it sure sounds interesting eh? 🙂
Aaaaah, that was a long one. If you’ve survived and have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them 🙂 Leave a comment or send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org!
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