Legendary underwater explorer and conservationist, Jacques Cousteau is said to have called the Wakatobi islands – then known as the Tukang besi islands: an “Underwater Nirwana”.
Now a National Marine Park covering the entire Wakatobi District, it comprises a total of 1.4 million hectares, of which 900,000 hectares are decorated with different, colourful species of tropical coral reefs. For Wakatobi is widely recognized as having the highest number of reef and fish species in the world. The islands are also famous as the largest barrier reef in Indonesia, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Here can be found fringing, atolls and barrier reefs and offer more than 50 spectacular dive sites easily accessible from the major islands. This is the habitat of large and small fish species, the playground of dolphins, turtles and even whales.
The island group comprises 143 larger and smaller islands where only 7 are inhabited counting a total population of around 100,000, while the others remain uninhabited. Most notable are the Bajo communities, the seafaring nomads who inhabit many of Indonesia’s remote islands.
Located right in the heart of the Asia-Pacific Coral Triangle, in the province of South East Sulawesi, the Wakatobi Islands offer crystal clear pristine waters and a rich bio-diverse underwater life, a true paradise for Divers, as this is one of 3 hearts in the World Coral Triangle that stretches from the Solomon Islands in the Pacific to Wakatobi, and North to the Philippines. Wakatobi alone is said to have 942 fish species and 750 coral reef species from a total of 850 of world’s collection, which, comparing with the two world’s famous diving centers, the Caribbean Sea owns only 50 species with 300 coral reef species in the Red Sea, in Egypt.
Situated at the end of the south eastern “petal’ of the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi and separated by the deep Banda Sea to its north and east and the Flores sea to its south, the name Wakatobi is in fact an acronym of its four main islands, which are: Wangi-wangi (WA), Kaledupa (KA), Tomia (TO) and Binongko (BI).
Due to its magnificent underwater life, Wakatobi is fast gaining worldwide attention for its quality dives that can be made by beginners to professionals. Small wonder, therefore, that many liveaboards make this one of their main ports of sojourn. Aside from its dive sites, Wakatobi has many superb beaches.
The conservation group “Operation Wallacea” is very active in this marine park, conducting underwater research and conservation. During the Sail Wakatobi 2011 in August, the Marine Laboratory on Hoga Beach by Kaledupa is to be officially inaugurated.
The District capital of Wakatobi is Wanci on Wangi-Wangi. Since the opening of the Matohara Airport on Wangi-Wangi, these remote islands are now more accessible and can be reached by flights from Jakarta or Makassar. There is also another landing strip on Tomia island, which receives charters from Bali.
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The resorts serve some of the best dishes, both Western, Indonesian and local. But you can also find simpler meals at the many small restaurants in Wanci. Of course seafood is the main dish.
For handicrafts, Binongko is the center for weaving. You can buy hand-woven traditional cloths at the traditional markets of Binongko or Pasar Togo Binongko.
Of the four main islands, Tomia Island was the first to be developed. The Wakatobi Dive Resort here offers luxurious accommodation from Villas to Beach bungalows and garden bungalows. The Resort also runs private charter flights, that pick up passengers from Balito fly direct to remote Tomia. This beautiful Dive Resort caters to the high end of the market.
On Wangi-Wangi island is the 40 room Patuno Resort that offers upper and medium range accommodation. All resorts, however, allow easy access to Wakatobi’s numerous dive sites and organize professional dive operations.
The Patuno Resort offers Diving Packages for 2 nights and 5 dives in Wakatobi for Rp 6,320,000 twin share per person including the return flight from Jakarta, or Rp 2,320,000 without airfare, valid until December 2011. Other more extended options are available.
There are other smaller establishments in the town of Wanci, among others:
Nita Sari, Jalan Kemakmuran 34 Wanci, Wakatobi.
Gajah Mada II, Jalan Kemakmuran 82 Wanci, Wakatobi.
Jelly dan Setiana, Jalan Samburaka 77 Pongo, Wakatobi.
Lamongan, Jalan Merdeka 5 Pongo, Wakatobi.
Tired ofdiving and snorkeling? Visit the Kampong Bajo Mola on Wangi-Wangi and see the life of the local Bajo sea nomads. There are also a number of interesting forts on Wangi-Wangi. Five kilometers from Wanci is Fort Tindoi, standing on top of Tindoi Mountain, while at Liya Togo Village is Fort Lya which also has the Lya Kraton Mosque within its compound. The fort was built in 1538 by an influential Islamic cleric called Syekh Abdul Wahid. Other forts are the Mandati Tonga Fort and the Kapota Fort.
Kaledupa has some of the best beaches such as the Hoga Beach, Sombano Beach, Peropa Beach, and Puncak Jamaraka.
The Untete Beach at the Kulati Village is the longest white sand beach on Tomia with endless rows of coconut trees, where the usual fish grilling tradition is held. There are also mangrove forests to explore.
Express Air is the only regular airline that flies from Jakarta to Bau-Bau, in Southeast Sulawesi, and continues to land on Wakatobi’s Matohara Airport on Wangi-Wangi.
Other airlines flying to Bau-Bau from Jakarta, Bali or Surabaya are Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, and Sriwijaya Airline. From here you must take a boat to Wakatobi.
The Wakatobi Dive Resort operates Charter flights so they can pick up passengers from Bali arriving direct on the island of Tomia.
The best time for diving in Wakatobi is from March through December.