If you wish to change standard diving tracks in Indonesia and follow off the beaten one, then it is highly recommended to consider a small volcanic Island of Pulau Weh, being the extreme point of the country in the Andaman Sea. This tiny Island offers a surprising variety of marine life, from the smallest creatures like Seahorse and Nudibranch to the biggest ones like Manta Ray, Mola Mola, and even elusive Megamouth Shark.
Pulau Weh can be found at the north-west edge of Sumatra. Sometimes this destination is referred to as “Kilometer Zero”, where Indonesia starts. It used to be part of the mainland, but it was separated from Sumatra during the volcano eruption.
Sabang is the main city on the Island providing a connection with the other destinations in Indonesia. As of February 2015, Garuda Airlines has started direct flights from Medan to the small local Maimun Saleh Airport on Pulau Weh. The flights are operated once a week, usually on Sundays.
Another big airport is located on the mainland in the town of Banda Aceh where you can arrive from Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bangkok, Singapore, and Penang. Such airlines as Firefly, AirAsia, Garuda, Malaysia Airlines, Batavia Air, SilkAir, Jetstar Asia, Tiger Airways,and Lion Air service this destination.
Upon arriving in Banda Aceh you need to take a 30-minute drive to the harbor to get on a boat. There are 2 types of ferry boats. It takes 45 minutes to get to Sabang by fast ferry and 2 hours by slow ferry. The tickets are cheaper on the latter one.
There are several ATMs on Pulau Weh and most of the businesses accept cards.
Pulau Weh is the western corner of the triangle between South East Asia, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea which are famous for their underwater biodiversity. The Island has shallow Strait of Malacca in the eastern part and the deep Andaman Sea waters in the western part.
Pulau Weh is surrounded by 4 small islands: Pulau Rondo, Pulau Klah, Pulau Seulako, and Pulau Rubiah. The latter is the most popular destination for divers. There are more than 50 dive sites around Pulau Weh. Most of them belong to the Pulau Weh Marine National Park.
There are several dive shops on the Island; they are located either on Gapang Beach or in the area of Iboih Village. Lumba Lumba Diving Centre is the only one who is certified by PADI.
Best Dive Sites Overview
Batee Meuduro and Anoi Hitam
Batee Meuduro is one of the farthest dive sites to the south of Pulau Weh. It can be reached within 70-minute boat trip. As it is located that far away, usually 2 dives are performed there during a day trip. It can be combined with a dive at Anoi Hitam. These dive spots are recommended only for advanced divers as currents can be strong here. But currents attract pelagic like Mackerel, schools of Barracuda, Tuna, and Napoleon. The coral plateau is covered with Table Coral making it a perfect place for Lobsters, sleeping baby Reef Sharks, and Stonefish. It is common to see Whitetip Reef Shark, Grey Reef Shark, Blacktip Reef Shark, and even Thresher Shark here. Manta and Eagle Ray are also frequent visitors of this area.
Anoi Hitam features the best hard corals in this area as well as black sand. On the sand, you should look for a colony of Garden Eels.
Sabang Wreck and Underwater Volcano
These 2 spots can be covered during 1 dive trip to the harbor of Sabang and the bay of Pria Loat. Sabang Wreck, also known as Tugboat, is an old wreck which has now become a paradise for macro dives, photography and night dives. The wreck can be found at the depth of 14m (45ft.) full of Crocodilefish, Spiny Lobsters, Lionfish, Cleaner Shrimps, Nudibranch, Ghost Pipefish, and Banded Pipefish.
The Underwater Volcano is located on the sandy bottom between 5-15m (16-49ft.). There you will find streams of hot spring bubbles coming up from the bottom. Due to sulphur, the area can be a bit smelly on the surface. However, you will hardly feel it under the water.
Sophie Rickmers Wreck
Sophie Rickmers used to be a 134m (439ft.) long German cargo steam vessel. The ship had to be confiscated during World War II in 1940. But the German crew of the vessel decided to sink it in the bay of Pria Laot. The wreck can be accessed only by experienced and technical divers as the shallowest point of the wheelhouse is located at 37m (121ft.) and the straight bow lies at 55m (180ft.). The wreck has become home to Giant Trevally, Giant Grouper, and Morays. You can also expect schools of Unicornfish and Blackspot Angelfish. The latter is rare as typically it can be found only in deep waters.
Batee Tokong and Shark Plateau
Batee Tokong is usually referred to as the favorite spot for most of the divers at Pulau Weh. The site features a round plateau with one wall going down to 20m (65ft.) and the next one going down to 40m (131ft.). Slopes are covered with large Gorgonians. At 24-28m (78-91ft.) there is Shark Plateau where you can watch Grey Reef Shark, Whitetip Reef Shark, Blacktip Reef Shark, and occasional Silvertip Shark. Manta and Eagle Ray are spotted here from time to time.
Batee Tokong is also famous for the great variety of Morays and Eels. You can expect to see the following Moray species: Giant, Zebra, Snowflake, Whitemouth, Greyface, Yellowhead, Yellow Margined, Honeycomb, and Darkspotted. Besides you can find Blue Ribbon Eels around the area. Fish is represented by Marbled Grouper, Giant Grouper, Snappers, Trevally, Unicornfish, Lionfish, Frogfish, Butterflyfish; while Nudibranchs and Octopuses can be found on the reefs.
This dive site is located in the north-eastern part of the Island and it features a narrow water passage around the pinnacle which is located between Pulau Rubiah and Pulau Seulako. The currents can be severe here, thus, it is important to have experience with drift dives. Current attracts sharks and fish for feeding. The area is surrounded by clouds of Fusiliers.
The Canyon is located on the north-western tip of Pulau Weh. It offers arches, caves, canyons, and walls. One of the walls is covered with huge Gorgonians. I some areas walls go down to 70m (229ft.). The place is recommended for experienced divers as currents tend to be strong here. Among the big residents of the area, you can expect to see Napoleon, Barracuda, Eagle Ray, Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Shark. Manta and Mola Mola are the occasional guests here.
Best Dive Season
The period between April and November is the best time to visit Pulau Weh. This is the dry season and sea conditions are usually the best.
The best time to spot Manta Rays on the western coast of the Island is between January and May.
Water temperature stays around 28-29ºC (82-84ºF) all the year round. There can be some colder streams coming from the deep in some dive spots. Thermoclines in such areas can bring water of 19ºC (66ºF).
Visibility ranges between 20-30m (65-98ft.) in average while in some spots especially at the depth it can be as crystal clear as 40-60m (131-196ft.).
Currents are present at all of the dive sites. In some spots they can be very tuff, swirling like a washing machine. Such dive spots, for example, Arus Paleh, should be dived with care.
Each dive at Pulau Weh brings something interesting. Sometimes, it is even difficult to count all the species which were present during the dive, especially the types of Eels. You can see Blue Ribbon Eels, Garden Eels, Giant Moray, Snowflake Moray, Greyface Moray, Zebra Moray, Yellowhead Moray, Yellow Margined Moray, Honeycomb Moray, Darkspotted Moray, and Zebra Moray.
The swirl of colors around the reefs is composed of Anthias, Fusiliers, Nudibranchs, Seahorses, Ghost Pipefish, Frogfish, Lobsters, Crocodilefish, Angelfish, Butterflyfish, and Surgeonfish. Pelagic is made up by Snappers, Jacks, Tuna, Trevally, Bumphead Parrotfish, and Giant Grouper.
Manta Rays, Eagle Ray, Giant Stingray, Whitetip Reef Shark, Blacktip Reef Shark, Grey Reef Shark, Green Sea Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, and occasional Thresher Shark, Whale Shark, and Mola Mola are the biggest creatures of Pulau Weh.
You might be lucky to see evasive Megamouth Shark in deep channels around the Island. There were only several cases of spotting this prehistoric-looking creature in the world; several of these cases were registered at Pulau Weh. This deep-dwelling shark can grow up to 5m (16ft.) in length.
The Island suffered from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2004. However, the reefs were mainly damaged in the shallow areas while soft and hard corals below 10m (32ft.) were not affected. Now you can find many beautiful Gorgonian Fans, Green Mushroom Coral, Table Coral, and many others.
There are no luxury resorts on the Island. Nevertheless, there is a selection of cottages, chalets, and rooms. Some resorts are integrated with dive centers where accommodation is located on the territory of these dive shops.
Pulau Weh Resort
Located in the area of Iboih, Pulau Weh Resort offers accommodation in Chalets with a sea or garden view. Each Chalet features an outdoor shower and a private bathroom, a private garden, tea/coffee making facilities, A/C, and a fan. There are an onsite restaurant and laundry facilities. The Resort is located right in front of Batee Tokong and Shark Plateau dive sites and it has an own beach area. So snorkeling is possible right in front of Pulau Weh Resort.
Lumba Lumba Living
The Resort is owned by Lumba Lumba Diving Centre. There are 7 Duplex Cottages offered for the guests. Each Cottage features a kitchenette, a private bathroom, an open-air shower, a wooden verandah with a bench and a hammock. Free WiFi is provided in all the rooms. There is a nice house reef with resident turtles right in front of the Resort, where snorkeling is possible.
Gapang Beach Resort
This beach Resort is situated in the area of Iboih. Guests can be accommodated in 22 Cottages. There is a Presidential Suite for 6 guests, Emperor Cottage for 4 guests, Moris Cottages for 4 guests, and Standard Cottages for 2 guests. The onsite restaurant offers an 180º sea view. WiFi is provided for free in all of the cottages.
Treetop Guesthouse and Bungalows
These are the budget units with accommodation either in Double Room or Bunk Beds in Mixed Dormitory Room. Some of the Rooms have a terrace or a balcony with hammocks. Snorkeling is possible right in front of the Resort.
Currently, only 1 liveaboard offers trips around Pulau Weh.
This is a 35m (115 ft.) long yacht belonging to the luxury Aggressor Fleet. She can accommodate up to 16 passengers. The guests can relax on the sundeck, in Jacuzzi, or at the bar. There are 2 Zodiacs attached to the liveaboard. This is the 1st liveaboard which started to provide itineraries around Pulau Weh to cover the best dive sites. This vessel also services destinations in Thailand.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
Pulau Weh is a great place for snorkelers. The best reefs are located along Gapang, Iboih, Pulau Seulako, and Pulau Rubiah. You can enjoy the colorful soft and hard corals as well as plenty of reef inhabitants. In some areas, you can snorkel right at the house reefs or you can take a daily trip to the nearby places. Do not miss an opportunity to experience a sea Jacuzzi over the Underwater Volcano in the bay of Pria Loat.
As there is not much to do on Pulau Weh besides diving, snorkeling and water sports, it might be a good idea to visit Gunung Leuser National Park in the northern part of Sumatra. It is famous for Bulit Lawang and its Orangutans. The Park is also a home to a great variety of birds, mammals, and plants. You can take a trekking tour in the jungle. If you want to spend more time in the Park, it is possible to stay in one of the nearby accommodations.