There are countless opportunities for diving and snorkeling in Southeast Asia. You can spot colorful reef fish almost wherever you put on your mask – but some spots stand out, because they offer unusually large or colorful schools of fish, or because of regular sightings of large pelagic fish species.
Here is the list of Top 9 diving and snorkeling spots you must have seen:
Top 9: Pulau Perhentian (Malaysia)
Pulau Perhentian is the place where most people see their first sharks and turtles. No wonder, you are almost guaranteed to spot both on a snorkeling trip! Don’t be afraid, the sharks are rather small, and they won’t bite. Diving is good as well, though experienced divers may find it a bit boring.
Our GuideGecko Rating for Pulau Perhentian:
Snorkeling: ***** (5 of 5 stars: Sharks and turtles almost guaranteed)
Diving: ** (2 of 5 stars: Nice, but not special. Good for beginners and intermediate divers)
Top 8: Pulau Bunaken (Indonesia)
Bunaken is famous for its diving. Strong currents mean that most dives are for advanced divers, but some easier dive spots are also available. You will see sharks, turtles and schools of barracudas. If you are lucky, you can swim and snorkel with dolphins! Nearby is the Lembeh Straits, world famous for its muck diving and tiny critters.
Our GuideGecko Rating for Pulau Bunaken:
Snorkeling: ** (2 of 5 stars: Don’t go to Bunaken unless you are a diver)
Diving: **** (4 of 5 stars: Sharks, turtles, barracudas and muck diving)
Top 7: Banda Islands (Indonesia)
The Banda Islands offer snorkeling spots in almost every corner. Just put on your mask, swim out for 20-100 meters, and you are right in the coral reef. Nice walls and lots of colorful reef fish await you. There are many turtles and napoleon wrasses as well.
Our GuideGecko Rating for Banda Islands:
Snorkeling: **** (4 of 5 stars: It’s so great, many visitors spend much of the day snorkeling)
Diving: *** (3 of 5 stars: Overall, diving is similar to snorkeling. If you are lucky, you can see hammerhead sharks and marble rays)
Top 6: Similan Islands (Thailand)
Thailand’s most famous live-aboard dive area, the Similan Islands are high on every diver’s wish list. In addition to tropical fish and numerous swimthroughs, you will also enjoy the surface scenery - the Similans are nine photogenic granite islands with white sand beaches. With some luck, you can spot manta rays and whale sharks.
Our GuideGecko Rating for the Similan Islands:
Snorkeling: ** (2 of 5 stars: Snorkeling is great, but you come here for diving)
Diving: **** (4 of 5 stars: Colorful fish, swimthroughs and the occasional big thing guarantee nice, diversified dives)
Top 5: Malapascua (Philippines)
Malapascua is a premier dive spot for advanced divers looking for big fish. In the season, sightings of hammerheads, thresher sharks and manta rays are almost guaranteed.
Unlike many other dive spots, Malapascua also offers a great beach, making it a perfect choice for couples and groups with non-divers.
Our GuideGecko Rating for Malapascua:
Snorkeling: * (1 of 5 stars: You can snorkel here, but you won’t see the big fish)
Diving: ***** (5 of 5 stars: Lots of big fish you are unlikely to see elsewhere)
Top 4: Sipadan (Malaysia)
Sipadan is a small island off Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. Its dive spots are famous worldwide, and after a couple of dives, you will have seen more sharks, turtles and barracudas than you ever wanted. You need a special permit to visit Sipadan. Permits are limited in numbers and given on a first-come-first-served basis - arrange early!
Our GuideGecko Rating for Sipadan:
Snorkeling: ***** (5 of 5 stars: Sharks and turtles wherever you turn your head)
Diving: ** (2 of 5 stars: You wouldn’t come here unless you are a diver, anyway)
Top 3: Pulau Molana (Indonesia)
Welcome to the world’s best snorkeling! Pulau Molana is really off-the-beaten track. To get there, fly to Ambon and take a boat to Pulau Saparua (also nice!). Then visit Pulau Molana on a self-organized daytrip. Chances are you will enjoy its stunning underwater beauty all for yourself.
Our GuideGecko Rating for Pulau Molana:
Snorkeling: ***** (5 of 5 stars: Colorful coral, a massive wall, turtles, bumphead parrotfish, etc. - the best snorkeling we know of!)
Diving: - (nada: No dive shop anywhere nearby. Too bad!)
Top 2: Flores (Indonesia)
We haven’t seen more colorful fish anywhere else than in the Flores Sea. In some spots, it’s like you are jumping into an aquarium. In other spots, you will witness countless manta rays passing by as if they were cars on a highway.
An easy but expensive way to get to Flores is on a live-aboard from Bali. A cheaper option is to make Labuanbajo on Flores your base. Don’t forget to reserve one day for a trip to Komodo to see the famous komodo dragons.
Our GuideGecko Rating for Flores:
Snorkeling: - (nada: You would need a boat to reach the interesting spots)
Diving: ***** (2 of 5 stars: Enormous school of tropical fish and lots of manta rays)
And the winner is…: Raja Ampat (Indonesia)
Look into your dive book – whatever you see, chances are you can find it in Raja Ampat. whale sharks, manta rays, turtles, sharks, bumphead parrotfish, giant trevally, barracuda - and the list could go on and on.
On land, go bird watching for the bird of paradise and make sure to visit the faraway Wayag Islands, offering one of the most stunning sceneries in Southeast Asia.
Our GuideGecko Rating for Raja Ampat:
Snorkeling: ***** (5 of 5 stars: Manta Rays when snorkeling? Yes, almost guaranteed!)
Diving: ***** (5 of 5 stars: The highest marine life diversity in the world. Enough said)
Dive & Snorkeling Spots that didn't make the list:
Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia: This was a great dive spot just a few years ago, but locals say the Tsunami has destroyed much of the coral and marine life hasn’t come back. It is just an average location by now.
Togean Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia: Snorkeling in a lake of non-stinging jellyfish is special, but not enough to make the list.
Bali, Indonesia: You thought there is good snorkeling on Bali? Forget it! If you are diving, try to spot mola-molas near Nusa Lembongan.
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand: Don’t miss diving at Hin Daeng and Hin Muang when you are there, but these two spots are not enough to make it on the list.
Ko Tao, Thailand: Nothing special underwater here, despite the hype.
Want more highlights?
Enough diving and snorkeling? See Southeast Asia's highlights above water:
Agree with our top diving and snorkeling spots? Have a better suggestion? Let's discuss!