For travellers who seek the finest that the world has to offer

Stay at the world’s most spectacular snorkelling and diving destination

Wakatobi Resort in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi is a diving paradise dedicated to protecting its pristine underwater ecosystem and supporting the local community. 

In a UNESCO Marine Biosphere Reserve on the island of Pulau Onemobaa, the kaleidoscopic marine life keeps guests under water more than above it. Here, at Wakatobi Resort, there are over 40 mapped dive sites, thousands of fish and invertebrate species and more than 500 varieties of multi-hued corals, sea fans and sponges. It’s hardly surprising that it’s dubbed one of the world’s best snorkelling experiences.

What is Wakatobi Resort famous for?

In the early 1990s, Swiss explorer and diver Lorenz Mäder embarked on a multi-year quest to locate the finest coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region. It led him to an area known as the Tukang Besi archipelago, once labelled an “underwater nirvana” by diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau. Mäder was equally fascinated by what he called the most stunning coral reefs he’d ever encountered, and wanted to create a divers’ outpost to give others access to the region. And so Wakatobi Resort was born – the name an acronym of the archipelago’s four main islands: WangiWangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko.

What is Wakatobi Regency?

Mäder’s efforts changed the map – literally. As Wakatobi gained notoriety in diving and snorkelling circles, the entire region was increasingly referred to as Wakatobi. In 2002, the Indonesian government created the Wakatobi National Park; the following year, the Wakatobi Regency was officially established. In 2012, Wakatobi was named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Wakatobi Resort is the world's most spectacular snorkelling and diving destination

Sustainable practices and conservation at Wakatobi Resort

Before breaking ground, Mäder visited local villages and met with fishermen and respected elders in the community to offer a unique proposition. In exchange for honouring specific ‘no-take’ zones within his proposed marine reserve, the resort would dedicate a portion of guest revenue to making direct payments to the community.

The Wakatobi Collaborative Reef Conservation Program, as it is now known, helps to keep the reefs free from destructive fishing methods, and local community members receive a direct monthly income and other benefits from Wakatobi Resort. Additionally, the resort employs over one hundred residents from the local villages in various positions throughout the resort. The initiative is now in its 27th year and is internationally recognised as a pioneering model for community-based private-sector conservation.

Today, the marine preserve funded by Wakatobi Resort’s revenue protects more than 20 kilometres of prime coral reef, serves as a source of income for 17 area villages, and provides additional ecological and social benefits to the region. Fishermen understand that the no-take zones serve as nurseries that boost fish populations in areas adjacent to the sanctuary.

This evolution into a sustainable model for harvesting has turned these same fishermen into some of the strongest advocates for reef protection. Wakatobi’s conservation program is a true success story in marine conservation. As heartening as this is, every resort guest contributes to this social and environmental good simply by showing up and enjoying their holiday.

Waitii Ridge in the shallows of Wakatobi.

Staying at Wakatobi Resort

At Wakatobi Resort, enjoy five-star service, gourmet dining, opulent accommodations, and exclusive access to some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world. And while savouring the peace and relaxation at one of the world’s most pristine island getaways, feel secure knowing that your stay supports behind-the-scenes initiatives to protect marine life, while also providing an income to nearby local communities.

Relaxation comes easily in traditionally styled bungalows set in a beachfront coconut grove. Each private residence is handcrafted by local artisans from native stone and local woods, then fitted with all the modern conveniences you could possibly desire. Even more memorable stays await in Wakatobi Resort’s oceanfront villas, which up the wow factor with panoramic waterfront decks delivering sunset views, Asian-style outdoor showers and plunge pools. Indulge in added perks such as personal butler services, private boats for diving and snorkelling, on-site spa treatments, and private guides.

Villas are just steps from the ocean at Wakatobi Resort
Villas are just steps from the ocean © Didi Lotze

Meals are a highlight of a Wakatobi Resort vacation, with its oceanfront restaurant showcasing the talents of an internationally trained culinary team, framed against a backdrop of the sea and rustling palms. Come sundown, sip a cocktail and dine on locally sourced food either in the onsite restaurant or a personalised beachside experience with your feet in the sand.

All manner of treatments and massages are available in the onsite spa to ensure you’re ready for another long day of diving, because as guest Paul Moliken says, you can never get enough of it. “I have done at least 50 to 60 snorkels on the house reef since my first trip to Wakatobi Resort in 2015, and it never fails to astound me. There’s truly nothing like it.”

Wakatobi Dive Resort
Wakatobi Dive Resort

Things to do at Wakatobi Resort

You don’t have to travel far to explore this underwater utopia. Wakatobi Resort’s house reef is just offshore from the resort beach, home to octopi, huge morays, turtles, cuttlefish, pipefish, mantis shrimp and anemone fish. To go further afield, hop aboard one of the resort’s small taxi boats or a large day boat to access more than 40 additional diving and snorkelling sites within the protected reserve.

Wakatobi Resort’s luxury dive yacht, Pelagian, can take you further afield, to seldom-visited corners of the Tukang Besi archipelago. Onboard are five ensuite cabins, opulent places to lounge and an outdoor table where you can dine al fresco, or sip on an apéritif while the sun sets.

Wakatobi Resort for families

Want to holiday with the kids? With a childcare facilitator at Wakatobi Resort, parents can spend days diving while the little ones learn palm weaving, coconut tree harvesting or going on nature hunts. And in years to come, they too can discover this underwater world where rare marine life roams.

When should I visit Wakatobi Resort?

Wakatobi is located in one of the drier areas of Indonesia and the waters are suitable for diving all year round. However, rain is typically more common between March and November, while September to November is considered peak season.

A villa at Wakatobi Resort.
A villa at Wakatobi Resort.

How do you get to Wakatobi Resort?

Wakatobi Resort sits on a small island in southeast Sulawesi far from crowds, city lights and other reminders of the outside world. But distance isn’t a problem, as guests enjoy a direct connection through a private charter flight from Bali. Travellers are met at Bali’s airport and provided with terminal-to-room concierge services.

Along the way, Wakatobi provides expedited international arrivals, concierge luggage and layover assistance, and access to a private airport lounge before departure for the resort. On arrival at Wakatobi, guests are greeted by staff who take pride in providing warm personal service.

Read more:
Top 24 ecotourism experiences around the world
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Tread lightly at these sustainable stays

This article originally appeared in volume 46 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the newsletter below.