A Guide to Wakatobi

Wakatobi is a group of islands located off the South-East tip of Sulawesi island. Their old name (Tukan Besi ‘blacksmith’ islands) seems to have fallen in disregard. Wakatobi name has been crafted based on the name of the four main islands : WAngi-Wangi, KAledupa, TOmia and BInongko.

The main draw here are the absolutely stunning coral gardens. It is also part of the Indonesian government plan to create “10 new Bali” to boost tourism revenue, even though for the moment most of the efforts are poured elsewhere.

Wakatobi_Map

Wangi-Wangi island

Wangi-Wangi island is the main island of the archipelago with Wanci as its main town. There you have the airport, the main harbor (with a few Pelni ferries stopping by), ATM as well as an immigration office.

Most visitors are eager to rush their way to the islands of Tomia and Hoga and will be annoyed by the conflicting schedules of boats and planes, almost forcing to you to spend a night on the island.

That was what I felt and later someone explained to me on Kaledupa that the regent of Wakatobi did this on purpose to boost hotel business in Wangi-Wangi. But it turns out that Wangi-Wangi deserves some time.

You would definetly need a motorbike to get around, but given the number of accomodation available it shouldn’t be a problem. I spend the day with a local guy who show me his islands so I cannot really advise anything.

There is not much remaining from the old fort of Liya but the lagoon right behind is stunning. I think that it would be very rewarding to get to Liya village, hire a local boat there (I would expect to pay 400-500’000Rp for the full day) and explore the lagoon.

Wanci Wakatobi
Liya Lagoon

Otherwise you could do as the locals and go for a swim or a shampoo in Kontamale cave.

Goa Kontamale Wanci
Goa (cave) Kontamale

While walking in Wanci I came across a very nice procession. If I’m not mistaken it’s called Karia’a, it’s a life-cycle ceremony for young girls who are paraded in the streets wearing stunning outfit right before their reach their teenage years.

Wanci outfit Wakatobi
Karia’a procession in Wanci, those hats seem kind of hard to wear

Before you take the boat to others islands, you can spend some time in the Bajo village of Mola.

Bajo Mola Wanci

Kaledupa

Hoga

Kaledupa is mostly known for Hoga island. After you arrive in Ambuea in Kaledupa, you have to make the crossing to Hoga. It looks close but the boat has to navigate shallow waters and it actually takes 45 minutes. I did the trip with the school kids from Furaku.

Hoga Wakatobi
Hoga island

The situation can be a bit confusing on Hoga so here is the big picture :

  • Year round you have only one inhabited village called Furaku, about 30 min away from the main jetty.
  • You have a couple of middle price resorts (+ more in construction) like Hoga Dive Resort.
  • Near the jetty you have a lady running a small warung, she can sell you instant noodles, snacks and if you buy fish in Furaku she will cook it for you.
  • You have Operation Wallacea (OpWal)

Operation Wallacea is a an organisation that sells kind of science bootcamps. I feel that there is a lots of marketing involved and few actual research coming out of it but anyway they have like 200 guests during the summer months doing surveys on corrals and birds.

So there are dozens of bungalows virtually empty for most part of the year. The local operational manager is a great guy called Jeffrey and the dive center is run by a South-African instructor called Rowan. By the time of my visit (October 2017) the diving operation was on track to be separated from OpWal, so the plan was to act like a regular dive center and to use OpWal logistics (the dining room and the bungalows) to accomodate guests.

It’s best that you get in touch with Jeffrey before arriving (Whatsapp +62 853-9530-3993) because the bungalows are owned by different people on Kaledupa and they keep the keys there. If you want to eat at OpWal it’s possible but they have to be told ahead.

Hoga Wakatobi
Schoolkids on their way back to Furaku

I arrived on Hoga without telling OpWall ahead and I had to spend the first night at Furaku (because all the bungalows were locked up). I would not recommend to do that without good commands of Indonesian, some of the villagers are very poor (as well as lazy and inclined to petty thiefs according to Kaledupa’s people) and get quite drunk at night.

I remember there was a young girl who was so sorry because of that, she was very startled when I told her we have our own share of drunkyard at home. Nothing dangerous though but there could be some misunderstanding.

I did a couple of good dives with OpWal (400’000Rp each), some of them with Rowan some of them with Jeffrey (who is a master in finding pygmee searhorses). The spot Ridge 01 was very nice with great corral (but I think Tomia is even better).

Kaledupa

I spent 2 night at Jeffrey’s house in Kaledupa. He left me his motorbike and his wife cooked me great food. Such a cool guy. There are a couple of beaches around Kaledupa but unfortunately the weather wasn’t really good.

If I remember well I saw only one car during the whole afternoon I spent exploring Kaledupa.

On my way back from Tomia I stopped again in Kaledupa. I stayed at a simple wooden homestay not far from Ambuea market, called Wisma or Penginapan Madya Siru. 50’000Rp for a simple room, bathroom outside. Right in front you have the small warung Elfian without many choices but you can buy seafood at the market and they will cook it for a small fee.

Near Sombano you have a small saltwater lake that is inhabited by huge and flashy red shrimps that come out at the end of the afternoon to feed.

Lake Sombano Kaledupa
Lake Sombano

There are three Bajo settlements around Kaledupa, the most accessible is Sampela, but you have also Mantigola and Lohoa. Those are the Indonesian names ; Sampela is called Sama Bahari by its inhabitants. In case you don’t know, the Bajo refer to themselves as Sama and call their language bahasa sama.

Sampela Bajo Wakatobi
The Bajo village of Sampela / Sama Bahari

To get there, ask a women who has finished to sell her fish at the market to give you a ride. Give her 10’000Rp.

Bajo Sampela Kaledupa
Definetly my best shot of the day

If you want to bring a souvenir, they sell makeshift swimming googles. Again very friendly people, I even got a lesson in Bahasa Sama.

Bajo Sampela Kaledupa

Tomia

For me Tomia is the highlight of Wakatobi. The dive spots of Ali Reef and Roma off Tomia’s North-West as well as Fan 38 near Sawa island have the most stunning corral I’ve seen all over Indonesia (when it comes to corral it’s even better than Raja Ampat or Komodo).

Tomia Wakatobi
Tomia island

If you want to go diving, you have different local alternatives besides the expensive Wakatobi Dive Resort on Tolandona island (immediately off Tomia). I was very satisfied by the services of Ahmad from Wakatobi Marine Dive. He charges 1’200’000Rp for 3 dives a day, including the gear.

The whole area is protected under a marine national park status. Accordingly, a 150’000Rp daily fee should be collected from visitors going diving or snorkeling but as of 2017 nothing seems to have been implemented. Things will probably change in the future.

If you just want to snorkel, gear can easily be rented in town. I guess the corral barrier surrounding Tomia can be reached and explore by swimming. It’s definetly worth renting a boat for a day and go see the stunning island of Sawa (I did not take my camera with me at this time but this the true paradise postcard island).

Local life

Tomia is a small island that you can explore on foot. Inhabitants are very friendly and welcoming.

You can get food from the warung near the harbour and at night near Lakota beach. I think the slightly more expensive homestays like Abi Jaya serve food to their guests also.

Practical tips

Coming to Wakatobi from Kendari

If you want to take the plane this is the way to go. Daily flights from Kendari to Wanci-Wanci operated by Wings Air and 4 flights a week operated by Garuda. Beware because by the time of my visit, the plane schedule forces you to stay one night in Wanci to get the boats to Kaledupa or Tomia the next morning.

How to come from Tana Toraja ?

Here I what I did but retrospectively there it was probably not the best solution :

  • From Rantepao, take a minibus to Bolu terminal (5’000Rp). I got to Bolu at 7h30, got a shared taxi to Palopo who left at 9h20.
  • At 11h20 we arrived in Palopo (40’000Rp for this ride), I took another shared taxi going to Watambone at 11h40 and I got dropped at 13h40 in Siwa harbour (50’000Rp). So I missed the ferry.
  • Everyday the ship docks at 7PM and leaves in theory at 11AM on the next day (45’000), but it’s often more like 1PM, . You can sleep for free in the ferry after it has docked at 7PM.
  • From Tobaku, take a travel to Kolaka (100), then to Kendari (100, the driver asked for 20 more to get dropped near the harbor). Prices were a bit inflated because it was already late at night.
  • Got an hotel not far from the harbor for 80’000Rp a night.
  • The next day, 15’000Rp ojek to the harbor.
  • The ferry (2 differents ships, not operated by ASDP) leaves 4 times a week to Wanci and stops in Buton at Ereke on the way. Price is 191’000Rp, we left at 11:30AM and arrived at 9PM. Wakatobi residents are entitled to a special price.
    • No ferry Kendari – Wangi-Wangi on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

In my case it would have been smarter to go from Palopo to Watambone and take the ferry at Bajoe harbor because it leaves at night and gets you directly to Kolaka instead of Tobaku. According to ASDP website it leaves 3 times a day at 5PM, 8PM and 11PM. The trip takes 9 hours and costs 73’000Rp.

Coming to Wakatobi from Buton

You have daily public boat connections from Buton islands to Wangi-Wangi. Buton and nearby Muna are great islands to explore as well.

  • From Kemaru harbor (3 hours driving from Bau-Bau) you have a daily ferry leaving to Wanci in Wangi-Wangi. ASDP website says departure at 7AM, Wakatobi Tourism office at 1PM. I never took it so I cannot confirm anything but only trust informations coming from ASDP office, the website is not up to date based on my experience.
  • From Murhum harbor in Bau-Bau you have boats leaving almost everyday to Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa and Tomia. The slow Jetliner is leaving at night around 9PM or 10PM from what I understand. You also have speedboats for which I have no clue of the schedule.
  • The ferry from Kendari stops once or twice on its way to Wanci. If I remember well one of the stop is Ereke in Buton.

Coming to Wakatobi by Pelni

Pelni are cross-provinces public ferries. A few lines make a stop in Wangi-Wangi before continuing their way towards eastern Indonesia : the monthly Leuser gets you to the Banda islands in 3 days for instance.

You may be interested by the fact that if few Pelni ferries stop in Wakatobi, many of them stop in Bau-Bau in nearby Buton.

Please read my guide to boat travel in Indonesia to get all the information.

Boats within the archipelago

The Wakatobi Tourism office has made a lots of information available online. Here is my personal experience :

  • From Wanci to Kaledupa, there is a boat leaving everyday from Mola harbor in Wanci Ambuea harbor in Kaledupa. It costs 50’000Rp and is supposed to leave at 9AM. I left at 10:40AM and arrived around noon.
    • To return to Wanci, the boat leaves everyday at 5AM from and to the same harbors.
  • To get to Hoga from Kaledupa you could charter a local boat (the Tourism office say it should cost 50’000Rp) but also use the boat that brings the kids back from school to Hoga. It leaves from Hoga at 5:30AM and returns from Kaledupa around 1PM. Give 20’000Rp to the boat captain.
    • On the boat from Wanci, I got told that it would stop directly at Hoga is there is enough passengers going there. It’s worth asking the captain, you never know.
  • The boat returns from Ambuea in Kaledupa to Wanci in Wangi-Wangi at 5AM everyday. I left at 5:30AM.
  • According to the tourism office, there is a daily boat leaving daily at 9AM for Jabal harbor in Wanci and heading to Tomia. You can catch this boat from Kaledupa by doing the following :
    • From Ambuea get an ojek to Taou harbor near Tampara village (30’000Rp). The boat passes around noon.
    • From Taou harbor, take a taxi boat to catch the boat from Wanci directly in the sea (the boat doesn’t stop at the pier) for 10’000Rp.
    • Pay 50’000Rp on board, it’s a 2 hours trip to Tomia.
  • The boat returns to Wanci everyday at 6AM (the full trip is like 4-6h). You can also get dropped near Taou harbour in Kaledupa on the way (you pay the taxi boat and the ojek like above).

There are different kind of boats available either wooden traditional boat (kayu) and speedboats. I always took what was readily available, I think I took the speedboat once. What I’m sure of is that I always paid 50’000Rp between each island.

For boats to Binongko from Wanci, check the website of the tourism office (link posted at the beginning of the section), the boat stops over in Tomia.

Accomodation

  • In Wanci-Wanci I spent one night at the house of a passenger I met on the boat from Kendari so I cannot really advise. You can check this list, the one starting by Wisma or Penginapan will probably be the cheapest.
  • In Hoga I stayed at Operation Wallacea bungalows. 50’000Rp per night.
  • In Kaledupa you can stay in Wisma/Penginapan Madya Siru (50’000Rp, single room, bathroom outside).
  • In Tomia I stayed at Penginapan Bantea if I’m not mistaken (from the pier, you walk straight, it’s like 20 meters after the crossroads). I don’t think they speak much English, I had the room for 100’000Rp by promising I would not use AC, cold shower, breakfast. Penginapan Terapung also starts at 100’000Rp.

Maps

As usual I put most of the places quoted in this article in a Google Map. For detailed maps of the villages, please read this great document.

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