by Achmad Rifqi
The Wakatobi islands are a remote treasure chest of unspoiled natural beauty. Located in the Sulawesi Tenggara Province, this regency is the perfect destination for travellers looking for a tranquil island getaway far from the sun worshipping crowds. The regency of Wakatobi is an acronym of the islands comprising Wangi Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko. Celebrated as having one of the best diving and snorkelling spots in the world, Wakatobi has no shortage of attractions.
Come here for an enriching experience where you can explore the breath-taking surroundings, indulge in the unique food and culture and participate in a number of refreshing activities. To reach Wakatobi there are now regular Wings Air flights direct from Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi.
“Wakatobi is a secluded haven you will not want to leave”
1 | Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
The amazing marine diversity and reefs of Wakatobi have attracted scuba divers and snorkel enthusiasts from all over the world. With over 750 different species of coral and 942 species of fish, Wakatobi has the highest number of reef and fish species ever recorded. It is the second largest barrier reef in the world and encompasses a spectacular 1.4 million hectares – 900,000 of which is tropical coral reefs.
The famous Jacques Cousteau, named Wakatobi as the finest diving site in the world and called this magnificent place of natural beauty an ‘underwater nirvana’.
The diverse and colorful marine life together with its pristine clear waters and breathtaking pinnacles, ridges, and cliffs, make this underwater landscape a superb diving destination like no other.
2 | The Bajo Tribe
In the village of Mola located on the island of Wangi-Wangi, resides a community of people that are truly unique in their lifestyle and history. The inhabitants of this village are from the ethnic group of Bajo who believe that they direct descendants of the sea. Once known as nomadic sea gypsies, the members are groomed since childhood to hunt and preserve the ocean. They also possess unbelievable skills such as walking on the ocean floor and diving at depths of 25-50 meters without the aid of scuba gear.
It is believed that the Bajo people can survive for months at sea without food supplies or modern equipment, as there was a time where these people lived on soppeks (wooden boats) and not in the traditional floating stilt houses they reside in now. With the aid of a local guide, visitors have the privilege to tour the canals where these unique people live and experience firsthand their way of life.
3 | Hoga Island
Surrounded by clear white sand and pristine calm waters, a visit to Hoga island will definitely bring you back to nature. Untainted by pollution and technologically restricted (there is no internet access and limited phone reception), visitors to this island will feel rejuvenated by the surrounding natural beauty.
Hoga island boasts at least 12 fantastic dive sites with world class reefs and dive masters who are easily accessible to provide private diving tours. If diving is not your forte, the tranquil clear waters and ample surrounding reefs are perfect for snorkelling and the luscious green jungle is ideal for an afternoon hike
4 | The Kahyangan Summit
The Kahyangan Summit, or otherwise known as Puncak Kahyangan or Puncak Tomia, is a hill on the island of Tomia which provides a fairytale landscape and a view to die for. Easily accessible by public transport, the summit is only 25-30 minutes away from Usuku(the capital of East Tomia).
The picturesque surroundings of seemingly never ending luscious grassland is perfect for beautiful photographs and watching awe inspiring sunsets. The summit also provides panoramic unparalleled views of its surrounding islands and is frequently used as a campsite for those wanting to experience peaceful starry nights and breathtakingly gorgeous sunrises.
5 | Anano Beach
Anano Beach, or otherwise known as the beach with a thousand turtles, is the perfect destination to observe sea turtles in their natural habitat. The incredible white sandy beach is home to two types of sea turtles, Honu (green turtles) and Koila (hawksbill turtles).
If fortunate, visitors will have the opportunity to see these charming turtles spawn, hatch and migrate to sea. The optimal time to observe spawning is during the full moon where green turtles usually gather at the shoreline in preparation to lay their eggs in the early hours of the morning.
This enchanting beach is not only a favorite for those looking to get close to the sea turtles but also a popular spot for divers and sun loungers alike.
7 | Sombano Lake
The surreal beauty of Sombano Lake which is located in the Sombano Village on Kaledupa island is absolutely breathtaking. The vast, dense and green mangrove forest is like no other in this region and the tranquil clear salt water lake which centres this delightfully scenic forest, is filled with uniquely vibrant red coloured crustaceans that can be seen from the surface. Besides the enchanting mangrove trees, the lake is surrounded by a variety of beautiful orchids and fragrant pandanus leaves.
The lake is considered sacred by locals and swimming in the lake is allowed but discouraged, as according to local folklore, a mystical black crocodile resides within.
8 |Traditional Fare
Fresh, tasty and unique, the local cuisine in Wakatobi should not be missed. Considered as a staple for most locals, Kusami is a dish that can be easily found. Comprised of grated cassava pulp which is shaped into a cone, Kusami is usually a substitute for rice and paired with fried onions, grilled fish, colo-colo chilli and Parende. Parende is another specialty of Wakatobi that must be tried. Traditionally served during special occasions, Parende is a delicious fish soup made from fresh sea water fish cooked with sautéed onions, lemongrass, tumeric and chilli peppers.
Lastly, the traditional grilled sticky rice called Laluta is a dish that will leave you wanting more. Humbly made with onions and coconut milk, the rice is wrapped with bamboo leaves then inserted into a bamboo trunk and grilled on top of an open flame.
The simple flavours and unique cooking techniques, make these dishes a wonderful culinary experience.
9 | Wakatobi Handicrafts
Wakatobi offers a variety of appealing and intricate handicrafts that are iconic to the region. Designed and hand made by the villagers themselves, these handicrafts are perfect for those looking to bring a piece of Wakatobi home.
The Homoru Sarong is a beautifully woven fabric delicately made using a traditional wooden weaving tool. Usually vibrant in colour and simple in design, a completed sarong will take up to 3 months to produce by hand. A labour of love and incredible beauty, the homoru sarong is usually worn during special occasions.
Another iconic handicraft of Wakatobi is the coconut shell ornaments. In the village of Waitil on the island of Tomia, coconut shell ornaments are a popular home industry. A variety of products can be found here, from coconut shell home decor, kitchen utensils to serving plates.
From the village of Sampela, jewellery made from the skin of turtles is a popular handicraft. Locals believe that no harm is done to the turtles as once their outer skin is peeled they are released back into the wild. The skin is smoked then shaped into rings and bracelets. The jewellery made from the turtle skin is also believed to possess mystical strength and can ward off bad luck