Pulau Weh is that tiny island that sits just at the tip of Sumatra in Indonesia. Scuba diving in Pulau Weh is famous because it’s at a channel point and you can see beautiful reefs and corals as well as sharks or large fish swimming by. It’s also well-known for very strong currents and not necessarily great for beginners. From Jakarta you have direct flights to Aceh, then you need to take a ferry to Pulau weh – you will lose a day each time for travel, so it’s only worth going if you have at minimum 5 days .
How to get to Pulau Weh
You must fly to Banda Aceh, take a 15/20 min taxi ride to the jetty and then you can choose between the slow or the fast ferry. The ticket counters open about 1h before the boat leaves.
Fast ferry takes about 45min and cost 100,000 IDR per person.
- Leaves from Banda Aceh harbor: 8 am, 10 am and 4 pm
- Leaves Sabang to Banda Aceh harbour: 8 am, 2.30 pm and 4 pm
Some days some departures are not happening – so check with your dive center for the latest schedule.
Slow ferry takes about 1h30 min and cost 30,000 IDR per person.
- Leaves from Banda Aceh harbour: 11 am and 4 pm
- Leaves Sabang to Banda Aceh harbour: 8 am and 2 pm
Please note that we landed at like 8h30 am and missed the 10 am boat by just a little (literally saw it leave) so we had to wait until 2 pm at the harbor. There are some small food stalls for tea/lunch there.
It’s an accumulation of small delays. From the plane (10min), to waiting our gear (15min), then the taxi was taking forever to bring his car around (10min), there is only one exit with a toll from the airport (20min), and then about 20-25min drive. “Bad luck” the boat actually left on time and closed its doors a few minutes before, so we couldn’t board! Any of the above didn’t happen and we would have gotten it.
Is Aceh safe?
Aceh is often on the travel advisory board as a region to avoid because of radical independentism’s movements and more extreme religious consideration.
We spend half a day visiting Aceh before taking our flight and didn’t feel unsafe at all. However, I did pay particular attention to cover my legs and shoulders as people will be more sensitive and may look at you sideways. As predicted, there are hardly any tourists around Aceh itself – most make a beeline for Pulau Weh.
In Aceh, we visited the Tsunami museum which is very interesting to understand the devastation, the electrical boat powerplant (that was moved 14km inland by the wave ! ) – and its small museum. We also visited Aceh 13th century mosque (fully renovated) and it’s one of the most beautiful I have seen. We arranged this little tour with the dive center in Pulau weh, the driver picked us up from the ferry boat and drove us around to finally drop us at the airport for our flight. We took the slow ferry leaving at 8am and our flight was leaving around 4 pm – it cost us 180,000 IDR for this. We had lunch & some coffee at a super local place between sights. The driver was really relaxed and all-in-all a very good activity to do.
Pulau Weh inhabitants are used to have tourist around, so is more relaxed and you should always be careful but swimming at the beach without wearing full suit is totally fine. I do like to wear a swim T-shirt when I travel in Asia and swim in countries that may be more culturally sensitive to bikinis (and also because it prevents me from becoming a total lobster).
It’s important to note that on Friday’s afternoon activities can be stopped, including diving. And during Ramadan, you should check the food situation and restrictions with your dive center before preparing a trip there. Food during the day may be unavailable even for tourists, as it is a more religious state. You must be OK with all of that.
Scuba diving in Pulau weh
Diving was it was fantastic – we arrived a moment of slack currents so we didn’t feel the famous currents of Pulau Weh ourselves, on the last days maybe some. We saw a beautiful school of mobula rays and the visibility was astonishing. I live the fact that most dives where pinnacles and quite deep actually. We found our fills of small critters too. It’s a great place to dive.
We did with another diver the house reef by ourselves, the dive shop has a good map and it’s a great little dive to do ! We did manage to get off tracks though – but not really an issue as it’s quite shallow. We saw loads of shrimps and small stuff down there. Easy and enjoyable.
We dove with Lumba Lumba on Gapang beach. My sister ( who did her open water there) herself likes to stay on some over the water bungalows on Iboih. These are the two primary beaches where infrastructures for tourists and dive centers are located.
For Lumba Lumba – they have nice cheaper rooms in a concrete building as well as more fancy bungalows. The dive center is big and comfortable. They were professional and good on safety. Gapang beach is small and big enough that it feels somewhat private and you can swim from this beach !
Pulau weh remains off the beaten track for many tourists are concerned about the reputation of Aceh or that maybe the coral reef was damaged during the tsunami. We have found both of these to be untrue and have enjoyed scuba diving in Pulau Weh tremendously for a (very) long week-end from Jakarta.
It takes a bit of time to get there but the island is relaxed and laid back, infrastructures remain quite minimal – don’t expect loads of bar/cafes catering to tourists. You do need to be mindful of the way you dress, of Friday’s prayer as well as food consumption if you travel there during Ramadan. Currents are strong and it’s not a location I would recommend for beginner divers ( see the list of location I would recommend for beginners in Asia ).
Put it on your list, you will be rewarded by amazing, and not crowed, underwater scenery!