Wakatobi has been on our list for a while, but the timing has never quite worked. Last year we looked at the best time to visit, and then selected a week around Easter to capitalise on the long holiday weekend. From the moment we touched down in Bali, we realised why everyone raves about Wakatobi. It’s that good.
Getting to Wakatobi is relatively easy, assuming that you can get to Bali. Flights to Wakatobi (a Garuda charter) depart on Monday and Friday mornings – early. Because we timed this with Easter, we opted for the Friday flight and flew into Bali late Wednesday. This allowed time to deal with flight delays or missing luggage.
We had no delays and arrived as scheduled on Wednesday night. Prior to departure, Wakatobi emailed us arrival information, including a photo of their greeter. Sure enough, he was waiting at baggage claim, escorted us through customs, and explained the logistics for Friday morning. He then helped us find our driver who was arranged by Parigata.
We stayed at the Parigata Villas the last time we were in Bali. Each villa has its own pool, and there are plenty of restaurants nearby. There’s a path along the beach that is great for an early morning walk, or some beach yoga.
We had an early start Friday, as we had to be back at the domestic terminal at 6:45am. We spotted our friend from Wednesday night, and he took our bags and escorted us to checkin, where the bags were tagged with or bungalow #, and zip tied shut. A representative from Garuda escorted us through security, and led us to the Garuda lounge. Around 8am, the representative from Wakatobi announced the flight, and we joined 15 other passengers on a bus out to the waiting ATR72. The flight was a little over two hours, included a light meal, and flew over some unbelievable coral atolls.
When we landed, new Wakatobi representatives were there to greet us, and we piled in to a small fleet of minivans for the short ride to the dock. One of the Wakatobi dive boats was waiting to take us the 15 minute ride to the resort. Our luggage, and a heap of freight for the resort, followed in a separate boat. We were greeted with cool towels, and met our dive guide Jaka.
Wakatobi’s tag line is “a luxury eco dive resort”. When we saw “luxury” mentioned, we were afraid we’d need to dress up, and the other guests would be snoooty. “Eco” usually means that they don’t wash towels every day. But this is one of the first places we’ve been where these words are more than marketing hype. Wakatobi is blissful barefoot luxury, with five star, environmentally conscious service.
The boat docked at the concrete jetty, and Jaka pointed out some of the resort features as he led us to our bungalow. The open air long house has a reception desk, a very nice boutique, an air conditioned library, and a presentation room. The dive centre is adjacent to the long house. There are a few covered areas for gear, and you are assigned a spot (with labeled bins and hangars for gear) for the duration of your stay. There’s also a dedicated camera room, that is air conditioned but not too cool, has spongy work areas, universal power strips, plenty of clean towels, an air blower, and even a bin of rice (which luckily we didn’t need).
We were assigned to bungalow #5, which was ocean front and the closest to the long house. Part of the magic of Wakatobi is all the people working behind the scenes that come together to produce an amazing experience. Our two chaise lounges were magically covered at night and uncovered in the morning. The front porch area with two giant lounges had the sun shades raised and lowered for optimal enjoyment. Even the sand was raked into patterns. They’d thought of everything (even scissors to cut the zip ties on our luggage!). There was also a massive outdoor shower, with plenty of products (in refillable containers), and lots of soft fluffy towels (including wash cloths!).
Meals were served at the dining room, which had a massive buffet area and indoor and outdoor seating. We started the day with a light breakfast at 6:30, leaving enough time to digest before our first dive. Lunch was at 12:30, and we tried to keep this light as well given the 3pm dive. We usually watched the sunset at the jetty bar (which used glass straws in their mixed drinks), and then went to dinner around 7. The buffet food (e.g. spring rolls, pumpkin gratin, sweet and sour chicken, carving station) was top notch, and there was always a made to order station as well (tempura, stir fry, and various noodle soups). The always-smiling staff seemed to know everyone by name and had memorised their preferences by the dinner on the first day.
Wakatobi’s boats aren’t packed, they usually have 12-14 people with a ratio of one guide per four divers. We pre-arranged a private boat, which was a bit of a splurge but you only live once right ?!? This meant we could make our own schedule, and had plenty of space for the cameras. In addition to our guide and the captain, we had a dive helper, and a host who gave us hot towels, cocoa (in reusable travel mugs that we got to keep), and a tray of fresh fruit and cakes after each dive. The boat had a large camera rinse bin, plenty of areas to keep things dry, and two chaise lounges for surface interval comfort. Entry was via giant stride from one of the two openings on each side of the boat.
Each day, boards in the dive centre showed boat assignments, schedule, and destination.
Most boats leave at 7:30, but we left a little later around 8. The dive sites we visited were all with 30 minutes of the resort. We had the option to visit ones that were farther away, or to stay out all day, but were perfectly content with the conditions at the sites we visited. We did two dives each morning, and one each afternoon for a total of 18 dives over the week. The water was warm (30c/86f) and most dives had little to no current. Jaka (our guide) went above and beyond – selecting perfect, pointing our the tiniest of critters, and carrying my 8kg camera to and from the boat.
Throughout our visit, staff and management repeatedly asked for feedback and if there was anything that they could do better. I’m a huge fan of receiving constructive feedback, so we tried and tried and tried to come up with something to tell them but couldn’t think of one thing. The end to end experience, from our initial email, through our visit, through their follow-up emails, was flawless. The question is, will we be back next year or the following year…