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I think we all know I love scuba diving almost as much as I love getting off the beaten path. Well, this Indonesian dive spot won't disappoint you in either category.
A tiny island just off the coast of Sumatra, Pulau Weh has some of the best diving in Southeast Asia.
Imagine slowly floating through an underwater canyon. Coral reef walls loom up on either side of you as the crystal blue waves crash above your head. You gasp in your respirator as you slowly become enveloped in a school of small black and white fish. If you didn’t know any better, you would think the surface was snowing them.
You could easily reach out and touch one, or a few, but like a snowflake, these fish will quickly disappear. So instead you’re content to drift through the lazy current, surrounded by a magical school of fish.
Welcome to Pulau Weh’s underwater Canyon.
How beautiful is this place?!
Why You Have to Visit Pulau Weh
Pulau Weh, or Weh Island, is a wonderland for divers and snorkelers alike. A tiny island with more than 30 dive centers, Pulau Weh is an underwater paradise.
However, diving isn’t the only activity on the island. From waterfalls and volcanos to perfect beaches, there are plenty of things to do on your days off from diving.
Pulau Weh’s Famous Diving
At Pulau Weh, you’ll have the opportunity to dive some pretty spectacular sites. With over 20 dive sites from The Canyon to an underwater volcano, it’s hard to get bored here. I dove for 2 full days, and I still didn’t get to see the underwater volcano! … Next time.
The Canyon is Pulau Weh’s Most famous dive site, and by far the best site I visited on my trip. Floating through an underwater canyon, you have the opportunity to see incredible reef life and giant schools of fish. While I was there I spotted scorpion fish, porcelain crab, star puffers, map puffers, and a titan triggerfish.
If you have the opportunity, you’ll also need to check out the Underwater Volcano. Here you’ll find cracks in the ocean floor with volcanic hot waters streaming out. While the water is boiling, it mixes with the sea water around it, so it’s safe to touch. Don’t worry, you won’t be boiled alive!
You can see a reef right from the beach!
Don’t dive? No problem! Chris and I spent plenty of time snorkeling just in front of our bungalows at Treetop Guesthouse, and it’s easy to rent snorkels along the main Iboih beach. Some of our guest house neighbors spent their entire trip to Pulau Weh swimming and snorkeling and saw just as much incredible sea life as I did diving!
The Underwater Volcano is also only 6 meters deep, so you can easily snorkel over the top of it if you don’t want to pay for a dive. Or you could do both, just like I planned to do with the sardines in Moalboal before we had a monsoon.
Want to hit the Northern most part of Indonesia? While I saw the giant Kilometer Zero landmark on my Canyon Dive, you can also hike to Kilometer Zero instead. From the middle of Pulau Weh, it takes about one hour by car or motorbike to get there, and you’ll drive by a few small villages and towns along the way. Just be sure to cover up since Pulau Weh is a Muslim Island!
The tip of Kilometer Zero which I spotted from the dive!
Volcano Hot Springs
As you may have noticed, Pulau Weh is a volcanic island. Well in addition to the underwater volcano, you can actually find a second volcano right in the center of the island, which the locals call Gunung Api, meaning “mountain of fire”. Here you can find large holes with hot steam blowing out, bright green mineral deposits, and, if you listen closely, you’ll hear water boiling and bubbling underneath the surface.
At the bottom of the volcano, you’ll also find hot springs to wash off all that tropical sweat from hiking to the top of the volcano. These bathing pools collect water from the volcano and are filled with methane. While it might smell a bit like farts, the hot springs are great for your skin!
Cats... Cats Everywhere.
Seriously, if you like cats this place is heaven. There are cats EVERYWHERE.
My boyfriend Chris and I adopted a stray cat we named “Cat” (because we’re creative like that), and he spent the majority of his time in our bungalow. He also had what we like to call “crazy cow eyes”, along with an overly loud purr.
The Western restaurant owned by a French woman in town also had newborn kittens who were RELENTLESS. They would somehow climb their way up onto the tables and try to eat your food. Don’t show sympathy, no matter how ridiculously cute they are.
While I loved the cats on Pulau Weh, they can get a bit obnoxious when it comes to food. Don’t feed them or they will never leave you alone!
Diving with Rubia Tirta
Which Pulau Weh Dive Shop Should You Choose?
With so many options, it’s hard to know which dive shop to choose! Trust me, I spent a long time looking at Trip Advisor and reading reviews online, and I still had a tough decision to make. I finally settled on Rubiah Tirta Divers, by far the best and most reputable dive company on Iboih Beach.
I’ve done a lot of cheap diving in Southeast Asia, and I have to say, Rubiah Tirta was both fun and professional. My divemaster was great and spoke excellent English. He explained our dives in detail and answered any questions we had about the site.
I also bought my first dive mask with Rubiah Tirta, and I have absolutely no complaints about the quality of their equipment or their service in helping me pick a mask. I love my new pink mask and it was perfect for both snorkeling and diving on Pulau Weh. I honestly can’t wait to go diving again so I can bring it with me!
Want to dive with Rubiah Tirta? Check out their prices here. The more dives you do the cheaper your dives will be!
The Rubiah Tirta dive boat
Great Service and Bottom Time!
One of my favorites parts about diving with Rubiah Tirta was that they let me stay down longer than the rest of my group. Since I was a little bit more experienced than some of the other members of my Advanced group (and the only girl), I still had a lot of air left when it was time for everyone to surface. Who knew that I had a hidden talent for barely breathing?
Instead of having me to surface with the rest of my group, my divemaster would let me join the more experienced divers’ group if they were nearby. By “experienced”, I mean people with 100+ dives. This gave me an extra 15-20 minutes of bottom time I wouldn’t normally have, and I loved every minute of it!
The Rubiah Tirta Dive Shop
They Took Care of My Boyfriend When He Broke His Arm
If you haven’t already read my post about that one time my boyfriend Chris broke his arm, (go read it now…. I’ll wait), here’s a quick summary:
While I was getting some extra time with the more advanced group, Chris decided to sunbathe on Rubiah Tirta’s roof. Now while most dive boats have a furnished roof space, Rubiah Tirta has a hole with a ladder and not much else. Even though we all sat up on the roof together on the way out, it wasn’t necessarily super safe.
So imagine: Chris is up on the roof and decides to take off his wetsuit, right as a giant wave hits the side of the boat. With no hands to stop his fall, he topples off the edge, slamming into the side of the deck, breaking his arm in the process.
While we just thought Chris had a nasty sprain and a few cuts and bruises, Rubiah Tirta took great care of him anyway. They alerted me to the problem as soon as I surfaced, and once we got back to shore, one of the staff members drove us to the nearby medical center. While the medical center didn’t really have much to help us (no x-rays or slings…), I did appreciate all of Rubiah Tirta’s help.
Just chillin’ on the roof pre-dive
Caution: Be Careful On Their Roof
My only complaint about Rubiah Tirta is that they should probably put a railing on the roof of their boat if they’re going to let people sit up there. While Chris and I don’t blame them at all (it was his decision to sit up there by himself), they should probably make sure the boat is safe if they allow people to sit up on top.
Rubiah Tirta’s underwater safety is great, but their boat could use a little bit of work. So if you dive with Rubiah Tirta, just don’t sit on the roof.
Our beautiful bungalow in Pulau Weh
Where to Stay in Pulau Weh
While Pulau Weh is a small island, there are three main places you can stay. Let’s go through all your options!
Most people who visit Pulau Weh stay in the Iboih beach area, which is where most of the guesthouses are. You’ll arrive in the Iboih town, which contains shop stalls, a few restaurants and dive shops, an ATM, a mosque, and a million parked motorbikes (seriously, where do they all come from??). If you continue down the beach, you’ll find the main path where all of the hippie guesthouses and seaside restaurants are located, along with the remainder of the popular dive shops.
Personally, I stayed at Treetop Guesthouse which is about a 15-minute walk up a giant hill from the main Iboih town. While I wasn’t a huge fan of trekking up the hill to go home, the bungalow houses were incredible, and it was always nice and quiet. I also got to snorkel right in front of my bungalow!
I also have a few friends who stayed at Mama’s Guesthouse and said great things. If you decide not to stay at Mama’s, you’ll definitely still need to eat there. Just be aware that she’s only really open for lunch unless you request dinner.
Rubiah Tirta, the dive shop I used, is also in Iboih Beach. So if you want to dive with Rubiah, this is where you'll need to stay.
Mama Mia's Guesthouse
Gapang is the second most popular beach on Pulau Weh and is a little less touristy. From what I've heard, Gapang is a bit quieter and has more of a village vibe. This is the place to stay if you want to dive with Lumba Lumba Divers or get away from the backpackers and tourist stalls.
With a house reef right in the bay and a few resident turtles, Gapang is a great place for relaxing and snorkeling. I’ll definitely be checking it out on my next trip to Pulau Weh!
Lumba Lumba Bungalows
Simur Tiga Beach
If you really want to have a relaxing beach vacation, this is the place to go. Here you’ll find soft white sand stretching 500 meters, as well as a small village with shops and restaurants.
While Simur Tiga is a bit more remote than Gapang and Iboih, it’s also much closer to the ferry, airport and main city. This is pretty much the opposite of what you’d expect, but that's what happens when most of the diving is on the other side of the island.
While you can still snorkel in this beach paradise, you might want to head to Gapang or Iboih if you’re looking to dive every day.
Freddie's Santai Sumurtiga
How to Get to Pulau Weh
Let’s be honest: Sumatra is a difficult island to explore. I spent solid days just getting from A to B, so I want to make sure you know what you’re in for if you decide to take a trip to this off-the-beaten-path paradise.
When arriving in Sumatra, you’ll most likely fly into Medan, Sumatra’s major city. Trust me, there’s not much to do in Medan, however, you’ll probably pass through it a few times on your Sumatra trip. (I went through it 3 times!)
To get to Pulau Weh from Medan, you have 3 options: Fly, Fly + Ferry, or Bus + Ferry
- fly - $$
- Fly + Ferry - $$
- night bus + Ferry - $
Flying straight from Medan to Pulau Weh honestly isn’t much more expensive than flying to Banda Aceh and taking the ferry. I did this on my way to Pulau Weh, and altogether my flight was just over an hour.
Why didn’t I do this for both legs? Well, there are only a few flights a week due to the fact that the Pulau Weh airport is TINY. Be sure to check flight dates and times before banking on this option, and book your tickets in advance.
Your second option is to fly from Medan to Banda Aceh (1 hr) and then take a ferry to Pulau Weh (1.5 hrs or 45 mins). This is what I did on my way back to Medan, and it was fairly painless, but also much more time consuming than a simple flight. Just be sure to check ferry times, to make sure you’re not stranded!
You can also fly straight from Jakarta to Banda Aceh in about 2.5 hours, which is a great option if you’re only heading to Pulau Weh, or you want to make Pulau Weh your first or last stop. Usually, these flights have a layover in Medan.
This is the budget but time-consuming option. You can take a night bus from Medan to Banda Aceh (9-13 hours, $15 USD), and then a ferry to Pulau Weh (1.5 hrs or 45 mins). But to be honest, when I was in Sumatra, plane tickets weren't much more than the bus.
Even if you're a budget traveler, be sure to check the flight prices, because you may be able to score a decent flight for as low as $25 USD.
SO MANY motorbikes Iboih town
Aceh Province and Sharia Law
It’s everywhere in every single thread from Lonely Planet to Trip Advisor: Don’t go to Aceh! They practice Sharia Law! You’re going to die!!!
Seriously, calm the F down.
Yes, Aceh Province is Muslim and practices Sharia Law, and no, this does not make Pulau Weh dangerous.
What does Sharia Law mean for you as a tourist oh Pulau Weh? While Sharia Law might sound intimidating, it just means that the local laws are based on Muslim beliefs. Sharia Law is meant for Muslims only, and multiple officials of Aceh province have stated this fact many times.
That said, you’ll want to be polite and cover up a bit more than you might back home, especially in the villages. Oh… and beer is expensive and hard to find. While you can access beer on the island at certain venues, I just drank amazing smoothies and juices instead.
It’s hard to imagine a tsunami hitting this paradise
A Mini History Lesson
Many people still say that Aceh province is dangerous because of the long conflict between the Acehenese Independence Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian Army; however, this conflict was resolved in 2005. According to the man who drove me from the ferry terminal to the airport, things were pretty bad at one point. People would disappear. There were explosions in the street, and life wasn’t safe.
But in 2004 about 150,000 people were killed in Banda Aceh from a giant Tsunami, including two of my driver’s family members. Some parts of the city became permanently submerged, and the resistance was effectively shut down. While the tsunami was absolutely horrible, my driver said that for him, it was a blessing in disguise, because it helped bring peace to the region.
Chillin in my conservative one-piece
What to Wear in Pulau Weh
To be honest, I worried about this constantly before arriving. As a girl, it can be hard to know what’s allowed, and there were no firm answers online.
From what I experienced and read, at your hotel and on your dive boat, you can pretty much wear whatever you want. However, in the town, you should try to cover up a bit. I did see tourists in tank tops and shorts, but I’d usually put on a long skirt or a sarong. If you’re venturing out on a motorbike to the less touristy parts of the island, try to cover up a bit more and avoid showing your shoulders and thighs.
Many of Pulau Weh’s beaches also don’t allow bikinis or men’s speedos. Be sure to look out for signs at these places before you strip down to your tiny swimsuits. Men should be fine with knee-length swim trunks, and girls should probably bring a one-piece or swim in shorts and a tank top. I brought two once pieces with me: a sexy Baywatch-esque one piece for diving and a more conservative version I usually use for swimming laps at the gym pool.
In Banda Aceh, things are a bit different. If you’re stopping by the city, it’s best for women to cover their arms and legs. I actually wore a headscarf when I exited the ferry just to be polite; however, once I got to the airport I took it off. As long as you make an effort, you shouldn’t have any issues.
Is Pulau Weh Worth the Trip?
Yes, yes, and yes.
I was only in Pulau Weh for two full days, but I could’ve stayed there for a week if I had time. While I got a lot of diving in, I still didn’t get a chance to rent a motorbike, check out some of the amazing hidden beaches, or visit EITHER of the volcanos. Who knew there was so much to do in Pulau Weh?
If you love diving and off-the-beaten-path adventures, I HIGHLY recommend adding Pulau Weh to your Sumatra trip. Stay for a week, lay in a hammock, dive every day, and relax in the volcano hot springs.
Just be careful of the cats. They’re everywhere.
Thanks to Rubiah Tirta for offering me one day of diving in exchange for this review. I loved diving with them so much that I decided to come back for a second day, which I fully paid for myself (along with the pink dive mask). As always, all opinions in this article are obviously my own.
24 comments on “Pulau Weh: The Best Indonesian Dive Spot You’ve Never Heard Of”
Such a fun trip, broken arms and all!
Next time we’ll just stay off the roof ;)
You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my supervisor!
I feel like you’re quoting something, but I don’t know what it’s from…
That bungalow looks amazing and is such a steal! I just got my PADI Open Water and am looking to fit diving into my upcoming digital nomad stint in SE Asia. I will definitely add Pulau Weh to my list!
You definitely should! I was heading to Sumatra for Lake Toba and Orangutan trekking, and I couldn’t help but add in Pulau Weh. Once you get your open water, you’ll always squeeze diving in everywhere you go!
Love cats … and I don’t understand being afraid of a place simply because it’s Muslim. People need to understand that most people just want to live peaceful lives, and they’ll survive without beer and pork (I do love both, though :P) Great post!
Thanks so much Frank. Nice to meet a fellow cat lover. I totally agree! People really overreact about Islam which is so upsetting and unfortunate. Muslims are just normal people who want to live a happy, peaceful life.
Wow the location seems fab! I am getting PADI certified next month… So much looking fwd to more of scuba :)..
That’s so awesome! I got certified a few years ago, and now I cram diving into every trip. Definitely, head to Pulau Weh for some awesome diving if you’re ever in Sumatra!
Looks and sounds dreamy. I need to dive more in that part of the world. Sorry to hear about the broken arm! Dents bottom time.
You should definitely head out to Indonesia for diving. Southeast Asia has some of the best, most affordable diving in the world. I’m so lucky it’s in my backyard :) As for the arm, thankfully he’s about 95% cured. We’re still working on getting his full strength back, but he’ll be fine.
Wow! Diving in Pulau Weh looks and sounds like an absolutely magical experience! That turquoise water! Thank you for writing such a detailed and informative post.
No problem! Pulau Weh was so great, I can’t wait to head back there again for a longer amount of time!
Just a note about Sharia Law. Apparently a by-law was recently passed which allows officials to impose Sharia Law on non-Muslims. I’ve read an article on the internet about how a Christian woman was lashed 30 times on a public square for selling alcohol and how two German tourists were arrested and taken to the police station for wearing shorts (him) and a bikini (her) on a beach in Aceh. Apparently some locals reported them and the police arrested them. They were later released with a warning, but I mean seriously. Just ridiculous. I think it’s putting a number of tourists off going there. This could be good I suppose, but on the other hand, does one want to holiday in that type on environment. We had Pulua Weh on our holiday itinerary for next year, but I’ve now removed it because of what I’ve been reading.
Wow that’s definitely interesting to hear. Everyone I met in Aceh and Pulau Weh was very adamant that Sharia Law doesn’t apply to Non-Muslims. I’ve noticed that Aceh is significantly more conservative than Pulau Weh, which is why I didn’t spend any time there outside of the airport. The lashes are pretty intense, even considering that selling alcohol is illegal. Wearing a bikini on beaches in the region also isn’t acceptable, and at all the beaches I saw, there were signs saying no bikinis. If I were in Aceh, I would definitely swim in shorts and a tank top. The region is conservative, but as long as you follow the rules, you’ll be fine.
Hi! I’m heading to Palau Weh in a few weeks for the diving. Just want to clarify what you’ve said above about what to wear. If I’m lounging on the beach in front of my bungalow, am I ok in a swimming costume? What about a bikini? Or should I wear shorts and top? Completely understand the need to cover up in the town (long skirt) and even more (knees and shoulders) if venturing out on a bike. Also happy to wear full length top and bottom to get to and from Bandah Aceh.
Are there different rules between Iboih and Gapang? I.e. Can I wear a bikini / costume to lie in the sun at one of them? This might alter where we stay.
Any more advice would be great!!
Hi Ruth-Ellen, Great question! To be honest, I was always a bit confused on what was appropriate. I think on the beach a one-piece is alright if it’s conservative, otherwise a tank top and shorts works. I would probably ask your villa what’s appropriate. I spent most of my time diving and it doesn’t really matter on the dive boat. I’m sure your villa owner will know!
Hey, thanks for the blog.I’m visiting here soon. Where on Pulau Weh is the waterfall from the picture located, do you know the name, and is it hard to access? Thanks ?
Great question! These were the best directions I could find: http://www.sumatraecotourism.com/pulauweh/aroundweh.html I’d also suggest asking your guest house owner how to get there!
Thanks for the nice review!
Just one remark: in the beginning you mention “A tiny island with more than 30 dive centers, Pulau Weh is an underwater paradise.” Can it be you meant to write “dive sites” here at the intro and why to visit?
Dive Centres there are still under 10, which despite everything said about Aceh and its Sharia law (already since early 2000’s), is way up from only 2-3 just 10 years ago. But as over half of these DC’s are fairly small and not all are operating daily, it never gets crowded with divers on any of the dive sites. If appreciated for readers to enquire, I can give a full list of all currently active DC’s to contact.
Hi.. thanks for the blog..
should I change my currency before going to the island? I mean is it cost a lot for the foods and drinks at there? I’m bit worried because in 2weeks i’ll go there with friends for diving.
To pay for food and most accommodation you need cash Indonesian Rupiah. Its not very pricy here, but still with diving a little bit of money. To bring cash Rupiah it is easiest to take money with a bankcard with pincode (and usually cheaper than Credit Card).
On the road on the mainland you can find ATM’s on Banda Aceh’s airport, in Banda Aceh city centre and in the ferry ports.Usually you can withdraw up to 5 – 10 million Rp per day, if you leave your card in for multiple transactions. Look for an ATM machine, which dispenses Rp 100.000 bills to be able to get a larger maximum amount per transaction to save on your bank costs.
On Pulau Weh, there are ATM machines in Iboih village and Sabang town. These ATM’s accept bankcards and creditcards connected to Maestro and VISA & MasterCard as well.
If you need to change money, the nearest option is the Mandiri bank in Sabang town, only during bank hours (Mon-Friday). Or change your money already in Kuala Lumpur/Penang, they have very reasonable rates for Indonesian Rupiah.
If you are looking for some diving visit us at Gapang Beach, Lumba Lumba Diving Centre. We can help you with most of your questions and take you to the beautiful underwater world.
Couldn’t have said it better myself! I pulled money out of the ATM on the island (I think?), but I was traveling around Sumatra before I visited Pulau Weh so I definitely already had some cash already. I agree that your accommodation and diving will be the only major expenses, as food is very cheap and alcohol is almost nonexistent. I loved my time on Pulau Weh, and I hope you do too!