It’s easy to combine Sulawesi and Borneo on a snorkel safari, as they are just a short domestic flight away from each other. By doing so, you can experience a diverse range of superb snorkelling sites, as well as both small and large marine wildlife, around the islets and reefs of both destinations. You can enjoy some other land-based experiences too, such as a visit to an orangutan sanctuary or some rainforest trekking.

Why opt for a snorkel safari?

At first glance a snorkel safari might seem like a poor cousin to scuba diving, but in fact it has many benefits. For one thing, although you’ll only see the marine life that’s just below the surface, in places like Indonesia the water is so wonderfully clear there’s exceptional visibility and you won’t be missing out on anything.

For another, once you’ve got your mask and snorkel strapped on, you’re good to go. No need to spend time and money gradually progressing in qualifications before you can get to the really interesting sites, no technical safety checks to worry about, and no limits to the amount of time you can spend in the water, either. It’s a much more easygoing way to explore underwater.

You can join a dive boat as a snorkeller, but the experience is pretty often underwhelming, as most of the action will be taking place on reefs so deep you need an air tank to reach them. A snorkelling safari on the other hand takes you to sites that are perfect for… snorkelling.

What does a snorkel safari vacation entail?

Daily short boat trips will take you out to tropical islands and reefs where you’ll explore marine life of astonishing diversity. Not for nothing is the Coral Triangle regarded as one of the finest areas in the world for divers and snorkellers to get their kicks. In the afternoons you’ll return to stay in island eco-resorts, on a full board basis due to their isolation.

Most snorkel safaris are small group tours which have set departure dates throughout the year but make for a very fun, sociable experience. Small group tours usually have a tour leader, which can be very useful in building confidence for beginners, and also means you benefit from local knowledge on where to go each day. The great thing about snorkelling is that even after your organised activities are over for the day, there’s nothing to stop you just popping your mask back on to explore the ‘house reefs’ just off the island you’re staying on. Ensure you set aside some time for tanning your front to even things up, though!

Our top Snorkel safaris Vacation

Madagascar family vacation, wild country & whales

Madagascar family vacation, wild country & whales

Fantastic family explore adventure in South Madagascar

From US $2495 to US $2750 15 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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Siladen Island, Sulawesi

Just a short boat ride from Manado and an excellent base for exploring Bunaken National Park, Siladen Island is surrounded by reefs that harbour a kaleidoscopic variety of marine life, with everything from green and hawksbill turtles to lobsters, giant clams and feather stars as well as vast shoals of tropical fish breeding and feeding over coral and anemones. Dolphins and pilot whales are also frequently seen in these waters.

Maratua Island, Borneo

The lagoons and reefs of the Maratua atoll are little short of paradise for snorkellers. You’ll encounter leopard, hammerhead and nurse sharks here, manta rays and vast numbers of green turtles that come to lay their eggs in the sand. As Maratua Island grows in prestige and visitor numbers increase, it pays dividends to be traveling as part of a small group where you can get away from the main herd.

When to go on a snorkel Safari

The best time for snorkel safaris in Sulawesi and Borneo is between March and October, with the clearest visibility around July and August. July in particular is a fantastic time for snorkelling in Bunaken National Park, as this is when you’re most likely to see whales and dolphins, but you can of course expect corresponding crowds at popular locations. From November to February the water surface in northern Sulawesi can be rough at times due to wind and rain, with fairly large swells, but it rarely gets choppy enough to have an impact on itineraries.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Eric Wong] [Snorkel safari : Asep.saefulloh] [What does it entail: Graeme Churchyard] [Best snorkelling: Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten]