While certainly not the cheapest place to learn to dive in Southeast Asia, the Togean Islands in Sulawesi, Indonesia are nevertheless a fabulous place to pick up a new skill — diving. Say hello to a variety of marine life and beautiful coral in this fairly isolated archipelago, where dive sites are blissfully uncrowded.
After more than 15 years of cajoling, the non-diving half of Travelfish finally got certified on the Togean Islands — via the dive school at Island Retreat, where the extremely experienced (though new to the Togeans) dive instructor Jeremy gave us significantly more confidence to try than his counterpart at Kadidiri Paradise.
The package was considerably more expensive than what you’d pay at a busier diving hub like Ko Tao, but in all our dives (five as a part of the course), across peak season, we were the only divers in the water. For our third and fourth dive (at Pulau Taupan and Bandira Reef) just two of us were in the water. So for this isolation, you do pay a premium.
The PADI Open Water course at Island Retreat cost US$485 (including course material) while at Kadidiri Paradise the cost was 4,375,000 rupiah — slightly cheaper. We heard very mixed reviews about the attention given to inexperienced divers at Kadidiri. We heard on the other hand good reports about learning to dive at Black Marlin as well as diving with them if you’re more experienced, but we did find the staff a little off-putting. Black Marlin charges 370 euros for a PADI Open Water course.
The Togeans are not Ko Tao, where you can walk down the road and compare 10 dive shops in an hour. Do your research online and ideally with a few current personal recommendations in hand. If a centre is specifically recommended to you, check that the instructor concerned is still working there — great people leave and are perhaps replaced by those not so great.
Remember too, that medical facilities are a long way away; if something goes wrong, you are unlikely to get the help you need in a timely manner. There is a hospital in Ampana, but the nearest decompression chamber is Manado. In our case our gut feeling at Kadidiri Paradise was to skip learning to dive entirely — a feeling vindicated after stories we heard from other travellers. After meeting the instructor at Island Retreat (the British Jeremy) though we reconsidered. With more than a decade of diving and 1,000-plus dives under his belt, we were comfortable with both his experience and attention to detail — on the water, in the water and at the desk going through the theory.
Aside from the instructor, general “dive shop guidance” holds. Ask to speak to other students or divers — outside the shop. Ask to see the dive gear. Is it a mismatched collected of gear with broken straps, clips and badly weathered masks and snorkels? How experienced is the instructor? Do they speak your language well? Is importance given to the theory? Is the instructor being paid? (Not all instructors in the Togeans are — some get only food and board.)
These are all valid questions to ask. Diving done badly can be life threatening and you’re fully within your rights to check that the dive shop taking your cash is going to look after you. If you’re on the fence, ask to go out on a snorkelling trip with divers (most resorts permit this for a small fee) to see how tightly the ship runs, and, most importantly, to take in diver comments as they exit the water after the dive. If they had a bad (or fabulous) time they’ll be eager to tell you all about it while they are still dripping wet.
The mechanics of learning to dive in the Togeans is similar to anywhere else. A bunch of theory comes first, followed by diving skill drills and tests, most likely off your resort beach, and then four dives at a variety of destinations near your resort. In our case we dove two separate wall dives at Taupan, Bandiri atoll and a shallower reef and sand dive. Conditions were tremendous.
Black Marlin Dive Resort
Pulau Kadidiri, Togean Islands
T: (0856) 5720 2004
Bomba, Pulau Batu Daka, Togean Islands
T: (0852) 4115 8853
Pulau Kadidiri, Togean Islands
T: (0464) 21 058
All photos provided by Travelfish member SBE — big thanks!
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 22nd April, 2015.