Photo: Beach time!

Pulau Weh: Paradise under Sharia

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At the far northwestern tip of Indonesia, off the coast of Sumatra, is an unloved jungle-filled island going by the name of Pulau Weh. Known as one of the better places in Indonesia to dive, it boasts crystal clear waters, rustic bungalows and a laidback island feel that you just don’t seem to get in many places these days.





Pulau Weh is a jungle covered island fringed by reefs

Pulau Weh is a jungle covered island fringed by reefs

Pulau Weh is part of Aceh province, which has warred on and off for the better part of 100 years against Dutch and Indonesian rule, but nowadays enjoys a type of autonomy that allows it to impose Sharia or Islamic law. Sharia law is interpreted differently in different places around the world, but in Aceh it mandates the use of hijabs for women, modest clothing and forbids the drinking of alcohol. So how on earth has a small, but fervent, community of mostly Western diving enthusiasts begun to establish itself in a place that most would see as a hostile environment? Simple. Sharia law is not strictly enforced for non-Muslims, particularly when violations are kept out of public view. To date, there has been tacit approval of bikini-clad, beer-swilling tourists going about their business in Pulau Weh as long as they don’t wander into local villages with beer in hand or otherwise flaunt their way of life in front of locals. And it works.

Water to die for in Pulau Weh

Water to die for in Pulau Weh

In Iboih, the main tourist location and the spot with the cheapest beachside accommodation, a jungle track lined with bungalows and tiny restaurants is separated from the village proper and there is a clear boundary between the two — cross to the village and life looks just as it does in any other Indonesian village. As with anywhere else in Indonesia, don’t wander through the village in a bikini or shirtless and don’t drink beer.

One of the oceanfront shacks at Iboih

One of the oceanfront shacks at Iboih

Some of the restaurants along the jungle track can rustle up a beer if you really want one (many people do), but this is not a party destination. You won’t find loud thumping music, alcohol buckets and fire twirlers. Most people are in bed by 22:00 so they can rise early either to catch the magnificent sunrises common in these parts or to head off on a dive — the primary reason many visit.

We tried a dive through a local dive shop, Rubiah Tirta Divers, and while it was just an exploratory dive, visibility was fantastic, fish numbers and variety were impressive and service from staff, in particular the dive master, professional and patient.

As with many dive locations around the world, there’s also a few things to do for non-divers such as snorkelling, lazing in a hammock and exploring this wonderful island by motorbike.

The beaches on Pulau Weh are spectacular

The beaches on Pulau Weh are spectacular

Pulau Weh is a wonderful place for rest and relaxation away from some of the party scenes you might encounter on say some of the Thai islands. Some say it reminds them of Thailand 20-odd years ago before mass-tourism swept the nation. Maybe they’re right. Maybe Pulau Weh will remain as it is for a little bit longer yet due to the restrictions faced by those intent on partying away the night. Or maybe the power of the almighty dollar will catch up with Pulau Weh too and some of the soul it’s famous for will be lost, as has so often been the case in paradises before it.


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Location map for Pulau Weh: Paradise under Sharia

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Pulau Weh.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda
 Read up on where to eat on Pulau Weh.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Pulau Weh.
 Read up on how to get to Pulau Weh.
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See below for more sights and activities in Pulau Weh that are listed on Travelfish.org.


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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Pulau Weh? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Indonesia.


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