Diving in Derawan

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Derawan Island, Derawan, Indonesia
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Diving in Derawan Reviews

alexchan alexchan
122 reviews
Awesome but come with a friend to split the cost of long distance boat hire Jul 20, 2016
Diving around the different islands of the Derawan Archipelago can be difficult to organise for the solo traveller - unless one is happy to dive only at Derawan itself, which is good for the small stuff (macro). That’s not me.

PRICING. Pricing works per dive or for a bundle of three dives. The boat is either not required or free if diving around Derawan itself. For going diving off Kakaban, Sangalaki or Maratua (or a combination of them), the boat is a pricey add on in view of the 1h (or more) journey each way.

The actual prices are about the same amongst the different villager-owned operators. As at July 2016, they are IDR350K per dive and IDR1.5m for a small boat and IDR2.0m for a medium boat (to one island only, more for combinations). Prices at the Derawan Dive Resort and Derawan Dive Lodge (aka Lapauta) are higher.

Where there are variations in price amongst the villager-owned operators, it would be wise to check for like-for-like, eg. is one operator quoting a bigger boat?

WORK TO GET WHAT YOU WANT. I spoke to every foreigner on Derawan in order to get the trips that I wanted, ie. Kakaban and separately Sangalaki. It would have been pricey to go by myself.

Don’t rely on the diveshops will work on your behalf to form a group. Eg. Kedek at Danakan Divers said he would put me and my new friends with a Japanese group. But in his absence, his second-in-charge didn’t seem interested. My phone calls and TXT messages went unanswered.

COME WITH A FRIEND. Don’t assume that the more people you have, the cheaper it will get. Eg. a small boat takes 2 people and dive gear while a medium boat takes 3 people and dive gear. The cost per person is nearly identical. Some coming with one friend is good enough.

DON’T LEAVE IT TILL THE EVENING BEFORE. Don’t assume that they will be able to take you when you want to go! For example, we went to Manta Diveshop in the evening asking for a particular combination of islands, for a certain number of people. By the time, they made the phone calls to get the required boat and the dive guide, it was late. And the dive guide was unavailable.

That left us with an awkward situation of going to Derawan Ocean Dive at 2100 asking to dive in the morning. The boss Osland declined as there had been no prep down for equipment, tanks and boat. We managed to negotiate a 1000 departure in order for him to prep.

With that over and done with, let me tell you about my two dive days with Derawan Ocean Dive:


It was a leisurely start with a 1000 departure from my hotel pier. I got there slightly before and was surprised Osland needed a PADI form. I thought it would be less official out here in the middle of nowhere.

We were on the boat in no time and the ride to Kakaban was very smooth. The water was like glass in parts. We got to the SW end of Kakaban and did our first dive at Barracuda Point (as opposed to another one called Barracuda’s Point supposedly). It started as a bit of a shelf with quite good coral, a shark, and finished with a large school of barracuda. I love barracudas! The current was strong where they were hanging out (exact reason why they hang there) which meant it was a struggle to make our way to them. We got close enough and that was more or less the end of the dive for me. I finished about 10 minutes before the others (usually 5 minutes) as I had a very small leak from my regulator in addition to my heavy breathing.

For our surface interval, we parked up and walked up to the lake on Kakaban to swim with the stingless jellyfish. The water was brackish (slightly salty); I guess it is leftover from the days when it was part of the sea before it was cut off. The jellyfish have evolved to be stingless due to lack of natural enemies.

No fins were permitted. We had to go deeper into the lake to get a good concentration of the jellyfish. I think I had been conditioned to avoid contact with them. After a while, when I knew I had been in contact with them from paddling around, I did touch a few just for the thrill of it. I tried not to overdo it in case it causes them to rekindle their sting in the future. LOL!

We had lunch on the jetty. I had a very nice fried chicken topped with chilli sambal. The Dutch had their sauce on the side, fortunately for them, as they don’t like spice.

In all, the surface interval at 2h was more than the required. Setting off from Kakaban, Osland told some local visitors to swim over the coral and not walk on them, explaining that it takes years to grow and they could kill it just like that.

We returned for the “Wall Dive” site. And what a wall it was! The coral was absolutely glorious. There were some nudibranches and an orang-utan crab which I didn’t see. No big stuff for me until the end when we saw a turtle.

I had some buoyancy problems this time. I was overweighted probably due to changes in my body weight and the old two piece full suit having less buoyancy than a good one. There was also some current pushing me against the sea wall which meant I had to keep my distance using my outstretched arm, trying to touch only the hardest surface with my nail tips.

On the journey back we encountered a pod of dolphins. We slowed down to watch them jump before continuing to Derawan. As we were pulling in, we saw a huge turtle. Simon & Karen have seen it in their snorkels near the island . They think it likes the seagrass. I wonder if it likes the discharge from the toilets from the overwater cottages.


I arrived at the diveshop before 0830 and Doris was along shortly after. There was a short wait for the catering from next door before we set off on a small boat “Ferari” (sic) captained by a half-Chinese half-Bajau man (who didn’t look Chinese at all).

It was very overcast, which is supposedly good for manta sightings. The ride across took to Sangalaki took about an hour through some sections that were very shallow and light-coloured.

We “anchored” at Manta Point using a weight tied to a rope. The first dive was unspectacular with some coral and a sandy patch which I’ve kinda seen in other manta areas. It was a very easy dive (as with the next one), and good for Doris who was uncertified but have had six dives in other places. I came up disappointed but with about 90 bar of air left after 45 minutes; very unusual!

We spent our surface interval on the boat. I asked Osland how often one would encounter mantas out of ten dives while in season. He said, virtually every dive. The season starts now-ish but is kinda more “in earnest” from August to September then gets a bit iffy in October.

The time came for our second dive at Manta Avenue. It was nice enough for a while with coral and stuff but not what I had specially come for. About a quarter way into the dive, Osland clinked on his tank. We saw two mantas approach and glided in front of us.

One really has to see them in person to appreciate their size, grace, beauty and awesomeness. Osland told me later they are about 3+ metres across but I would have thought they were bigger.

We saw a turtle shortly after. Then Osland guided us up a coral “hill”. He must have had good vision as the reason only became apparent a little later when I saw some hazy resemblance of the two mantas. It was even more awesome at the top of the “hill” as the two mantas circled us for a little while. There was also a time when we had a manta and a turtle together in the same scene.

Moving on from there, I saw a silhouette of what I thought was a thresher shark with a characteristic long tail. It disappeared but we saw the creature later on the sandy sea floor. It turned out to be a leopard shark which has a large tail as well.

Again it was an easy dive and I surfaced with about 80 bar of air after 45 minutes. We took lunch on the pier at Kakaban. I rested while Doris and the rest went up to the jellyfish lake. I also waited while Doris did her third dive at Kakaban’s Barracuda Point.

On the way back, we saw lots and lots of dolphins. Even the crew got excited because it isn’t an everyday thing for them. We got back to Derawan about 1700. What an awesome day it has been!
Barracudas at Barracuda Point off …
Jellyfish in the lake at Kakaban.
Jellyfish in the lake at Kakaban.
Jellyfish in the lake at Kakaban.
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Derawan Map
photo by: alexchan