Pulau Weh, Indonésie

I discovered Pulau Weh in February 2010, following a fellow instructor friend who was heading there for a 10-day vacation. Captivated by the charm of the island, 10 days turned into 3 weeks. I liked it all: the island, the scenery, the people, the diving, the depths, the underwater life, the beach at Gapang, the dive shop, the staff…at the end of my stay, I offered my services to the Lumba Lumba dive shop. I ended up spending 6 months there, waking up every morning from March to October 2010 with a smile on my face.

I heard similar stories from several travelers who had time and flexibility in their schedules. Many who intended to leave after a few days ended up spending weeks or months there! I call that « The Weh Effect » ; Barry stayed nearly 2 months, finding it «very difficult to “pull away” from Pulau Weh» ; Tom compared Gapang Beach to the Hotel California where «you can check out, but you can never leave…». Consider yourself warned!

If you are planning to visit this destimation, I hope that this site will lead your steps and fins to Pulau Weh, and will provide some useful information. Don’t hesitate to contact me directly via email with a specific question and I will be happy to reply.

Overview:

  • Recommended dive level: OW or N1, but N2 or Adv. +30 will allow you to take full advantage of the area’s potential
  • Types of dives: varied, ranging from muck dives on the house reef, drifts from the boat to canyons, walls or pinnacles; deep wreck dives for experienced divers
  • Wildlife: Many fish, with common sightings of rays and sharks, many pelagic fish, small weird & rare fish on the house reef, giant sea fans, big table coral, a lot of hard coral, a little soft coral.

Underwater

There are 3 types of dives available : boat dives, wreck dives, and Gapang beach dives.

Boat dives

There are boat dives available for divers of all levels. There are numerous fish in the waters of Pulau Weh, with the full range of reef fish, and all of the sites are interesting to explore.
However, my Top 4 Sites are :

  • The Canyon for its majestic architecture, its Napoleons, turtles, and the possibility of seeing devil rays. Recommended for experienced divers.
  • Batee Tokong, for sharks, tuna, barracuda at less than 15 meters, deep walls at the north of the site, and ubiquitous life at the plateau. Recommended for all levels of divers, depending on the conditions.
  • Pantee Peunateung for its dizzying deeply cascading walls and its stunning schools of hundreds of resident Jack fish (see the video to the right dedicated to them).
  • The 2 rocks to the north of Batee Dua (their name might be Limbo Gapang), which descend from 10 to 35 meters. This site was long ignored by divers, as it was a favorite destination for fishermen. Nowadays, the site sits in a protected zone. After remaining untouched for several years, it is now brimming with life : in just a few dives, I saw marble rays, dogtooth tuna, eagle rays, sharks, and magnificent nudibranchs, all amongst immense schools of blue fusiliers. Don’t be afraid to request a visit to this site – it is still considered new and is rarely suggested by the trip managers. OK for all levels of diver.

Shipwrecks

Two deep wrecks reserve their charm for very experienced divers. If this is the case for you, but you aren’t used to very deep dives, don’t worry: Lumba Lumba is well organized with the necessary training procedures and might be willing to take you after seeing you dive.

  • The Sophie Rickmers is a German cargo ship that sank in 1940, measuring 130 meters long and landed perfectly conserved and upright at 60 meters depth. You need several dives in order to take in the full measure of this impressive wreck. I explored this wreck in every corner and sincerely, it remains my favorite dive. Check this movie 😉
  • Lucky’s Wreck is a second interesting choice: the history of the boat is unknown. It was discovered by a local fisherman named Lucky. The vessel is a little moer than 60 meters long and rests at 52 meters depth, upside-down. This wreck is interesting because it is quite easy to enter and it is well worth a dive.

If you are a wreck dive amateur and you have enough time, I recommend 2 to 3 dives at the Sophie Rickmers, and 1 dive on Lucky’s wreck.

Beach Dives

If you dive with Lumba Lumba on Gapang beach, you can taste the privilege of diving on a reef situated a mere 10 meters in front of the dive shop. It’s quite pretty and a nice dive to do, if you are an experienced or beginner diver, because they permit observation of species that you will not find on the boat dives. Depending on their luck, amateur macro aficinados will appreciate the variety of nudibranches, frogfish, ornage and robust ghostpipefish, and the occasional turtle passing by.

The advantage of this dive are low prices and flexibility: you can dive when and as frequently as you’d like, even accompanied. But I advise you, at least for the first time, to bring along a resident guide in order to explain the navigation and show you the best place to spot underwater wildlife.

It is enough to strap on a tank and walk in the water, as seen by the video!

  

Conditions

From March to November, when I was workting there, the visibility has been excellent with a few rare exceptions. Thirty meters average. The advantage of Weh is that the rainy season, which starts in October, doesn’t change much: 1 gray day each week, 1 hour of rain at the end of the day, but always 30 degrees Celsius, and above all, the sites north of the island which are usually sheltered throughout the year become more difficult, but on the other hand, sites to the West which are usually more difficult become sheltered with an excellent visibility. Overall, it is possible to work with the various conditions throughout the year.

However, the currents on Pulau Weh can be powerful and rapidly change at time. The good side of this is that it brings a great deal of fish, and the giant sea fans wich make the place so special. I thus recommend to have a good buoyancy and some experience in order to play and have fun in these possible conditions.

In case you don’t have the experience, it can be gained onsite. As I often said to my students, “to learn or to improve on Weh is the gage to be able to dive throughout the 7 seas!”. If you feel the need, don’t hesitate to plan a refesher dive or to develop your buoyancy, an additional level, or an additional initation to drift dives. This is also a winning choice because it will allow you to dive deeper and safer, and thus take advantage of the most special sites or even maybe the deep wrecks 🙂

And above the surface?

The island is fairly large (150 km2) and is absolutely beautiful. Volcanic, and therefore quite hilly, and quite green with the ever-present jungle.

Gapang Beach, in the northern bay, is a very beautiful, sandy beach that has kept all of its authenticity.

Iboih, despite its smaller beach and according to me a bit less charm, is more developed and therefore a bit more animated.


Source: www.sumatraecotourism.com

The southern sides of the island have the most beautiful beaches, but they are wild and isolated, so it would be quite difficult to stay there and to get around. They are, however, worth a visit on a scooter ride.

Gapang
Gapang seen from Barracudas’ restaurant
Pasir Putih
Pasir Putih
Pasir Putih
Pasir Putih

Practicalities

Getting There?

For the details, check out the Travel page of Lumba Lumba, which lists the various ways of getting to Banda Aceh, and even the time schedules. It is a precious guide for organizing your travel. If you know of another site that is as precise and up-to-date, please let me know via email or comment.

In my experience, you should arrive in Banda Aceh (BA) from one of the surrounding airports, take a taxi to the ferry terminal (Ulee Lhee – 40 minutes by taxi, max 90,000 Rupiah), take one of the ferries to Balohan, and disembark on Pulah Weh. Let’s look at all of that in teh reverse order:

Ferry

Check the precise time schedules on the Lumba Lumba website. The differences between the fast and slow ferries are not large; the prices are similar and the arrival times are similar also. The first that leaves is good. You can leave in the morning at 9:30 AM if you spend the nigth in Banda Aceh, or in the afternoon at 3:30 or 4:30 PM if your flight gets in in time on the same day.

Flight to BA

The ferry departure times should determine the choice you make for the flights to BA and eventually your international flight: you need to arrive by 2 PM at the latest to catch the afternoon ferry, take in the sunset a 5pm, and dive the next morning; or alternatively, you can spend the night in BA, navigate the following morning, and dive in the afternoon. The issue is no bigger than that of a single dive…

Arriving in Banda Aceh is simple: a multitude of flights are available from the surrounding airports, and at this date (11/1/11), it is possible to directly connect your flight and ferry travel to flights to Jakarta and Denpasar for international airports, as well as Medan and Penang, but no longer to Kuala Lumpur:

  • Air Asia flies from KL to Banda Aceh 4 times each week (arriving at 5:15 PM, making ferry connections impossible, but Lumba Lumba can recommend hotels)
  • If you are coming from Thailand, Firefly flies from Penang and arrives at 1:50 PM
  • Indonesian companies (Garuda, Lion Air, Batavia Air, Sriwijaya Air) fly from Jakarta, Denpasar, and Medan.
  • If you are already on Sumatra and you would like to come from Medan, I advise the plane rather than the bus: the travel by bus takes more than 10 hours. If you must, take the VIP bus for not much more money but much less tiring.
  • International flight

    To find flights, I will give you my favorite link, thanks to Corinne from Petites Bulles d’Ailleurs : The most powerful and practical search engine is : www.partirou.com.

    You can arrive in Indonesia by two international airports in Jakarta or Denpasar, but this country is so big that in order to arrive in the region of northern Sumatra that we are interested here, the closest and most practical airport is Kuala Lumpur…in Malaysia!

    Personally, this is the option that I have used and for which I can give you my habits. If any among you have found better ways to arrive via Jakarta, Denpasar, or even Singapore, please contact me so I can add a few lines here?

    • Malaysia Airlines, and since February 14 2010 Air Asia, fly there directly from Paris & London.
    • I have a feeling that Air Asia flights defeat all compeition yet again: less than: 600€ without a promotion departing from paris. However, they are without pity for the weight of bags, be sure to pay the fees necessary in advance for overweight bags.
    • For heavily loaded divers, one trick is to check the prices of Egypt Air: they fly to Malaysia and Indonesia from Paris with a stopover in Cairo, often offer low prices, and they are very relaxed with their bagage requirements. I had 40 kg of bagage authorized in economy class each time that I fliy with them to Asia. The electronic ticket might indicate 20kg, but is erroneous. It’s better to call a travel agency to confirm the information. Come and share your experience if yout travel this way?

    Visa
    It is now possible to obtain a 30 day visa on arrival at the airport in BA, renewable for an additional period of 30 days at immigration office Gapang on Pulau Weh, or any other immigration office.

    If you are a little short on time because you must catch the ferry at 2 PM, I advise you to try to manage this with your closest embassy before departing: all passangers getting off the plane will need a visa and will find themselves at the same time in line at a single counter…

    Where to dive?

    There are three dive shops on Pulau Weh:

    • Rubiah Tirta, a shop based on Iboih, which is soon moving to the west
    • Casa Nemo until recently only offered lodging, sumptuous it seems, but the resort is beginning to develop a dive shop. They are however on the other side of the island, opposite the principal dive sites.
    • The last that I will recommend you is Lumba Lumba (dolphins in Indonesian) for its beauty and the serenity of Gapang Beach, for the coral reef just in front of the club, for the professionalism that they have developed without losing their simplicity in 15 years, and for the way they have integrated in the village of Gapang and their work with the locals, for the lodging and excellent relationship between quality & prices behind their club.

      I will leave you to study their very detailed site. The intro of my short films on their house reef were filmed at LL and help you to get an idea.

      From your ferry arrival at Balohan, it will cost a maximum of 50,000 Rupiah per person in a minibus which will take you as far as Gapang Beach (35 minutes).

    Sleeping

    Gapang beach

    • Lumba Lumba offers two types of lodging: spacious bungalows with private bathrooms for 25€ a night, or cute and comfortable economy rooms with shared bathrooms (shared among four rooms and always well maintained) for 10€. The last ones are -according to me- the best price and quality on the beach. Wifi is available throughout the resort property.
    • Bungalows Chambres Jardin
    • Dang Danga, the restaurant next-door to Lumba Lumba, offers a room with air conditioning and a few charming but basic bungalows (“mandi” toilets consisting in a tank of water and a bucket to pour over your body- traditional in Indonesia, you’ll get quickly used to it!) on the beach.
    • Ramadilla, at the end fo the beach. This should be avoided unless the other rooms on the beach are full or your budget is strict. It is not expensive, it could be charming, but it is not quite clean.

    Eboih
    You can also lodge in Iboih, 10 minutes by scooter from Gapang. Lumba Lumba can pick you up in the morning at the Iboih jetty to take you diving, and drop you off on the way back. Some guides live in Iboih and could also bring youb back and forth on their scooter. However, I don’t have a more precise plan to offer you.

    Eat

    The Gapang beach has a number of local restaurants to offer you.

    The last restaurant, at the end of Gapang Beach, Barracudas, is according to me the best of the beach. Iwan and Mila are the cooks and they are an adorable couple with the way that they care for their clients. They also bring a nice change from the commonly offered noodles (mie) or fried rice (nasi goreng) and offer always local but a bit more elaborate and different menu items. Please send them my greetings, since I practically lived there and my favorite dish was the Pumpkin Tempeh curry!

    From Lumba Lumba, once you come back to the road and go up the little road, you will find the ‘warung’ Walid on the other side of the road. It doesn’t look pretty but the cuisine is 200% local, good, and inexpensive. Be careful of the spicy food! Since the price is based on the number of things you choose from the available dishes, choose to taste day after day or the price will rapidly go up. They cook once a day, it is best therefore to go for lunch, before 12:30 PM, while there is still a good choice. I love the perkadels!

    Limbo, the first restaurant after Lumba Lumba, offers a specialty, the Acehnese curry, or ‘special curry’ that can be served after one hour and is spicier and heavier than normal curry. Order 1 hour in advance.

    Zéro is open in the morning and is practical for breakfast.

    Finally, Dang Dangnan, the restaurant neighborhing Lumba Lumba, allows a quick lunch between two dives… If you order a little bit in advance!

    Outside of diving?

    Rent a scooter (max 80K Rupiah per day) to discover the island without getting trapped by the monkeys:

    • visit the beaches in the south
    • go to dinner on Iboih
    • Admire the infinite view of the Indian Ocean at kilometer zero, the northernmost point of Pulau Weh, where Indonesia begins.
    • Walk along the river to a small but pretty waterfall
    • Dinner in Gapang

    Go snorkeling off of Gapang beach or around Rubia Island.

    Useful links:
    – More information on Wikipedia.
    – Find transportation schedule details on the Travel Page of Lumba Lumba.
    – www.sumatraecotourism.com

    A BIG thank you and a kiss on her cheek to Karolyn Chamberlin for her help on the translation!