—Pulau Weh (Sabang), Indonesia

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Pulau Weh is a small island at the North West tip of Indonesia, 20 km off Sumatra. Pulau means “island”. “Weh” is the name (it means “move”) . The island is also known as ‘Sabang’, after the name of its capital city. Generally, locals say “Sabang” and foreigners say “Weh”.

Pulau Weh was an up-and-coming dive destination at the start of the century, but the area was hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which slowed things down a lot.

Most of the hard-coral is dead.  Don’t come for the coral.

But the fishlife is fantastic. Species diversity and fish numbers far exceed those of the Andaman Sea, just 300 km away. Here, fish-fans can revel in the number of species present and also see some that you’d only expect in more exotic (and expensive) Easterly longitudes, such as at Raja Ampat.

Of the coral that there is, the best is at Areas 3d, 4f, 5b-d and 7f on the maps below.

There is a good chance of seeing Hawksbill Turtles and some chance of seeing Octopus and Blacktip Reefsharks. Scared about sharks? Read this.

Most of Weh’s (diving and) snorkelling is on the North West peninsula at the village of Iboih (pronounced ee-boh).  Iboih has several dive shops and about ten locally-run, low/midrange bungalow-joints perched-up on the hillside looking over the Indian Ocean.  Slightly more upmarket is Gapang Beach, 3km down the coast. There are also a couple of mid/high-end dive resorts there. Separately, there are some new ‘foreigner standard’ resorts on the North East Coast of Weh, near Sabang town.

I only investigated the Iboih area. I visited for a week in April, the start of the dry season. The weather was decent. Underwater visibility was 5-7m (typical for this part of the world).  Currents were mostly mild.  There were a few jellyfish. You should wear a t-shirt, but otherwise not worry too much.

The area is strictly moslem.  You aren’t allowed to go snorkelling on a Friday, because you should be praying/resting then.  Don’t even think about walking around in a bikini.

Getting there:
Domestic: Since 2015, there are a few flights a week direct to Weh from Jakarta and Medan (Garuda).
From outside of Indonesia, you will have to fly to the town of Banda Aceh on mainland Sumatra, then take a one hour (express) or two hour (car) ferry ride to Pulau Weh.

Season: Apparently the dry season is May to September. Rains are worst from October to January.

Best-ish seascape:

Typical seascape:

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

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General Orientation

Pulau Weh is mountainous. The tourist accommodation in Iboih is built on the hillside, under the forest canopy. Expect fallen leaves and mosquitos everywhere and almost total forest cover from the sun.   Don’t expect glorious beaches – 95% of the coastline is rocky.

Beach addicts might like to consider Gapang Beach, just down the road or Sumur Tiga on the East coast.


Underwater Orientation

The coral is dead.  You’re not here for the coral.

Actually, there are a few spots where some of the more robust species (Hump (Porites sp.) and Blue (Heliopora coerulea)), have survived, but these are the exception, not the rule.

Weh is about the fish fish fish.  The rest of this page is almost a rewrite of my whole fish Specieslist –  there are so many different species here.

Particularly notable is the sheer number of Three-Spot-Angelfish here:
I saw more of them in one afternoon than I have seen in ten years of snorkelling South East Asia.

Another notable species is the Blue Tang (also known as the Regal Tang; Palette Surgeonfish; Royal Blue Tang; Hippo Tang; Flagtail Surgeonfish;  Blue Surgeonfish;  Dory-from-Finding-Nemo).
This is another species you’d only see once a month if you are (a) in a remote part of Indonesia or the Philippines and (b) lucky. Here in Pulau Weh, you’ll see about five a day!  It seems that the Indian Ocean version of the Blue Tang has a different colouring from other parts of the world.  Usually, the Blue Tang has a blue underbelly like this.  All of the ones in Weh were white underneath.

A few other notables:

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Access to the water:
95% of the coastline is rocky. The rocks are smooth and slippery and often large (=vertical), so aren’t suitable for getting in/out of the water.  Access to the water is via a few sandy beaches and jetties. There is a decent walking trail between 4c and 6c on the map, so it is easy enough to get home by walking if you need to.  It would be wise to wear something solid on your feet while snorkelling.

See my safety page for general tips.

There is a bit of dive-boat boat traffic in the strait between Iboih and Rubiah island. Wearing a brightly coloured shirt/hat in the water makes you more visible.

Occasionally, there are some jellyfish about. I didn’t see any dangerous ones. Wear a t-shirt in the water and keep your eyes open and you’ll be fine.

There are currents running along the channel between Iboih and nearby Pulau Rubiah. They might run from South to North or from North to South. These deter most people from swimming the short distance over to Pulau Rubiah. But there are plenty of boatmen happy to make a buck out of driving you there.  In areas closer to home, currents are not a concern.

I swam the area marked in burgundy on the map. The extreme ends (Area 1 & 6) are a long-haul.  Off-the-beach snorkellers looking for an easy life will stick to Area 4.

More adventurous folk might also want to swim (or walk) to Area 2, Long Beach, at nearby Kincir (pronounced Kin-cheer – (‘c’s are always ‘ch’s in Indonesian)).

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions (more detailed version)

Let’s start our look at the snorkelling at Area 1.
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

Navigational beacon: Most people wouldn’t want to come all the way out to Area 1.  I only did it for exploration’s sake.     If you just want to read about the easy-to-reach stuff, then skip forward to Area 3 or 4.

Area 1 is a conservation zone and actually has some of the better corals I found in Pulau Weh. But it is a looong way from the accommodation.  Because of the long walk to get there, this extremity is only really suitable for extremists.

There is a decent road running up the North West peninsula towards km0 (“kilometre zero” – the most Northerly point in Indonesia).  You can join this main road at the South East end of Iboih village, or there is a short-cut that leads from the back of Fatimah’s bungalows to join it at the South West corner of the Iboih peninsula.

Apparently, it is 8km from Iboih to km0.  I planned to walk up the coast a bit and then snorkel back to Iboih.  I had no intention of walking as far as I did – it is just that there was no earlier option to leave the main road and cut-through to the sea.

Road junction 1a looked like a good bet, but it turned out to be no-entry as there is some kind of military base there.

Eventually, after walking some 5 km, and in the continued absence of any right-turns, I tried a track through the forest, which did eventually lead down to a rocky beach.
In the unlikely event that you want to follow the same route – those pictures are geotagged and the road edge has “BM.0” painted in red where the track is.

Here’s that bay from its Northern end, 1c

Underwater, the Northern end of the bay was big rocks:
See the Scorpionfish tucked between them ?

Interesting wildlife included this Giant Moray Eel:

And the first of many Three Spot Angelfish:

This area is a protected zone. Fishing is prohibited:
… but for the locals, that only applies if they catch you.


Did I mention that the fishlife was really good?

btw, mouseover the photos to see the name of the species at the bottom of your browser window, or check out my specieslist for more details.


Heading Southwards down the bay, some coral appeared:
Those schoolers in the background are Red-Toothed Triggerfish.

Oh and there were one-or-two more fish:




Into the next bay, the seascape was mostly boring rocks.  You can get a feel for it here:
…as well as the tell-tale signs that this is a volcanic area.

Presumably, those are sulphur deposits on the rocks, close up:


There is a small beach at Area 1f.  Underwater, the corals in the shallows were all broken-up, but in the deeper waters, there was some reasonable coral:
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This would be quite a good place to visit, but unfortunately, this little bay houses the military camp that was verboten at junction 1a, so you’d have to take the long-way-round, like I did.

Round the corner at 1g, there is even a military jetty, from which a soldier called me in to make sure I wasn’t spearfishing.  Too bad he hadn’t seen Mr. octopus-killer, up the coast.


Underwater, I saw the ass of this unusual eel disappearing from view:
This is a new species to me.

There were some OK corals here:
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And some pretty Evans Anthias:

There was a strong current going from South to North at the headland and it was hard-work fighting against it to get into bay 1h.

Underwater, the corals were lacklustre:

But the fishlife was good.  These White Collared Butterflyfish are common in the Andaman Sea, but they don’t make it into more Easterly parts of Indonesia:

The Redtooth-triggerfish continue to fill in the background:

…while a Red Coral Grouper/Coral Hind slinks off to find a safer spot:


Continuing South, the corals remain unhealthy:

And a Hawksbill Turtle makes his exit:

Other species spotted here (but not pictured) included: Humpback Unicornfish;   Bluefin Trevelly, Schooling Lowfin Drummers;  Bluespine Unicornfish and Sleek Unicornfish.



Area 2: Long Beach, Kinchir

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Coming into the next bay (2), we are now into the territory that a normal person might visit.   It is only a twenty minute walk along the main road from Iboih.

There is a long beach and shallow bay here. At its South end, there is a jetty (which looks like it belongs to the expensive dive resort Pulau Weh Dive).   At the North end, there is a dive shop called Steffen’s Sea Sports. Steffen’s has a boat channel cut through the shallows.  If you are ever struggling to get in or out of the water at low tide, then use this channel. The jetty isn’t much help.


Approaching Long Beach from the North-End, the view underwater isn’t impressive:

But continuing South, near the end of the jetty, there are nice patches of table and clumping Acropora species corals :
Possibly Acropora nasuta.

Keep an eye-open around the corals and you might spot a Mantis Shrimp:

I think that this one is a Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus):

These little table corals continue into the South end of Long Beach:



Area 3:

Area 3 is the mouth of the narrow bay between the little Ibioh peninsula and the main North-West Weh peninsula.

The bay looks huge on maps, but most of it is shallow and muddy and doesn’t hold much appeal for snorkellers. But the mouth around 3a-b-c-d is quite fun as it contains many more of those Acropora species table corals.

At 3a, the corals are OK:

As you get further in to the bay the coral condition deteriorates. It is still holding on at 3b:

But not so on the Southern side, at 3c:


Area 3d, the Southernmost, Outermost section is the best bit.  There is attractive scenery above the waterline:

and a 10 x 20 metre area of decent coral underneath:
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These are (possibly) Acropora nasuta and Acropora spicifera, plus a few others.

Visiting fishes include Big Eye Trevallies and their buddies the Silver Batfish:127_3d_Big-Eye-Trevally-Silver-Batfish_20150418_IMG_6976.jpg

I didn’t see many Stingrays in Weh, but there was one here, cowering under a rock:

Evening is a good time to come here. Big Fruitbats fly around the Iboih side:
Actually, from about 4pm they are flying all around the stretch from 4c to 3c.

If you are a confident swimmer and the currents are being friendly, 4c-3d-4c is a good choice for pleasant afternoon/evening daily swim.



Area 4: Ibioh peninsula

The seascape at 4a, the exact tip of the peninsula, is unimpressive:

There is a cute little beach, a bit further South at 4b:

Underwater, there is a mix of big rocks and patchy corals:
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There is a fair-bit of ‘Blue coral’ (Heliopora coerulea) there:
(“Blue Coral” doesn’t mean it is blue in colour – it is just the common name for the species.  It is actually brown in colour).

The living bits attract a few colourful reef-fish:
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and the dead bits are a feeding ground for Pulau Weh’s most chilled-out Turtle.
He is there most days and really doesn’t care if you drop in for a picture.

Other fish in the area include these coy Red Coral Groupers:

And the Nemo display team:
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Area 4b to 4c:  North Ibioh peninsula to Joolia/Yulia’s Resort.

Julia/Joolia/Yulia’s Bungalows (4c) resort is at the end of the walking path from Iboih village (edit in 2016 – I hear that that the walking path has been extended now).  There is a concrete jetty here and a tiny beach.  This is a good place to get in or out of the water.  It is a bit difficult at low tides, but is possible. Technically, this is private land and jetty. I always felt I should be buying some food in their restaurant when using their facilities for access.  If you are sneaking in, the beach is less in-view than the jetty.

Here is a run of pictures from North to South in this stretch 4b to 4c. You can see that the coral isn’t up to much:

…but there is some decent fishlife:
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Mouseover for speciesnames.

Continuing South, past Yoolias towards Iboih Inn (4c), the corals are scrappy:

But there is a good showing of fishlife:
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There is a floating jetty at Iboih Inn, but it looked a bit ‘customers only’:

Just South of there I spotted this fun Bird-Wrasse:
(the adult males are green, the juvenile females grey/pink)

and a slightly shy Octopus:

Continuing South towards Mama Mia, (4d) the corals are again scrappy near to the coastline:

but 40m out into the bay, there are some patches of better coral and some interesting fishes:
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If you look hard, you might find something interesting in the boring sand:


There is a good-sized beach near Dee Dee’s, (4e) which is your next easy access to/from the water:

There was a Great Barracuda cruising through the murky shallows there:
..the only one I saw in Weh.

Further out into the bay is mostly plain rocks:

but you might find something interesting on top:

or underneath:

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And if you look closely at the sandy bottom, you might see a field of Garden Eels:
…but don’t get too close or they will all slink back into the sand.

Area 4f:  Towards the main jetty.

On the stretch 4f (from the beach at 4e down to the town jetty), I was surprised to discover some healthy Porites species coral.
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Although less glamorous than other coral species – this species is the most robust and resistant to traumas like temperature change and bad weather.  Area 4f is one of the biggest fields of living coral in Iboih.

Navigational beacon: If you are only interested in the easy-to-reach snorkelling, then you can stop reading here.  If you’re a bit more adventurous, then keep going until Area 5e.

Area 5a: The Main Beach

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The Town Jetty
The Town/Village Jetty was suffering from arrested development:

It isn’t used for boat departures (small, local boats start from the main beach next door)

but it gives the kiddies somewhere to fish from:


The strip of road behind the main beach is home to the village mosque:
..a few dive-shops and some cheapo local food stalls.

Underwater, there is some decent Porites coral starting from the jetty in the North:

…which also appears on-and-off along the deeper waters (2-5m) of the bay:
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…right round to the South end.

There’s a bit of interesting sea-life:
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But, generally, the main Town Beach is not the most relaxed place for a snorkel.  The boat traffic in and out of the beach (local trips to Rubiah Island & other points, plus dive-trips) and a hundred over-excited kiddies flapping around in fluorescent lifejackets, reduce the appeal a bit.

It is better to push on to Area 5b-5d, where things are quieter.

At the South end of the main beach, 5a-b:

There is some healthy Porites coral in the Southern shallows:

Most of the area is sandy bottom, where you might find some interesting or uncommon sand-lovers:
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We now turn East to follow the coastline past Jelita resort (5b):
In this section, 5b to 5c, the corals start stretching out into deeper water:



and are mixed-in with rocks:

Here, I saw this mid-phase Yellow Tang:
These are usually yellow all over, but I have seen a few with this black ‘discoloration’. I guess it is age related.

At 5c there is some kind of gazebo on the shore, providing landlubbers with a shady spot to sit and gaze out to sea:

Here it is from the land side:

Level with this gazebo is the best bit of reef in the “easy-to-reach” part of Iboih (Areas 3,4,5).
The gazebo is close to the road and it looks like you can scramble over the rocks to get into/out of the water here, although I didn’t try it myself.

Moving East past the gazebo, there are a couple of heads of big coral, attracting the reef fish:

but mostly in this area, rocks take over the seabed:

At 5d is a small rocky headland, about level with Pele’s Place Bungalows:
Behind it you can see the concrete pillars for some unfinished bungalows in the next resort.

Up top, you can take this turning off the road to get to: Pele’s; the sea; and a paved walking track which follows the coast round from 5d to 6d:

At Pele’s rocky headland, the underwater scene is also rocky:

On this stretch 5d-5e, past the (afaik) unnamed resort with the concrete pillars:

…there is some decent coral:
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The silvery fellow on the centre-left seems to be a Whitetail Surgeonfish (Acanthurus thompsoni):
…which is a new one to me.

Other interesting fishies around here were this Longnose Butterflyfish

and these neon cuties hiding in some branching coral:


The approach to the headland at 5e:

sees the last of the corals for a while:

and the last of the coral-dwelling reef-fish:

Navigational beacon: Casual snorkellers can stop reading here.  You probably need an over-developed sense of adventure (or a boat) to get to the places down the page.

Area 6 is generally unspectacular and a bit of a hike from civilisation.

Around the headland at 6a, the seabed is mostly rocky:
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The fish at 6a/b are from the algae-eating surgeonfish family:
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…pecking away at the vegetation on the rocks.

Around here I saw another one of those strangely-marked eels from 1g:

This time, I could see his face, as well as his ass:
…and figured out that it is a Spotted Snake Eel (Myrichthys maculosus).


Further along at 6b, the coral tries to make a comeback and attracts a variety of Snappers:
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and some schooling Red-tooth Triggerfish:


The corals are about 50m away from the coast along stretch 6b-6c.

In the shallower waters, I found some less common species like these Mullet (left) and Milkfish (right):

And a nervous-looking Snowflake Moray Eel:

The bay at 6a to 6c has a raggedy, naturalistic beach.  It is possible to get in and out of the water here but there are slippery rocks in the shallows, so you’d need to take it slowly and wear something on your feet.
Sun-seekers might want to come here to escape the crowds. Note that there is no shade, except on the forest track at the back of the beach (where you will have to take your chances with the mozzies) or under the little tarp that someone has strung-up near 6c.

At 6c, there is a long, fragmented, rocky point, jutting 100m out to sea:

The left/West side of the point it is all rocky:

So is the tip:

And the right/East side:

There is another rugged, unkempt beach here at 6d:
The walking track also reaches this one, so it is worth a trot round here, just for a look.

The underwater scene is all rocky along 6d-6e. But there were some fun and unusual fishes:

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This one was hard to identify:
It’s clearly a wrasse, but I haven’t seen those markings before.
It seems to be a Pastel Ring Wrasse (Hologymnosus doliatus), but part-way between the juvenile/initial phase (IP) and the adult (terminal) phase (TP).  The juvenile has the same vertical stripes on the body, but does not have these facial markings. The adult has the facial markings, but would also has a wide, yellow band behind the gills. So it seems that this one is a bit of both.

Further South, near Area 6e there are a few corals:
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Of varying quality:
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A couple of interesting species found here:

Behind the common Goldsaddle Rabbitfish and Eastern Triangular Butterflyfish:
are the unusual Spot Banded Butterflyfish (Chaetodon punctatofasciatus).  Also, is that a Black tail Angelfish lurking in the background?

Many molluscs with this kind of shell have venomous darts that can kill you:
One more reason not to handle stuff you find in the sea! This one might be a Terbra guttata, some of which are apparently venomous.

Here is a juvenile of the Oriental Sweetlips:
The juvis look very different from the adults.

I think that black-coloured Triggerfish in Weh are the species Indian Triggerfish (Melichthys indicus).
But pictures like this make me wonder.  The Black Triggerfish (Melichthys niger) looks similar, but has a few more yellow and blue markings (which you can rarely see unless the light hits them at the right angle).  Hmmm. I think I’ll stick with Indian for now….

Into the bay at 6g, near some fancy looking abode with its own jetty, we are starting to get into muddy mangrove territory.

Heading off towards the village at 6h, there are a few patches of coral or notable fish:
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But, generally, this area is all murk and mud.


Actually, I swam Area 6 in the opposite direction to how I’ve shown it here.  (I walked from Iboih village to Gapang village, then followed a likely-looking track opposite Gapang mosque:
…down to the sea, then swam 6h-6a. This is the mangrove-y pool where I entered the water at 6h:

If you were doing it the other way (6a-h), your chances of finding a mangrove-y pool which happens to be connected to the track/village are about zero.

Further round the headland at Area 9 is (the more touristic) Gapang Beach.  I didn’t realise this at the time (I had understood it to to be much further away) so I didn’t take a look.   The dive-shops websites say there is a good house reef there, but travellers’ reports say the the coral is bad – killed and bleached by the widespread rise in sea temperature in 2010.  Take a look and tell me what you find…



Area 7: Rubiah Island

Across the strait from Ibioh village is intriguing Rubiah Island/ Pulau Rubiah.

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

Rubiah is not far from Iboih, but there are often currents along the strait; plus some boat traffic, which (rightly) deter most people from swimming across.

Currents are mild to medium and run parallel to the coast. They run either North to South or South to North, seemingly without pattern.

I swam to Rubiah (and back) three-times. You’ll want fins, confidence in your swimming ability and a brightly coloured shirt/hat (so the boat drivers can see you).

On the West side of Rubiah, there is a 50m long beach and a few local restaurants feeding the crowds of Indonesian daytrippers who come here from Iboih for a splash-around in the roped-off swimming zone.

There is a paved walking track leading to the East coast and its small beach and ragged bungalow resort.  A couple of hundred metres South of the Eastern beach, there is an area (7f) known as Rubiah Sea Garden.  There is some decent coral there, but don’t worry if you can’t afford to charter a boat – it is not much better than what you can find for free at 4f or 5b-d.



Lets start our swim round Rubiah at the South end of the roped-off swimzone, at 7a:
To the left are seven restaurants/buildings at the North end of the beach and a few glass-bottomed daytrip boats.  To the right is another restaurant and the rope marking out the swim-zone.

The swim-zone reaches a long way off the beach, but it doesn’t contain much reef.  The marked-off zone (especially at this Southern end) is mostly flat sandy bottom:
I guess someone once bid to host the TV show ‘Survivor’. Those little tubes sticking out of the concrete beams are meant for growing coral in.

The swimzone isn’t totally without coral.  Here’s a reasonable spot:

Further down Rubiah’s West coast, the seabed is all flat sand and barren rocks.

Near a little deserted beach at 7b,

I ran into this joyful melee of fishies milling around a corally outcrop:

In the background there you have a nursery of more concrete blocks. These are meant for seeding coral growth.   Divers take cuttings of healthy corals from the distant reefs and the cuttings are planted in the vertical metal tubes and left to grow.
It doesn’t seem to have worked here.

A little further down the coast was another fishy melee – this time Redtooth Triggerfish, swarming around a small bommie:

Also passing by was a Blue Tang (aka Palette Surgeonfish (because the black markings look like an artists paint palette) and, Hippo Surgeonfish (because…. ummm, I have no idea)).

Further South at 7c, there was another gathering of fishes – this time mostly from the Surgeonfish family.  These feed on the algae growing on the surface of the rocks:

An interesting find here was the lovely Brown Pygmy Angelfish.

These are usually very shy and hide underneath a rock as soon as they can. This one didn’t seem to have anywhere to go.

Heading round the Southern point of the island:

there was a strong current running from East to West.  It was tough to get through it.  Even the Yellowtail Sergeant Majors were struggling:

This slender Flutemouth has decided to go with the flow, but the little Wedgetail Triggerfish has got somewhere he needs to be on the East side:

We’re not at the Rubiah Sea Garden, yet, but on the South-East corner, at 7e, there is a small area with some decent coral:
425_7e_Corals_20150416_IMG_6315.jpg 426_7e_Corals_20150416_IMG_6315.jpg 427_7e_Softcorals_20150416_IMG_6320.jpg

I also spotted this Coral Rabbitfish there:
the only one of its species I saw in Weh.

The seascape was unremarkable up this South East stretch until I reached the Rubiah Sea Garden, at 7f:

There was another of those intriguing mid-transition Yellow-Tangs living here. Here’s the left and right side views:
433_7f_Yellow-Tang-right_20150416_IMG_6323.jpg 434_7f_Yellow-Tang-left_20150416_IMG_6328.jpg
I guess they are territorial, as he was there both times I visited this section.

There is some decent coral on the stretch up from 7f to 7g:

And several notable/uncommon fish:

441_7fg_Bicolour-Chromis-Damselfish_20150416_IMG_6341.jpg 448_7fg_Semi-Circle-Angelfish_20150416_IMG_6365.jpg
446_7fg_Scythe-Triggerfish_20150416_IMG_6361.jpg 445_7fg_Blue-Blanquillo_20150416_IMG_6357.jpg
Mouseover for species names.


An interesting phenomenon was a small Bluefin Trevally who had decided to stalk this poor Wrasse:

455_7fgh_ BluefinTrevallyChaser_20150420_IMG_7242.jpg

Up, down, around, down and up again:
456_7fgh_ BluefinTrevallyChaser_PANORAMA1_2.jpg
…the trail went on for at least 300m.

The Trevally even invited his buddies along:
457_7fgh_ PackOChasers_20150420_IMG_7247.jpg

I’m not sure how it ended for the Wrasse, but he seems to look nervous.



Over at 7g there was coral bommie hosting a wild party:
449_7g_WhiteCollaredButterflyfish-Melee1_20150416_IMG_6374.jpg 450_7g_WhiteCollaredButterflyfish-Melee2_20150416_IMG_6370.jpg

It was mostly centred around White Collared butterflyfish, but also with a few Yellowback Fusiliers in there making up the numbers:



If you were starting a snorkel off the East Rubiah beach, these are the corals to the right (South) side of that bay at 7h:

I spotted this unusual Yellowtail Wrasse there.



Let’s take a quick stop at the bungalow resort.  You can get in and out of the water via the beach there.  There are (smooth) rocks in the shallow waters, so you’d have to walk slowly at low tide when they are exposed.

I think that the resort is called Rubiah Island Resort. There’s a little restaurant;
and about ten, very basic-looking huts dotted around a spacious ground. There is also a swanky 2 room bungalow (with glass verandah doors and a private toilet!) sitting up on the headland between 7i and 7j.  There was a ?caretaker sitting at the restaurant, but otherwise the resort didn’t look very open.  I think I read somewhere that it only opens on-request. There are contact details linked at the end of the snorkelling section.

Getting back in the water at Rubiah’s Eastern beach and turning left towards 7i, the corals are fairly scrappy:

Further out, it all becomes more rocky:

At the bottom of that last picture, you’ll see one of only five Groupers I saw at Pulau Weh.  Here he is closer-up:
Peacock Grouper, aka Coral Cod.

There were a couple of different Bannerfish hanging around here:
472_7i_Singular-Bannerfish_20150416_IMG_6394.jpg 473_7i_Phantom-Bannerfish_20150416_IMG_6393.jpg


Quite a long way out from the beach at 7i, there is some decent Porites coral

which seemed to be hosting a cleaning station, where lots of Cleaner Wrasse were giving the once-over to some High-fin Drummers:

Starting to head North from 7i and looking seaward towards the deeper waters, there were plenty o’ fish, but the coral was sparse:

In the shallows, there were just big rocks:

Well, not just big rocks:
485_7ij_CoT-Purple_20150417_IMG_6480.jpg 486_7ij_CoT-Red_20150420_IMG_7221.jpg

A few notable reef fish from this stretch:
489_7ij_Golden-Damsel_20150417_IMG_6488.jpg 491_7ij_Schooling-Surgeonfish_20150417_IMG_6496.jpg

Looking out to sea, we find some big Trevally:
493_7ij_Bluefin-Trevally_20150417_IMG_6489.jpg 494_7ij_Giant-Trevally_20150417_IMG_6490.jpg

and our second Turtle:
scooting off into the blue.

There is a patch of gorgeous, red Bulb Tentacle Anemones at 7j.
Of course, there is a family of anemonefish living there:

but nemos always hog the limelight.  It’s about time the anemones got some kudos:
GPS: 5° 52′ 59.2” N, 95° 15′ 35.9” E

Near to another little beach at 7z:

…the corals are rather skanky:

Though the rocks are playing host to some nice soft corals in a few spots:

I found another Octopus here:


Here are some notable fishes seen while continuing up the East coast:
512_7jk_Three-Spot-Angelfish_20150417_IMG_6530.jpg 513_7jk_Honeycomb-Rabbitfish_20150417_IMG_6527.jpg 515_7jk_Spotted-Unicornfish_20150417_IMG_6533.jpg 513_7jk_Honeycomb-Rabbitfish_20150417_IMG_6527.jpg

and further along, we find our first Shark:

The usually nocturnal Saddled Snake Eel:

A juvenile Oriental Sweetlips:

And in the background, another newie – the Indian-Mimic-Surgeonfish:
This one is an adult, but the juvenile does a good impersonation of the Pearlscale Angelfish seen earlier, near 7f.

Here are a few uncommon Triggerfish:
526_7jk_Titan-Triggerfish_20150420_IMG_7262.jpg 528_7jk_Wedgetail-Triggerfish_20150417_IMG_6554.jpg 527_7jk_Clown-Triggerfish_20150417_IMG_6559.jpg
That first one, the Titan is usually common, but I saw surprisingly few of them here in Pulau Weh.


The blue version of this Linckia-laevigata Starfish is quite common, but you don’t see many of this brown-coloured variation:

I think that this flamboyant fella is Linckia multifora:


Going past some  Scalefin Anthias:

I came across another lovely little Brown Pygmy Angelfish:
This one easily wins the prize for “most chilled-out Brown Pygmy Angelfish”.


Continuing North, the seabed is mostly rocky:

which makes it popular with algae-feeding Surgeonfish:
537_7jk_Blackstreak-Surgeonfish_20150417_IMG_6582.jpg 538_7jk_White-Freckled-Surgeonfish_20150417_IMG_6589.jpg

Further North still, there is the occasional small patch of coral:
and some Oval Spot Butterflyfish.

And our third Turtle:

We are up at area 7k now. From here: you can look North towards the next little island,  Pulau Seulaku:

..or West towards Iboih.

I came up here twice and once went to Pulau Seulaku (Area 8) and once, round to the West side of Rubiah.  We’ll come back to Seulaku later on.  For now, we will go around the Northern tip of Rubiah and back down the West side.

Here’s the view from North of Rubiah, looking back at the Northern headland:
There is actually a walking track that goes around the edge of Rubiah Island.  I suspect that you can’t get into or out of the water at this point, although I didn’t try it.

Underwater, we have volcanic rock and the second most chilled Turtle in Pulau Weh:
561_7kl_Turtle_20150417_IMG_6606.jpg 560_7kl_Turtle_20150417_IMG_6604.jpg

An unusual Sea Cucumber:

And a Golden Damselfish sucking the last dregs out of a Sea Fan:


At the North West corner, 7l, we have lots of life:

Apart from the usual Parrotfish:

We have another Giant Moray Eel,
backed up by a Sweeper and Cushionstar…

and the first of many Mantis Shrimps in this area:

Mantis Shrimps are cool little critters. Look ’em up 1 2 3 , especially the parts about spear/hammer tools and their extraordinary eyesight.

They make burrows in the sand, and wander around the seabed scouting for food. They are very nervous, and will quicky scurry back into their burrow, stealthily hiding under convenient rocks on the way.

Once they have reached safety, they are keen to poke their little heads out to see que pasa:


Not much later, I came across another one, scooting for the safety of his burrow:
This one is showing off his colourful antennal scales.

I only saw a couple of Stingrays in Weh. Here is a Blue-spotted Ribbontail Ray hanging out with his buddy, an Emperor Angelfish:

Also throwing some shapes, were the Emperor’s cousin, the Regal Angelfish.

And another Mantis Shrimp, making a bolt for it:

Area 7l is mostly rocky, with the Surgeonfish family chowing-down on the algae that grows on the rocks:
588_7l_Blackstreak-Surgeonfish_20150420_IMG_7451.jpg 589_7l_Indian-Sailfin-Tang_20150417_IMG_6627.jpg 590_7l_Bristletooth_20150420_IMG_7453.jpg

Unusual flora here included this Rounded Bubblegum Coral:

And a couple of Comanthus Featherstars duking it out:

In area 7l, the seabed is mostly rocks with some scrappy coral on top:

The drop-off is also scrappy, but this Giant Moray Eel doesn’t seem to mind.
A very wide head and neck is a sign of old age in the Giant-Moray Eel world.

In the absence of stunning coral seascapes, you can often find highlights by getting up close:

And you might find some unusual species like these (probably) Surge Damsels:


Cue another Mantis-Shrimp, running for his hole:

before we continue down the coast to 7m to meet the world’s friendliest Cuttlefish:
605_7m_Cuttlefish_20150417_IMG_6670.jpg 606_7m_Cuttlefish_20150417_IMG_6663.jpg
…complete with mood-lighting colour changes.


Starting the run down from 7m to 7n, the coral is still nothing to get excited about:

but that just makes you look closer for interesting things like this Yellowhead Butterflyfish:

and leafy-looking juvenile Rockmover Wrasse:


Adult and juvenile Oriental Sweetlips don’t particularly hang-out together, but these two happened to be in the same area:
618_7mn_Oriental-Sweetlips-juvi_20150417_IMG_6733.jpg 617_7mn_Oriental-Sweetlips_20150417_IMG_6699.jpg


Continuing South, the coral on the drop-off was still unspectacular:

but interest was raised by this Octopus:
whaddaya mean you can’t see him?

There he is up on the side of that rock, there:

After some more unspectacular coral

suddenly the condition of the coral improves, halfway between 7m and 7n:


There is a cute and uncommon Blacktail Angelfish at the bottom of this picture. But just as sweet are the two Spot Banded Butterflyfish (snapped by accident) at the top:

Other notable fishes from the area:
633_7mn_Blue-Tang_20150417_IMG_6724.jpg 634_7mn_Blackspot-Pufferfish_20150417_IMG_6719.jpg 635_7mn_Yellowmask-Surgeonfish_20150417_IMG_6723.jpg 636_7mn_Redtooth-Surgeonfish_20150417_IMG_6743.jpg 637_7mn_Needlefish_20150417_IMG_6736.jpg


Then along comes another Mantis Shrimp:
You can see how his eyes are divided into three sections. This gives each eye tri-nocular vision and exceptional depth perception.

And a new fish to me – the Blackspine Unicornfish:
Another common name for this one is “Slender Unicornfish”. The latin, binomial name for this one is  Naso minor.  The common name “Slender Unicornfish” is also applied to another species Naso Lopezi. Common names can be confusing.

And another Mantis Shrimp:
this stretch of the island really is Mantis Shrimp city.


Past the day-trippers stomping on what’s left of the coral:

…and around the next headland, the beach comes into view:
and you know you are almost back at the start.

The drop-off here is mostly rocky:

but as you draw closer to the North end of the beach at 7o, the coral starts to improve:
653_7o_Coral_20150417_IMG_6766.jpg 652_7o_Coral-Chromis-Anthias_20150417_IMG_6764.jpg

There is a small jetty at the North end of the beach:

and the coral there is surprisingly good:

Back in the mainstream, roped-off area:

you’re back into sandy shallows. But you might find some Goatfish schooling around the artificial reef there.



Rubiah’s Walking paths

There are some walking paths on Rubiah Island.

About halfway along the Western beach is the start point for the easy, paved footpath that goes across to the resort and beach on the East side.
It even has lamp-posts and electric lights!

Look out for this well to find the start:
GPS: 5° 52′ 47.5” N, 95° 15′ 30.1” E
That sign pinned to a tree centre-left is a picture of someone putting their rubbish/trash in a bin.

A less easy walk is the old World War Two path that runs round the edge of the island:
presumably built to service a couple of Japanese ‘forts’ that are out there.

This track is a fun yomp for the adventurous, but don’t start it unless you are covered from head to toe in mosquito repellant, or you’ll be eaten alive.

You can find the start of the Northern section behind some derelict huts at the North end of Rubiah’s Main Western beach.  Find the track here, and after about 400m, you will come to this junction at 7u:
GPS: 5° 52′ 55.1” N, 95° 15′ 25.6” E

If you turn right, you take a short(ish) route to the East coast at 7z, going past a WWII water reservoir:
671_7y_Bak-Penampungan-Air_20150417_IMG_6442.jpg 672_7y_Bak-Penampungan-Air_20150417_IMG_6444.jpg

The second half of this track is not as well established as the first bit:

and, due to the occasional treefall, isn’t always friendly:

If you turned left at junction 7u, you would take the long road that loops all the way up to the North point of the island, and the Japanese lookout-post/fort Benteng Peninggalan Jepang:
676_7w_Benteng-Peninggalan-Jepang_20150416_IMG_6411.jpg 677_7w_Benteng-Peninggalan-Jepang_20150416_IMG_6416.jpg

GPS: 5° 52′ 13.8” N, 95° 15′ 17.7′ E

Both Northern trails join up again at 7z and emerge at the North East corner of the East coast resort, at 7y.

The track around the North is typically ten metres above sea level, so you can’t use it as a short cut to get in and out of the water – there is too much dense forest and rocky ‘cliffs’ in the way.

I understand that there is another, similar trail which goes around the Southern half of the island.  But I didn’t try that one.



One jellyfishy evening as I started the swim home to Ibioh, I noticed this cute little fella, hiding in the tentacles of a nasty-looking jelly:
I’ve no idea what species he is – let me know if you do!



Area 8:  Pulau Seulaku

Here’s that Area 7 & 8 map again:  LINKY

It is hardly a convenient, off-the-beach snorkel from Iboih, but I wanted to take a look at Seulaku, the little island beyond Rubiah. So on one of my Rubiah swims, I tippy-toed North from point 7k to test the current and declared it to be ‘not too bad’, so put my head down and started kicking.

It is a 600m swim from Rubiah to Seulaku, punctuated halfway by a few rocks sticking out of the water.


Actually, there was some side-current flowing in the Southern half.  Fortunately, it was going East to West, so I would have ended up on Weh if it got too bad.

This first half of the hop across to Seulaku, is deep water.  You can’t see the bottom.  In fact, you can’t see anything at all, except the occasional passing Sea-Wasp Jellyfish:


Here we are arriving at the rocky half-way marker at 8a:

It is reasonably lively to the left:

and to the right:

Over to the right of the biggest rock, there seemed to be a cleaning station, with little Cleaner Wrasse giving everyone else a good-old hoovering:

A big account was the Snapper.  These two look similar, but are actually different species:
The one with the orange eyes is the Midnight Snapper and the ones in the background with the black eyes are Black Snappers.

Can you tell which is which here?
OK, that was too easy.  They are all Black Snapper.

Leaving the mid-channel cleaning station and continuing North, the water got a bit shallower (10m) and the side-current disappeared.

I frightened-off a shark in the depths:

Near the surface, a Fusilier party kicked-off:
with a couple of Sleek Unicornfish hanging around the edges.

Soon, a posse of three Giant Trevallies came over to check me out.  GT’s are cool ocean-going predators, typically about about 70cm long. They won’t hurt you, but they are quite inquisitive and if you are in the open sea or on a reef-edge facing open water, they might come up to size-you-up:

Also hanging round this area was a very old Brown Sweetlips:
and his Sharksucker passenger.

I can’t remember whether this picture is of the Fusiliers’ food – the jellyfish floating near the surface, or the passing  Doublespot-Queenfish underneath them:
Take your pick.


Pulling into Seulaku on its South East Corner, 8b:

I was greeted by another posse of four Giant Trevallies:
709_8b_Giant-Trevally_20150420_IMG_7336.jpg 710_8b_GT-Posse2_20150420_IMG_7342.jpg

The first three were still nearby, so now I had seven of the big lugs cruising around me. Giant Trevallies are useless in wedding pictures, coz they just won’t stand together for the photographer. I never did get all seven in the same shot, but here’s five:


Heading up Seulaku’s East coast, the seabed was fairly boring rocks:

Here at 8c there was some “Leather” softcoral:

Further-North at 8d, some hard-coral emerged:

and some more Leather Coral:

Above the water, Seulaku’s coastline looks similar to Rubiah’s:

Further-North, a school of Black Snapper showed up:
724_8de_Schooling-Black-Snapper_20150420_IMG_7355.jpg 725_8de_Black-Snapper_20150420_IMG_7356.jpg

But the highlight of this sortie, was this fella:
727_8e_Oceanic-Triggerfish-Canthdermis-maculatus_20150420_IMG_7359__.jpg 729_8e_Oceanic-Triggerfish-Canthdermis-maculatus_20150420_IMG_7360__.jpg
It’s an Oceanic Triggerfish (Canthdermis maculatus).  OK, the pictures are rubbish – he strategically positioned himself between me and the sun, so my autofocus wouldn’t work. Oceanic Triggerfish are even worse in wedding photos than GTs. But you get the idea, he skulls with his fins in the same way as, say, a Titan Triggerfish, but the fact that the fins are extra long, gives him the extra oomph for his ocean-going lifestyle. The swimming motion is similar to that of the Sunfish (Mola mola), and people have sometimes confused the Oceanic Triggerfish for a baby Mola mola.

Another Shark shot out from the depths:

And a One Spot Snapper stopped by:

Other fun fish passing by were a Many Spotted (aka Harlequin) Sweetlips:

and, of course, another Three Spot Angelfish:

Up here at 8f, towards the Northern tip of the island:

You can look North and see that there are some intriguing rocks 200m further to the North:
(that’s ‘mainland’ Weh (1c) off to the left).

Well, wotcha gonna do?  Off I headed towards these two rocks to see what surprises they held.

Not that many as it turned out.  Underwater from 8f to 8g was mostly rocky:

with an occasional spot of coral:

I did come across two Sharks together:

And two-or-three Powder Blue Surgeonfish:


Just short of the two rocks, the current took on a scary, strong, Northward character. I didn’t have the entry papers for the Nicobar Islands, so decided to turn round while I still could. This was as close as I got to 8g:

Coming back to Seulaka, I took a more Westerly track, just for variety. But it was essentially yer basic rocks:

With Tangs and Surgeonfish enjoying the algae:
…plus a scribbled/scrawled Filefish passing through.

I did startle a Turtle:


Back on Seulaku, here’s the view down the West coast, with Rubiah in the middle distance and the big telephone mast of Iboih village off to the far right:

Here are some sights on the rocky stretch from 8i to 8j:
766_8ij_Blue-Tang_20150420_IMG_7404.jpg  763_8ij_Golden-Damselfish_20150420_IMG_7400.jpg

Towards the end of this stretch, there are a few softcorals emerging:



About a third of the way down the West coast (8j) some hard corals started appearing on the dropoff:

This improved further South:

And the Redtooths appreciated it:

Here, I saw my only instance of a  Saddle Butterflyfish:



On the middle stretch, from 8j to 8k there were some better corals:

And pretty Evans Anthias:



The final, South West, stretch, 8k to 8l, was a patchy mix of corals, flipping between not-so-good and OK:

782_8kl_Scrappy-Dropoff_20150420_IMG_7424.jpg 783_8kl_Better-Dropoff_20150420_IMG_7425.jpg




Lets look back over our internet shoulders as we say goodbye to Pulau Seulaku:

and head back into the blue, with only some weird jellyfish to keep us company:
789_8l7k_Weird-Jelly1_20150420_IMG_7434.jpg 790_8l7k_Weird-Jelly3_20150420_IMG_7435.jpg 791_8l7k_Weird-Jelly2_20150420_IMG_7437.jpg

Currents were again mild until the half-way point at 8a, but were then quite insistent on the second half, dragging me 100m off-course to the West before I reached the shadow of Pulau Rubiah at 7l.

Then it was another kick down the West side of Rubiah and back across the strait to Iboih.



Well that’s about it for the snorkelling.


I did one dive, just to see how much difference there was from the snorkelling.  It sounded like the best dive site is “the Canyon” about 2km West of km0, so I went there.  Here are a couple of diving shots:

The Sea fans are the main claim to fame at this dive site – they are pretty sweet:

There were some fun schoolers:

The hard-coral here was nothing special:

I dived with Iboih Divers (who are based at Iboih’s main beach), who were pretty good.  There are about five similar dive-shops dotted around the place.



Weh Logistics

I stayed in the ‘poor cousin’ room at the back of Mama’s bungalows.  This was a big room with a rough concrete floor and a floor-standing fan (which you had to prop-up with a brick before it would point anywhere but the floor) and shared mandi 20m away. Price 50 000 IDR (but I probably could have got it for 40 000IDR).  More civilized bungalows (private bathroom, balcony, sea view) start around 80 000IDR.  Food is not included.

Wikitravel has a good rundown of accommodation options and prices.

And there is an excellent map and overview of Iboih sleeps here. Keep in mind that the prices are from 2012. There are also maps of Gapang and Sumur Tiga.

I think that the original map credits are due to (page 9 of) this 24 page, 2.5MB pdf:

Hosted at the excellent , which also has lots more info about Weh.

Many moons ago, ferries used to arrive in Sabang, at the North East of Pulau Weh. Then it was changed to Balohan in the South East.  Somebody told me that it has recently changed back to Sabang, but I can’t find any other sources to support this, so I assume it is wrong.

It is probably best to get up-to-date ferry times, etc from a local source.  This one looks good:   I paid about 70 000IDR for a second class ticket on the express boat.

Local transport:
It is a fair-old distance from the ferry to Iboih. I shared a becak (a sort of ice-cream vendor’s motorbike, with you as the ice-cream) with another traveller.  It was 80 000IDR (total). I think that is at the cheap-end of transport options.  Taxis and Labi-Labi (minibuses) (if they exist) will cost more.

When I came to leave, it was 7am (to get the early ferry).  My accommodation’s pet motorbike taxi driver didn’t want to get out of bed, so I was sent down to  Iboih village to try my luck at finding transport.  There was no luck (or transport).  In the end, a kind gentleman over on holiday from Banda Aceh took to me to the ferry on his motorbike!  Watch out for that if you need to catch the early ferry.

Money: There are ATMs in Iboih and Sabang.



Banda Aceh:

Most people will need to spend at a night in the town of Banda Aceh, on mainland Sumatra.



Zoomed in

Zoomed in

There are three or four hotels in the downtown area, located North West of the main river bridge. The Prepat and the Palembang are cheapest (in the 100 000 IDR region).   The Wisata costs a tiny bit more. The Medan is in the 300 000IDR range, and the Sult(h)an is more like 1 000 000 IDR.

The cheapies were full. I scouted around for penginapans but didn’t find much, so stayed in the Hotel Wisata which was 125 000 IDR for a fan double with TV and private bathroom (@2015).  It was fine.

There are plenty of local restaurants nearby, including a lively (food) nightmarket.


Banda Aceh has an attractive mosque just South of the river:
Grand Mosque/ Mesjid Raya Baiturrahman.


Of course, Banda Aceh is known for the devastation caused by the 2004 Tsunami:
914_Banda-Aceh_Tsunami-Devastation_20150423_IMG_7654.jpg 913_Banda-Aceh_Tsunami-Map_20150423_IMG_7655.jpg


There are several monuments that commemorate the tragic event, notably the Kabal PLTD Apung1 – a big electricity-generating ship which was washed 4km inland.
915_Banda-Aceh_PLTD-Apung1_20150423_IMG_7634.jpg 916_Banda-Aceh_PLTD-Apung1-to-Coast_20150423_IMG_7637.jpg
This is 2km SW of downtown and is walkable (at a push).

The other preserved washed-up boat is the Kapal di Atas Rumah, which landed on the roof of a house in the Lampulo district, 2km North of downtown.

There is also an interesting Tsunami Museum 800m South of the big mosque.

Near to the mosque is the chaotic Labi-Labi (minibus) station. If you want to go cheap, take a Labi-Labi the 3km to the jetty for Pulau Weh (Ulee Lheue).  The Labi-Labi to Ulee Lheue is 8 000 IDR. Fast boats from Ulee Lheue to Pulau Weh are about 80 000IDR.

Banda Aceh Airport is 18km East of town.  Ostensibly, there is no public transport into town, but I did spot a couple of Damri (cheap airport) buses near the big mosque (see the downtown map, above).  The Damri buses didn’t start running early enough for my 0900 flight out, but go down there and ask the drivers if you are leaving later in the day. Don’t bother asking in the hotels or travel agents – none of them knew anything about the buses.  I have read that Labi-Labi go to the Airport, but again, there was nothing early enough for me, so I didn’t find out much. Regular taxis from the airport are about 100 000IDR into town and 120 000IDR to the ferry port Ulee Lheue.

For up to date travel information, you are best checking with local dive-shops. This one seems good.


Alternative maps:

Weh: 1 2

Banda Aceh: 3 4 5 6



Originally written: April 2015           Last updated: September 2016


One response to “Indonesia_Weh

  1. I am very impressed by all your work! Thanks a lot for taking time to share your images, maps, tips and comments.
    We are going to Weh next August and this page really helps to prepare the trip.
    Terima kasih banyak!


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