Snorkeling & Diving

Snorkeling & Diving

Snorkeling and Diving in Timor-Leste, Perhaps the Best Diving in Southeast Asia That You’ve Never Heard Of

Nestled in the famous Coral Triangle, Ataúro reefs offer pristine dive and snorkel sites with a dazzling diversity of marine life – colorful hard and soft corals, sponges and fans as well as a vivid array of reef fish. Ataúro reefs are among the least explored and the most ecologically diverse on the planet. Sites range from magnificent wall diving with underwater cliffs plunging into the depths, to more sheltered and gently sloping fringing reefs.

The reefs of Ataúro became famous thanks to a 2016 Conservation International Survey, that found the highest fish biodiversity of any reef on the planet. Open water fish species such as tuna and mackerel can be seen along with reef and whale sharks, manta rays, turtles, and on occasion the more elusive dugongs.  In more sheltered sites, marvel at the vast array of fascinating smaller critters – in weird and wonderful shapes and colors. Warm tropical waters provide tremendous visibility all year-round.

Several films and documentaries have highlighted the incredible marine life around the island, and visitors are encouraged to watch Timor-Leste From Below before their visit: Most Biodiverse Reefs and Best Scuba Diving Destination You’ve Never Heard Of are excellent videos to start with. While staying on Ataúro, do not miss out on a visit to the famous Wawata Topu in Adara, a group of local female freedivers who were shown in a 2016 documentary film. Spend a day aboard a local boat with the women to watch them dive to incredible depths and hunt food for their families, or to sell in the Saturday market. 

Even if you aren’t scuba-certified, you can absolutely still experience Ataúro’s underwater treasures! Snorkeling provides an equally amazing opportunity to come face to face with the most biodiverse coral reefs in the world. There are wonderful and readily accessible snorkeling sites on both sides of the island, usually requiring only a short boat ride or swim from the shore. Each site around the island offers its own unique sights. Jump right in and let us know what you find!

Note: Diving companies will take snorkelers on their daily dive trips for a small price. Inquire directly if you can accompany a trip! Snorkeling gear will be provided. 

For more information on different dive sites around Ataúro, contact Timor-Leste dive operators.  Some interesting websites on diving and snorkeling in Timor-Leste can be found at Indo-Pacific Images, The Coral Triangle, and Conservation International.

Bonus – see if you can spot any of these unique species during your stay on the island!


  • Yellow-edged Lyretail Grouper (Variola louti)
  • Honeycomb grouper (Epinephelus merra)
  • Square spot anthias (Pseudanthias pleurotaenia)
  • Fire dartfish (Nemateleotris magnifica)
  • Picasso triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus)
  • Bluespotted ribbontail ray (Taeniura lymma)
  • Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)
  • Ribbon Eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita)
  • Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus)
  • Dogtooth Tuna (Gymnosarda unicolor)
  • Chevron Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) – schools of them
  • Spotted Eagle-Ray (Aetobatus narinari)
  • Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)
  • Longnose Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris)
  • Crocodile Flathead (Cymbacephalus beauforti)
  • Humpback Snapper (Lutjanus gibbus) – schools of them
  • Giant Trevally (Caranx ignobilis)
  • Blubberlip Snapper (Lutjanus rivulatus)
  • Galaxea
  • Goniopora
  • Bubble coral
  • Table corals (the size of some is truly impressive)
  • Giant clams (Tridacna gigas)
  • Broadclub cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)
  • Mantis Shrimp (Stomatopoda) 
  • Porcelain Anemone Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculatus)
  • Painted spiny lobster (Panulirus versicolor)


  • Melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra) – resident
  • Short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) – resident
  • Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei)
  • Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
  • Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata)
  • False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
  • Pygmy blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda)
  • Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Other special creatures:

  • Thresher Shark (Alopias superciliosus)
  • Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini)
  • Dugong (Dugong dugon)
  • Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)
  • Oceanic Manta Ray (Mobula birostris)
  • Mola Mola (Mola mola)
  • Orangutan Crab (Achaeus japonicus)
  • Banded Sea Snake (Laticauda colubrina)
  • Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
  • Nembrotha kubaryana (Nembrotha kubaryana)
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