The Sea Turtles of Indonesia

Bali, the penultimate stop on our 3 month tour of South East Asia and the part of the trip we had already agreed to try and treat more like a holiday than being a backpacker (I see you’re disapproving budget conscious looks, everybody needs a break every now and again!). Vicki, being the animal lover she is, had already found us what turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of our trip, spending time with turtles of varying ages and sizes!

Bali Sea Turtle Society (BSTS)

Bali Sea Turtle Society Hatchery
If you’re trying to find the sanctuary, head South from the Hard Rock Cafe and look for this guy

Kuta beach, the area of Bali known as the Australian Magaluf! Never have I seen so many Australians in once place outside of Australia and the town itself was almost entirely dedicated to ripping off western tourists. We stayed in an area just north of Kuta called Seminyak at the wonderful Capsule Hostel. On the main beach at Kuta there is a small turtle sanctuary run by the guys at Bali Sea Turtle Sanctuary. Almost every day during the breeding season they allow the public to release the babies back to the ocean. Around 330pm every day a queue begins to form out the front of the building (if you’re struggling to find them head south from the Hard Rock Cafe until you see the giant turtle just back from the beach, honestly can’t miss it!), at 4pm there is a small speech and tokens are handed out that entitle you to one turtle. I can hand on heart say I had never seen Vicki quite this excited!

Vicki with the baby turtles that are ready for release
Vicki with the baby turtles that are ready for release

At around 430pm a siren sounds and everybody with a ticket returns from the various bars scattered around the beach. It is here we are introduced to ‘Mr Turtle’, the man who started the sanctuary 25 years earlier. He was originally working as a security guard and one evening saw a female turtle come up the beach and lay her eggs, after she had finished and left he took the eggs and kept them safe until hatching. It has grown exponentially since then and they now have teams of people patrolling the beach every night to ensure all eggs are safe! After a small introduction and a speech on do’s and don’ts when releasing we were each given out little turtle. Genuienly one of the cutest little things I have ever seen and looking at the size of the waves coming in I was seriously worried about this guys chances.

After everybody had got their turtle we all took to the beach and lined up just back from the water line, on a count of 3 everybody released their turtles and off they went! My turtle proceeded to crawl around 4 fins forward before calling it a day and stopping for a nap. Vicki’s was pulling his best Usain Bolt impression and bolting straight for the sea. It was quite interesting to see the babies when at the sanctuary, swimming around with no real purpose, yet as soon as they see the ocean they go a little crazy and try and fight their way out of the small plastic tub to get to the sea.

Turtle fact of the day: The females always find their way back to the beach they were born on the lay their eggs no matter where in the world they end up. Take that TomTom.

The staff are all fantastic, keeping everybody back but also allowing you to slowly follow them down the beach. Mr Turtle follows the whole thing with a megaphone, shouting at everybody as the tide comes in to stand still and not lift your feet. Once the tide has washed up you are always told to check behind you in case a turtle has washed up. Seeing the tiny little turtles being washed up as a wave crashed down is pretty harrowing, but they always seem to make it. Powering forward and eventually making it through the waves. They swim for 60 hours straight before they first need to stop for food, pretty impressive for their size.

A truly special experience and one I would whole heartedly recommend whilst in Bali. Keep an eye on their Facebook page if you do want to get involved as they post every morning whether or not they are releasing. I’d also advise starting to queue around 30 minutes before the stated time to ensure you do get your own turtle. The release is completely free, but the Sanctuary do rely on donations to keep running. Give them as little or as much as you see fit, but for how truly amazing it is to do it would be crazy not go at least give them something. A great way to start our time in Indonesia but little did we know it wouldn’t be our only epic turtle experience.

Snorkelling at Gili Trawangan

The Gili islands are reachable by fast boat from Bali (the boats themselves deserve a dedicated post to describe the absolute chaos) but are actually easier to access from the island just to East of Bali, Lombok. We had read about the epic snorkelling before heading over there and although there are plenty of snorkelling tours we hoped to see full grown turtles just off the beach.

Lady snorkelling with full grown sea turtle
Why hello there Mr Turtle!

One of the first things we did on arriving was head out to attempt to catch sight of them, what a surprise we were in for. Starting from the North East corner of the island (the current is insanely strong from North to South) we floated down, keeping our eyes peeled. Annoyingly, by the time we spotted the first one we were already on top of him and being pushed away. God dammed turtles thinking they are chameleons!! On our second attempt things went much better. See the map at the bottom of the page for my recommended route.

Top Tip – Start from the North East corner and swim as far as the drop off, float down keeping close to the edge and there is honestly no way you can miss one

Taking the same route again, things improved dramatically and over 6 separate drifts we saw 30+ turtles! By the end we were getting a little blasé to them there were so many. They are completely unconcerned by humans and will let you get as close as you want. DO NOT TOUCH THEM, IT IS NOT GOOD FOR THEM! We saw lots of people trying to do this, Vicki even pulled a girl’s fin off to stop her from doing it. Observe but do not interfere! They are truly majestic creatures to watch, especially as we are swimming flat out to keep up with them (they always seemed to swim against the current) and they would give a nonchalant flap of their fins and power through the water.

Top Tip 2 – Every now and again just pop your head up out of the water, chances are if there is a group of people congregated at one spot that’s where the turtles are!

My honest opinion if you do want to snorkel with them, ignore every single tour offering it to you and simply rent a snorkel and fins from one of the many guys up and down the beach. We had our own snorkels with us which saved us quite a bit of money and allowed us to head out multiple times over our 5 day stay. Also, we snorkelled at varying times from really early in the morning to dusk and there always seemed to be similar numbers of turtles so I wouldn’t worry about what time you go. Most of the tour boats seem to be around at 10am, so maybe avoid that time if anything.

Here’s the map of my recommend snorkelling route, the top blue marker being the start!

Just to finish, here are a few photos we got of the turtles. One of the greatest experiences of my life and one that I could never get border of doing!


Sea turtle in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Sea turtle in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia taking a breath
Takin’ a breath

Sea turtle in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Sea turtle in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia


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