The USAT Liberty Shipwreck: 11 reasons why it became Bali #1 dive site

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Beyond its lush nature and serene temples, Bali is a treasure trove of diving spots. Among its underwater gems, one shines brighter than the others: the USAT Liberty Shipwreck. This World War II remnant has captivated divers from all over the world since the 1980s. When diving in Bali, a trip to its northeast coast is a must for any passionate scuba diver, free diver or snorkeler. Indeed, its close location to the shore and relatively shallow depths make the wreck particularly accessible.

I have dived at the USAT Liberty each time I came to Bali since 2012. Having experienced many other dive sites around the island of Gods over the years, I can confidently say it tops the list of the best dive sites in Bali. Here are 11 reasons why the USAT Liberty shipwreck deserves the title of Bali’s number-one dive site.

Diving at the USAT Liberty shipwreck at a glance

How good is diving at the USAT Liberty shipwreck?

  • marine life

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • unique features

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • visibility

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • protected area

Rating: 1 out of 5.

1 – The history of the USAT Liberty, a story like no other

Dive map of the USAT Liberty shipwreck

The USAT Liberty’s story is deeply entangled with 20th-century history, giving it a special aura even among other WWII shipwrecks diveable today. Originally from the US, the USAT Liberty was a 120 m cargo ship built at the end of World War I to transport animals and goods between the US and France (USAT stands for United States Army Transport). By the end of 1940, the ship was called again to serve. In January 1942, while transporting railways and rubber from Australia to the Philippines, it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Strait of Lombok. It was about a month before the Japanese occupation started in Bali.

The ship didn’t sink immediately, but after tentatively towing it towards Singaraja, in the north, it had to be beached on the shores of Tulamben as it was taking too much water. So, for 21 years, the USAT Liberty wasn’t underwater. In February 1963, Mount Agung erupted in what would result in the third-largest eruption of the 20th century. The accompanying earthquakes pushed the wreck off the beach, where it settled into its current position: lying on its starboard side, 30 m from the shore, between 5 and 30 m below the waves. 60 years later, colonised by hard and soft corals, this underwater museum is an oasis where sea turtles, octopuses and sweetlips thrive.

2 – When wreck diving meets shore diving, it means easy access

shore diving at the USAT Liberty shipwreck in Tulamben, Bali

The USAT Liberty stands out among major historical shipwrecks due to its accessibility. Unlike many other wrecks that require a boat trip and potentially challenging conditions at sea, the USAT Liberty shipwreck can be reached directly from the shore. Once below the surface, it only takes a one-minute swim to get to its shallowest part, its stern. This makes it incredibly convenient for divers, even snorkelers, as the water is clear and the shallowest part is at 5 m deep only.

Diving in Tulamben, including the Liberty shipwreck, is 95% about shore diving. You load your equipped tank(s) on a jeep or a truck at the dive centre, and in 2 to 5 minutes, you are already on the beach, making your buddy check. This ease of access allows for multiple dives in a single day. With an early start in the day and at least 1-hour surface intervals between dives, you can log up to 5 dives from sunrise to sunset.

While the shore entry is generally gentle, the beach of Tulamben near the shipwreck is mainly made of big, round pebbles. While there is usually minimal current, the smallest waves can easily unbalance scuba divers as they carry their heavy equipment. Local dive centres have found an easy turnaround: buddy teams just walk in the water arm in arm to maintain each other’s balance. For information, they all offer booties and open-heel fins as part of their rental equipment.

3 – A dive site for everyone, from snorkelers to tech divers

Stern hull - USAT Liberty shipwreck - Tulamben Bali

The USAT Liberty shipwreck has something for everyone, which is not something you usually find on such historical shipwrecks. From beginner to experienced divers, there are many routes along the 120 m of the shipwreck to explore within the limits of your training.

For snorkelers, the shallowest part of the wreck lies at just 5 meters, providing a fantastic view of the structure and marine life from above. Open-water divers can explore depths down to 18 meters, giving them access to 70% of the shipwreck. Thanks to its large openings, you can explore the cargo hold as an Open Water certified diver.

Advanced divers who are allowed to dive to 30 m deep and have good air consumption can visit the entire shipwreck down to its deepest point, where the bow lies on the sandy slope at 28 m. The area along the steam engine at 17 m allows partial penetration in quite a tight space due to its low ceiling; even if it’s not deep, beginner divers must stay away from these swim-throughs.

Tech divers might find the maximum depth too shallow, but so you know, right next to the USAT Liberty, there is another famous dive site of Tulamben: the Drop-off. This deep wall was formed by the lava flow of Agung’s 1963 eruption and offers depths down to 60 m. However, expert wreck divers trained to dive in overhead environments can appreciate a rather challenging penetration in the bow.

4 – Many features of the USAT Liberty shipwreck are still visible

Valve steam engine  - USAT Liberty shipwreck - Tulamben Bali

Despite being submerged for over six decades, many features of the USAT Liberty are remarkably well-preserved and visible. Divers can still identify the ship’s deck, cargo holds, and even some pieces of its steam engine. The hull is covered in corals, but most of the overall structure remains, offering fascinating partial swim-throughs along its starboard (you’ll have to practice your best frog-kick with your fins, hence not recommended for beginner divers). These features provide an authentic wreck diving experience, allowing divers to connect with the ship’s history and envision its former glory.

Many mechanical parts of the ship are still visible, such as the boilers, ladders, and valves. The USAT Liberty was transporting railways from Australia to the Philippines. Some of this cargo is still visible, but you’ll need an expert eye (or a good guide) as they are covered in corals.

Here are the list of interesting features and their depth:

  • Stern: 5 – 20 m
  • Rudder: 10 m
  • Portholes in stern: 15 m
  • Stern gun & platform: 20 – 25 m
  • Engine steam boilers: 15 m
  • Cargo hold #3: 17 m
  • Ladders: 25 m
  • Bow: 20 – 28 m

5 – Spectacular biodiversity around the USAT Liberty shipwreck

Hawksbill Turtle  - USAT Liberty shipwreck - Tulamben Bali

The USAT Liberty Shipwreck is not just a relic of the past, it’s also a thriving artificial reef teeming with marine life. The biodiversity here is spectacular, ranging from tiny macro critters to larger pelagic species. Macro photographers will love spotting colourful nudibranchs, ghost pipefish and pygmy seahorses.

Here are the most exciting species I got to see with my own eyes while diving at the Liberty shipwreck:

  • Hawksbill turtle
  • Barracudas
  • Batfish
  • Trevally
  • Garden eel
  • Sweetlips
  • Grouper
  • Trumpetfish
  • Emperor & koran angelfish
  • Clownfish
  • Leaf scorpionfish
  • Octopus
  • Cuttlefish
  • Ornate ghost pipefish

One thing that has unfortunately changed since my first dives in 2012 is that you won’t see the bumphead parrotfish anymore at the sunrise dive or the jackfish tornados later in the day. They apparently went missing during the COVID pandemic…

6 – Favourable dive conditions all year long

Barrel Sponge - USAT Liberty shipwreck stern - Tulamben Bali

Bali’s tropical climate ensures the USAT Liberty shipwreck offers favourable dive conditions throughout the year. Water temperatures range from 26°C to 30°C (79°F to 84°F), with on average 28°C at 20 m (there is quite rarely a thermocline passing through at 26°C). The diving conditions are so comfortable that I ended diving in a skinsuit (rashguard + legging) with occasionally a 2mm neoprene top.

Visibility is usually good, ranging from 15 to 30 meters, depending on the season and weather. The rainy season typically has a lower visibility (from January to April). But sometimes, it doesn’t mean anything;  I had a 40 m visibility one day in March. The rainy season doesn’t mean it’s raining all the time or even every day (even if I found February to be the wettest). I had more problems with visibility when approaching the Liberty shipwreck in the first meters, as the beginner divers often lift all the sand with their fins. It usually clears up pretty quickly as you keep descending.

The currents around the wreck are usually non-existent to mild, making it accessible to divers of all experience levels. These consistent conditions mean that you can expect an enjoyable and safe diving experience no matter when you visit. So far, I have dived the Liberty shipwreck in the months of January, May, October, and December, and I have never had any serious issues with currents or visibility.

7 – Nitrox is widely available, sometimes even for free

Dive tanks with nitrox - USAT Liberty shipwreck - Tulamben Bali

For divers looking to extend their bottom time and enhance their safety, Nitrox (enriched air) is widely available in Tulamben. Diving on Nitrox allows for longer dives at the reasonnable depths of the wreck, providing more time to explore and less fatigue afterwards. Because of the risk of oxygen toxicity, dive sites deeper than 30 m are usually not a good fit. However, with its maximum depth of 28 m, the USAT Liberty shipwreck is the ideal dive site for Nitrox certified divers (with a conservative maximum partial pressure of oxygen of 1.40, the maximum depth is 33 m with a Nitrox 32%).

Most dive centres in Tulamben and Amed area offer Nitrox certification courses, so it is an excellent opportunity for scuba divers looking to acquire this diving specialty while exploring one of the best wreck dives in the world. For information, nitrox-certified divers get Nitrox for free at Dive Concepts in Tulamben and Amed.

8 – It is still possible to dive without the crowds at sunrise

 Sunrise dive  USAT Liberty shipwreck stern - Tulamben Bali

One of the magical aspects of diving the USAT Liberty is the possibility of experiencing the wreck away from the masses. It might mean setting the alarm clock at 4.30 am, but by arriving before sunrise at 5.50 am on Tulamben Beach, divers can often have the wreck to themselves before most groups arrive around 9 am. When the sky is clear, Mount Rinjani of Lombok Island can be seen in the sun’s first rays of red light before getting in the water.

The early morning light creates a mysterious atmosphere, illuminating the wreck and its marine inhabitants in a soft glow. This tranquil time of day offers a unique and serene experience, allowing divers to fully appreciate the beauty and history of the site in peace. On my last attempt in December 2023, our buddy team was alone for 45 minutes before seeing the first other divers. However, I was sad that I did not see the bumphead parrotfish like in 2012 and 2015 (They went missing during the COVID pandemic).

You can read more about my sunrise dive of 2015.

9 – Balinese dive guides and porters will make sure you have the best experience

Balinese porters - USAT Liberty shipwreck - Tulamben Bali

The local Balinese dive guides in Tulamben are renowned for their expertise, friendliness, and dedication to ensuring divers have the best possible experience. Balinese hospitality shines through as guides share their extensive knowledge of the wreck and marine life you can find there.

To make divers’ lives even easier, porters at the dive site help unload the tanks and equipment boxes from the trucks coming from the different dive centers in Tulamben and Amed. The porters, often women, skillfully carry heavy dive gear to and from the shore. While it might be a bit unsettling at first, we need to think that these services at the dive sites allow the local community to benefit directly from diving tourism. Besides, any visit to popular Hindu temples in Bali will show you that women are masters at carrying sizeable offerings on their heads. Just make sure to learn how to say thank you in Indonesian, “Terima kasih”, or even better in Balinese “, Suksuma”; it goes a long way.

10. An ideal location to learn or improve underwater photography skills

Sweetlips - USAT Liberty shipwreck - Tulamben Bali

Tulamben is a paradise for underwater photographers, offering plenty of wide-angle and macro subjects. The Liberty shipwreck, the nearby drop-off, and its giant gorgonians are definitely the best for training on wide-angle shots.

For macro enthusiasts, dive sites like Seraya Secrets, Melasti, Sidem and Gerombong are full of colourful nudibranchs and other rare critters such as rhinopias, mimic octopus, or hairy frogfish. While these dive sites are all about macro underwater photography, the USAT Liberty shipwreck is also full of macro critters roaming on its hull covered in corals. Each of my visits since 2012 has been the opportunity to step up my underwater photography skills.

The USAT Liberty Shipwreck and the macro dive sites of Tulamben are so popular for underwater photography that famous photographers often organise workshops there to help scuba divers improve their underwater pictures.

11 – Tulamben is only 20 Minutes from Amed

Mount Agung overlooking Jemeluk Bay in Amed at sunset - Bali

Tulamben is quite a sleepy village, so if divers seek tranquillity and a good night’s sleep after dinner and some picture editing, this is the place to be. However, the fishermen’s village of Amed is only a 20-minute drive away for those looking for a livelier atmosphere. Amed provides a vibrant contrast with its numerous shops, restaurants, cafés, and bars. There are also some great dive sites to explore there, particularly for sea turtle enthusiasts.

Amed is the perfect spot to chill at sunset with drinks on the beach at Warung Bobo or at the fantastic infinity pool of the Sunset Point while marvelling at the sun setting behind Mount Agung. Food-wise, there are many more delicious options: Indonesian, Asian fusion, or international cuisine like Italian, French, Spanish, and even Mexican. Evenings in Amed often feature live rock or reggae music, creating a fun way to end a day of diving.

The close proximity between Tulamben and Amed allows scuba divers to stay on any side. If you don’t want to rent a car or a scooter yourself, don’t hesitate to ask scuba diving centres for a pick-up at your hotel; most of them offer the service for free. If you need a transfer from another part of the island, ask them too; the fee is usually reasonable.

My top tips for going diving in Tulamben

I summed up below everything you need to know to prepare for your trip to go diving in Tulamben: best season, water temperatures, best dive centre and the best places to stay.

When to go diving in Tulamben?

Tulamben beach Bali with Mount Agung in the background

The best time to dive in Tulamben is from May to October, which is the dry season. Bali can be dived all year round; you will have slightly lower visibility conditions for the rest of the year. My first trip to Bali was in January. It was supposed to be the worst part of the monsoon, but it was raining at night and maybe 1 or 2 hours during the day. It was still warm in the air and the sea (28°C on average).

Which dive centre to choose in Tulamben?

Dive concepts team in Tulamben Bali

Tulamben is a shore diving spot, so you can easily scuba dive from sunrise to sunset. It’s an excellent place for scuba diving addicts looking to dive as much as possible. You are only a short drive away from any dive site in the area going from Kubu to Lipah.

Dive Concepts offers training and guided dives at the best price, including free pick-up in the Tulamben & Amed area and free Nitrox for certified divers. Their little café in the shade of their pergola and frangipani trees is a great chill spot to unwind with watermelon juice at the surface interval or while your dive gear is dip drying. Their dive centre is only a 2-minute drive from the USAT Liberty shipwreck; they are one of the closest dive centres to the shipwreck. Their Indonesian divemasters are incredibly skilled, but my recommendation to my fellow underwater photographers is to ask for Gita or Yoko, and you won’t be disappointed!

Where to stay in Tulamben?

Matahari resort Tulamben Bali view from the sea

The Matahari Dive Resort is an institution run by a local family since 1991. They were among the first to open on Tulamben beach. Located right between the USAT Liberty and the drop-off dive sites, it’s a great money-saving option for those travelling on a budget. Their standard room is small and basic but clean and cute with their small terrasse. They now have more modern and comfortable Deluxe rooms; however, these are the closest to the street, so try to request #18 or #19 if you want more tranquillity.

The resort has relatively narrow ground; the rooms, pool, restaurant, and dive centre are a bit on top of each other, but it feels cute and homey. It has been maintained well over the years, as I recently rechecked it. My favourite point remains their small spa, where you can hear the sound of the waves during your Balinese massage.

Night starts at 350,000 IDR (about 20€)

Here are two ocean-front options for those looking to splurge for their diving holidays in Bali. I didn’t stay since I currently have a house in Amed, but after shortlisting the best resorts on Google Maps, I visited and asked to see the rooms unannounced.

I found that the Mimpi Dive Resort has it all: the location near the Drop-off dive site on the beach, The overly friendly staff and the elegant Balinese-style cottages. Among beautifully manicured gardens, they have 4 stunning seafront private villas. But even the garden cottages didn’t fail to impress me with their inner garden and outdoor shower. You can choose between a double room or a twin room where 2 other beds can be fitted (including one on top of the mezzanine). This last option is great for groups of friends who can split the cost and enjoy a diving holiday in style for less.

Night starts at 1,200,000 IDR (about 68€)

There is no denying that the Relax Bali Dive Resort has by far the most beautiful swimming pool in the area, and its rooms are the most spacious. However, I found the resort too isolated in Kubu (especially for those not driving). But if absolute tranquillity in a modern resort is what you are looking for, you’ll be in for a treat. They have independent deluxe bungalows and superior rooms at their sister location, Monkey Bungalow, across the street. All rooms are facing the ocean.

Night starts at 1,710,000 IDR (about 97€)

Note that the high season in Tulamben is July- August, and the period over the Christmas holidays is when prices are higher.

Do you need more information to plan a dive trip to Bali?

Check these additional articles about travelling and scuba diving in Bali:

Photo credits: I want to thank my underwater photography dive buddies Javier and Wan for contributing to this article with the fantastic shots they took of me as we dived together at the USAT Liberty shipwreck last December and June.


USAT Liberty shipwreck pin1
USAT Liberty shipwreck pin2

Posted by Florine

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