Highlights of North Sulawesi: Colourful Corals and Wonderful Wall Diving in Lembeh, Tangkoko National Park and Siladen
From diving with turtles and hairy frogfish to climbing volcanoes and searching for tarsiers, this 15-day diving adventure has all of the highlights of North Sulawesi, above and below the waves. Experience epic coral diving in Bunaken National Park as well as some of the world's best muck diving in the Lembeh Strait, mixed with some spectacular topside adventures in the highlands, seeking out endemic species, climbing active volcanoes and relaxing by beautiful lakes.
Itinerary at a Glance
- Dive with huge schools of fish and numerous turtles on the famous coral-encrusted walls of Bunaken National Park
- Explore the fiery volcanoes and beautiful lakes of the Minahasa highlands
- Go on a rafting adventure in the Minahasa highlands
- Visit Tangkoko National Park and meet the local animals, including the world's smallest primate, the tarsier
- Search for bizarre critters in the Lembeh Strait, home to the world's best muck diving
- Explore the underwater world of Siladen Island after the sun goes down, on a night dive
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When To Travel
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Day 1: International Flight
The Indonesian diving adventure begins today with a flight from the UK to Singapore, which takes around 13 hours. It's a long flight, flying through the night, so you have the perfect opportunity to get some sleep.
Day 2: Singapore to Lembeh Strait
Today you'll land in Singapore for a quick stop-off before catching your onward flight to Manado, Indonesia.
Upon arrival into Manado, you will be met by your driver and privately transferred to the Lembeh Strait. You will be driven to a jetty where you will take a short speedboat ride to your hotel, which is nestled within the strait.
Get settled into your bungalow before having lunch at the resort's restaurant. Depending on how you feel his afternoon you can relax by the pool or head out for your first dive in the 'Critter Capital of the World' - a definite diving highlight of North Sulawesi.
Day 3: Stuck in the Muck
Today you will have the chance to get stuck into muck diving in the place that pioneered this unique type of diving.
Start your diving off at Teluk Kembahu, which is split into three separate sites; TK1, 2 and 3. Each site has a black sandy bottom sloping down to around 30 metres. In the sand there are several patches of corals and sponges that attract all manner of weird animals, including hairy and painted frogfish, mimic octopus, cuttlefish, stingrays and ribbon eels.
For your second dive of the day head to Sarena West, which is home to a huge number of nudibranch and goby species hidden among the rubble. Be sure to keep an eye out for giant frogfish, various shrimp species, cuttlefish, cardinalfish and blue ring octopus as you explore this unique underwater world.
After lunch, head to Police Pier for even more of the best diving in North Sulawesi - where highlights include Banggai cardinalfish, spotted barramundi cod, painted frogfish, bigfin squid, harlequin shrimp and ghost pipefish.
After a day packed with diving, it's time to head back to your hotel for a relaxing evening.
Day 4: More Marvellous Muck Diving
We hope you charged your camera this morning, because you'll head back beneath the waves to tick off even more macro critters.
Your first dive of the day is at Fireball in the east of Lembeh. This site is a pinnacle covered in lots of soft corals which is visited by big fish, including white and blacktip reef sharks, rainbow runners, hunting tuna as well as mobula and eagle rays. On the coral itself and in the sand, you can find pygmy seahorses, crabs, mantis shrimps, stargazers and lots of nudibranchs - this site is great for people who like both macro and reef diving.
For your second dive of the day, you will be exploring Nudi falls, which is covered with minute jewel-like nudibranchs as well as rhinopias scorpionfish and colourful cowries. Look into the anemones that sprout across the site, which are often homes for Banggai cardinalfish and giant frogfish, as well as the more traditional anemone fish.
After lunch, it's time for your final dive in Lembeh, this time
at Air Bajo. The site features patches of algae, natural and
unnatural debris as well as small sponges, anemones and soft
corals. Each of these habitats attracts a huge number of critters
including dwarf cuttlefish, coconut octopus, cockatoo waspfish,
painted frogfish and more, it's an epic finale to a
once-in-a-lifetime adventure diving in North Sulawesi.
Day 5: Topside Adventures
For your final day in Lembeh, you can choose to swap waves for walks and take a trek on Lembeh Island, or enjoy another full day of muck diving.
If you are hiking, pull on your boots and meet your guide who will take you through the island's small villages, giving you an insight into local life. Your hike continues onto Gunung Woka, a hill with beautiful panoramas over the Lembeh Strait and the Pacific Ocean.
Your day trip continues this afternoon, with a cruise through the mangrove forests that line the northern end of the Lembeh Strait. During this tour you will get to see some of the unique plants and wildlife that grow and live in these habitats. You will also have the opportunity to snorkel or kayak in an area where a reef borders the mangroves.
Finally, to finish up your day in style take a romantic sunset cruise while enjoying a bottle of wine, toasting to a fantastic holiday with some of the best diving in North Sulawesi.
Day 6: Exploring Tangkoko National Park
You'll want to be up bright and early this morning, ready to catch a boat heading back to the mainland. Once you have arrived you will be met by your driver to begin your trip heading north-west to Tangkoko National Park.
Once you have arrived in this stunning national park your guide will lead you on a nature walk in search of black crested macaques, hornbills, kus kus and maleo birds as well as tarsiers, while also explaining the history of the park. To have the best chance of finding tiny, elusive tarsiers you will hike into the thick of the forest, looking into tree holes where they might be hiding.
After exploring the forest it's time to continue on your journey to your hotel in Tomohon, which takes around two hours, travelling by car. You have the rest of the day to relax and take in the pretty gardens of the hotel, which has incredible views of distant, dramatic volcanoes.
Day 7: Volcano Trekking
It's another early start this morning with a trip to the volcanology observatory to embrace your inner scientist. At the observatory you have the opportunity to check the volcanic activity of the Lokon Empung and Soputan volcanoes - from a safe distance, of course - gaining a fascinating insight into the work of the volcanologists here and how their data is used around the world.
Assuming the volcanic activity levels are low, hop into a car for the short transfer to the base of Lokon Empung. One of Indonesia's most active volcanoes Lokon Empung is characterised by an active crater surrounded by two volcanic cones. Your volcano hike starts with a climb up Lokon volcano, before taking a shortcut to the active crater, which you can walk into to observe the fumaroles.
After an exciting morning, it's time to head back to the hotel for breakfast. Today you will be heading to Woloan - which is one of the last villages where typical wooden Sulawesi style houses are still made. Next up is a visit the shores of Tondano lake, which is the largest lake in North Sulawesi. The lake is nestled among the picturesque rolling hills of the Minahasa Highlands, making it the perfect spot for lunch. After enjoying lunch at a lakeside restaurant, its time to move onto the village of Pulutan, where nearly every household is involved in pottery, providing ample excuse to pick up a souvenir or two, as well as learn the way pottery is made locally.
The final stop of the day is Linow lake, a turquoise coloured
volcanic lake, characterised by the pong of eggs caused by the
sulphur content of the water.
Day 8: Rafting in the Highlands
This morning you'll be swapping diving in North Sulawesi for rafting, as you head out on a scenic rafting trip through the highlands.
Your driver will meet you ready for your transfer to Timbukar village, where you will meet your guides for your rafting adventure down the Nimanga river. After a safety briefing and learning how to pilot your raft, it's time to head to the water. Hop into your raft and push off from the shore, drifting down the river, enjoying the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.
Once your feet are back on dry land, it's time for lunch in Timbukar village. This afternoon you'll have a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the local Minahasan people during a traditional cooking lesson. Your cooking efforts will be rewarded when you sit down to enjoy dinner with your host.
After dinner, it's time to head back to your hotel for your last night in the highlands.
Day 9: Heading North to Siladen Island
You'll be leaving the highlands this morning, so hop into your private transfer, ready to head north to Bunaken National Marine Park.
You'll arrive at the jetty in Manado in perfect time to board the speedboat to the lush island of Pulau Siladen. Once you've arrived take a moment to get settled into your bungalow, slurping on a delicious (non-alcoholic) welcome cocktail before enjoying lunch by the pool.
This afternoon you might want to give yourself a chance to relax after your journey with a book on the beach, or you could head back to the water for an afternoon dive exploring even more of the best diving that North Sulawesi has to offer.
Day 10: Diving in Bunaken National Park
This morning you will be getting back into the water for another unforgettable day of diving. Siladen Island is located in Bunaken Marine National Park, in the perfect position for some seriously spectacular diving.
The park is home to more than 390 species of coral, thousands of
reef fish species and hundreds of invertebrate species, making it
an excellent place to start the day's diving adventure. The first
dive of the day is at
Lekuan, a dramatic wall dive that is very close to Bunaken island. The walls are covered in soft and hard corals including sponges, sea fans and black corals. Turtles are a constant feature at this site, as they are in much of the national park, so this will be a highlight for turtle lovers, but you are also likely to see schools of mackerel, fusiliers and butterflyfish.
Your second dive stop of the day is at Celah Celah, which is another wall dive. The national park is particularly well known for its wall dives and this location is home to several crevasses, swim throughs and caves to explore. Look out for a full encyclopaedia of reef fish species, including butterflyfish, triggerfish and the tiny yellow boxfish.
After a lunch stop back at the resort, head back out to nearby Siladen Timur, which is a large shallow reef that's covered in huge coral boulders and sea fans. Be on the lookout for a huge array of different species of nudibranchs, scorpionfish, lionfish and turtles. If you look very carefully you may spot a crocodile fish or even a mantis shrimp.
After an exciting day of diving, head back to dry land and your bungalow, for a relaxing evening.
Day 11: Diving in Alung Banua, Fukui and Siladen Utara
Another day, another dive corner of Sulawesi to explore.
To begin this morning's diving adventures, head to Alung Banua, a site close to a small village in the park (which you can visit on your surface interval). You'll be starting the dive on the sloping sandy patch where you can see several jawfish and leaf scorpionfish, before heading deeper down the vertical wall. Located in the wall there are several small overhangs and a large chimney-style cave. Look out for lots of feather stars, ghost pipefish and shrimps hidden among the corals.
Your second dive stop of the day is at Fukui, a gentle sloping coral garden which is home to a huge school of batfish, as well as larger pelagic fish such as tuna and barracuda which regularly visit for cleaning. For anyone wanting to see sharks, there is a large plateau at 30 metres, where reef sharks come to rest.
In the afternoon, visit Siladen Utara which home to is a much gentler slope than most of the sites in the park. Here, larger fish are brought into the shallow reef by strong currents, so be on the lookout for schools of jacks, yellowfin tuna, bumphead parrotfish and hunting reef sharks.
After a busy day exploring the underwater world and some of the best diving sites in North Sulawesi, its time for a delicious dinner and a relaxing evening.
Day 12: Diving at Mandolin and Raymond’s Point
Enjoy a delicious breakfast this morning before heading to the western wall of Bunaken island and the dive site Mandolin, which is a steep sloping wall covered in corals and lots of reef fish. Once you are beneath the waves, you will find large schools of snappers and the odd napoleon wrasse in the shallows, travelling further down the reef you will find large sponges, sea fans and black coral trees.
For your second dive of the day head to Raymond's Point, which is a similar steep sloping wall that's covered in wire corals. Keep your eyes peeled for expertly camouflaged wire coral shrimp and xeno crabs. There is a large overhanging cave in which you will find lobsters and crabs, while large whip rays can often be found on the large sandy patches further along the wall.
After lunch back at the resort, you have the afternoon to yourself. You could spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beach or visit the spa to indulge in a treatment, before this evening's exciting adventure.
Once night falls it's time to get back into the water, close to the Siladen Jetty, for a night dive. This site is covered in anemones, nudibranchs and pipefish and sometimes baby reef sharks can be found hiding within the cracks in the reefs. It's a fantastic chance to see animals that prefer the cover of darkness - species that you might have missed during your day dives.
Day 13: Diving at Mike’s Point, Tanjung Parigi and Bualo
After the excitement of last night's dive, you can take it easy this morning before getting back into the water for more diving fun. Today you will be ticking off three different marine environments, each of which is home to equally varied marine life.
Your first dive of the day will be at Mike's Point, a sloping reef on the north-western point of Bunaken island. Napoleon wrasse and eagle rays frequently pass by the site, while on the coral covered slope you will find lots of macro life including flatworms and nudibranchs.
On your second dive today, stop at Tanjung Parigi which is set within a bay and is home to a large sandy slope and patches of reef. Here you will find a huge variety of animals including squat lobsters, scorpionfish, jawfish, pipefish and leaf scorpionfish.
In the afternoon visit Manado Tua, which is a wall with several twists and turns, small caves and overhangs. On a sunny day sunlight shines through the cracks in the wall, creating magical underwater light beams. The reef is covered in lots of soft corals, including bubble corals where orangutan crabs hideout. Glide through the watery sunbeams, spotting gem-coloured corals and fish glinting in the light.
Day 14: Last Day in Bunaken National Park
Sadly, today is your last day diving in Bunaken National Park, so why not go out with a bang, diving at Bunaken Timur.
Bunaken Timur is a long wall with a beautiful coral garden in the shallows. You will see thousands of reef fish close to the corals, as well as unicornfish and needlefish in the shallow waters. Look out into the deeper water to spot the blue long-jawed mackerel and fusiliers that regularly pass by. Keep an eye out for animals hidden within the corals, such as pygmy seahorses, ghost pipefish and squat lobsters.
After your surface interval jump back in the water at Depan Kampung, which is a sloping reef that is home to a plethora of turtles. Other regular marine visitors include sharks, eagle rays and large tuna.
Your last dive of the day will be at Tanjung Kopi, a site where two walls meet with a large flat plateau beneath, which is home to lots of beautiful corals and sponges. Where the walls meet you can see schools of jacks, batfish, tuna, napoleon wrasse and if you're lucky, sharks. It's the perfect way to finish your diving adventure around Siladen.
No matter how long you've been diving, a day like today is a
dream, and one of the highlights of this North Sulawesi trip. After
a fantastic last day, head back to the hotel to enjoy
Day 15: Home Time
Sadly, it is time to leave this magical part of the world and head home.
You will be transferred back to Manado airport by speedboat then private car, which will take around two hours. You'll arrive at the airport with plenty of time to catch your flight back to the UK, transitioning through Singapore and landing in the UK early the next morning.
Jacqui is our expert for this itinerary and as a seasoned traveller they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.