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6 Reasons to Dive  in North Sulawesi

Due to its ever-expanding accessibility via domestic and international air routes, Indonesia’s region of North Sulawesi is quickly gaining fame at home and abroad for its panoramic beauty, cultural delights, colorful coral reefs, diverse marine life, and stunning underwater landscapes.

The rich biodiversity below sea level in the areas surrounding North Sulawesi’s capital city of Manado has earned the area a reputation as a dream destination for divers, snorkelers, and water sports enthusiasts.

Why should North Sulawesi be on every dive traveler’s “bucket list”?

Ideal Tropical Diving

North Sulawesi is home to the most pristine and highly diverse coral reefs. The Bunaken Marine Park is the center of this rich center of aquatic biodiversity, with over 2000 fish species and 380 coral species.

Among the large marine species abounding below the water line are:

Dense schools of reef fish patrol Bunaken’s vast reef flats, frequently surrounding divers and snorkelers with red tooth triggerfish, yellow snappers, butterfly, and damselfish.

Green sea and hawksbill turtles also abound at Bunaken, where they feed on sponges. Visits to local dive sites at Lekuan and Timur are virtually guaranteed to include sea turtle encounters.

Exciting drift-diving experiences await at  Raymond Point and Mandolin, located between Bunaken Island and Manado Tua,

Most dives can be accomplished in less than 25 meters, although the Molas Shipwreck – a World War II freighter, starts at 40 meters with the ship’s large propellers still highly visible.

The Bunaken Marine Park offers various topographies, from coral walls to hard and soft coral gardens and sandy plains for some “Lembeh Lite” muck diving. 

Muck Diving Paradise

The Lembeh Strait is located in the southeastern part of the province. This relatively small waterway between Lembeh Island and the mainland is a favorite among macro photographers and critter hunters eager to capture images of the astonishing variety of exotic marine life. 

From tiny, colorful nudibranchs and peculiar frogfishes to bizarre cephalopods and camouflaged crustaceans, every dive in Lembeh offers the chance to discover something new and outright weird.

Sometimes described as an underwater Pokémon Hunt, delighted divers return from a “muck dive” with a new critter checked off the diver’s species bucket list. This can include the blue-ringed octopus, the “wonderpuss,” the mimic octopus, and mesmerizing flamboyant cuttlefish.

Painted and hairy frogfishes characterized by clumsy mobility are a favorite among videographers. This species can range in size from the size of a basketball to as tiny as a fingernail.

Nudi Falls, Hairball, and Pantai Parigi are recommended dive sites for spotting unique and colorful critters. For years, Nudi Falls has also been home to the popular Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorse that lives among the branches of sea fans attached to a coral wall.

While the  Lembeh Strait is famous for muck diving, its northern section is home to coral gardens abounding with Angel’s Window and Rojos. Expect depths of between 18 and 24 meters. Nitrox is the obvious choice for maximizing bottom time and photographic opportunities.

Year-round Diving Conditions

Located just 1.55 degrees north of the equator, North Sulawesi enjoys a year-round tropical climate and comfortable water temperatures of around 28 to 30 degrees Celsius, making a 3mm wetsuit ample for dicing this site,

North Sulawesi experiences a dry season from April through November, with the rainy season generally starting in early December. 

Diving conditions are good year-round.


North Sulawesi is easily accessible via Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado. Regular flights also connect major cities in Indonesia, such as Bali and Jakarta, and to nearby international hubs like Singapore. 

Local tour and dive operators will provide convenient transfers to accommodation locations.

Sustainable Tourism & Diving Practices:

Tourism operators and locals are firmly committed to preserving and protecting the marine environment by promoting sustainable tourism practices. Dive operators, marine parks, and local communities collaborate on conservation initiatives to protect coral reefs, preserve marine biodiversity, and support local economies. The North Sulawesi Watersports Association (NSWA) is an alliance of 18 dive operators and resorts founded on the principles above. Thanks to the NSWA, dynamite fishing is now a thing of the past. The Association has also installed eco-friendly mooring lines to allow boats to visit without dropping or dragging anchors. All dive guides employed by NSWA-Allied Resorts are well-qualified and committed to treating the natural environment with care and respect.

Thalassa Dive Resort

One of the NSWA Operators is Thalassa Dive Resorts Indonesia. Established and operating since the mid-90s, Thalassa focuses on educating local youth by providing work opportunities in tourism. With two resorts – one in Manado and another on nearby Lembeh Island, Thalassa Dive Resorts strives to offer guests safe, environmentally friendly, and memorable dive and travel experiences.

All the company’s dive guides, instructors, and divemasters are trained to PADI standards and are well-experienced underwater photographers, able to guide newly PADI Certified Open Water Divers competently.

The People and the Cuisine of North Sulawesi

In addition to world-class diving, North Sulawesi is equally famous for its rich culture and the warm hospitality the locals extend.

With tourism in the area in its early days, visitors to North Sulawesi are not viewed as “tourists” but treated more as honored guests and friends. Manado tourists’ familiarity and cordial welcome are reflected in corresponding low crime rates and the local community’s importance on safety.

Traveling “foodies” will enjoy the delicious cuisine in North Sulawesi. One of the more famous dishes is “Tinutuan,” a congee (porridge) made from rice, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. A range of condiments and toppings enhance the flavor. Richly flavorful and slightly tart, “Tinutuan” is a favorite breakfast item.

Although many Manadonese food specialties are similar to other Indonesian staples, such as nasi goreng (fried rice) and gado-gado (blanched vegetables with peanut sauce) – one dish that sets Manado apart from other destinations is Dabu-Dabu. Dabu-Dabu is Manado’s version of sambal, the spicy condiment that accompanies many Indo-Malay foods. Dabu-dabu is a tangy, spicy salsa-like condiment made of diced tomato, chilies, salt, spring onions, and lime juice. The Manadonese love the added punch this spicy concoction adds to any meal.

North Sulawesi Above Sea Level

North Sulawesi offers much more than driving. Because of its biogeographical location, it is home to many endemic species of animals. Nature lovers and birdwatchers will find plenty of diversity in the nearby Tangkoko Jungle Reserve. In this 8,700-hectare conservancy, primates such as the Sulawesi crested macaque, the tarsier, and the couscous tree-dwelling marsupial can be found.

The Sulawesi masked owl, the ground-dwelling maleo, and the satanic nightjar are just a handful of exotic bird species that can be encountered in North Sulawesi.

The Minahasa Highlands offer breathtaking, pristine panoramas for hikers. The top of Mt Lokon provides a commanding view of the surrounding green hills and fields. On clear days, sample the vistas, allowing simultaneous views of both coasts of North Sulawesi from the Tetetanah Hills.

Not to be overlooked in North Sulawesi is the fascinating history of the Waruga, the ancient sarcophagi of the Minahasa people. These ornate and ancient coffins are carved from stone. Expert guides can explain the heritage and inhabitants now resting in these beautifully designed graves. These burial practices gradually became extinct with the advance of Christianity in the area but are treasured today as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are also exciting options to go river rafting, cool off under splendid waterfalls, visit Chinese temples, and join in shopping activities at bustling markets.

Manado Safari Tours is one of North Sulawesi’s oldest and most reputable travel operators. The company delights in creating bespoke travel itineraries above and below the water line for North Sulawesi travelers. thanks Arjen Bokhoven for his valuable assistance in preparing this travel overview. Arjen is originally from the Netherlands and has lived in Manado since 2017. He works in guest relations, IT, and social media for Thalassa Dive Resorts Indonesia and holds a PADI Advanced Open Water Dive certification. 

Related Links

For more information on North Sulawesi, visit the following websites.

Thalassa Dive Resorts Indonesia

N. Sulawesi Awaits: Safari Tours Manado 

Manado Safari Tours

Dive North Sulawesi

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