This region of Indonesia is a little different than the rest, mostly due to Christianity being the majority religion here. This religious background heavily influences culture and cuisine, with meat featuring heavily, especially pork and various fowl. Historically North Sulawesi was once the center of the Dutch colony in Asia, which has left traces of European culture. This history also means it is a little easier to enjoy a cold beer here than many other parts of the country!
The region has a center of volcanic hillslopes, thriving with life and vast rainforests. Along the coast there are low lying fertile lands, skirted by beautiful offshore coral reefs. Streams run down from the hills and onto these plains, making them perfect for farming.
It’s called ‘The Land of Smiling People’ for good reason, the people here are exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Outstanding natural beauty, delicious cuisine, and friendly locals make travelling here a dream.
Wet Season: November to April
Dry Season: May to October
Temperature is consistent year round; 23-30ºC.
Manado has a typical equatorial climate: the wet season runs from November to April and the dry season is from May to October. Although, you are likely to get some rain even in the dry season.
The air temperature remains fairly constant throughout the year, ranging between 23 ºC – 30ºC and the average humidity is 80%.
The clear, calm waters of North Sulawesi are a haven for underwater photographers looking for unusual critters and pristine coral growth. Over 70% of all fish species that exist in the Indo-western Pacific can also be seen around Manado. Marine biologists, photographers and recreational divers prize this eco-treasure. The diving is a mixture of walls, drift, muck and critter spotting. You will also encounter rays, sharks, barracuda, napoleon wrasse and turtles.
Dive sites here are very carefully managed, leading to an overall healthier marine ecosystem. The area hosts an alliance of dive resorts that work together to ensure no one site is over visited, that each is looked after and damage is not caused by diving activities. It’s clear that this alliance works wonderfully, as dive sites are flourishing with life. Whether you are a novice or experienced diver North Sulawesi has the perfect dive site for you.
The water temperature is a fairly constant and warm 27ºC – 29ºC (dropping to 25 ºC in Lembeh Strait in July / August); 3 – 5 mm wetsuit
Diving is conducted year round although conditions will vary throughout the year in different areas.
Bunaken: From November to March, the cooler north-westerly winds can make sea conditions rough and visibility can sometimes drop to 10-15 metres. Dive sites on the western side of Bunaken Island may be inaccessible during this period. The westerly winds can also bring in a lot of trash to the western beaches such as Liang Beach and the main beach on Bunaken. Visibility at other times of the year is normally 20 metres and up.
Lembeh Strait: The highest numbers of critters are usually seen when the water is at its coolest between July and August. January and February has the poorest visibility and rough seas may limit access to some of the far northern dive sites during this period.
Bangka Island: Visibility is best from March to June. November to December is generally wet and July to October has more wind which both can result in lower visibility
Bunaken Marine Park
This marine park was formally established in 1991 to provide a safe haven for an array of protected marine species, including animals that rely on the area to migrate through. The marine park is approximately 18km from Manado Bay, covering an area of over 75,000 hectares and includes the islands of Bunaken, Siladen, Manado Tua, Montehage and Nain. Steep walls with abundant coral growth surrounds Manado Tua while many sites around Siladen and Bunaken feature shallow reef tops extensively covered by hard and soft corals teeming with extensive marine life including napoleon wrasse, angelfish, turtles, blue ribbon eels, stingrays, eagle rays, snappers, groupers, and sharks. There are about 25 dive sites around Bunaken averaging between 5 - 40+ metres in depth. The visibility ranges from 20 - 35 metres. Currents in the area are usually mild but occasionally can be strong.
If you love muck diving and critters then Lembeh Strait is an absolute must! Arguably one of the best places in the world to see weird and wonderful macro life. On a typical dive you’re likely to come across a whole range of colourful nudi’s, funny little frog fish, intricate shrimp, and vibrant manderin fish. Diving can be done here any time of the year. There are around 30 dive sites to choose from, all between 5-30m deep. Perfect for any recreational diver! And the low currents make it perfect for those keen to take critter photos.
Bangka Island is known for its strong currents making it the ideal spot for drift dives. The big draw here are it’s stunning reef walls, plunging into the deep blue depths of the Celebes Sea. The currents bring in schooling fish and bigger pelagics, as well as providing nutrient rich waters fuelling coral growth, which carpets the areas pinnacles, gorges and swim-throughs. Sites range from 5-40+ meters in depth. This area is only recommended for more advanced divers due to the currents.
Bangka lies off the northern tip of Sulawesi, some 80km from Manado. The islands are quite exposed and often get strong currents making it an ideal area for drift dives around steep pinnacles. Pelagics come in to feed and the reefs are alive with colour.
If you would like to see the areas land animals then a visit to The Tangkoko Nature Reserve is highly recommended. Here you can see cus cus, hornbills, maleo birds and rusa deer. There’s also a number of beautiful walks in highland area of Lake Tondano - a lush mountain area dotted with coffee and coconut plantations, and full of stunning wild orchids. For those a little more adventurous there is an excellent hike up Mt Mahawu - which is an active volcano.
If you would prefer to explore on water then North Sulawesi has plenty of options. Take a kayak and explore one of the lakes, or for those a little more adventurous go on a white water rafting trip down one of the regions fast flowing rivers. Sea kayaking is a great way to experience Bunaken Marine Park from the surface. Finished off. of course, with a spot of snorkelling.
The region is known for its beautiful natural landscapes, and there are plenty of ways for you to enjoy them! There is rock climbing suitable for all levels, waterfall abseiling and canyoning. You can even explore the region on a 4WD tour or on quad-bikes. There’s no shortage of activities to enjoy!
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