Manado and Bunaken in a Nutshell
Manado is the largest city (and airport) in North Sulawesi. The diving is spread between several dive regions, including mainland Manado, Bunaken National Park and Bangka Island. Each has distinctly different diving, keeping divers dreaming of getting back in the water no matter how long their trip. The islands around Bunaken offer some of the best coral reef diving in Southeast asia, with large numbers of schooling fish racing by on most dives. Some of the best critter diving in the world is nearby in Lembeh Strait.
Bunaken is primarily wall diving. Some walls have a visible bottom below recreational dive limits while others have no visible bottom. There are almost always currents, creating anything from a very mild drift dive to undiveable and dangerous conditions. Because of this, there are dives to suit divers of all skill levels. Manado also offers some great diving, although visibility is less than out at Bunaken and photographers will tend towards macro. Bangka Island is close and offers incredible pinnacle dives full of soft coral. Again, these dives are very depended on currents.
For diving, we recommend visiting more than one area on your trip. If you’re diving Manado and Bunaken, save a few days to dive the famous Lembeh Strait. And on the way, provided you have time, stop at Bangka or Gangga Island to round out the underwater offering of the area. Many people say the combination of these areas is unparalleled and return frequently.
Manado - A focus on reefs and macro for shrimps, crabs, cephalopods, nudibranchs and other abundant critters in the reefs and sand.
Bunaken - Lots of butterflyfish, triggerfish and the most fun, turtles. The shallows are filled with small fish rising in and out of the coral that will make you want more than a 3-minute safety stop. Bangka is also very fishy and every reef can be dived wide-angle or macro depending on your interests.
Manado and North Sulawesi are filled with topside activities for the adventurous diver looking for some culture. The Minahasa and local island people are genuinely friendly, making interactions with locals an opportunity to learn, share and enjoy new experiences. Touring the Minahasa highlands and beautiful countryside is a nice daytrip. The area has a history of clove and flower growing with beautiful villages and scenery. Farmers create terraces up the sides of Mahawu Volcano, which offers breathtaking views of Manado, the Bunaken National Park and a volcanic crater that is still steaming. Make sure to tour the Tomohon Market, but we forewarned that there is food of all sorts on display. Lunch at Gardenia restaurant (also a mountain resort) offers a sampling of many local Minahasan dishes. Other activities include touring Tangkoko National Park, White Water Rafting and more.
If you have the time, stop by the Tangkoko Nature Reserve - a conservation area for endangered species (about 70 kilometers from Manado). Bring your binoculars and watch tarsiers, black macaque monkeys, maleo birds, and cuscus in their natural habitat.