Indonesia is undoubtedly one of the best countries in the world for us divers, for various reasons, they are more than 16,000 islands (some still to be explored) so difficult are the crowds of divers. In other islands, new species of animals and plants are still found every year, for example in the remote area of Raja Ampat. The great variety of islands and the wide area that covers the country means that we can find almost all the different types of dives possible, we can dive in caves, wrecks, “muck diving”, great nocturnal, diving or drift, deep diving, ” reef “, etc. In Indonesia we can find ourselves diving with all kinds of animals, from small fauna and incredible endemic creatures to large pelagic, as well as a great variety of sharks and of course the Mobulas or Giant Manta.
As we can not talk about all the dive sites in Indonesia in a post that would be too long, in this I am going to focus on one of the most famous areas for the quality of its reefs and the extraordinary creatures that we can find, I mean North of Sulawesi. The island of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) is one of the largest in Indonesia, with a curious shape that reminds in some way an Orchid, is located east of the giant island of Borneo separated from it by the Strait of Makassar and the West of the area of Raja Ampat separated from it by the sea of the Moluccas. The North of Sulawesi, bathed by the sea of Celebes, is a warm place with a tropical climate, with rainfall ranging from the end of November to the middle of March. Our summer is the best time to dive in this area although you can dive all year round (I dived in November with a perfect sea).
As a curiosity to say that although Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, the North of Sulawesi is Christian majority and it is curious to see how many churches we can find in each village. The arrival airport is Manado, the capital of the area and the starting point for two of the diving areas par excellence in the area, along one of the famous Bunaken Marine Park and on the other the Lembeh Strait. Life can be done on board, which normally goes up the Sanghie Islands towards North (if we continue North we arrive in the South of the Philippines) but this area of Indonesia is an excellent place for diving from the hotel, the trips from the resort to the points Diving is not usually long and there is a varied amount of “dive resorts” with excellent dive centers. You can choose to sleep in Manadao, the island of Siladen in the Bunaken Park, the island of Gangga (first of the Sanghie Islands) strategically located halfway between Bunaken and Lembeh, or sleep in one of the resorts scattered across the strait of Lembeh, this to mention just a few options. You can also combine stays in Manado with Lemebh, the best way to see the two diving areas without large daily trips to the dive sites. In the North of Sulawesi.
The Bunaken Marine Park is about an hour and a half away from Manado or the aforementioned island of Gangga, that depends on the power of the diving boat that we have hired. I will not cite companies for not discrediting anyone but once there you realize why some are quite cheaper than others. For example, I arrived from Gangga with a comfortable diving boat with more than 230hp and bathroom among other amenities, it took the same time to get to Bunaken that some diving boats that left from Manado (which is just in front) and saw how they dipped water from the boat with a 40hp motor …
The Bunaken Marine Park is formed by several islands of volcanic formation, the island of Bunaken itself and among which the impressive Manado Tua with its volcano, or the beautiful island of Siladen with fine white sand beaches. Its waters with a high visibility (over 40 meters easy) and its reefs of an extraordinary quality with a large and abundant variety of marine fauna. They are mostly wall that are lost in the abyss where we can find real surprises. Here Dr. Mark Erdmann found in 1987 a live Coelacanth, a prehistoric fish that was raised extinct 60 million years ago! Once we dive into its waters we are struck by the abundant marine life that its reefs harbor, and above all the number and size of the barrel sponges that we can find, some really giant. Here the guides will show us the Gorgonians where the pygmy seahorses live, an authentic marvel of little animal that is not bigger than a nail of the big toe. Although we are in the oceanic zone and it is a large number of animals, it is not easy to see sharks here, we can cross with some white tips and little else. On the other hand there are dolphins in large numbers and large sea turtles, especially I found one that call it “Rambo” and you can imagine that it is not because it is small precisely … we can also see a good number of “frogfish” of all sizes and colors that you can imagine.
Halfway between Bunaken and the Strait of Lembeh we find some interesting islands with excellent diving. The island of Gangga also has the best “Dive Resort” in the area. These are islands with shallower reefs, where in addition to wall diving we can do “dropoff” on the island of Bangka and its surroundings as Pulisan or the island of Talisei. Excellent “sunset dive” to see the Mandarin Fish and continue with nocturnal full of pleasant surprises, “Spanish dancers” of more than considerable size, turtles, parrot fishes, great napoleons, marine snakes, and a long list of creatures that we can photograph Will.
At the other end of Bunaken we find the world-famous Lemebh Strait, which separates the island of Sulawesi itself from the island of Lembeh which extends some 50 square kilometers parallel to the Sulawesi coast. Unlike Bunaken, which is a quiet wall dive, here we can find currents that in some cases can be strong. The marine landscape here is also completely different, it is a volcanic black sand bottom that gives the bottoms of this area a very particular “moon” aspect and where we can meet the strangest sea creatures, not in vain Lembeh is known worldwide because it is one of the best (if not the best) place for the “muck diving” .
It is not a place to see “big bug” but the lovers of the “macro” fotosub here enjoy as never before, since almost all of its volcanic sand bottoms animals do not have many hiding places and can be photographed at pleasure, especially “Frogfish” that we see here in various sizes and shapes, from the smallest of about three centimeters to the “hairy” and large frog fish that use the most curious techniques to hunt. One of the animals that most amaze us of what we see here is the “mimic octopus”, an elegant brown octopus ringed in white, which to camouflage adopts forms of the most varied, I have seen it pass as a star of Sea or swim simulating being a sole, is impressive.
In short, this area of Indonesia is ideal for diving from hotel, especially in summer and a place that no “fotosub” should miss. Variety of accommodations and prices, easy access by plane and a diving quality of the best worldwide, yes, if you want to cross with sharks and Manta on all dives this is not your destination.