Bunaken / Lembeh.
Coral gardens or World-class muck diving? Why not both? Find out how and where exactly to go, to find the best of both worlds only 3 hours apart from each other!
Getting to Bunaken/ Lembeh.
For Both locations, you first need to book yourself a ticket to Manado. You can fly in from Jakarta, Singapore, Bali, or Kuala Lumpur. Almost all flights go through Makassar, the largest city in Sulawesi.
Bunaken island is easily reached from Manado by boat. When arriving in Manado, a good tip is, to arrive before noon, since the boat usually leaves around 2 PM (depending on the weather, excluding Sunday). (Rp 25000 per person).
If you happen to arrive later than 2 PM, you might want to stay the night in Manado, or book yourself a private boat, but expect to pay handsomely or bargain like a champ!
You will need a permit to stay in the park, which can be obtained on the island but is usually arranged by the dive center.
Visa on arrival is available in Manado for those who fly in from abroad.
The ferry will take around 1 hour to get to the island, and most accommodations will be in resorts. It's not cheap, but very much worth it and you can find good deals outside the high season (July - August).
You can opt to stay on Bunaken or Siladan, both very good options, but Siladan is a bit quieter and more remote, so look around before you head over there.
To get to Lembeh you have to fly to Manado first. Usually, there will be a stopover in Makassar. If you booked your stay with a resort on mainland Lembeh or Lembeh island, they can arrange a transfer for you, bringing you to Bitung in 2 hours. If you're staying on Lembeh Island, expect another 10 minutes by boat from bitung.
Lots of divers dive first in Bunaken National Park for Superb Coral, great visibility, and pelagic fishes, and then head to Lembeh Strait for amazing Muck diving.
An impression of the diving scene in Bunaken & Lembeh:
Bunaken island is part of the Bunaken National Marine Park established in 1991. The park consists of multiple islands like Manado Tua, Siladen, Montehagen, Nain, and Nain Kecil.
Since the creation of this marine park, the waters are crystal clear, the corals healthy, and diving world-class. Expect to see many pelagic fishes and some smaller critters there as well, although Lembeh is more well-known for macro life than Bunaken.
Diving is mostly done from resorts, organizing day trips, with lunch included. Some offer night diving as well on their house reefs.
This destination offers also terrific snorkeling opportunities for non-divers.
Lembeh Island or Lembeh Strait is all about muck diving. The area is dedicated to it, and we love that of course!
Lembeh is world famous for muck diving, meaning, finding small rare creatures on sloping reefs. Photographers visit this site yearly, and new species of nudibranchs and crabs, and shrimps are still being discovered!
There are too many rare creatures to name them all, that can be spotted here. Just imagine 8 different species of octopus, multiple species of frogfish, and 3 species of pygmy seahorse!
You can explore the island on your deco-days, by foot, by scooter, or by car if you wish.
Optional: Togian Islands.
If you happen to visit Bunaken & Lembeh, why not travel a bit down to Togian Islands if you have a few spare days?
Some places are just not visited that often, and I'm wondering why sometimes.
The Togian islands are a paradise of calm waters, with beautiful reefs, blue marlins can appear here, and thousands of barracudas call this home.
There is even a B24 airplane wreck. Because not many tourists visit, not many people live here. Meaning the reefs and corals are in exceptional condition, waiting to be admired and explored!
To get to the Togian Islands from Manado, travel to Gorontalo port (you can fly here from Manado). You then take the Tuesday or Friday ferry to Wakai (the main transport hub) which leaves around 5 PM and takes 12 hours. You'll arrive in the morning.
When leaving the Togian Islands, the best is to take the ferry to Ampana, south of the Togian islands. From here you can fly to Makassar and continue your journey.
Boats leave the Togian Islands Monday - Thursday - Saturday 9 AM to Ampana.