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The Best Diving in Sulawesi

Sulawesi in Pictures

The island of Sulawesi will take your breath away. It’s the 11th largest island in the world and has dive sites galore and an impressive marine park management system that has preserved countless species of fish and coral. 

Marine Life in Sulawesi         

Marine life in Sulawesi is abundant and diverse. Located almost at the epicentre of the coral triangle, strong currents bring the rich nutrients that feed the pristine reefs, which in turn attract an astounding variety of fish, critters and their predators. Somewhat of a  biological mecca for photographers, in particular, will find plenty of photo opportunities. Thousands of species of fish and reef-building corals inhabit these diverse waters that restock and populate reefs throughout the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.

It’s also a fantastic snorkeling destination.

It’s easy to spot a variety of large pelagic fish, mantas, cetaceans, large schools of fish, manta rays, reef sharks, wobbegong sharks, reef sharks, the rare walking shark, turtles, Spanish mackerel, tuna, barracuda, pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs, ghost pipefish, cuttlefish, and all sorts of crustaceans.

Dive Conditions in Sulawesi          

Tropical Sulawesi is the 11th largest island in the world and offers a range of dive experiences and conditions depending on where you are. Sulawesi is famous for muck diving and strange sea creatures.

In Northern Sulawesi, currents are quite common around Bunaken are generally mild but can sometimes be strong and are difficult to predict.

Down south the waters are generally calm, but the currents can be stronger and recommended for advanced divers. 

Liveaboards are popular for avid divers and the best way to see all that the region has to offer. 

Best Time to Dive in Sulawesi         

Sulawesi is an all year round scuba diving destination. The best time to dive is between August and June. 

November until the end of January offers the best visibility of 10-15m (33 – 50ft)in the North. While it is possible to dive in Lembeh all round the year, the best two months are September and October owing to calmer sea conditions and better visibility.

The southeast part has the least rainfall in monsoon season the province tends to see the smallest rainfall. 

For the Wakatobi area in Southern Sulawesi, diving is excellent from March to December. 

Water Temperature is a steady 26 °C – 30 °C  (78 °F – 86 °F) degrees year-round and visibility ranges from 10 to 25m (30 to 80 ft.) Air temperatures are usually constant with a daytime average maximum of 32 °C (89 °F).

Liveaboards run from Manado, throughout the year.

Best Dive Sites in Sulawesi          

North Sulawesi

North Sulawesi is a natural paradise and the excellent preservation efforts ensure the abundance of life on the dive sites here. Here are the top places to dive in Northern Sulawesi.

Lembeh

World-famous Lembeh Strait hosts a number of rare, endemic marine species that will astound. This area offers some of the best muck diving in the world. The area also offers excellent wall, reef, pinnacle and even wreck diving (There are three World War II wrecks in the Strait). Sites not to be missed are :

Nudi Falls 

Nudi Falls is a dive site offering a huge coral garden and a drop off in the deeper part adorned with gorgonian fan corals and all the critters that live amongst them. You’ll get your fill of nudibranchs here too. Macro photographers will not be disappointed.

Teluk Kembahu

There are a number of sites here, also known as TK1, TK2, and TK3. Sloping down from 5m (16ft.) to 30m (100ft.), these black-sand dive sites are what Lembeh is famous for. All things bright and beautiful can be seen on these dives including hairy and painted frogfish, mimic octopus, cuttlefish, stingrays and ribbon eels and plenty of other creatures.

Mawali wreck

A Japanese cargo ship sunk during WW2, it is 70m long. It lies on its port side but still entirely intact including the propeller. The top of the wreck starts at 16m where you can swim through massive cargo rooms. Beautiful Soft Corals cover the steel structure and the macro life clinging to the shipwreck is simply stunning. Hanging out at the propeller you might find the resident Tall Fin Batfish school.

Bunaken and Siladen

Bunaken and Siladen are small islands in North Sulawesi and are two of the five islands which make up the Bunaken Marine Park. The islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Siladen, Mantehage, and Nain are home to numerous rare and endangered marine creatures which include dugongs, whales, a large resident population of green sea turtles and dolphins. Approximately 2000 species of fish live area of the park, including the emperor angelfish, Almaco jack, spotted seahorse, bluestripe snapper, pinkish basslet, and two-lined monocle bream. The species of mollusk include the giant clam, horned helmet shells, chambered nautilus, and ascidians. Offering some of the world’s best wall diving, top dives in the Bunaken Marine Park are:

Muka Kampung

A combination of a steep drop off, wall and sandy slope this site is popular with turtles and a great place for macro life too. Eagle rays pass through and close-knit schools of butterfly and bannerfish will keep you entertained. Branching corals provide shelter for a myriad of strange marine creatures too. 

Lekuan 

There are three sites here Lekuan 1,2 and 3 where you can find Bunaken’s most impressive walls, just full of life. Turtles, White tip reef sharks, mackerel, fusiliers, eagle rays and clouds of pyramid butterflyfish and red tooth triggerfish frequent these sites.

Siladen Point 

Just off the minute island of Siladen, there is incredible diversity at this site. Hard and soft corals populate the walls and you can spot scorpionfish, cuttlefish, nudibranch and more. Whitetip reef sharks and other pelagics visit often. 

Ron’s point

Located on the southwest corner of Bunaken island, Ron’s Point reef slopes down to a large coral plateau which reaches about 35 to 40 m (114 to 130 ft.) Plenty of pelagic species swim about here and sharks, eagle rays and other big fish are often seen. You might even spot a dugong in the shallower part.

Barracuda Point

As the name suggests, this site on the west side of Mantehage Island is the best place to encounter schooling barracuda, snapper and other species.

Central Sulawesi

The lesser-known Central Sulawesi has scintillating dive sites and incredible scenery, diveable all year round. Reef sharks, barracudas, squid, frogfish, eagle rays, hawksbill turtles all frequent these areas. Here are my best dive spots:

Donggala 

Donggala is a little peninsula on the west side of Sulawesi, near Pula. The peninsula is home to pristine reefs that attract a myriad of life including the strange and wonderful frogfish and numerous pelagics and reef sharks. There are many excellent sites to dive here.

Togian Islands

The Togian Islands are the most well-known diving destination in Central Sulawesi. Located in the calm, deep Gulf of Tomini, these islands are an excellent place to learn to dive. There are six main islands in the complex that host hundreds of species of fish and coral, including several endemic ones. There are a number of deep walls and drop-offs to explore too.

Banggai Archipelago. 

This amazing archipelago is the most eastern part of Central Sulawesi.  Only accessible by liveaboard, the reefs are healthy despite the harmful fishing practices of old. Since its more exposed here, there are a greater number of pelagic species roaming. If you are really lucky, you might see the Banggai cardinalfish – an endemic species that can only be seen in this area.

South Sulawesi

South Sulawesi is one of the most exciting dive destinations in Indonesia, in particular, the remote Wakatobi archipelago. Abundant fish life and healthy corals are the order of the day and diving is truly rewarding here. Top sites in Wakatobi are :

Roma

This superb pinnacle starts at 5m (16 ft) and drops to 25m (82 ft.) The current here is weak, making it suitable for all levels of divers. Featuring huge lettuce coral, there are also loads of barracudas, turtles, damselflies and large seabreams.

The Zoo

Although the dive site offers an impressive drop-off, it is also a well-known place to snorkel as the beautiful coral reefs are only 3m (10ft.) Without much current, it’s another site suitable for beginners. All kinds of coral formations abound and you’ll see nudibranch, sea bream, sweet lips, crocodile fish, stonefish, snappers, lionfish but also small shrimps and tiny blennies.

Turkey Beach

This dive site is probably the best-known Wakatobi dive site. It is especially popular because of the turtles that come to lay their eggs during the mating season. It’s also a perfect site for snorkeling.

Blade

A wonderful site for underwater photo enthusiasts, Blade is named for the canyons that seem to have been sliced into the rock by a large blade. The topography here is spectacular. A multitude of smaller reefs connected by an underwater canyon. See barrel corals, hard black corals, and large gorgonians as you drift by in the mild current. Groupers, snappers, jackfish, scorpionfish, sea bream, and anthias frequent this site as do the hundreds of small blennies.

How to Get to Sulawesi         

Sulawesi can be reached by air or sea. Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado in the north has good connections to the rest of Indonesia and an international connection through Singapore. Makassar (Ujung Pandang) in the south offers good connections with the rest of Indonesia.

Large passenger boats call in at Bitung (about 45 minutes from Manado), Makassar and Pare Pare, plus there are many smaller ferries leaving from Manado itself that stop at ports along the coast, go north to Tahuna (Sangihe) and Lirung (Talaud) or over to Ternate and Ambon.

Wakatobi is accessible by charter flight from mainland Sulawesi or ferry.

Good to Know

North Sulawesi is a natural paradise that has five nature parks and animal sanctuaries. These include Batuputih Nature Tourist Park, Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Tourist Park, Karakelang Island Animal Sanctuary, Manembo-nembo Animal Sanctuary, and Nantu Animal Sanctuary. These areas have many endemic species of birds and mammals like the crested black macaque, Talaud kingfisher, red-and-blue lory and others like the world’s smallest primate, the tarsier.

The geographical location of Central Sulawesi offers a variety of natural attractions besides diving. See the butterflies, exotic insects and megalithic statues that are hundreds or thousands of years old are scattered in the Lore Lindu National Park.

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