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Pacific - Sulawesi, Indonesia

Trip Report:

Located in the Coral Triangle, Sulawesi is home to some of the most pristine coral reefs and diverse marine life on the planet.

Lembeh Strait is known as the "Muck Diving Capital of the World", a combination of coral patches and black sand bottom that is home to some of the world's most rare and unusual sea creatures. I first learned about it several years ago on an old digital underwater photography forum sponsored by the folks at Reef Photo Video (they are who I buy all of my underwater photo equipment from). They organized a  group trip to Lembeh Resort and posted many beautiful

photos of the rare and diverse marine life. Kent and I were amazed by the creatures we saw, and decided we had to go there. We like this place so much, we have been there three times. The diving, the scenery, the food, the resort, the people; everything is just great. We have made many friends there and cannot recommend it highly enough. The divemasters are very experienced at finding unusual critters for you to observe and photograph.

To get to Sulawesi, we used American Arlines miles (One World Alliance) to fly to Singapore, then purchased airfare on Silk Air (owned by Singapore Air) to Manado. Lembeh Resort picks you up at the airport and it is a two hour drive to Bitung, where you take a boat across the strait to the island (15 min.). Of course, there are other airlines that fly to Singapore, so you can shop around for the best deal. You can also go through Jakarta if that appeals to you, but we recommend Singapore, the airport is very clean and modern.

On each trip we combined our stay at Lembeh Resort with a second location in Sulawesi:

On our first trip in September, 2011 we stayed first at the Murex Bangka Resort on Bangka Island located just northeast of Manado, then Lembeh the second half of the trip. Bangka is surrounded by beautiful coral patch reefs thick with coral species and schooling fish. Bangka and Lembeh Resorts are affiliated, and you have the option of travelling between the two by car, or you can choose a boat ride with a couple of dives in the Strait along the way.

In February, 2013 we made a second trip to Sulawesi, this time to Lembeh first, then Wakatobi Resort on the south end of Sulawesi. Wakatobi is home to stunning, healthy coral walls with huge schools of fish. Drift diving is the norm. This resort is a little more upscale thus more expensive than the others, but well worth it. Wakatobi Resort is more of a challenge to get to from North Sulawesi. You have to fly to Bali where you catch a charter flight to Tomia Island and take a boat over to the small adjacent island where the resort is located. The only way to get to Bali from Manado if you book with a non-Indonesian credit card is by flying back to Singapore, then taking Air Asia to Bali. An easier way to get there is to have Lembeh Resort book your flight from Manado to Bali on Garuda Indonesia Airlines (Garuda does not accept foreign credit cards).

On our third trip in January, 2014, we decided to check out Bunaken Island, located in Bunaken Marine Park northwest of Manado. It is also known for wall diving. We chose Bunaken Cha Cha Resort, which we loved, especially the world class Asian cuisine. Wall drift dives are the norm here. We were honored to have Hence Pontoh who discovered the Pontoh's Pygmy Seahorse as our divemaster. He did not find any pygmy seahorses for us, but he did show us some pretty wonderful things. We were only able to get in 3 dives here, as we were there during the rainy season and seas were too rough for diving half the time (not a problem in Lembeh Strait which is protected on both sides). On the plus side, the resorts are almost empty between Christmas and Chinese New Year.

If you choose to split your trip between Lembeh and closeby Bunaken and/or Bangka, transfers can be arranged by the resorts.

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