The celebrated yet bizarrely shaped island of Sulawesi has over 6,000 km of coastline, along which lap warm waters rich in marine life. The spectacular geography continues offshore, with abyssal trenches and sheer drop-offs near the coast.
The island lies near the epicentre of the Coral Triangle and surrounded by deep oceans. Strong currents rise from the ocean depths, bringing nutrient-rich water close to shore. This creates one of the most beautiful coral environments in the world which, together with the amazing array of macro-life, are the main drawcards that prompt many loyal scuba divers to return frequently to dive in Sulawesi year after year.
What's more, the coral reefs and walls are generally found close to the shoreline of the main island and the shores of the sprinkling of smaller islands that lie in the bays formed by Sulawesi's protective finger-like peninsulas. This makes the island well suited to resort stays since accommodations have excellent access to the dive sites. The plethora of properties on the tourist market makes finding affordable and great value-for-money places to stay a cinch.
Formerly known as Celebes, the island lies to the east of Borneo and to the west of the Moluccas. Situated on the Wallace Line, Sulawesi's bio-diversity extends beyond its waters to its land flora and fauna, which are a composite of Asian and Australasian species. Other attractions you can see on tours of the island include volcanoes, waterfalls and caves. First-time visitors should make sure to take a trip to Tan Toraja in the South. Here are the famous Toraja Tombs; man made caves cut into sheer cliff faces, with eerie effigies on suspended balconies staring out across the jungle.
In terms of sheer diversity and variety of diving, Sulawesi is quite possibly the best dive destination on the planet. Take a closer look at what it has to offer and you'll soon see why ...
In the Minahasa region of Sulawesi, Manado has 3 quite distinct world-class scuba destinations sitting on its doorstep and the options here in Manado alone will keep most ardent divers happy. Off the north east tip of Sulawesi is the world-famous Bunaken National Marine Park, often quoted as among the world's top 10 dive destinations, it is a mecca for scuba divers of all levels. There are few places in the world that offer such biodiversity and that means there is something for everyone.
To the east of Manado is the magical muck diving world of the Lembeh Strait, with its seemingly endless promises of discovering rare and unusual critters. If you've ever watched a National Geographic documentary on some strange underwater creature and wondered where it was filmed, well there's a high chance that it was filmed here!
Further to the north are Bangka and the Sangihe islands. These are the third marvel of this magnificent Manado scuba diving trio. They offer colourful soft corals pinnacles, sloping reefs and a Drowned Village to compliment the steep walls of Bunaken.
To experience all the best diving opportunities in this very special region, we recommend that you book and stay at a combination of resorts here. This should include one in the Manado/Bunaken Island area to visit the Bunaken National Marine Park, and one at Lembeh to explore the underwater treasures of the Lembeh Strait.
In south Sulawesi is one of the most exciting destinations in Indonesia - the remote Wakatobi archipelago. This is pure diving pleasure in a tropical island paradise setting. These pristine reefs have earned exceptional praise for their abundant fish life and healthy corals.
Once you have been scuba diving in Sulawesi once, you will understand the enthusiasm of frequent visitors and why many claim that there is nowhere else on earth that offers such diverse and rewarding underwater experiences.
Sulawesi is an all year round scuba diving destination. The best conditions are between August and June. The best visibility in the Manado area is from November until the end of January.
Although November to April normally sees the wet season here, in the central and northern parts the rain is more evenly spread during the whole year. The southeast province tends to see the smallest rainfall. The climate and temperature also vary a lot between lowland and highland. This allows for cool, misty walks in the hillsides and working on that tan by the beach.
For Wakatobi the diving is consistently very good from March to December. In the European summer months the surface tends to be a little choppier due to coral spawning.
Manado dive liveaboards run all year round.
If you prefer to travel by sea, PELNI has large passenger boats calling at Bitung (about 45 minutes from Manado), Makassar and Pare Pare, plus there are many smaller ferries leaving from Manado itself. They call at ports along the coast, go north to Tahuna (Sangihe) and Lirung (Talaud) or over to Ternate and Ambon.
Great for: Small animals, wall dives, underwater photography, reef life and health, value-for-money and advanced divers
Not so great for: Non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 15 - 80m
Currents: Usually gentle in the north, occasionally strong in the south and around outlying islands
Surface Conditions: Often calm but can be choppy
Water Temperature: 26 - 30°C
Experience Level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: ~250
Access: Dive resorts and liveaboard safaris
Recommended length of stay: 2 - 4 weeks
More detailed information on the Manado diving sites:
More detailed information on the other Sulawesi dive sites: