Whether you’re after exceptional muck diving and underwater photography, stunning sandy beaches, or a luxury family holiday and first-class snorkelling, North Sulawesi has it all.

With well known destinations such as Lembeh, Manado, Bangka, Gangga and Bunaken National Marine Park – each offering something entirely unique – it’s easy to tailor your next scuba diving holiday to suit your needs. Here are our thoughts on where to go for which experience.

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North Sulawesi's top spot for reefs and marine life

Bunaken National Park

Bunaken National Park boasts some of the richest reefs in Asia. In fact, Bunaken's underwater ecosystems are among the healthiest in the world – with several sites being home to over 300 species of fish! This outstanding diversity, alongside the warm waters, consistently great conditions and exceptional coral reefs, has attracted scuba divers for decades.

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Divers can expect thriving reef life in Bunaken National Park, North Sulawesi

With depths between islands exceeding 1,000-metres in some places, Bunaken National Park provides incredible wall diving accompanied by exhilarating drop-offs and vibrant sun-soaked coral reefs. Located less than an hour from the North Sulawesi mainland, Bunaken offers a rare combination of amazing and accessible reef diving, with marine life that’s second to none.

  • Great for: Dramatic drop-offs, great conditions, a rich diversity of marine life
  • Best time to visit: May to October, busiest at Easter, August and Christmas 

North Sulawesi's best destination for muck diving

Lembeh Strait

Since its discovery in the early 1990s, Lembeh Strait has earned a reputation as the undeniable muck diving capital of the world. With over 30 dive sites in a narrow stretch of water, each bursting with weird and wonderful creatures, it’s easy to see why.

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Critters such as flamboyant cuttlefish are a highlight for divers in the Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi

Sheltered bays, rocky pinnacles, black volcanic sand, fringing reefs, rubble slopes and even a wreck or two play host to an abundance of truly unique critters. And, thanks to the Lembeh Strait's exceptionally high density of life, the next surprise is often just around the corner. 

  • Great for: Crossing macro critters off your ‘hit list’, underwater photography
  • Best time to visit: Year round

Best destination in North Sulawesi for new divers

Bangka and Gangga islands

If you’re new to the underwater world, the shallow areas around Bangka and Gangga are a great place to start your scuba diving adventure.

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The islands of Bangka and Gangga are perfect for learning to dive in North Sulawesi

In contrast with the sometimes strong currents and low visibility in Lembeh, these spots around Bangka and Gangga create a safe place to train and build new scuba diving skills. With so many bays and protected areas, your dive centre can always find somewhere with enough shelter for a comfortable dive.

  • Great for: Stunning and easily accessible fringing reefs, good diving conditions
  • Best time to visit: March - July

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North Sulawesi's top spot for a family holiday

Bangka and Gangga islands

Although quiet in comparison to tourist hotspots such as Bali, life in North Sulawesi can still be busy and the islands of Bangka and Gangga offer a tranquil alternative to the relative hustle and bustle. Escape the crowds and indulge in a private island experience at one of the fantastic resorts which boast excellent facilities and sandy beaches.

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Bangka and Gangga are great for snorkelling, making them popular for families

Bangka and Gangga are also world-class snorkelling destinations, with schools of snapper, colourful reef fish and passing pelagics in the blue. Many resorts offer stunning house reefs just a few steps from the beach, helping children and non-divers enjoy the experience as much as scuba divers.

  • Great for: Secluded resorts, peaceful atmosphere, exceptional snorkelling
  • Best time to visit: March - July 

Best place in North Sulawesi for a luxury getaway

Bunaken National Park

Bunaken is the place to be if you’re looking for a little luxury during your scuba diving holiday. In truth, first-class facilities and dedicated hospitality can be found throughout North Sulawesi's popular dive destinations. But, the enchanting scenery of Bunaken National Park, certainly sets the scene for a luxurious escape.

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Siladen Island in Bunaken National Park is the perfect spot for a luxury dive getaway

Previously voted the world’s best dive resort, Siladen Resort and Spa offers guests perfect seclusion and exquisite beauty in the heart of Bunaken National Park. Equally, the award-winning Bunaken Oasis Dive Resort and Spa boasts exceptional quality and service in a truly breathtaking setting.

  • Great for: Luxury resorts, beautiful scenery, dolphin and whale spotting
  • Best time to visit: May to October – busiest at Easter, August and Christmas 

The perfect spot in North Sulawesi for beaches

Bangka and Gangga islands

Bangka and Gangga boast some of the most beautiful beaches in North Sulawesi. With soft white sand and crystal clear water, these unspoilt beaches offer a real taste of a secluded island paradise.

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Bangka and Gangga are a beach-lover's dream-come-true

Many resorts located on these islands have impressive beaches right on their doorstep, meaning guests don’t have to travel far to find the perfect spot. Kick-back on the sand and soak up some sun before cooling off with a swim or a relaxing snorkel on the fringing reef. Please remember that, as the area is quite rural, visitors should cover-up in the villages.

  • Great for: Tranquil lagoons and white sand beaches
  • Best time to visit: March - July 

North Sulawesi's top spot for photographers

Lembeh Strait

Although a complete list of Lembeh Strait’s inhabitants may never exist, the iconic – perhaps now somewhat expected – species are usually enough to excite scuba divers of all levels.

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Underwater photographers with their cameras in Lembeh, North Sulawesi

Many divers flock to this mecca of muck with the hope of crossing long-dreamt about critters off their ‘hit-list’ – and hopefully, snap a photo or two. As a result, the resorts around Lembeh Strait are experts in catering to underwater photographers. Dive guides are often keen photographers themselves and are well trained in assisting, both in and out of the water, while the dive centres frequently incorporate camera rooms and other specialist facilities.

  • Great for: Photographer-focussed dive centres, macro critters
  • Best time to visit: Year round 

Ideal destination in North Sulawesi for citizen science

Bangka and Gangga islands

Thanks to their incredible diversity and amazing reefs, the islands of Bangka and Gangga are perfect locations for focussed conservation efforts. As a result, this is a great place for dive travellers looking to give back to the local habitats and get involved with citizen science.

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Coral planting project in Bangka and Gangga islands, North Sulawesi

At times, these relatively remote islands have also been used as isolated outposts for scientific research, with local resorts such as Coral Eye still doing everything they can to protect the environment and support on-going conservation efforts.

  • Great for: Conservation courses, healthy coral reefs, rich diversity of marine life
  • Best time to visit: March - July

Other activities in North Sulawesi

With the mainland of North Sulawesi just a short boat ride away from all three destinations, it’s easy to spend a day or two exploring the breathtaking beauty of the nearby national park or volcanoes. Situated at the foot of Dua Saudara Mountain, the rolling hills and valleys of Tangkoko Nature Reserve are home to interesting and unusual plant and animal species, including one of the world’s smallest primates.

Further south the two active volcanoes, Mt. Mahawu and Mt. Lokon, offer some nice climbs which are both challenging and rewarding, while the village beneath – known as the Flower City – is alive with picturesque flower gardens and markets. Additionally, Lake Tondano boasts some incredibly scenic floating restaurants serving freshwater fish.

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Manado Tua in Bunaken National Park, North Sulawesi

Bunaken Park itself offers some nice trekking opportunities including hiking along the island's footpaths or climbing the Manado Tua Volcano. Dolphin and whale watching day trips are also available as well as fishing trips outside of the protected marine park. On Bangka, there is little in the way of roads, but it is possible to trek through the jungle, visiting small villages and spotting wildlife such as parrots, cuscus and monitor lizards.

Travelling to North Sulawesi's best dive spots

You'll be pleased to know, North Sulawesi is remarkably simple to reach. And, to make it as straight-forward as possible, we've gone into detail about getting to Bunaken, Lembeh and Bangka in a separate article, where we explain typical flight schedules, travel times, and more.