In the heart of the Coral Triangle, the island of Sulawesi is surrounded on all sides by deep ocean waters that boast as many as 500 dive sites. While the currents can be rather strong in places, this part of Indonesia is well known for its unusually high level of biodiversity, supported by hundreds of species of reef-building corals. Whether you’re after spectacular muck diving, or the thrill of trenches, wrecks and drop-offs, you won’t be disappointed by the incredible volume of marine life that inhabits this island’s 6000 kilometers (3700 miles) of coastline, making Sulawesi scuba diving an incredible experience.
The nutrient-rich waters that envelop Sulawesi’s beautiful coral environments are easily accessed from shore, particularly out of the city of Manado in the north, and by liveaboard in regions like the Wakatobi archipelago off the island’s southern tip.
Local Indonesian flights service both the northern and southern ends of Sulawesi, and Manado can be reached directly from Singapore as well. Divers should expect water temperatures ranging from 19-30oC (66-86oF), and visibility as high as 80 meters (260 feet), depending on the site and the season. In planning your scuba diving vacation in Sulawesi, be sure to leave time to discover the island’s unique range of land-based wildlife, its many volcanoes and jungle waterfalls, and fascinating sites like the cave tombs of Tan Toraja.
Manado and Bunaken Island
At Sulawesi’s northern end, Bunaken Marine Park has long been considered one of Indonesia’s richest dive regions. Best explored from the city of Manado, or directly from its namesake island of Bunaken, the pristine soft coral reefs found throughout this 75,000 hectare (290 square mile) park remain impressively unspoiled and lush with aquatic life. Marine studies conducted here have demonstrated that many of the park’s dozens of dive sites regularly boast sightings of 200-300 fish species in a single dive.
About 10 km (6 miles) off Sulawesi’s northernmost tip, more advanced divers can explore the idyllic island of Bangka, where dramatic pinnacles, reef slopes, colossal sea fans and nudibranchs are scattered dramatically across several dozen sites. While water temperatures hover in the 27-30oC (80-86oF) range, the island’s exposed position means that currents can be quite strong here. This provides ideal feeding conditions for turtles, large schools of fish, including midnight snappers, pipefish and surgeonfish, and the occasional white tip reef shark or grazing dugong.
Off the east-facing side of North Sulawesi, magical Lembeh Strait is a comfortable day trip from Bangka Island or a two hour drive from the airport at Manado. This macro treasure trove is home to a number of rare and unique marine creatures, many of which are found nowhere else. Because of its calm, sheltered waters and the many unusual critters that inhabit its ocean floor, unparalleled muck diving is the order of the day at Lembeh Strait, where most sites sit well within a half hour boat ride from shore. When mentioning Sulawesi scuba diving, many divers will equate this with scuba diving in Lembeh Strait.
At Sulawesi’s south-eastern tip, scuba divers of all levels can take advantage of the incredible opportunities that lie in wait among the remote and exotic islands of Wakatobi (an acronym made up of the islands of Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko). This area encompasses over 800 sq kilometers. Wakatobi National Park, established in 1996, is a testimony to the conservation efforts in this region. It’s world-class macro life, 400 species of coral, and 700 species of fish make it well worth a visit. The region’s healthy, and vibrantly coloured reefs are every photographer's delight. While a few liveaboards service this area, Wakatobi Dive Resort is really to be credited to have put this area on the dive map. This region isn't easily reached, with only a once a day flight to Wangi Wangi Island, or the private airstrip on the island of Tomia, for exclusive use of the Wakatobi Dive Resort. Alternate options to reach this area is via long boat rides.
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