Written by Scuba Instructors ~ DIVE.in's Complete Guide to:

The Best Diving in Sulawesi

Weather in Sulawesi

AVERAGE TEMP. — 29°C / 84°F RAINFALL DAYS — 112mm / 4.4 inches

Water in Sulawesi

AVERAGE WATER TEMP. — 29°C / 84°F

Currency

Bath
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Language

Indonesian (bahasa Indonesia)
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The authors:

torben lonne

Katt Andryskova

Scuba Instructor and Writer at Divein
When Katt is not traveling, she's sharing her thought on Oceanpancake or My Vegan Experiment 

When you look at Sulawesi, it makes you wonder how it came to be.

This breath-taking Island is a wonder for any diver and traveller.

Diving in Sulawesi has so much to offer no matter your pereferences. And above the water this island has a fascinating topography featuring splayed out rock peninsulas which formed during the violent collisions of tectonic plates millions of years ago.

This biodiverse natural paradise rising from sparkling blue waters welcomes visitors throughout the year. The island has a rich combination of ethnic groups, religions, and an abundance of activities for any traveller to enjoy.

The name is a combination of the words “sula” which means island, and “besi”, which means iron, to pay homage to the rich Lake Matano iron deposits.

More of Indonesia:
This Sulawesi guide is part of our Diving in Indonesia guide that also has diving in the Gili Islands, Raja Ampat, Bali and Komodo

It is one of the four Greater Sunda Islands, and the world’s 11th largest Island at an impressive 174,600 square kilometres. It is located a short distance East of Borneo which is world renown for being one of the most biologically diverse and precious regions in the world.

Sulawesi’s enormous size and distinct peninsulas have created a landscape that is sometimes easier to travel around by boat rather by car, motorbike or foot. The inland areas are covered in rugged mountains and thick rainforest, making some villages and towns isolated.

The island slopes dramatically straight from the shores, with a few active volcanoes found in the northern Minahassa Peninsula. Below the surface of the water, the island mountains continue to slope into the deep ocean attracting a myriad of sea life.

The 10 Best Dive sites in Sulawesi?

Sort this list to fit your scuba level and wishes

Location


  1. North Sulawesi
  2. South Sulawesi

Recommended Level


  1. Beginner
  2. Intermediate
  3. Advanced

Dive Type


  1. Macro
  2. Reef Wall
  3. Pinnacles
  4. Muck
  5. reef
  6. Currents
  7. Pelagic
  8. Reef Garden
  9. Liveaboards
  10. Megafauna
  11. Drift
  12. Deep
  13. Shore

Show only the very best


  1. Yes
  2. No

Nain Island

Just like Mantahage island this is a beautiful dive site for game fish such as barracuda. It is only about an hour boat ride from the north of Bunaken. There is the Batu Kapal pinnacle off Nain Island, which is in the area which descend quite deep and are only suitable for advanced scuba divers. Since the currents can be quite strong, the dive guides on the day will determine the best place to dive around Nain Island, with several small dive sites known well only to them.

What you will see:

This deep dive site has been known for the occasional passing hammerheads which are the highlight for any diver. There is also a place known as barracuda point located nearby where massive schools of barracuda are frequently sighted. Otherwise, this current filled pinnacle dive site provides divers the opportunity to see eagle rays, black tip reef sharks, schooling jackfish, all swimming in the warm and pristine waters of the coral triangle.


North Sulawesi Intermediate Advanced Macro Reef Wall Pinnacles Currents

Bunaken National Park

Often written as one of the world’s top 10 dive destinations, the Bunaken National Park offers diving for all levels of scuba divers. Marine Biologist, photographers, and recreational divers all travel here for an opportunity to experience the vast and impressive marine biodiversity. The passes required to enter the marine park also ensure that money is being channelled into conservation and village development programs. Which keeps this area of the world protected and benefitting the local economy. There are many separate dive sites in the national park, however which ever one you will dive, will provide unique and fascinating underwater exploration.

What you will see:

The Bunaken National Park is said to have 70% of all fish species that are currently known in the Indo-Western Pacific. You can see giant tridacna clams, leaf fish, cuttlefish, and a range of invertebrates hiding amongst the colourful sponges and bubble coral. The coral biodiversity is extremely impressive, and to get the best view of the colours, make sure to bring your own dive torch!


North Sulawesi Beginner Intermediate Advanced Macro Reef Wall Pinnacles Our Favorite

Lembeh Strait

The North East tip of Sulawesi has one of the world’s best muck diving sites in the world. It is an endless expanse of unique marine critters which you can meet and take photos of. Many National Geographic documentaries have been filmed in this area, showcasing many unusual creatures that inhabit these waters.

What will you see:

Keep your eyes peeled and you will see mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, harlequin shrimps, skeleton shrimps, nudibranchs, several species of sea horses, scorpion fish and devil fish.


North Sulawesi Beginner Intermediate Macro Muck reef Our Favorite

Mantehage Island

This dive site offers warm water diving at 28 degrees Celsius with an abundance of fish life to see. The lack of current means that new divers can also enjoy this dive, even during choppy surface conditions. It can easily be reached as a day trip, however due to the surface intervals between the dives, it is recommended to take sea sickness medication to minimise the risk of getting sick.

What you will see:

If you are lucky, you will be able to see large schools of fish such as barracudas and other predatory fish swirling around this dive site. Typically, there are many game fish who come here to hunt such as tuna and trevally. These guys look quite ferocious; however, most divers look forward to catching a glimpse of the sharks which are residents in this area.


North Sulawesi Beginner Intermediate Advanced Macro Reef Wall Currents Pelagic

Bangka Island

Bangka is one of the islands which lie off the northern tip of Sulawesi, it is quite an exposed dive site which gets strong current frequently changing directions. This heavy current means many nutrients are brought here, creating the ideal environment for both macro and megafauna. Due to the strength of the water’s movement, it’s important to have some diving experience and to stay close to your buddy group.

What you will see:

Along with a brightly colourful thriving coral reef, the strong currents attract big pelagic fish. If you keep your eye on the blue, you will be able to spot white tip reef sharks, mobula rays, and potentially eagle rays cruising in the fast moving water.


North Sulawesi Intermediate Advanced Macro Reef Wall Currents Our Favorite

Sangihe Island

Yet another world class site, this magnificent island offers divers with spectacular views of soft coral pinnacles, sloping reefs and even a drowned village. The pinnacles which rise from great depths mean some big creatures are attracted to this area, and you can take your time swimming with massive schools of fish or spend your dive checking out the awe-inspiring coral. Have a chat with the local dive resorts to ensure you get the best diving experience and stay safe.

What you will see:

The soft corals covering the pinnacle are the home to many invertebrates, keep your eyes open for ornate crabs, harlequin shrimps, and well camouflaged scorpion fish. There are many species of sea horses hiding amongst the coral. If you wish to see the adorable pygmy sea horse, then check closely on the Gorgonian Fans stretched out into the current. They are extremely well disguised and are virtually indistinguishable from the purple and pink sea fans.


North Sulawesi Intermediate Macro Reef Wall Pinnacles

Coral Garden, Wakatobi

The remote Wakatobi archipelago is considered a diving paradise by scuba divers of all levels. Its isolation from the world has allowed many of the reefs to remain pristine and have all the biodiversity expected from the centralised point in the coral triangle. The coral garden is located at the end of a current swept sand ledge at 11 metres in a big bowl measuring 40 metres across. While there will be current on your descent, once you reach the inside of the bowl, you will be protected by the walls and submerged into an area of tranquillity.

What you will see:

Spectacular coral is primarily what you will see in the coral garden, along with all the marine life which come to visit this incredible place. You will see cleaner wrasse cleaning long face emperors and sling jaw wrasse. Garden eels peeking out from the sand and goatfish shuffling their way through the sandy bottom. If you want to see any megafauna. Keep your eyes upwards, as the sharks, rays, and turtles enjoy the currents.


South Sulawesi Beginner Intermediate Macro Reef Wall Currents Liveaboards Our Favorite

Cornucopia

The Cornucopia is the horn of plenty, where the nutrient rich currents supply plankton to the spectacularly coloured coral and residents of the reef. This dive site has beautiful topography featuring walls, ledges, and overhangs where plenty of fish hide and you can spend hours exploring. There is typically a current which will allow you to drift along and enjoy the views of the coral.

What you will see:

Along with all the typical coral creatures, this drift dive will bring you the opportunity to see pelagic fish including white tips, nurse sharks, eagle rays, and mobula rays gliding in the blue. The corals stretch all along the wall providing divers with exquisite views of what a healthy coral ecosystem should look like. Be mindful of your depth gauge at this site, as it is easy to get distracted by the magnificent under water world and lose track of your descents and ascents.


South Sulawesi Beginner Macro Muck reef Shore

Wakatobi House Reef

Potentially the best house reef in the world, if you stay at the Wakatobi Dive Resort, it is located a mere 20m from your bed and provides some fantastic, easy dives suitable for any time of the day. The enormous benefit of this reef is that you do not need a boat to check out the critters that are living on the reef. It is also a fantastic place to do a night dive, iso grab your torch to see the marine life which typically does not come out during the daytime.

What you will see:

The sandy bottom is filled with snake eels, flounders, blue spotted rays, and shrimp gobies. Once you reach the drop off, massive schools of trevallies rise from the depth along with what seems like hundreds of pygmy sea horses hiding amongst the gorgonian fans. Enjoy spotting lionfish, shrimps, crabs, and nudibranchs all along the spectacularly coloured reef wall.


South Sulawesi Beginner Macro Muck reef Shore Our Favorite

Roma

This beautiful pinnacle dive site is another beloved destination for many divers. You can reach it by going on a liveaboard whereas a diver you can truly get the best experience of all the dive sites in the Wakatobi region. Day boats are also possible departing from Sulawesi from the Wakatobi Dive Resort. This dive site in particular is a fantastic one to visit as structures which rise from the deep tend to have a magnetic affect on megafauna and pelagic creatures living in the surrounding areas. To get the best experience, you should start your dive at your deepest point and slowly ascend while turning around the pinnacle, giving you a view of every section and crevasse along the way,

What you will see:

Massive schools of fusiliers and red tooth triggerfish swirl around as you descend into this extraordinary dive life. This is a beautiful pinnacle site where banded sea snakes encircle this underwater structure. The pinnacle also has many soft corals, anemones, along with two smaller bommies where photographers can practise their underwater macro shots. Keep your eyes peeled for leaf fish which can be green, yellow, black and even white.


South Sulawesi Intermediate Macro Pinnacles Pelagic Liveaboards

Any dive site you chose to dive in Sulawesi will give you an experience you will never forget. Take the opportunity to book your trip now and see the thriving underwater world of the untouched coral triangle. Whether you are a fan of macro photography, seeing vivid coral gardens, or peering into the deep blue to spot passing sharks, you will certainly love any of the above dive sites and look forward to returning to this gorgeous island in Indonesia.

What to do on the Island

Visitors do not only visit the island for its world class diving but also to explore the beautiful island. You can visit the volcanoes, rushing waterfalls, and impressive caves hidden throughout the island. You may have heard of the stunning Tan Toraja tombs which were made by ancient civilisations who cut directly into sheer cliff faces. The area gives you an eerie feeling with suspending balconies on the sheer drop offs located deep in the jungle. There are also plenty of opportunities to relax with accommodation options available for people of all budgets to experience the phenomenal beauty of Indonesia.

Diving Sulawesi

This unique island has four distinct peninsulas, the northern Minahasa Peninsula, the east Peninsula, the south peninsula, and the south east peninsula. In between these outcrops reaching out like fingers into the surrounding seas are three gulfs with varying currents, depths, and ecosystems.

The islands prime location near the epicentre of the Coral Triangle means the deep oceans are blooming with life. There are many strong currents which bring nutrient rich water to the shore, where coral colonies have created spectacular reefs thriving with marine life. Divers flock to this area in the world not only to see the abundance of macro life, but also as an alternative to the busier and more touristy spots in Indonesia. Sulawesi has an enormous variety of diving available with everything from deep diving, reef diving, pinnacles rising from depth, liveaboard opportunities, shore diving, and muck diving.
There is so much exquisite diving to do, that you certainly want to ensure your trip to the area is a minimum of five days, ideally stretching to 10 to allow for enough time to visit a few of the spectacular dive sites.

Best Time to Dive Sulawesi

Since Sulawesi is located just south of the equator, it has an even, tropical climate with air temperatures around 32 degrees Celsius throughout the year. The best diving is March and December, with high season in April/May and September/November). If you wish to see sharks, the best time is between May and September, while creatures like Seahorses are most prevalent March until August. Turtles on the other hand, surround the island year-round.

Liveaboards or Day Boats?

Depending on the type of diving you wish to do, both liveaboards which depart from Bali, or day boats from various dive shops around Sulawesi are available. The benefit of liveaboards is that you get to reach more remote dive locations, although they are typically at a premium price. Day boat diving is great to be able to enjoy the beauty of the land activities on the island, get to know the culture, all while still enjoying the world class diving in the coral triangle.

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