Manado Travel Guide, North Sulawesi

Manado, also known as Menado, is the main gateway to Northern Sulawesi (Sulawesi Utara) to places like Bunaken Island.

Most travelers will fly into Manado’s international airport when they come to visit northern Sulawesi. This city is worth a short visit before hopping off to various tourist spots around this area.

Where is it

Manado lies in North Sulawesi, almost at the tip of it.

Map of Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Map of Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Why go

Fly in here to access to everywhere around North Sulawesi that is touted to be untouched and pristine beauty.

When is the best time to go

Weather in Manado is mostly sunny throughout the year with a tropical rainforest climate, having some rain during wet seasons from October – April. Try to come during the dry season to make the best of your time here but bear in mind it can get really hot and it would be more crowded with tourists. Also, note that it gets extra busy during Christmas for the locals here are mostly Christians.

Lake Tondano in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Lake Tondano in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

What to see

Ban Hin Kiong – a 19th century buddhist Temple
Modoinding – Agotourism place where you can find farm, lakes and nature up close. You can even stay in traditional community houses here.
Lake Tondano – a huge lake along the eastern side of the massive volcanic caldera of Mount Tondano.
Airmadidi market – opens every Thursday and Saturday

Airmadidi Marke in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Airmadidi Marke in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

What and where to eat

Manado is famous for being extra delicious yet extra spicy. You will find indulgent food here like meat soaked in alcohol and also exotic meats like cats, forest rats and fruit bats. Look for dishes like:
Ikan mas bakar rica or Ikan mas goreng – grilled spicy fish or fried fish
Ayam rica-rica – grill spicy chicken
Babi fore – fried spicy pork
Tinutuan (Bubur Manado) – rice porridge with pumpkins, noodles, vegetables and anything you can think of to stew together in a porridge

Where to stay

In Manado city, you are spoilt for accommodation choices. For budget travelers, there are hostels and also budget hotels. While for the comfort seekers, you have mid-ranged hotels to high-end luxurious hotels to choose from. Most tourists stay in Wenang * as it is the central of Manado with the highest concentration of hotels and guesthouses.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Manado at Agoda.com *

We recommend Aryaduta Manado *, for those who wants affordable luxury. This hotel provides not only the rooms but also the swimming pool with beautiful relaxing mountain views.

How to get there

Fly in by plane to Manado Sam Ratulangi Airport, with international flights from Singapore with Silk Air. Else there are many domestic flights that flies here from Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar (Bali) and Balikpapan. Indonesian airlines to come here are Batavia Air, Garuda and Lion Air.
Visa on arrival is possible here and make sure you prepare for the departure tax of 100,000 Rp for international flights and 30,000 for domestic flights.

How to get around

Like most cities in Indonesia, you can get around with local Indonesian transports like taxi, angkot, rental car or ojek.

Sunset in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Sunset in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Where to go nearby

Bunaken Island – the Bunaken National Marine Park is one of the best kept place for diving and nature. You would need to take a boat here from Manado.

Tangkoko Nature Reserve – here you can see the cute tarsiers and not so cute macaques almost up close and personal. You would need a guide to the park at the cost of about 85,000 Rp. It lies about 50km from Manado.

Tomohon – for the Mt Mahawu Volcano Trek, it is one of the best-kept secrets of Indonesia, where at the end of the 1-hour trek at vantage point you get to see Bunaken and Manado Tua in a view. The bottom of the crater is still steaming with volcanic lake and sulfuric air.

Photo credits from top: Burmesedays, sektordua, sektordua and Stenly Lam

Bunaken Island, North Sulawesi

One of the top diving sites in Indonesia, Bunaken Island (Pulau Bunaken) is unsurprisingly very popular with divers around the world.

The Bunaken Marine Park is not only rich with marine lives, but it is also mesmerizing for its water so clear it is truly transparent. It includes the islands of Manado Tua, Siladen, Mantehage, Nain and Nain Kecil.

Where is it

It is located in Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Map of Bunaken Island in Indonesia

Map of Bunaken Island in Indonesia.
Map by Burmesedays

Why go

Come visit here for diving and snorkeling, as it boasts a rich marine life in its Marine National Park. It has an amazing diverse marine life such as 70 different corals, five species of sea turtles, many fish species and even white tip and black tip reef sharks, the almost extinct dugongs, barracuda and even saltwater crocodiles!

Turtle in diving at Bunaken Island in Indonesia

Turtle sighting durinv diving. Photo by mattk1979

When is the best time to go

Indonesia being a tropical climate of only two seasons, dry and wet, it is best to visit during the dry season to maximize your marine visibility. The dry season is from May to September. Bear in mind though this would be the peak season with a crowd and it might get really hot in the day.

Reefs and fishes in diving at Bunaken Island in Indonesia

Reefs and fishes during the dive. Photo by mattk1979

What to do

The main thing to do here is to dive! Here you have 20 dive sites to choose from where you can expect to enjoy many hard to find marine lives. Beware that some walls are steeps and current may be strong and sudden in change.

Snorkel at many of the sites above if diving is not your thing, you’ll be pleasantly delighted that there are many marine lives as well in the shallow area.

Hiking to some of the secluded areas is possible but trails are not well marked, so please check with the locals.

Dolphin and whale watching can be arranged along with dive trips or else you may hire a boat privately for this.

Just chill at the beach and enjoy the beautiful sun, seas and the wind.

Where to stay

Some people choose to stay in Manado and do day trips to Bunaken Island but if you have the time, staying on the island itself is well recommended. There are many hotels and dive resorts to choose from and if you are into diving, it is the best way to explore the sea here.

One of the most popular resorts here is the Bunaken Cha Cha Nature Resort *, a luxurious villa by the sea with its very own private beach. Diving can also be arranged from here.

For those on a budget, Bunaken Kuskus Resort * or Cicak Senang Resort *, are good beachfront resorts with a homestay touch.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Bunaken Island at Booking.com *

How to get there

Fly into Manado and then take a boat for to Bunaken, which takes around 45-60 minutes. You may arrange the boat with your resorts or else there is a public boat that leaves every day (except Sunday) at around 2-3pm from Manado to Bunaken. Catch the public boat at the north side of the Manado market. It costs 25,000 Rp one way for foreign travelers while 10,000 Rp for local travelers. You may return with the boat as well via the Bunaken village jetty at around 8-8.30 am.

Village at Bunaken Island in Indonesia

Bunaken Island village. Photo by d_mcplum

Where to go nearby

Get back to Manado for your city fix and then head west for example the world-famous diving site Raja Ampat or onwards to the beautiful Maluku Islands. Else head south to the Togean Islands for more diving opportunities.

Travel Tips

Take note that there is a Marine Park fees of 50,000 Rp per day (or 150,000 Rp per year if needed). Please pay at dive resorts, dive shops or resorts wherever applicable and get your pass that would be checked from time to time.

Sunset at Bunaken Island, Indonesia

Sunset at Bunaken Island, Indonesia. Photo by d_mcplum

Related articles:
Sulawesi Travel Guide
Togean Islands Diving, Sulawesi
Papua and Maluku Islands Travel Guide
Diving Raja Ampat

Guide to Visit Makassar, Sulawesi

Makassar city, also known as Ujung Padang, is the capital of South Sulawesi and serve as an important hub its airport serving international and domestic flights. Here is a guide to this city, which serves as a springboard to southern Sulawesi and beyond. Mostly travelers come here for shopping and eating before heading off to remote places in Sulawesi like Tana Toraja or to various beautiful diving sites like Wakatobi National Park.

Where is it

Makassar is located at South Sulawesi. It is the largest city in Sulawesi and serves as capital in the south.

Makassar @ Sulawesi, indonesia Map

Makassar @ Sulawesi, Indonesia Map

What to see


Fort Rotterdam – old Dutch fortress from colonial days with 10,00 Rp mandatory donation.

Paotere Harbor – come here to see the old tradition still alive and bustling in an old fishing harbour. In the morning, you can see fishermen returning with their day’s catch.

Makassar Great Mosque – touted as the floating mosque, this new and well-maintained worship place is undoubtedly a sight worthy of a visit. It is located nearby Losari Beach.

Sunset View @ Makassar

Sunset View @ Makassar

What to do

Stroll and relax at Losari Beach – no exactly a beach but a nice waterfront in the middle of the city for. Best to come here for a sunset view. Travel tips: Beware of pickpockets!

Shop at Trans Studio Makassar
– a huge mall with many shops, restaurants, and cafes. Here is also the hangout place of the local, so it would be fun to mingle and do some people watching.

Malino tea plantations – if you have the time and would like some fresh cooling air, take 60-90 minutes to drive out of Makassar to this beautiful highland with tea and strawberry fields. Fees (as of 2016) to enter this place is 50K IDR per person.

Where to stay

There are plenty of places to stay, from high end hotels to guesthouses. Most travellers stay in the city center due to choices and also easy access to the rest of the tourist attractions and transportation to the other parts of Sulawesi. In smaller cities in Indonesia, I normally recommend to stay in mid-range hotels as they are reliable and affordable, such as Melia Makassar * or Pesonna Makassar *.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Makassar *

How to get there

Flights

China Town @ Makassar

China Town @ Makassar

Makassar airport is the Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport, located 20km away from town and has domestic flights from various points in Indonesia – Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, Banjarmasin, Balikpapan, Kendari, Palu, Manado, Gorontalo, Ambon, Ternate, Manokwari, Sorong and Jayapura. It also have international flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore. From the airport, a taxi to the city is about 70,000 Rp if you get your own while an official airport taxi would be 100,000 Rp. For cheaper alternatives, you may take a bemo (minibus) into town for 4,000 Rp and would stop at Makassar Mall.

Departure Tax
Update as of 2016: most carriers now include departure tax in the air tickets, so please check with your carriers, as it would mean you do not need to pay the departure tax at the airport anymore. Take note of domestic departures which require 40,000 Rp tax while international departures are 100, 000 Rp tax.

Boat

Makassar is also a major port for Pelni boat, it can be an alternatives to flights via the sea and if you are keen to try out for experience purposes as it is not that much cheaper and the hours are long. For example, a boat ride to Makassar takes 16 hours from Balikpapan, 24 hours from Surabaya, and 30 hours from Tanjung Priok.

Find the cheapest flight deals to Indonesia *

Where to go nearby

From here you can get to the famous Tana Toraja by bus which is 300 km away with at least 8-10 hours drive. It would cost 80,000 Rp for an air-conditioned bus from Makassar to Rantepao, with a choice of morning or overnight bus. To get to the bus terminal, you may hop on the frequent bemo (minibus) and would take about 40 minutes.

If just nearby, you can try the Pulau Khayangan, a small island 20 minutes away by boat or Pulau Samalona, about 30-45 minutes away, with a white sandy beach and good enough for diving.

Photo credits from top: Burmesedays, Agianda and bayuediputro

Related articles:
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Top 10 Must Visit Places in Sulawesi
Tana Toraja
Diving Wakatobi National Park, Sulawesi

Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi

Tana Toraja, literally means land of Toraja, is a highland situated in the region of Southern Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is well known as the Land of Heavenly Kings. A place almost lost in time, it spans with green lush rice terraces, tall limestone and bamboo graves with misty blue mountains as backdrop.

The Toraja people still practice many ancient rites, despite many adopting Christians beliefs after the Dutch colony, and many say that they are obsessed with the idea of death, not in a morbid way but as something significant to them. You may find cave graves, hanging graves, tau tau (life-sized wooden effigies), baby tree graves and even mass slaughter of buffaloes, all these bringing you a sense of strangeness yet captivating.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia Map
Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia Map. Photo by Burmesedays

Where is it

In the central highlands of South Sulawesi, about 328km north of Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi Province.

Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia - Salu Funeral
Salu Funeral at Tana Toraja. Photo by Arian Zwegers

Why go

To see the rare, ancient rites and unique of the Toraja people, almost impossible to find nowadays inaccessible areas.Tana Toraja, almost unchanged for the last 100 years, is set in a stunning setting far out from globalisation or tourism, but still accessible given some small effort.

Graves at Lemo, Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Graves at Lemo. Photo by Arian Zwegers

When is the best time to go

June – September is the dry season here and you may see more influx of tourists at this time too. This is the season where children are home from school, rice is harvested, and complex funeral for ancestors are done.

Located in the highlands of 300 – 2880 meters above sea level, Tana Toraja is generally cool at around 16- 28 degree Celsius thus making it ideal in terms of weather for travelling at most times.

What to see

Observe the burial rites of Toraja people. After the person’s death, the body is kept for several years while they save the money for actual funeral known as Tomate!

Tongkonan House at Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Tongkonan houses. Photo by Arian Zwegers

Marvel at the traditional Tongkonan houses. These houses with upward-sloping roofs are decorated with intricate design, and they have been used as a center for Aluktodolo (an old Toraja people’s religion or belief) rites. The Aluktodolo rites are like storing harvest in a carved rice barns or water buffaloes slaughter for ceremonies. Places with houses, granaries and/or ceremonial grounds and burials are Pallawa, Bori Parinding, Kande Api, Nanggala, Buntu Pune, Londo, Lemo and Tumakke.

Visit Ke’te Kesu as it is nominated for having a completed settlement with houses, granaries, burial place, ceremonial ground, rice fields and water buffalo pasture.

Pala’ Toke’, for although principally only a burial place, the location with towering limestone hill with rice field extending all around is almost sublime.

What to do

Take walks around the place to visit various grave sites or other popular sites, normally around 1 – 3 hours walk. If walking is not your thing, you may try taking short bemo (minibus) rides from Rantepao

Rice Bran at Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Rice bran. Photo by NeilsPhotography

Where to stay

You may find ranges of guesthouses to hotels to homestays here easily, as although they are more remote than your usual tourist place, it is well known enough to receive enough travellers to have accommodations set up. Most travellers will choose to stay at Rantepao * as it is the most convenient. A popular hotel here is The Heritage Hotel *.

-> Find the best hotel deals in Tana Toraja with Booking.com *

What and where to eat

You may find restaurants in Rantepao or Makale and they serve mostly local Indonesian Food and some Chinese or western food. Remember to try the Torajan specialty called pa’pion which is chicken / pork / fish cooked with vegetables in bamboo tubes while washing it down with local Torajan palm wine known as ballok. Coffee lovers may also find that Tana Torajan region is famous for their coffee and drinking it here is not only fresh but really cheap as well!

Kids, Tana Toraja People
Kids of Tana Toraja. Photo by NeilsPhotography

How to get there

Fly into Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia. The Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport is located 20km away from town and has domestic flights from various points in Indonesia while international flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore.

From Makassar, you may take the bus to Tana Toraja, which is 300km away with at least 8-10 hours drive away. It would cost 80,000 Rp for an air-conditioned bus from Makassar to Rantepao, with a choice of morning or overnight bus. To get to the bus terminal, you may hop on the frequent bemo (minibus) and would take about 40 minutes.

How to get around

Walk to feel the surroundings and blend with the people. But if you are going further or covering large areas, you may take a ride in bemo (minibuses) that cost around 2000 Rp to 10 000 Rp.

Limestone Cliff at Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Limestone cliff at Tana Toraja,
Sulawesi. Photo by a_rabin

Related articles:
Top 10 Must Visit Places in Sulawesi.
Sulawesi Travel Guide
Makassar Travel Guide
Top 5 Things to Do in Tana Toraja