The adventure capital of Eastern Indonesia is a great gateway to upland hiking and underwater adventures.
Standing at the northernmost tip of Sulawesi, Manado is the great gateway to upland odysseys and underwater adventures. You can touch down at the airport here and be spirited directly to white sand beaches on nearby islands, or strike out for the cool green Minahasa Highlands to track tarsiers or climb smoking volcanoes. Meanwhile, gastronomes will find some of Indonesia’s strangest and most intriguing cuisine in the city and surrounding countryside.
Just a short hop from the southern Philippines, Manado has had a long heritage of foreign influence. Spanish and Portuguese ships called here from the very earliest days of European trade in Southeast Asia, and the Dutch arrived in the 17th century. Chinese traders were also drawn to this sheltered bay, along with settlers from all the scattered landfalls of Eastern Indonesia.
Today Manado is a burgeoning modern city of malls, churches, and warm welcomes, but its greatest attraction is as a stepping stone for journeys into the wild spaces beyond. The rugged island peak of Manado Tua looms just beyond the mouth of the bay, presiding over the pristine reefs and plunging drop-offs of the Bunaken National Park, one of Indonesia’s best diving destinations. To the south, you will see a bank of misty green hills rises, while a short drive from downtown Manado will take you to the tranquil waters of Tondano Lake, the fauna-filled jungles of the Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve, or the foot of the daunting Gunung Lokon volcano. This, then, is the adventure capital of eastern Indonesia.
Like most of Indonesia, Manado is wet for one half of the year, and dry for the other. The rains usually kick off from November, and last until around April. The diving and exploring the hinterlands during these months can be a muddy experience, howerver, it doesn't rain all day and is still possible to visit. May to September generally offers the best visibility and the calmest waters for divers.
Singaporeans and citizens of other ASEAN member states can visit Indonesia for 30 days without a visa. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket. Visitors from many other countries can get a 30-day visa on arrival at Manado for US$25.
Indonesian rupiah. There are ATMs and currency exchange counters at the airport. In town you'll find plenty more ATMs, as well as banks that will exchange foreign currency, along Jl. Sam Ratulangi.
There are fixed price taxis from the airport to the city, as well as crowded local minibuses. Most hotels and dive resorts will arrange pick-ups direct from the terminal. Around town there are plenty of taxis, though many drivers refuse to use the meter - look for Bluebird, usually the most reliable company. There are also squadrons of microlets, blue public minibuses which rattle around town on fixed routes. You can also hail an ojek (motorbike taxi) which is certainly the fastest way to thread through the traffic, though road safety is always a concern.
As in most Indonesian cities, the biggest risk here is the traffic. Be careful when wending your way through the flood of microlets that ply the main roads, and think carefully before taking a ride on an ojek (motorbike taxi). Watch out for the gaping holes that sometime appear in the pavements. Most dive operators in the Manado area are very professional, and the waters around Bunaken are relatively tranquil, but do check safety procedures before signing up.
|How are you?||Apa kabar?|
|Fine, thanks||Baik, terima kasih|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Permisi!|
|Thank you||Terima kasih|
|What's your name?||Siapa nama anda?|
|My name is…||Nama saya…|
|Nice to know you||Senang berkenalan dengan anda|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Anda ada di Facebook/Twitter?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Warnet [warung internet] di mana?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Di mana saya bisa mendapatkan taksi?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Stasiun bis/kereta di mana?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Tiket sekali jalan/pulang-pergi ke…|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Ada kamar untuk satu/dua orang?|
|When's check out?||Kapan waktu check-out?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Bisakah anda menyarankan restoran/bar yang bagus?|
|A table for two, please||Tolong meja untuk dua orang|
|A menu, please||Tolong minta menunya|
|The bill, please||Tolong minta bonnya|
|Where's the toilet?||Kamar kecil di mana?|
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Bunaken National Park
Lying at the mouth of Manado’s sheltered bay, Bunaken National Park has long been a byword for spectacular diving. Bunaken itself is a tiny smudge of land, fringed with pale sand and mangroves and home to a clutch of low-key resorts and guesthouses, but the park also includes the towering peak of Manado Tua and the Siladen, Mantehage and Nain islands. It’s a perfect tropical archipelago, but the real attractions are the staggering diversity of corals, plunging drop-offs, crystalline visibility, and varied sea-life. You can stay on the islands or visit on day trips from the city.
Towering over the charming upland town of Tomohon, just 30 minutes from Manado, Gunung Lokon volcano makes for a magnificent hike – when it’s not erupting. It takes around three hours to reach the top, and on a clear day you’ll be greeted with a sweeping panorama of the lush green Minahasa hinterlands, and of the steaming crater itself. You can find a guide at the volcanology centre at the foot of the mountain, or arrange a day trip through travel agents in Manado.
Six hundred metres up in the hills south of Manado, Lake Tondano is the perfect place to escape the heat of the coast. You can hike the forest trails that fan out from the shoreline, take a boat ride out on the tranquil waters, or simply kick back in one of the many lakeside cafés that dot the shoreline. There are places to stay here too, and plenty of steaming hot springs, kept at perfect bath temperature by the geothermal energy that seethes beneath the surface.
Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve
Just an hour from the city, Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve is a world away from traffic and shopping malls. Here you’ll find troops of crested black macaques, flights of mighty hornbills, shy cuscus, and most famously of all the tiny, wide-eyed tarsier, a slow moving nocturnal primate. You can see all of these creatures and more while walking the gentle network of jungle trails on a day trip from the city – though with beautiful beaches nearby many visitors prefer to stay overnight in one of the local guesthouses.
Ban Hian Kong
Standing in the heart of the city and Manado’s long-established Chinese community, is this grand temple with a plethora of incense-wreathed altars and red-and-gold decorations. Ban Hian Kong is the centre of festivities that mark Chinese New Year here, each January or February, and the starting point for the procession that wends through the town during the celebrations.
The Manado region is all about adventure. Start your trip by diving straight into the clear waters of the Bunaken National Park, where there are enough dive sites to keep you occupied for weeks. The fabulous Lekuan Reef, right off Bunaken Island, is a great place to start.
Once you’ve tired of the water, head inland to the cool hill town of Tomohon and limber up for some volcano trekking. Gunung Lokon is the best known peak in the area – a tough but straightforward three-hour hike from town – but there are plenty of others nearby, including the 2022-metre Gunung Klabat, North Sulawesi’s highest summit. Set out just after midnight to reach the top in time for a spectacular sunrise.
When you’ve tackled the heights, head down to lower altitudes to wander the jungle trails of the Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve. Hike into the forest at night to experience a wall of insect noise, and a glimpse of the huge eyes of the tarsiers that live here.
If you’re keen to spot more weird wildlife, it’s time to head beneath the waves once more, in the nearby Lembeh Strait. This is a different world from the corals and drop-offs of Bunaken – strange sea beasts stalk the sands here. Finally, if you’ve still not satisfied your aquatic urges there are endless opportunities for off-the-beaten-track diving around Bangka, Gangga and the other islands that spill away northwards from the tip of Sulawesi.
Gunung Rinjani, Gili Islands, Southwest Peninsula, Kuta.
Manado has an Indonesia-wide reputation as the wild frontier of gastronomy. Up here at the furthest tip of Sulawesi they eat anything and everything: dogs, cats, rats and bats – yes, bats! There’s plenty of less exotic food on offer too, and some fabulous fresh seafood, but if you’ve no reservations when it comes to cuisine you’ll find plenty to get your teeth into.
Start the day the traditional way with a bowl of tinutuan on Jl. Wakeke. This is the local version of rice porridge, which comes flavoured with yam, greens and smoked fish. It’s something of an acquired taste, but tame by local standards.
The real foodie adventures begin once you head inland. Take a day trip to the hill town of Tomohon and go for a stroll in the central market. You’ll find plenty of local colour here, with fruit, vegetables, and mountains of chilli (Minahasan cuisine is very spicy). But it’s in the meat section that the real surprises start – the place is a cross between a zoo and an abattoir and you’ll find dogs, fruit bats, forest rats and pythons on sale. To sample these strange meats stop off at the roadside cafés overlooking Manado on the road back to town.
As evening draws in, head for Kalasey Beach, a stretch of seafront southwest of the city where there are dozens of simple cafés serving up fish and shellfish. City Extra and Ria Rio are two of the best.