Manado

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.

 

When to go

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.

Visa requirements

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.

Money

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.

Transport

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.

Health and safety tips

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.

Emergency details

The nearest Singapore consulate is in Jakarta (tel: (62) 21 2995 0400).
 

The main police station is at Jl. Bethesda No. 62. In an emergency dial 110.

Basic greetings
English Indonesian
Hello Halo!
How are you? Apa kabar?
Fine, thanks Baik, terima kasih
Goodbye Selamat tinggal
Excuse-me! (to get attention) Permisi!
Thank you Terima kasih
Yes Ya
No Tidak
OK OK
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?
Help! Tolong!

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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.

Gunung Lokon

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.

Danau Tondano

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

Jl. Panjaitan

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.

Shop

IT Center

Jl. Piere Tendean

A five-storey warren of technology outlets offering a vast array of computing and communications gadgetry, IT Center is one of the many malls that line Jl. Piere Tendean. There is also a smattering of fashion and beauty stores in amongst the electrics, and the food court on the upper floor has some good eateries, with Western fast food, Chinese and Indonesian options.

Budget $$

Manado Souvenir

Jl. BW Lapian, No. 25

Manado Souvenir offers good deals on a wide array of gifts, trinkets and handicrafts from around North Sulawesi. You’ll find souvenir t-shirts and various traditional snacks, as well as a good collection of traditional fabrics from the Minahasan hinterlands, including the colourful bentenan cloth with its intricate woven designs.

Budget $

Manado Town Square

Jl. Piere Tendean

Built over two floors, Manado Town Square has an array of upmarket fashion and technology outlets, a department store, and some good eateries. Young middle-class locals like to hang out here at the weekends. There is a cinema and other entertainment facilities on the second floor.

Budget $$$

Mega Mall

Jl. Piere Tendean

Manado’s biggest mall and the kingpin on the Jl. Piere Tendean strip, Mega Mall houses a wide array of outlets and eateries. The basement level has technology stores, with fashion and beauty holding sway on the next two levels. There’s a large branch of the Matahari department store, and entertainment venues on the upper floors.

Budget $$$

Merciful Building

Jl. Dr Sam Ratulangi, No. 383

A veritable emporium of souvenir shopping, the Merciful Building complex has everything you could ever ask for in take-home gifts. You’ll find t-shirts, key-rings and other cheap keepsakes, as well as various handicrafts and pieces of traditional Minahasan art. There is also a vast array of traditional North Sulawesi snacks, some of which you can see being produced here. Outside the main building there is a replica Minahasan traditional house to explore, and there are several cafés to sample local cuisine.

Budget $$

Dine

Bambuden Sario Seafood Restaurant

Jl. Pemuda, No. 2

An old Manado favourite that has been serving up tasty fish dinners for two decades, Bambuden still attracts solid crowds of local diners. There are various Chinese dishes, as well as local-style seafood, but most people go for the special spicy grilled fish. It gets busy and the fish is all cooked to order, so service can be a little slow, but the end results are worthwhile.

Budget $$

Bumi Beringin

Jl. Sam Ratulangi II, No. 9

In a beautiful old house perched high above the city, Bumi Beringin has some of the best views in Manado, and some fine food to go with it. The menu offers a mix of Indonesian and local Minahasan dishes, with some great seafood as well as spicy meat dishes.

Budget $$$

Dego Dego Manado Café

Jl. Wakeke, No. 11

The cosy Dego Dego Manado Café sees steady local custom for its fish and meat, with some good Chinese and Indonesian dishes. The real attraction is the local cuisine, and especially the tinutuan – the Minahasan version of rice porridge, served with greens, fiery sambal and smoked fish. It makes for a good local-style breakfast, but can be eaten at any time of the day.

Budget $

Green Garden

Jl. Sam Ratulangi, No. 52

A no-frills dining hall with plastic seating, Green Garden may not be much to look at, but the food is fabulous. Serving up a mix of Chinese and Indonesian dishes and some wonderfully refreshing fruit juices, the place is always busy but the service is smooth. The fish and seafood are always good, but the crispy roast pork is the biggest attraction.

Budget $

Raja Sate

Jl. Piere Tendean, No. 39

A long-standing Manado favourite, Raja Sate serves up every variety of sate under the sun, from traditional chicken through various skewered seafood offerings. There are also good sizzle plate choices, imported steaks and tasty curries. The restaurant draws a good crowd most nights and the service is always cheerful and professional.

Budget $$

Stay

Desa Dunia Beda

Gili Trawangan

Standing aloof from the east coast party scene, the secluded little eco-resort Desa Dunia Beda stands in glorious isolation at the northern tip of Gili Trawangan, with its own stretch of blinding white sand sloping down to the clear waters of the Bali Sea. The rooms come in the form of traditional joglo bungalows, with towering tiled roofs, and inside there is plenty of natural woodwork and fabric. It’s a peaceful spot, but the busier parts of the island are just a gentle bicycle ride away.

Budget $$

Qunci Villas

Jl. Raya Mangsit, Senggigi

Just over the headland which separates the main Senggigi strip from the next bay at Mangsit is Qunci Villas, one of the finest hotels on the west coast. The cheaper rooms come in the form of pretty little bungalows set in a verdant garden, with open-air bathrooms and shady verandas. The more expensive rooms come with their own small swimming pool, while the luxury villas are sleek and stylish with epic ocean views. There are in-house restaurants and a spa, and the whole place opens straight on to the beach.

Budget $$$

Raja's Bungalows

Gg. Arjuna, Jl. Raya Senggigi, Senggigi

And old favourite in the sleepy heart of Senggigi, Raja's Bungalows has been welcoming budget travellers for years. The bungalows are simple but well-maintained with comfy beds, mosquito nets and tiled, open-air bathrooms. The staff are exceptionally friendly and there are some lovely seating areas in the garden for relaxing on a sultry afternoon.

Budget $

The Oberoi Lombok

Medana beach, Tanjung

On a secluded promontory at the northwest tip of Lombok, looking out towards the Gili Islands, The Oberoi ranks among the best luxury resorts in Asia for location, service and accommodation. There are pavilion rooms and individual villas with their own pools and ocean views. The style here is not the stark modernism of many upmarket villas in the region; instead there are elegant teak furnishings, local artworks and fabrics, and traditional carpets. There are spectacular sunset views, Gunung Rinjani rises inland, and on a clear day you can see the mountains of Bali.

Budget $$$

Villa Casa Mio

Gili Air

On quiet Gili Air, the rustic resort of Villa Casa Mio is full of quirky colour. The accommodation is in thatched bungalows, built in the style of traditional Sasak rice-barns but spiced up with splashes of decorative paintwork, with coloured tiling and bohemian artwork. The open-air bathrooms are like little gardens in their own right, and there are fine views from the beachfront dining area.

Budget $$

Yuli's Homestay

Kuta

A stand-out spot amongst the many guesthouses in Kuta, Yuli's Homestay is a family-run place. Pretty little bungalows sit in a tidy garden with a pair of small swimming pools. The rooms are simple but spotless, with air-conditioning and plenty of natural light. Generous breakfasts are included in the price, and there’s a kitchen in case you want to rustle up something for yourself.

Budget $

Christmas

25-Dec

Christmas is a big deal in this Christian-majority region, with far-flung family members returning home, and events held around all of Manado’s many churches.


Easter

Date varies in March, April

Manado is a Christian-majority city, and Easter is a major festival here. Good Friday is marked by a lantern parade with a distinctly Chinese flavour.


Independence Day

17-Aug

A nationwide commemoration of the declaration of Indonesian independence, this national holiday is celebrated with parades, competitions, and a multitude of red-and-white flags.


Manado Beach Festival

14-Jul

The anniversary of the founding of Manado is marked over several days with boat races, traditional dances and music, and lots of tasty Minahasan cuisine.


North Sulawesi Anniversary

23-Sep

The anniversary of the founding of North Sulawesi Province is marked each year by performances of traditional dance and music in Manado, along with sports contests and horse races.


Toa Peh Kong

Date varies in January, February

Manado’s sizeable Chinese community celebrates Chinese New Year with parades and a barongsai performance, with many activities focused around the Ban Hian Kong temple in the city.


Adventure

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.

Places to visit:
Gunung Rinjani, Gili Islands, Southwest Peninsula, Kuta.

Foodie

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.