On the far northeast tip of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, you’ll find Lembeh Island, a small island separated from the mainland by the Lembeh Strait.
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Although the island itself doesn’t have too much to see, the real attractions lie just underneath the surface in the Lembeh Strait.
Lembeh is one of Indonesia’s top dive sites, but people might be surprised to find there are few coral reefs or pelagic marine life here. Instead, divers from all over the world journey to Lembeh to discover wild, minuscule creatures dwelling on the ocean floor.
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Diving The Lembeh Strait
Why Go Diving In Lembeh?
Divers come to the Lembeh Strait for one reason in particular – muck diving. Although the name might be a little off-putting, muck diving simply refers to diving in conditions with rich sediments and lots of tiny, unique marine creatures.
Also called macro diving, muck diving is a great way to see critters such as nudibranchs, seahorses, hairy frogfish, worms, slugs, squid, and pipefish. Underwater photographers will find themselves in heaven in these waters. Just don’t forget to bring a macro lens.
Lembeh Strait is also home to several unique cephalopods, like the blue ring octopus, the nocturnal starry night octopus, and the mimic octopus. Some of these cephalopods are venomous and will strike when threatened, so be sure to pay attention to your dive guide.
The waters around Lembeh Island may very well be the best muck diving spot on Earth. Although there are hardly any reefs to be found in the Lembeh Strait, the unique mucky ecosystem is still vibrant and alive.
The strait has very slow-flowing currents, making it relatively easy to swim along without kicking up sediment. Once you have the chance to discover all the amazing macro critters, make sure you don’t miss some of the shipwrecks in the Lembeh Strait.
Notable Dive Sites In Lembeh Island
Nudi Falls should be first on your list if you’re diving in Lembeh. This massive rock wall is covered with all sorts of macro critters (including nudibranchs, of course) that will sometimes fall off the walls because of the bubbles from divers. Other marine life that you might see here are cuttlefish, sea moths, and the Mandarin Fish, which engages in a mating dance around sunset. Nudi Falls is a wonderful spot for a dusk or night dive.
This is one of the few places in the Lembeh Strait where you can find coral reefs, and as the name implies, is an awesome spot to find critters. Located in the middle of the Lembeh Strait, Critter Hunt consists of a sandy slope that flattens out, perfect for nudibranchs, ribbon eels, and several different frogfish species.
One of the more unique dive sites in Lembeh, Angel’s Window features two massive rock columns that nearly reach the surface, as well as a good-sized cave. This site is home to soft corals, pygmy seahorses, feather stars, and schools of colorful fish.
This is one of the most popular dive sites in the Lembeh Strait. Here, you’ll find an ultra-rich sandy slope reaching down to about 30m (98 feet). Marine life you might see in this dive site includes the Wunderpus octopus, Napoleon and snake eels, frogfish, and seahorses.
Named after a boat that is often anchored in this bay, the Bianca dive site is famous for one specific reason – a chance to spot the elusive Mandarin fish.
The demand for diving here is so high that dive shops in the area have assigned dates and times when they are allowed to dive here, so if seeing Mandarin Fish is high on your priority list, it is best to inquire with your chosen dive shop about diving at Bianca before you book. Dive operators will also typically only allow the use of red light during this dive to not spook the mandarin fish.
If you only have time to dive one shipwreck in Lembeh, make it this one. This immense Japanese freight ship sunk during World War II and has remained in the depths ever since, tilted to one side. During this dive, there’s a high chance of spotting scorpionfish, lionfish, cuttlefish, and ghost pipefish.
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What To Do Nearby
Visit Tangkoko National Park
Tangkoko National Park is a beautiful national park just to the north of the Lembeh Strait. It features three large mountains – Tangkoko, Dua Saudara, and Batuangus. Even beyond the mountains, there are great opportunities for trekking in the nature preserve. You’ll have the chance to spot famous species such as the black-crested macaque and Tarsius tarsier. For the best experience, make sure to hire a local guide.
Dive At Bangka Island
Located to the north of Lembeh Island, Bangka Island is an entirely different beast when it comes to diving. The island lies right in the middle of the Coral Triangle, making it a hotspot for biodiversity. While you can also see macro life here, the real highlights are the vibrant reefs and drift diving.
Dive At Bunaken National Marine Park
Like Bangka, Bunaken National Park is a great location for drift diving and wall diving. Bunaken is well known for its soft coral populations and incredible species biodiversity. The reserve has an amazing 50 dive sites for you to explore.
Where To Stay
The most convenient way to scuba dive the Lembeh Strait is by staying at one of the dive resorts in north Sulawesi. These dive resorts offer organized excursions with a full boat crew and dive guides that ensure a safe experience. Most operators also accommodate snorkelers and boat-sitters who would rather not scuba dive or can’t for health reasons. Some resorts offer unique experiences, like night dives where you can see nocturnal marine life.
Cocotinos Divers Lodge Lembeh
We stayed at Cocotinos during our visit to Lembeh and really enjoyed it. The resort is clean and bright, with a beautiful pool and friendly staff. The resort’s coastal location gives guests amazing views of the Lembeh Strait.
All 12 guest rooms at this boutique lodge have modern amenities that include air conditioning, a mini fridge, and private terraces. Tours can be arranged at the lodge’s front desk, including dive excursions, guided tours to Tangkoko National Park, and the ancient stone graves at Warugua.
Eco Divers Resort Lembeh
This PADI 5-star dive resort is an awesome choice if you’re looking for connection and community. Eco Divers Lembeh can only accommodate 16 divers at a time, giving you the chance to make friends while you enjoy a traditional home-cooked Indonesian meal.
Eco Divers Lembeh offers a personalized dive experience, with a maximum of 12 divers per boat and 4 divers per guide. The dive boats were designed for safety and comfort, with a fully equipped first aid station and an onboard salon with toilets and showers.
YOS Dive Lembeh
Located right on the water on the mainland side, YOS Dive Lembeh resort is an eco-friendly and beautifully designed hotel whose dive center specializes in underwater photography.
The experienced guides at YOS Dive Lembeh are highly trained in macro photography and will ensure that you capture fantastic images of the marine life you encounter. A variety of accommodations are available, ranging from bungalows to villas.
How To Get To The Lembeh Strait
To get to the Lembeh Strait, you’ll need to fly into Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado, the capital of the North Sulawesi province. From there, you will need to make the journey to Bitung, the closest city to the Lembeh Strait on the mainland.
This ride will take you about an hour and a half, and if you are staying at a Lembeh resort, they can usually arrange to transfer you. If you’re staying on Lembeh Island, you’ll need to take a short ferry ride across the Lembeh Strait.
Lembeh is truly a unique and special dive location. It’s the perfect choice if you’re looking for something a little bit different than normal coral reef diving. We really enjoyed our visit to the underwater world in the Lembeh Strait. If you have the chance to go diving in Lembeh, we highly recommend it!
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