On the far northeast tip of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, you’ll find Lembeh, a small island separated from the mainland by the Lembeh Strait.
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 sea life here. Instead, divers from all over the world journey to Lembeh to discover wild, minuscule creatures dwelling on the ocean floor.
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 creatures.
Also called macro diving, muck diving is a great way to see critters such as nudibranchs, seahorses, worms, slugs, squid, and other bottom-dwelling fish. Photographers will find themselves in heaven in these waters. Just don’t forget to bring a macro lens.
Lembeh may very well be the best place on Earth to go muck diving. 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
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.
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.
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 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).
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 to dive 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.
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.
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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 park. 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, this 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
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.
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.
YOS Dive Lembeh
Located right on the water on the mainland side, YOS Dive Lembeh resort is an eco-friendly and beautifully designed hotel who’s dive center specializes in underwater photography.
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 the 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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