I didn’t have long in this part of Sulawesi but I was still able to enjoy a few great trips to see wildlife, volcanoes, and mix with the locals! There are a number of very reliable tour companies who can take you virtually anywhere in the north, and it was around here that I performed my first ever ocean dive, hiked a volcano, and hunted for those elusive tarsiers!
Manado is, of course, the capital and gateway to North Sulawesi. There is a strong presence of Christianity here, which is markedly different from the rest of Islamic Indonesia. There are plenty of churches scattered around the city; it was not difficult to spot one wherever I travelled. Yet I cannot recommend staying in Manado for too long, as there is not much to do. Rather, the city should be used as a stopover for day trips to the likes of Bitung, Tangkoko, Tomohon, or Bunaken.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trek to the Minahasa Highlands. It was one of the best things I have thus far done in Indonesia overall, let alone just northern Sulawesi! I saw some incredible waterfalls and a sulphur crater lake called Linow Lake. Of course, no trip to the Minahasa Highlands would be complete without experiencing the land of the Minahasa: Tomohon! You can get amazing culture and food here, and it was one of the top parts of my Sulawesi adventure.
Tomohon is certainly the area of North Sulawesi where you can find the biggest cultural experience. From megalithic coffins to parades and festivals of the Minahasa People, it will be an enjoyable culture shock for all foreign tourists who travel this far north. And speaking of culture shocks, Pasar Extrim (“The Extreme Market”) in town is infamous for its dead animals that are flogged to traders, and these include dogs, snakes, and pigs. I spent more time in Tomohon than anywhere else on mainland North Sulawesi, and I would really recommend the experience to everybody else. The locals are extremely friendly and genuinely curious as to why you’ve decided to backpack in their backyard!
I visited Tangkoko Nature Reserve, which is a 2 hour drive from the harbour city of Bitung. This was a great way to spot wildlife on a guided tour (with an English-speaking guide), and I loved to look for the elusive tarsier, which is the smallest primate on earth. Other primates within the Tangkoko Nature Reserve were the black macaques, which were not quite as impressive as the tarsiers, but nonetheless I enjoyed seeing them – albeit from a distance!
Diving in saltwater is really not my thing, but I was nevertheless interested in checking out the diving scene at Bunaken Marine Park. Once there, I didn’t dive just once, but 8 times! There really cannot be many more beautiful places in Indonesia than Bunaken. Granted, it’s not a cheap place to visit, especially for a backpacker, but once you’ve got this far north, it’s probably worth treating yourself, as you probably won’t ever be here again!
You will find that travel in Sulawesi takes a lot of effort in getting from A to B, as roads are not that well developed and there can be other problems such as vehicle breakdowns and weather disruptions. I spent a total of 8 nights in North Sulawesi, although only 6 were spent in hotels – the other 2 nights were spent travelling in sweaty vans and buses!