Lembeh

  Molucca Sea near Bitung, Indonesia

Diving

Lembeh Island is situated across from the second largest city in Sulawesi, Bitung, and although it is not as well known as many other dive sites in Indonesia, there are great rewards to be had for those who make the trip out here. If you want to visit Lembeh, then you really have to make the effort, rather than just fitting in an easy dive somewhere more accessible like Bali or Lombok, and you will need to travel to Manado or Bitung before moving on to Lembeh.

Once you have made the trip however, you will be rewarded with an amazing diving experience that is known in underwater photography circles as being one of the best in Indonesia. It is also the place to come if you want to experience muck diving, which consists of making the most of the natural sediment that lies on the sea bed.

On many dives, this is the kind of thing that divers try to avoid as the visibility can be impaired, however, if you want to get to see a wealth of underwater creatures in their natural environment, then muck diving is the best way to do this. In this way, Lembeh is no exception, and because it is a famous muck diving location, you will get to see a whole host of underwater life such as cuttlefish, harlequin and skeleton shrimps, orangutan crabs, nudibranchs, and blue ringed and mimic octopus, all of which are known for being difficult to spot on traditional dives in other areas of Indonesia. If you have come for the fish, then you can expect lion fish, sea robins, stargazers, giant frog fish, hairy frog fish, banded eels, devil fish, mandarin fish, stonefish, and scorpion fish. You might also get to see pygmy and Pegasus seahorses, banded sea snakes, and even a dugong or a whale shark if you are really lucky. So if you are a fan of marine life and especially if you want to capture it all on camera, then Lembeh is definitely the place for you!

Nudibranch (Tambja gabrielea) seen at Pulau Abai
Nudibranch (Tambja gabrielea) seen at Pulau Abai

Diving conditions here are generally pretty stable throughout the year, as Lembeh Strait is protected by Lembeh Island itself, and so there is little in the way of a strong current here.

If you like night diving, then this is also possible in the underwater paradise around Lembeh, and you will also get the chance to check out a whole range of muck-residing critters as you do. Incidentally, Lembeh is known for having a low visitor but high return rate, meaning that it is something of a hidden gem in Indonesia, but that once people discover it, they come back time and time again.

Lembeh Straits Marine Park Entry Permit

There is no need for an actual entry permit as such but you will need to pay IDR 50,000 (about $4) as an entrance fee to the Lembeh Straits Marine Park. This is payable directly to your accommodation and you will either be asked to pay when you arrive or it will be included in your final bill.

Notable Dive Sites

As well as muck diving and enjoying the plethora of marine creatures that dwell in Lembeh, you will also find wrecks and reef areas that are also great spots for a dive. There are around 60 different places to choose from that are close to the many dive resorts located in the area, and almost all of these sit in the Lembeh Strait itself. The main reason to come here is for the muck diving, but if you want to see something a little more vibrant then you will find a few places with coral gardens that offer a bit more color.

Over 20 dive sites to explore
Over 20 dive sites to explore

Hairball

Hairball is said to be one of the best dive spots in Lembeh and is known as the place to come for anyone looking to muck dive and enjoy the underwater critters that come with it. You will find perfect muck diving conditions here including black sand, teeming marine life, and other attributes like logs and rocks.

Mawali Wreck

This is actually the place where a Japanese war ship from World War Two still rests, and you can go down to 15-30 meters to check it out. As you would expect, the wreck now teems with aquatic life including corals and even graceful black coral trees. Certainly, this is one of the more moving and peaceful dives of all in Lembeh.

Angel’s Window

Angel’s Window is something of a change of pace in Lembeh as this is one of the places where you can enjoy reef diving instead of muck diving. The reef actually forms a pretty pinnacle and is close to the edge of Lembeh Island, so if you want something different then this is a good choice.

Jahir

Jahir is just starting to make a name for itself, as this is one of the newly discovered dive sites in Lembeh and takes its name from a local diver who first found this spot. It is a beautiful area that has everything that you would expect to find on a dive in Lembeh including the signature black sand that comes from volcanic minerals.

Makawidey

You can see Makawidey before you even dive down to it as it is located between two rocks that jut out of the sea, helpfully pointing you in the right direction. There are some slopes here and the current is known for being calm, so you can descend slowly over the sea bed and enjoy the coral reefs that are also scattered around this area.

Pantai Parigi

If you tire of the volcanic black sand in Lembeh then you can consider heading to Pantai Parigi which translates as ‘Well Beach’. Here you will find an unusual white sand muck diving spot and this point is also known for its healthy coral life and graceful slopes.

Police Pier

For anyone looking for a night dive spot, Police Pier is the place to come. Combining muck diving with a night dive can result in you seeing a plethora of underwater creatures that you may not get the chance to see in the day, and this dive area is known for its scorpion fish and lion fish.

Cryptic sponge shrimp (Gelastocaris paronae) seen at Pintu Colada
Cryptic sponge shrimp (Gelastocaris paronae) seen at Pintu Colada

Best Times To Visit

  July to October
  25°C - 29°C (77°F - 84°F)

Lembeh is open for diving all year round, so the best time to visit depends on what your preferences are.

October to March are the warmest times to dive here as the temperatures are around 28-29°C. Temperatures are lowest around July and August when they usually drop to around 25-26°C. July and August are also the time when you are likely to see the most underwater life, so if this is your main focus and you want to take photographs, then this is the best time to dive in Lembeh.

That said, if you are more focused on the visibility, or lack thereof, then October and December are considered the clearest periods when visibility is at its best.

In Lembeh the rainy season lasts from January to February, and this means that the visibility at this time is low. It may also mean that the seas are rougher and that it may not be possible to dive at all the sites in Lembeh depending on the conditions.

As a rule of thumb, peak season in Lembeh is from July to October, so if you want to avoid the crowds then this is not the time to come. You may also want to reserve a place to stay if you come during this period.

History

Lembeh is not one of the best known places in Indonesia, which is a shame, as this is a great spot for anyone interested in macro fauna, and this is arguably one of the best muck diving spots in the world.

Lembeh is an island that sits of the coast of the larger island of Sulawesi and helps to protest the waters of the Lembeh Strait. The closest city to it is Bitung, which is also the second largest city in Northern Sulawesi after the capital Manado. Bitung itself is not really geared towards tourism and like many Indonesian cities it lacks a clear central area, making it difficult to navigate. Still, most people will need to approach Lembeh through Bitung, as this is the easiest way to access the island, and you will need to make your way here and then take a ferry across to Lembeh Island.

Sulawesi itself is the fourth largest island in Indonesia and sits between the Moluccas and Indonesian Borneo. Sulawesi is most well known for being the place where Asian and Australian flora and fauna mix, so you will find animals of Australian origin alongside indigenous Asian wildlife such as monkeys. As a result, the island of Sulawesi is part of the region known as Wallacea, named after the English naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace who first made the trip to Sulawesi in the 1850s. As a result of his travels in the Indonesian archipelago, and particularly in Sulawesi, Wallace drew up what was known as Wallace’s Line, a line that could be drawn between Borneo and Sulawesi, to the west of which many Asian animals ceased to roam, being replaced instead with a range of species of Australian origin. As a result of his research in Sulawesi, Wallace is considered to be one of the world’s great experts of biogeography in Sulawesi, and this history clearly shows the wealth of flora and fauna found here.

To this day, naturalists still flock to this area to study the plant and wildlife in Sulawesi, and Lembeh is no exception thanks to the plethora of species found beneath its waves. Even if you are not a marine biologist, Lembeh offers relaxed island living at one of the many resorts located here, and a chance to explore a picturesque corner of Indonesia that many visitors miss.

Dive Resorts