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Saturday, 4 December 2010

North Sulawesi - General Info and Advice


For the majority of visitors to North Sulawesi the area's main attractions are the fantastic possibilities it offers to divers and snorkelers. The Bunaken National Park right in front of Manado has reached a status as one of the world's prime dive destinations. In recent years the Lembeh Strait, just a short drive away on the other side of the peninsula, has become equally popular and offers a completely different underwater world. And there is the Gangga/Bangka area at the top of the peninsula which in no way is inferior to the other two. So even if you spend all your time diving or snorkeling you will only see a small fraction of the more than 100 sites that are available.

However, North Sulawesi has more to offer. The Minahasa Highland, just 25 km away from Manado, with its cool climate, easy-to-climb active volcanos, hot springs, beautiful lakes and scenic markets is worth more than just a short visit. For animal and nature lovers there is the Tangkoko Nature Reserve near Bitung, about 40 km from Manado. You should consider a visit to these places in combination with your watersports activities. In any case, make sure that you bring enough time with you, or otherwise you might regret...

  • IMPORTANT: Check the visa regulations, valid since February 2004.
  • Make sure that your passport is still valid for at least six months, not only on arrival but on the day of your departure from Indonesia!
  • CHECK YOUR ENTRY STAMP! There have been occasional reports that Immigration officials in Indonesia put a very faint stamp when you enter (and don't notice), and then behave menacingly when you leave, saying you have entered the country illegaly. Having to get on a plane most people then think they have no other choice than to pay a fine, which of course goes right into the Immigration Officials' pockets. However, I would rather recommend to not let them scare you. Make some noise and they will let you go.
  • Exchange rates for cash and Traveler's Cheques in Manado are not as good as in Jakarta or Bali. You can get cash advance with VISA or Mastercard at several banks and ATM's in Manado, Tomohon and Gorontalo, at usually better rates. If you bring along cash, the best is US dollars or Euros. Be aware that larger denominations will get you better exchange rates. Makes sure that the notes are new, clean and not folded! Otherwise banks and moneychangers won't take them, or give you a bad rate.

    ATM Locators:   Master Card    VISA

  • At the airport you will be approached by "guides" working for various hotels, guesthouses and dive centers. Especially after a long flight it might make sense to use their services if you want to go directly to Bunaken, rather that having to find the public boat or charter a boat to the island.
    A better solution might be to make a reservation before coming to North Sulawesi. Most of the guesthouses, hotels and dive resorts by now have their own websites, so do a search and you will find what you need, from budget to luxury.
  • The taxi fare from the airport to the center of Manado is about 50,000 Rupiah. Sometimes people are trying to sell you tickets for a taxi to town in the arrival hall of the airport. Quite often these taxis don't deserve the name and rather look like they will fall apart after a few kilometers. Better check before you pay. The taxi company Diane has a large fleet of fairly modern taxis, so best is to use one of those. Many drivers don't like to use their meters in which case you have to negotiate a rate before the ride. A cheaper option are the blue mikrolets, which can take you just about anywhere within the city and around. You can also charter one for the whole day at a reasonable rate.
  • SUNBLOCK and SUNTAN LOTION are not readily available in North Sulawesi. Some limited brands are sold in the dive centres and at COCO Supermarket in Manado, however these are generally very expensive and may not provide the strength of sunprotection you require. We do recommend you bring one or two bottles to provide protection during your stay.
  • IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR FEMALE TRAVELLERS:
    For all female travellers planning a visit to North Sulawesi (and indeed most destinations in Indonesia outside of Jakarta and Bali), please be advised that tampons (tampax, carefree, libra etc) are NOT sold in any supermarkets or pharmacies (apotik). You will need to ensure that you have brought an ample supply of tampons for your visit. This is of course particularly essential for anyone wishing to swim or dive. Sanitary pads however, are readily available.

PELNI:
Prices for domestic flights have gone down a lot in recent years, due to increased competition. Therefore it hardly makes sense to use one of the Indonesian PELNI passenger ferries. The company's websites are either down or haven't been updated since the year 2000...

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