Undiscovered North Sulawesi

Our 10 day trip around North Sulawesi. This large Indonesian island is one of the most beautiful and diverse places I've ever been. One day we will head back and explore more of the island, for now hope this blog inspires you to visit this lesser known place in Indonesia! 14/08/2023

Sulawesi is such a hidden gem here in Indonesia. We have been wanting to visit this island for a while now, so when we heard Chris's brother and sister in law were coming to visit us, we thought it was a great time to explore this magical island together. I was blown away when I realised just how large this island is! So we planned to explore the north and save the rest of the island for when Chris and I have more time. We planned to spent 10 days there starting in Manado, Bunaken, Tangkoko, Tomohon and Gorontalo. Already, I can't wait to go back and explore more!

Sulawesi is one of the largest islands in the Indonesian archipelago. It is located in the eastern part of the country and is easily accessible from Bali or other parts of South Easy Asia. We booked our flights last minute so normally they would be a lot cheaper! We flew from Bali into Manado which is one of the main cities in the north, we had to stop through Makassar on our way which seems to be the normal route. We booked through Lion air and cost around $120 USD each.

We arrived in Manado around 10am and looked around for a rental car, we asked the ladies at the taxi stands and they helped us find some drivers who were happy to rent us a car for a few days. It cost us $22 USD (350k IDR) per day and we set off for the drive to Tangkoko National Park. It was a 1 and a half hour drive from Manado using the toll roads, we were very surprised at how good the road conditions were and sometimes it was only us on the motorways. Our first impression of Sulawesi is that it is so lush, diverse and friendly!

Tangkoko Nature Reserve

We arrived in Tangkoko Nature reserve and checked into our accommodation - Tangkoko Jungle homestay. Most of the affordable accommodation in Tangkoko are homestays that are run by local families. Our hosts were very lovely and helpful, we were able to have all our meals there too! The food was incredible, each meal cost $3.20 USD (50k IDR) and we could never finish it all! We stayed two nights and made use of our one full day to explore the nature reserve. Tangkoko Nature Reserve is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves wildlife, there are so many animals, birds and beautiful jungle to see.

We organised a tour guide through our homestay - Anis was a great tour guide, he spoke good English and was very knowledgeable about the jungle and animals. The tour cost $20 USD (300k IDR) each for 4 of us, this included a morning guide of about 5 hours and an evening tour that lasted about 2-3 hours. There was also an additional $10 USD (150k IDR) entrance fee that we paid directly at the entrance to the park. Our first tour started early at 6am, which is ideal if you want to spot the black macaques! We ended up spotting the unique black crested macaques, spectral tarsiers (one of the world's smallest primates), cus cus, and various bird species, including the endemic hornbill! Our guide was just as excited as us when spotting the animals, which made it so much more fun.

The black sand beach at the edge of the nature reserve is beautiful and you could easily spend an afternoon relaxing here too. Note: there aren't many good restaurant to eat at so make sure your accommodation provides good, safe food. There is an alfamart in the town so you can get extra snacks/supplies if you need.

Bunaken Island

We left Tangkoko and drove back to Manado to drop the car off at the airport, another smooth drive! We got a lift to the ferry port in Manado which is about 30 minutes from the airport, the main spot is infront of Celebes Hotel. Ferry's depart for Bunaken Island every day (apart from Sunday) around 2-3pm and costs $3.20 USD (50k IDR) per person.

Unfortunately we tried to go on a Sunday so there were no ferry's going, instead we managed to find a private charter by talking to some men at the port, we had two other friends with us so we ended up agreeing to $8 USD (125k IDR) per person (6 people) for the ride.

We had read that it was easy to find scooter rentals on the island, but that was not the case. We talked to a few locals and eventually found a guy called Ope who rented us two scooters for the week. We paid $7 USD (100k IDR) per day including petrol - but beware the conditions of the scooters were terrible and unsafe - luckily the island is small and easy to get around.

We had the best time on Bunaken, the island is such a paradise! Originally we planned on staying for 3 nights but ended up extending for almost a whole week! We booked in at Happy Gecko resort, which is a lovely family run accommodation on Liang Beach. The owners, Jerry and Willeke are super friendly, accommodating and helpful, they organised multiple snorkelling and diving tours for us during our stay. The resort is full board which means the price is inclusive of all meals, we paid $55 USD (850k IDR) per night for one bungalow and 2 people. The bungalows are comfortable, however they only have fans so we had very hot and sweaty sleeps! The food was absolutely delicious, they cook local food which fresh ingredients.

We were able to snorkel right in front of the resort as there are some epic reef sites right there! We also joined some snorkel tours around the island with other guests - the reefs here are incredible, such diverse and colourful coral, turtles everywhere and lots of other marine animals to spot. When we weren't snorkelling or diving, we explored the island on our scooters, there are many friendly villages and locals to make friends with. We also found a great sunset spot near the dive resort (it's near the phone tower).

On one of the days we decided to take a private boat out to Nain island to see the sandbar. We found a captain (Rudolph) who was happy to take us out for the afternoon for $100 USD (1.5mil IDR) We had to make sure we left at the right time for low tide so we could see the sandbar. The tour took around 4 hours and included a trip to the sandbar and a snorkel at Siladen island. The sandbar was incredible and we were the only ones there for about an hour! It's super hot and sunny so I'd recommend to wear sunscreen and take a lot of water with you. Another trip we went on was a dolphin cruise through 3Will dive resort - they offer a dolphin cruise and 2 snorkels for 10 Euros per person. We set out at 7am and spotted dolphins pretty much straight away! It was such a magical experience and I would highly recommend doing it! We then snorkelled at Mantehage island, we were a little skeptical as there have been crocodiles spotted there, so we swam carefully!

On our final morning, the resort helped organise a transfer back to the mainland, we paid $5 USD (75k IDR) each for a private small boat that dropped us new Guzumi jetty. Unfortunately we couldn't find a gojek or grab around, so we asked around and found a driver who would take us to Tomohon for $16 USD (250k IDR) in total. The drive took around 1.5 hours.


This is a beautiful town located in the Minahasa highlands, tucked away between two majestic volcanoes - Lokon and Mahawu. It is a picturesque town that has a rich culture and plenty of natural wonders.

We stayed at the Highland Resort & Nature tours, which is located just 10 minutes out of the main part of town. This cost us $20 USD (IDR 330k) per night for a bungalow. The rooms were large and comfortable, but just a little dark for our liking! They have a restaurant on site, but we only had breakfast there which was an extra $7 USD (IDR 100k) per person.

One thing I would recommend is to ask your accommodation for scooter hire in advance, we were surprised to find that it was nearly impossible to get a scooter rental from anywhere - apparently they were all sold off during the pandemic. Our accommodation only had one scooter available and it would have cost us $13 USD (IDR 200k) per day - the most we have ever seen, plus there were 4 of us so it just didn't work. We decided to get rides around the town, and mainly used grab, gojek and indrive (another ride share app that is popular in Sulawesi) It was pretty cheap to get rides to where we needed to go so it worked out perfectly for us.

Where we visited in Tomohon:

  • Tekaan Telu waterfall - this waterfall was only a short 10 minute drive from the resort, the entrance is a bit hard to find but the locals know where it is. Entrance fee was $1 USD (IDR 15k) each and it is an 850 metre walk down to the viewing platform. The view of the waterfall is absolutely beautiful! You can also make your way down to the base of the waterfall, but we didn't have time to go down unfortunately.

  • Lake Linow - This lake is towards the south of town, about 30 minutes from Highland Resort. It is a lovely place to spend the afternoon and have a few drinks and food. The entrance is $2 USD (IDR 30k) each which includes free tea and coffee. We ate at the Danau Linow resort - the food was great and very affordable, which enjoying the amazing view of the lake.

Sadly, we ran out of time to explore much else of the area, but I would recommend you visit these places if you have longer:

  • Mount Mahawu - an easy hike to see the crater of a volcano, only a 1 hour round trip

  • Lokon Volcano - still an active volcano, this is a relatively easy hike to the crater - make sure to start early!

  • Extreme Traditional Market - While we couldn't bring ourselves to visit this market (because of the endangered wild animals), this is a well known and popular tourist attraction in Tomohon. Most of the market is full of local produce while there is a section reserved for the more 'extreme' meat. It's not a location I want to endorse but I want to share the reality of this place so you are informed when making your decision.

Where we ate while in Tomohon:

  • Alang Alang cafe and resto

  • Lake Linow cafe

  • Cinnamon Cafe & eatery

I would recommend to spend an extra day in Tomohon as we simply ran out of time to see everything we wanted to. It was a beautiful town and a great place to end our trip in Sulawesi.


While I don't want to endorse the whale shark tourism in Gorontalo, I think it's important to share that we did go and visit and share the details so that you are aware and have all the information for yourself when deciding whether to visit.

We wanted to get a ride from Tomohon to Gorontalo, however this was a difficult find! I would recommend to take a bus from Manado to Gorontalo or a flight if you are planning to visit. We luckily found a driver who was happy to take us for $100 USD (IDR 1.5million), we split this between 4 of us. It's a long drive between the two cities, it normally takes around 9 hours but we took 12 because of the all the stops we took - which were very much needed!

The long drive is beautiful as you get to see the coastline, countryside and quaint villages along the way.

Where we stayed:

  • Green Hotel Gorontalo - cheap and quick stay before we head to the coast to be closer to the whale sharks.

  • Shava Beach resort - beautiful but simple resort on the coast only 5 minutes from the whale shark spot, we paid around $45 USD (IDR 700k) for a sea view bungalow. We also ate at their restaurant the entire time, they had yummy and inexpensive meals.

Whale Sharks:

  • We were lucky to stumble upon Gorontalo Tourism agency and the man running the agency was very helpful, he picked us up from the resort, took us to the whale sharks and then brought us back to the resort when we were done.

  • Entry to the whale shark area is $2.30 USD (IDR 35k), we also hired snorkel gear from them.

  • They insist you take their boat out to reach the whale sharks which costs $0.50 USD (IDR 8k) each, however it is close enough to swim so we would normally jus swim back in when the whale sharks left.

  • The Whale sharks are just 30 metres off the beach, there are no nets so they are free to come and go as they wish.

  • It was such an amazing experience to be up close with these gentle giants, we kept our distance at all times and made sure to give them enough room to swim around.

This was such an incredible experience for all of us and one that I will always remember. The people of Gorontalo are warm and friendly, they were very appreciative of our visiting their small coastal town in Gorontalo.

We flew out the next morning from Gorontalo airport back to Bali, via Makassar. 10 days in Sulawesi was simply not enough, we can't wait to come back to this magical island and explore more.