In the Minahasan Language, the capital of North Sulawesi's name, Manado refers to ‘in the distance' or ‘far away' and this city, which is on the far north coast of the island, certainly, is that.
It is just over three hours flying time from Jakarta to Manado's Sam Ratullangi International Airport and the city provides the perfect gateway to eastern Indonesia and the island of Sulawesi.. It is also quite nearby to the port of Bitung and some of the finest diving sites in the country, let alone the world. The surrounding area offers plenty to do and see, our highlights included:
Bunaken National Park is situated in Northern Sulawesi and has amazing coral reefs and massive upward curving walls of reef also known as underwater great walls or hanging walls. Our visit to Bunaken Island, was about a half hour boat ride from the mainland Tourism Harbour Marina Plaza and it offered treasures galore below the water. Many of the people we encountered told us they thought it was some of the best snorkelling they’d ever experienced in the world. Certainly, it is the best I’ve seen to date – and that's taking into account Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and many of the islands in the Caribbean. The world's divers have been obviously keeping the area their own little secret. We were told seven of the eight species of giant clams can be found in the waters, more that 70% of all the known fish species of the Indo-Western Pacific are there and it has seven times more coral types than Hawaii.
The Waruga Stone Tombs of the Minahasa Ancestors.
The tombs or warugas are a type of sarcophagus or above ground grave. Traditionally, the bodies of deceased family members were placed inside, in a seating position, facing north. Often family members would be buried together and markings on the top of each one provide details of just how many members are entombed. Locals used this burial practice from the early 9th century until it was banned by the Dutch in the early 1800's as a means to try and put a stop to typhoid and cholera.
Kanonang – Hills of Love
“Torang Samua Ba’saudara” which means, “we’re all family” is a motto the Minahasa people practise in their daily life and it is never more evident than at the 'Hill of Love'. Even though Indonesia is a predominately Muslim country, Sulawesi itself is a predominately Christian island. The name 'Hill of Love' arises from the four houses of worship standing in harmony at the top of its peak. It is where people from different religions can gather and worship side by side – Hindu, Buddist, Christian and Muslim. Just note you just need to walk up the 2,435 steps, however, as a reward a 'free' foot massage is offered to all upon return.
If you don't fancy the walk up to the top you can walk around the base area and talk with the locals. A few of the local have owls that you can be photographed with. They will take a photograph of you, print it out on the spot and you will be presented with glossy, full-colour photos right there on the spot. Years back, owls were 'stolen' from the forest but, these days the locals at the site breed them. They are much loved and well looked after. Our guide told us that many an owner will go without dinner, just so they can buy the best fresh food for their 'workers'.
Lake Tondano – the largest freshwater lake in Northern Sulawesi – is about 35km from Manado making it an easy day trip. The lake is a popular spot for boating, water skiing and fishing. Surrounded by stunning forested mountains and dotted with local fish restaurants and fish farms our recommendation would be to stop for lunch at the Astomi Restaurant. The restaurant sits out over the water and has it's own goldfish farm. The seafood was fresh and delicious as were the Pisang Epe – squashed deep fried banana's served with chilli or peanut sauce.
The Tangkoko Nature Reserve
Tangkoko Nature Reserve is a flora and fauna conservation area on Mount Tangkoko The drive from Manado takes about 2 hours and we were coming in the hope of seeing the endangered black-crested Macaque monkeys and the planets smallest primate, the Tarsier. Luckily after a not too long trek into the jungle, we were not disappointed, our guides had found a large group of monkeys and on our return walk, we even managed to spot a Tarsier. They are nocturnal, shy and so small with massive eyes – apparently their eyes surpass the size of their brain. They a cute beyond belief.
We stayed at the Mercure Manado Tateli Beach Resort which overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Bunaken National park. It is a 4-star resort offering a modern restaurant, bar, a large swimming-pool, fitness centre, sauna, tennis court, dive centre and spa facilities – Jl. Raya Tanawangko, Desa Tateli, Mandolang, Minahasa, Sulawesi Utara, Indonesia