Technically, your Set of Drifters did not stay here, though we certainly would have if we had not already been put up in Manado by family friends. During our stay in North Sulawesi, we did however have the opportunity to experience Lembeh Resort prior to embarking out on our first Scuba diving lesson through the resort’s dive center Critters@Lembeh (see “sights.") Upon arriving at the lush setting via a short 10-minute boat ride from the harbor at Bitung, we were immediately mesmerized. In fact, the theme song to the now ancient TV series Fantasy Island easily popped into our head.
After disembarking, the friendly staff at Critters got us situated with dive gear and ushered us to the resort’s quaint coffee bar where we settled in for a few cappuccinos. Divers from around the world regaled their triumphs of the day as they downloaded underwater photographs onto their computers. We next took a self-guided tour of the property, up and over a series of staircases that jut out from the heart of the resort up two fairly steep cliffs. Lembeh is host to 14 individual bungalows, all of which have full or partial views out into the picturesque Lembeh Strait, a vista that is dramatically punctuated in the distance by the mighty Agung Klabat volcano crater.
While some of the bungalows share a veranda, all come equipped with their own en-suite Balinese-style (open-air) bathrooms, air-conditioning and ceiling fans, and decor that is either Minahasan-inspired or more modern.
The Lembeh Resort’s heart is its restaurant and bar, located smack dab in the middle of the “canyon” just above the lobby. A friendly staff overseas an Indonesian and Western menu that is accompanied by daily breakfast and lunch buffets depending on occupancy. We very much enjoyed the variety and quality of the dishes we sampled during our visit, including a zesty vegetarian pizza and spicy babi rendang over rice. We have since learned that the chef’s secret to fresh tasting cuisine is courtesy of an on-site garden that grows tomatoes, eggplant, cassava and various other fruits and vegetables. Make sure you dry off after your midday dive otherwise you might feel a bit grotty while relaxing outside on that beautiful wrap-around veranda.
Got sore muscles after lugging around those nitrogen tanks on your back all day? Check out the Lembeh Resort’s spa where face and body scrubs compliment an assortment of massage options. Elsewhere, Lembeh Resort also features a pool, TV room/ library and a small “Internet room,” available so that you can log-on and brag to your friends back home about your holiday on “Fantasy Island.” (The one terminal was busy most times we passed by.)
Make sure you ask the front desk about optional day trips to local Minahasan villages or the impressive Tangkoko Nature Preserve. The latter is famous for its population of tarsiers, a species recently dubbed the “official mascot of North Sulawesi.” These tiny little suckers may be light on the scale, but they more than make up for it with their rather large nocturnal eyes!
If so inclined, you may also check out Lembeh Resort’s small gift shop. Located in the lobby, the outpost showcases a number of diving books as well as some rather upscale apparel featuring Lembeh’s logo. Overall, combined with the excellent diving in and around the strait, a stay at Lembeh Resort is one we propose you won’t soon forget. Just watch out for the fire ants and large spiders! They are everywhere.
Set of Drifters tip: In order to get to Lembeh Resort, you will need to take a boat from the “mainland” of Sulawesi. When making your reservation, make sure to ask about transportation options to and from the airport, and if you can manage it, try to time your trip at night. When our day at Lembeh came to a close around 7:30 PM we were treated to one of the most magical night skies we had ever seen! With lightening behind Pulau Lembeh shaking up the darkness every now and again, the brilliantly illuminated stars above had never appeared more haunting.
Set of Drifters video: Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!
Lembeh Resort - Pulau Lembeh (short boat ride from the port town of Bitung), North Sulawesi, 011 (62) 438-550-0139
Murex Dive Resort
Located on the north shore of Sulawesi, Murex Dive Resort is a hidden gem just waiting to be (re)discovered... that is if you can find it. A small dirt road leads you a few hundred meters off busy Manado streets toward one of the region’s premiere diving outfits. Founded in 1987 by Dr. Hanny Butana (one of the first to study Bunaken’s gorgeous reefs and promote their conservation), Murex is a family-run operation that ultimately has more up its wetsuit than just diving and snorkeling opportunities.
What we really loved about this place was its lush, laid back layout. The idyllic island setting is realized through a series of different-sized huts, cabins and larger houses that can provide accommodation for diving groups, honeymooning couples or vacationing families alike.
The “Coconut Hut” was certainly cozy enough; its traditional Indonesian dark coconut wood construction is one of the older units available on the premises. From its quaint outdoor deck, we were able to enjoy sunset views out to Bunaken. And while watching children splash around in the dive-ready pool and in the shallow waters off the beach, we couldn’t help but note that Murex would make for the ultimate family reunion gathering spot! A gaggle of kids loved the rope swings that clung to tall trees and carried them well out over the softly lapping shore.
Elsewhere, Murex’s layout undulates over a series of trickling streams and under a canopy of some rather beautiful foliage. Exotic bird calls from a small aviary attempt to complete the scene but are robbed by a charming koi pond that encircles the resort’s inviting open-air restaurant. We enjoyed a few breakfast and lunch dishes here and were quite impressed with the overall taste and quality on offer. The kitchen is visible from the pavilion and you can tell by the smiling faces that the staff enjoys their work. A great range of Manadonese and Indonesian staples are available each day buffet style, perfect respites for the throngs of Europeans who re-visit each year to take advantage of nearby dive sites. Set of Drifters tip: Don't forget to ask for the doughnut fritters!
Murex’s dive center prides itself on tailoring trips to individual experience level and offers what they call “boutique dives” that limit the number of participants, thus fostering more personal attention. With over 100 sites in the nearby area, avid divers will have their flippers full of options upon arriving to Murex. To accommodate, the resort offers a number of packages that commence from its black sand beach. While snorkeling trips are usually by the day, diving is offered in one, one-four and five-seven day packages with discounted prices for longer stays. Prices for diving trips do not include the cost of the room. (Check out Murex’s website for more information or see our Bunaken report in “sights.")
For a change of pace, serious divers may also inquire about Murex’s “Live-Aboard” option. Murex’s "MV. Serenade" vessel can accommodate 12 divers and is serviced by a staff of nine crew members. Customizable trips take divers well beyond the Sulawesi Sea mainstays to view any number of painted lobsters, silver barracuda, pilot whales and giant rays. If underwater photography is your thing, Murex also rents out cameras and other paraphernalia so that you may optimize your adventure and take in all of the unique species that occupy this underwater wonderland.
Have no desire to breath underwater? Have no fear. Murex’s staff can also arrange a variety of other activities during your relaxing stay. From horseback riding to tours of mangrove forests, the Minahasan highlands and nearby volcanoes, there really is something for everyone in North Sulawesi.
Murex Dive Resort & Live-Aboards - Jalan Raya Trans Sulawesi, Desa Kalasey 1, Manado 95361, North Sulawesi, 011 (62) 431-838774