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Gobies, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in LembehThe 15 Best Dive Sites in the Lembeh Strait

I have spent considerable time in the Lembeh Strait over the last decade. It is, for me, one of the most incredible places to experience properly underwater. Properly means you must find a professional dive operator who incubates a team of experienced dive guides. You won’t get the whole Lembeh experience if you don’t.

Lembeh isn’t for everyone. New divers don’t often appreciate the wonders this small body of water between mainland Manado and Palau Lembeh has in store. Scuba divers with more experience, especially those with underwater cameras, tend to gravitate towards Lembeh.

As the seasons ebb and flow, currents change, and prevailing winds move from the south to the north and back again. The critters that call this area home move around, from deep to shallow and up and down the strait. This migration provides the dive guides with a constant source of work, spotting, searching and tracking their movements so that dive guests get their wish lists fulfilled.

How awesome is it when you can provide a cryptic inventory of nudibranchs, shrimps, octopuses, squids and frogfish to a dive resort, and the guides will ensure you can check most of those off?

That is what Lembeh is all about, a constant discovery of the weird and wonderful. With over 55 dive sites spread throughout the strait comprised of sand slopes, black muck, rubble, walls and coral reefs, there is an endless macro world to explore. With that in mind, I asked the highly experienced team of dive guides, in-house photo pros, and marine biologists at Dive into Lembeh which sites in the strait made up their perennial top 15 and why.

Hair frogfish, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. 1. Hairball 1&2

Maximum depth of 20 metres | Dive time 60 mins + | 1 min by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Hairball is one of Dive into Lembeh’s house reefs ( they are lucky to have two great ones). The dive site consists of black sand with a shallow sand slope. Divers here can be treated to sightings of one of the area’s most well-known critters, the hairy frogfish. Other species, such as the painted frogfish, also reside here.

Over the 2023 and ‘24 dive seasons, Agus, a marine biologist and dive guide, noticed curious behaviour. Radiant sea urchins were moving up from the deep and staying in the shallows, and black hairy frogfish were following them up from the deeper regions and staying close by. This culminated in a fantastic hairy frogfish season; in fact, National Geographic stayed for three weeks to film them.

Other critters and cephalopods seen at Hairball include Flamboyant cuttlefish, sometimes laying eggs and hatching if you are lucky. Coconut, Mimic, long arm octopus and the stunning wonderpus are also commonly spotted in this popular dive site.

Lembeh sea dragon, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in Lembeh 2. Nudi Falls

Maximum depth of 25 metres | Dive time 60 mins + | 8 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

A guest favourite, Nudi Falls consists of a combination of a mini-wall and a shallow sand slope, while in the deep, you will find a lively rubble section and soft corals. This site can be one of the busier ones in the strait due to the fantastic array of inhabitants spotted here. It can also be prone to strong currents, so it should be dived at the right time to make the most out of your dive.

As the dive site name suggests, many kinds of nudibranchs can be found here, especially around the mini-wall. Blue-ringed octopus and Flamboyant cuttlefish can be found on the sand, while pygmy seahorses reside on the sea fans. Currently, the highly sought-after Lembeh seadragon can also be spotted at Nudi Falls.

For night dive enthusiasts, Nudi Falls makes a great choice for something different, allowing you to scuba on a Lembeh wall in the dark. Here, you may be treated to the largest nudibranchs, the Spanish dancer swimming through the water column and your torch beam. One of the most famous Lembeh Strait sites, it should feature high up on your dive itinerary.

Blue ringed octopus, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in Lembeh3. Serena Patah

Maximum depth of 25 metres | Dive time 60 mins + | 10 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

This site is a small island in the middle of the strait. It can have a strong current on a rising tide, so it is best dived on a falling one. The site consists of coral in the shallows, a sand slope, and rubble. Serena Patah has become a great site to spot the famed Blue Ringed Octopus, Wonderpus and the ornate ghost pipe fish that prefers to stay deep. In the shallows, you can find the reef octopus as well as blue or black ribbon eels that you can sometimes spot free swimming.

Serena Patah is a unique dive site for Lembeh that you should ask your dive operator to schedule into your dive plan.

Flamboyant cuttlefish, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim.4. Jahir

Maximum depth of 20 metres | Dive time 60 mins + | 5 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Located on the Bitung side of the Lembeh strait, Jahir is a pure muck diving paradise consisting of a stretch of Lembeh’s famous black sand. There is not often current here, so it can be dived all day, and it is also a great spot for a bit of nocturnal scuba exploration.

Make sure you look closely at Jahir’s shallow buoy line often. You may find a giant frogfish that makes its home there. This dive site is also great for encountering octopus, cuttlefish, hairy frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish, and the enigmatic mimic octopus, one of the Lembeh Straits’ claims to fame. You can find mantis shrimps in the shallow areas, sometimes with eggs, and the tawny or common sea horse.

Jahir is a candidate for one of the best night dive sites in the strait. Diving in the dark can reveal bobtail squid, the orange-bodied tropical bobtail squid, and the starry night octopus.

Bearded Goby, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in the Lembeh Strait5.  California Dreaming

Maximum depth 28 metres | Dive time 60 mins | 10 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

California Dreaming is an exceptional scuba location in the strait. It is situated on the Lembeh side, and to the north, it is one of the rare coral sites here. Its gorgeous array of soft corals more than makes up for the lack of the rest of the area and is a great spot for wide-angle underwater photography. If you have a dive buddy or a guide who would like to hold a torch for you, here is the spot to get a few of these celebrated captures.

Here, an array of green, red, orange, and yellow soft corals cover the site at a depth of 24 – 28 metres. On this site, you have the option of diving on the reef or diving in search of critters, although if there is a bit of current running, you won’t want to miss the corals that tend to be more erect when nutrients are washing by.

At California Dreaming, you will hunt for pygmy seahorses, including the Bargibanti, the Pontohi, and the Denise varieties. This spot is also a good place to find the ever-cute boxer crab that has anemones on its claws to hide behind. Diving at this site during the winter months is not the best, as it is close to the north end of the strait; when the north winds arrive, it can become too wavy. Some operators will add a surcharge to dive California Dreaming due to the distance, so choose your operator wisely.

Sean the sheep, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in Lembeh6. Nudi Retreat

Maximum depth 25 metres | Dive time 60 mins | 5 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Nudi Retreat is another popular dive site on the Bitung side because of its range of habitats and many critters. The area consists of a mini wall, rubble, and sand. Due to its depth, it is best dived earlier in the day and on a slack tide to avoid the strong currents. Most divers visiting here have recently tended to stay in the shallows, but this is a great spot for a bit of depth.

You will find soft corals, sea fans, and sponges on the mini wall, home to pygmy sea horses, including the Bargibanti and the Denise species. On the sand and rubble areas, watch for skeleton shrimp, a selection of different gobies, including the reef coral goby and the shrimp goby. You should spot plenty of nudibranchs, frogfish and Banggai Cardinal fish, and in the sandy-bottomed underwater lagoon, you can find Pegasus Seamoths.

Nudi Retreat is also fantastic for nocturnal adventures. While night diving here, you may be able to find the rare electric clam pulsing red and sandwiched in the wall.

Squat lobster, Lembeh Strait. Jonathan Lim

7. Makawidi 1&2

Maximum depth 24-29 metres |Dive time 60 mins | 6 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Due to its depth, this Lembeh dive site is a great choice for the day’s first dive. In the shallows, you will find hard and soft corals; deeper, there is a sandy slope with rubble. Here, with some luck, you may spot a Rhinopia, which prefers the colder water. When the lacy scorpionfish are around, they tend to stay for a while, sometimes as long as 6-7 months.

Other critters to look out for here include numerous types of octopus, including the reef, blue-ringed, wonderpus, hairy and algae octopuses. Flamboyant cuttlefish sometimes make an appearance, as do plenty of nudibranchs. The stunning purple-bodied, yellow-gilled Bullocki nudibranch is often the star of the slug show at Makawadi 1&2.

The lacy scorpionfish is an incredible fish; I have been fortunate to see the purple and the yellow varieties here in Lembeh. If you are here and they are about, definitely as your dive operator to head for Makawidi.

Coconut octopus, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in Lembeh8. Panta Pirigi

Maximum depth 24 metres | Dive time 60 mins + | 8 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

On the Lembeh Island side of the strait, this unprotected stretch can sometimes have quite a strong current, so it makes good sense to check with the tides. This site is good for the first, second or third dive of the day, providing lots to see in both the shallow coral and deeper sandy sections.

There are plenty of anemone fishes in the coral areas, with the chance of blue and black ribbon eels. while deeper on the sandy slope is fantastic for macro photography. While diving, you will be on the lookout for team Cephalopod again with blue-ringed, wonderous, long-armed, hairy and poisonous, remarkably coloured, mototi octopuses making their home here.

Other critters to watch out for include the shrimp goby, ghost pipe fish, seahorses, cuttlefish, pygmy seahorses, ambon scorpionfish, cowrie shells, porcelain crabs, and the elongated Tozeuma Shrimp.

9. Aw Shucks

Maximum depth 24-25 metres | Dive time 60 mins + | Dive into Lembeh house reef

Aw Shucks is another of the few magnificent coral sites in the Lembeh Strait. Situated in the north close to the top of the strait and one of Dive into Lembeh’s house reefs. The dive site comprises a coral reef with a sandy bottom and some rubble sections. Within the coral, there are anemone gardens with hard and soft corals. You can find eggshell cowries here, and looking out from the reef, you may be treated to schooling jacks and barracuda.

When you return to macro mode and look downwards again, you can find mantis shrimp, skeleton shrimp, nudibranchs, and perhaps some anemone fish eggs in the sandy areas. Among the Cephalopod friends, you may spot both mimic and long-armed octopus.

This site has fantastic whip-and-wire coral and Gorgonian fans. In the rubble sections, Rhinopias and tawny seahorses can sometimes be found.

Aw Shucks is protected in the north by Batu Angus and the south by Hairball, so currents here are usually weak. This, combined with the abundant coral growth and one bommie in particular, makes it a superb place for snorkelling. It is very convenient to Dive into Lembeh and just a stroll off the black sand beach.

Hairy shrimp, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in Lembeh10. Air Bajo 1&2

Maximum depth 22 metres | Dive time 60 mins + | 6 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Air Bajo is a pure muck, black sand site on the Lembeh Island side with a super fun bottom topography for scuba diving. This makes it an awesome dive site for divers and home to many critters. It has a fairly flat sandy slope from 1 to 6 metres, with another flat area around 20 metres.

At this site, you will be keeping an eye out for coconut, mimic, blue-ringed and long-armed octopus. Frogfish often make an appearance alongside Ambon Scorpionfish and flamboyant cuttlefish. You can see shy garden eels and maybe a snake eel or two across the sand, carrier crabs and Sean the sheep nudibranchs. Curious-looking, common, tawny and pipe seahorses float or curl around the coral and algae.

This classic Lembeh black sand muck site is also great for a night dive, as it is a protected stretch and rarely has much current. Air Bajo is generally scheduled on the dive plan for either dive one, two, or three. Make sure your dive operator adds this popular site to your dive itinerary.

Pygmy and filefish, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in Lembeh11. Angel’s Window

Maximum depth 28 metres | Dive time 60 mins | 4 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Angel’s Window, named after a local dive guide, not the one sitting on a cloud with a harp in hand, is equally heavenly. This site, situated on the Lembeh Island side of the strait, is deeper than most, so it is better dived first or second in the day. The locale is open to current, so make sure you check the tide to get your entry time correct.

Unlike most dive sites in the strait, this is a pinnacle dive with a short swim-through that pierces through, giving it the second portion of the name, window. This is a fantastic dive for wide-angle and macro, so choose your lens carefully. Typically, the dive will start in the shallows, going through the swim-through before heading down to the depths of the pinnacle and then slowly making your way up.

Here, you will find sea fans with pygmy seahorses, and remarkably, the Pontohi pygmy can be spotted hiding in the cracks of the rock. There is also a special location here, where if you move close enough to the wall, huge clouds of butterfly fish will swarm over to devour Damselfish’s eggs. The ever watchful and feisty defence of the Damselfish being frightened away by a divers presence. Also, watch for giant frogfish, reef octopus, and xeno crabs hiding in the whip coral.

Pontohi pygmy seahorse, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim.12. Critter Hunt

Maximum depth 25 metres | Dive time 60 mins | 10 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Critter Hunt is located by an island in the middle of the Lembeh Strait, just across the water from Serena Patah. Here, the current can be strong, especially on a rising tide, so it’s best to get your timing right and dive on a slack or falling tide.

The topography begins in the shallows with coral areas before becoming a sandy slope with rubble in the deeper sections. In the deep, you can find the rare blue-ringed octopus, including hairy and clown frogfish that call Critter Hunt home. A curious thing about the hairy frogfish here is the colour. In black sand dive sites, the hairy frogfish will also tend to be black. Here at Critter Hunt, the hairy’s tend to be orange with very recognisable, long white hair. This alone is worth adding this dive site to your schedule.

Up in the shallows, you can find various types of nudibranchs, cuttlefish, and perhaps the odd pygmy seahorse, if you are lucky.

Orange painted frogfish, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. Best dive sites in Lembeh13. Bianca

Maximum depth 25 metres | Dive time 60 mins | 10 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Bianca is another popular dive site on the Bitung side of the strait. The site gets its name from the two boats constantly moored in the bay by the owner, who uses them only as a floating holiday home. There is usually little to no current here, and due to the depth, it is dived on dive one or two.

This is a rubble and sand muck dive where you will spot many species of nudibranchs as well as tiger and harlequin shrimp. Orange sponges grow on the rubble, and you can spot the orange-painted frogfish among them. Curiously, the juvenile variety is not orange but black, with orange spots and a blue line around the edges of its fins.

Bianca also claims the title of the best dive site for a dusk-time mandarin fish dive. Here, about half an hour before sunset, at around 5 metres of depth, the brightly blue and green patterned Mandarin fish appears. The male dances in a courting ritual for the female while underwater photographers watch on, ready to snap captures of the fish’s most vulnerable moments.

Mimic octopus, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. 14. TK3

Maximum depth 18 metres | 60 mins + | 3 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Tk3, the ‘t’ standing for teluk, meaning bay, and the ‘k’ for Kembahu, the name of the nearby village, is a classic Lembeh, black sand, pure muck dive. This Bitung side dive site is dived shallow, and most of the dive occurs between 10 – 15 metres depths. The protected bay has little current and is very popular for day and night dives.

While diving here, you will be searching for team cephalopods. Mimic, coconut, long arm, wonderpus, and Mototi octopus can all be spotted at TK3. You can find the black saddle snake eel in the sand, often with a commensal shrimp on its head. Diving at night, you may see the snake eels out of their holes hunting for dinner.  National Geographic spent three weeks in 2023 on TK3, shooting footage of the mimic octopus for their documentary Secrets of the Octopus.

Cryptic shrimp, Lembeh. Jonathan Lim. 15. Retak Larry (Larry’s Crack)

Maximum depth 18-20 metres | Dive time 60 mins + | 4 mins by speedboat from Dive into Lembeh

Retak Larry, infamously named after the Lembeh Strait pioneer Larry Smith’s butt crack, is a sand and rubble muck diving site on the Bitung side. The dive site, pre-naming, was being dived by Larry, whose wetsuit, upon exiting the water, became torn to reveal his now legendary divide. Hence the name Larry’s Crack.

The popular night diving site has very little current and loads of nocturnal critters to spot. Diving at night, you may find the enigmatic stargazer buried in the sand, looking up at you. The alien-like Bobbit Worm can also be found here at night. This spiky, shiny protrusion is high on the critter bucket list for many fans of the cryptic and odd.

Retak Larry is a great place to spot hairy frogfish, coconut octopus and wonderpus during the daytime. Keep an eye open for seahorses, ornate ghost pipefish, and peacock mantis shrimp, who carry their eggs in their mouth and make a colourful capture for underwater photographers.

To Wrap it up

The Lembeh Strait is a constant experience and discovery of the weird and wonderful. There is nowhere quite like it in the diving world. Although there are places that vie with Lembeh for the macro and muck crown, nowhere else offers the vastness of dive sites and species and, just as importantly, the experience levels and professionalism of the dive guides.

So there you have it—the 15 best dive sites of the Lembeh Strait, as rated by the guides, photo pros, and marine biologists themselves. If you are planning your next dive holiday and looking for something very special, the Lembeh Strait should be at the top of your list.

All images were captured by Jonathan Lim while diving in the Lembeh Strait with Dive into Lembeh. You can contact him here.


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