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Dive Journey to the Lembeh Strait

We strongly believe this special place should be firmly on your dive destination bucket-list, so we wanted to share our dive journey to Lembeh with you.

What is Lembeh?

The Lembeh Strait is an iconic oceanic passage between north Sulawesi and the island of Lembeh. It is mainly used as a shipping route for vessels using Bitung Port, the major shipping port in north Sulawesi.

When you hear this, the thoughts of pearl drop islands bordered with white sands and azure oceans vacate your mind and are replaced with ‘Why on earth would I want to spend my dive vacation there?’ Strangely enough, journeying to this stretch of water could be the best scuba diving holiday decision you have ever made.

Where is Lembeh?

Lembeh Strait is located in the north of Sulawesi. The closest city is Manado, and the Philippines is a stone’s throw to the northeast. Planted firmly in the coral triangle, known for remarkable marine diversity, the strait is located over the hill from Bunaken Marine Park and flows between the mainland and Palau Lembeh.

Emperor Shrimp, Lembeh Strait, Ben Sarinda at Dive into LembehWhy Go to Lembeh and How to Get There?

Lembeh is known as the undisputed champion of muck diving. For all things macro and critter, this is the place on the planet to come and dive. If you are an underwater photographer, an avid diver who finds the strange and the small interesting, or a scuba person looking for something different. Lembeh is the place to visit. Muck diving was invented here, and many of those fantastic macro photos you have seen of shrimps, frogfish, nudibranchs and octopus were all shot here.

How to get to this truly special dive destination. Luckily, there is an almost daily flight from Singapore to Manado, and thanks to the new tollway, the area is about an hour’s drive from Manado airport. Some flights arrive in Manado from Jakarta and Bali; most of these will have you stopping over in Makassar for differing lengths of time.

I recommend flying into Singapore and then taking the Scoot flight to Manado. Scoot Air is a subsidiary of Singapore Air, and their standards of service and planes are similarly very good.

Where Are the Resorts in Lembeh, and How Do They Work?

The best way to dive Lembeh is to choose a great, all-inclusive dive resort that will take care of your accommodation, diving, and, equally importantly, your food! They will also arrange return transfers from the airport and back.

Resorts in the area are located along the Manado / mainland side and the coast on Lembeh Island. If you choose a resort on the island, the resort will also arrange a boat to pick you up after your transfer from the airport.

I like the convenience of being on the mainland side, and the best dive sites, such as Hairball I & II, are closer to that stretch of coast. You also would not want to be caught on the Lembeh side should there be bad weather and you need to reach the airport for your flight.

Most of the dive resorts in Lembeh run a dive and return-to-resort dive plan. You will head out on a speedboat to dive, then return to the resort to eat and relax before your next dive. This is a much better option than doing your surface interval on a cramped boat, trying to munch down some fruit or plastic-wrapped snacks placed on the boat early in the morning.

In terms of experience level, you should have a reasonable amount of scuba diving under your belt and make sure your buoyancy control is good. Most of Lembeh’s diving is over sand and rubble, searching for super cool tiny beings. To make this comfortable and possible for yourself and other divers, you shouldn’t need to grab things to steady yourself too often and kick up the sandy bottom.

Dive boats at the Dive into Lembeh house reef | Infinite Blue Dive TravelSafety Diving the Lembeh Strait

Safety should be the pre-eminent issue when planning your dive holiday. This also remains the rule for the Lembeh Strait. Even though there are hospitals within a reasonable drive and recompression chambers in Manado, the area is still considered remote.

For this reason, I advise you to ensure your chosen dive operator adheres to, at the very least, standard safety procedures. Ensure the dive boats have an up-to-date medical kit, a full emergency oxygen tank, and a properly serviced regulator and mask. In the highly unlikely event of something going wrong, make sure they have the necessary emergency and evacuation procedures.

Make sure that your dive insurance is up-to-date and covers you for your Indonesian dive trip. We recommend Dive Assure for an all-around dive and travel policy. Don’t let the above worry you; for advice, connect with us.

Coconut Octopus in a shell, Ben Sarinda at Dive into Lembeh

Underwater Photography

If you are into shooting images of some of the world’s most unique critters, Lembeh is where you go. Sure, I hear you ask; what about Anilao or Dauin in the Philippines? Tulamben in Bali? And, yes, these are certainly great places, some with their own almost endemic species, but still, Lembeh takes the cake. For an all-round incredible variety of species, the strait is the hotbed of action for underwater macro photography.

Many types of nudibranch, frogfish, and octopus were first discovered here and made famous on the covers of diving magazines before they were spotted in other destinations. Or, they are incredibly rare and hard to find elsewhere but tend to appear in the strait with frequency.  The Melibe Colemani or ‘Ghost Nudi’ is a prime example.

Because of just how good Lembeh is for specialised macro underwater photography, most of the resorts have fantastic facilities for that pricey photography gear. I haven’t seen camera rooms as professional as the ones in Lembeh, anywhere else in the world, aside from Atmosphere in Dauin, but that is a story for another time.

You will also always find highly experienced people who will give you tips and help you out. The best resorts arrange underwater photography presentations and offer in-house professionals to make sure you get the most out of your time shooting in the strait.

Mandarin fish, Dive into Lembeh | Infinite Blue Dive Travel

Is Lembeh just for Underwater Photographers?

There is a misunderstanding in the dive community that Lembeh is only for underwater photographers. They lug around huge amounts of expensive camera gear, pay for private guides to search out critters on their wishlists, and then sit there for as long as they please to get the perfect shot.

This does happen. The first time I dived in Lembeh from a liveaboard, back in 2010, one photographer looked like they had a whole camera lab down there, encircling a confused hairy frogfish, with a guide keeping any other divers at bay. This also happens anywhere else in the macro photography world, but I would say this situation is an outlier in Lembeh Strait.

Professional dive resorts keep their ratios low so critters aren’t crowded and give you time to get your picture. They maintain a shoot-and-move-on policy. You can come back later when others have had a chance to look. With the evolution in digital underwater photography making it easier to ‘get the shot’, this also means there is no need to hog the scene.

Lembeh is a fantastic place for any diver who wants to explore the strange and small. Often, you get more satisfaction from watching the sometimes bizarre scenery play out than from trying to get that perfect shot.

Olympus tg-7 Seafrog housing jpg

Do I Need a Fancy Camera and Underwater Housing?

Absolutely not! The wonderful evolution in digital cameras and underwater housings is destroying another misconception: you must spend a huge chunk of cash on specialized equipment, then endanger the life of this investment by taking it underwater with you.

To be honest, this used to be the case, with divers spending thousands on DSLR’s and lenses, huge housings with a variety of ports, strobes and focus lights. Then, in some cases, promptly flooding them, their tears filling their masks, as the sea water was their new dome port.

Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Don’t get me wrong; to get the best pictures, especially wide-angle, all the fancy gear helps. But now, way more so for macro, which makes Lembeh perfect for the aspiring underwater photographer. A compact digital camera, a simple housing, and a good torch will do a fantastic job.

For a brief recommendation, the Olympus TG 5,6 or now the 7 does a beautiful job with underwater images. They are also waterproof, meaning they’ll be safe if your housing floods. Cheaper polycarbonate housings that allow for torch or strobe attachments can be purchased. They have an excellent built-in macro function. Coupled with a narrow beam 1200 lumens torch, such as those from Scubalamp, Dive Pro, or Big Blue, you are ready to get some awesome macro images in the Lembeh Strait.

Camera room at Dive into Lembeh. Best camera room in the Lembeh Strait | Infinite Blue Dive TravelWhat to Look for in a Resort for Underwater Photography

What should you be looking out for if you have decided underwater photography will play a big part in your next scuba diving holiday to Lembeh? What should you be making sure the dive operator provides for you to get the most out of your experience?


  • An airy, dry camera room workspace with individual areas to keep your equipment and work in it.
  • A sufficient number of towels are needed to place equipment on and to keep everything dry.
  • Large enough rinse tanks to ensure cameras and strobes are not banging together.
  • individual trays to keep your gear in while it is in the rinse tanks.
  • Your workspace has enough power outlets to charge batteries for your camera and strobes.
  • A surge regulator to protect your precious equipment.
  • An air drying gun to remove those extra droplets of water before opening your camera housing up.

Can I Learn More About Underwater Photography?

Yes! You can learn more about underwater photography. When choosing your dive resort in Lembeh, ask whether they have a photo pro to give you tips during your stay. Ask if they run any specialty, or self-authored underwater photography courses you can take to improve your skills.

For example, Ben Sarinda is the local photo pro at Dive into Lembeh. He is always there to give you ideas on enhancing your photo skills during the shooting and editing processes. Often, just a few tips about lighting and setting up your camera properly will make your images come out vastly better.

For more information about available underwater photography courses in the Lembeh Strait, get in contact.

Dive Guide Ratios and Housereefs

Choose a dive resort with small guide-to-diver ratios, not only for your safety but also because in Lembeh, you will be looking for macro critters, so having fewer divers around allows you to get in closer and take a proper look (carefully, of course).

In other parts of the diving world, it may be common to have a 6:1 ratio, or better, 4:1 is a higher-end level of service. In Lembeh, look for something smaller still. If you choose the right resorts, you will often have a 2:1 ratio, and private guides will be available should you require them.

In Lembeh, some resorts have absolutely mind-blowing house reefs that can be dived with a buddy for free with a dive package or for a small charge. Check which resorts have good house reefs and what access you will have to them. Also, check the charges involved. You can often get some great diving in for the extra price of a tank or even included free of charge.

Some dive resorts are even in the enviable position of having two incredible house reefs. North of Bitung, closer to the entrance of the Lembeh Strait, sits a dive resort with Hairball, one of the area’s top muck sites, and Aw Shucks, one of the area’s most abundant coral reefs, sitting right off the black sand beach. Here, dive and stay packages include free house reef dives.

Dive times and Nitrox

I want to dive for longer! There is so much cool stuff to see. This is a common thing to hear diving in the strait. Luckily for us, many of the dives are not at a great depth, rarely descending under 20 metres, with most of the diving above 15 metres and a great deal of time spent at 10 metres and above.

Different dive resorts have different rules regarding dive times. They may have a one-hour maximum dive time, maybe 50 bar and up, perhaps surface with 50 bar. I recommend choosing one that allows you flexibility with your dive times. Some resorts will allow you to dive for as long as you need as long as you are safe; these are the ones I would aim for 🙂

With dive times stretching to 70 or 80 minutes plus, Nitrox is something you should ensure is available. Most dive resorts in Lembeh will offer it for a small charge or even free with a dive and stay package, as long as you are certified. If you want more information about getting your Nitrox card, connect with us. It is a short and easy course with many real-world diving benefits.

Banggai Cardinal Fish. Diev into Lembeh | Infinite Blue Dive Travel

The Dive Sites of Lembeh Strait

Dive sites in Lembeh stretch along both sides of the strait and are a collection of muck, rubble and coral dives. Although this may not sound alluring to those divers who have only experienced coral reefs and pelagics, what awaits you is a mystical world of the cryptic and odd that calls this habitat home.

There are around 55 mapped sites to explore, so the help of an experienced guide is a must. The critters will often show up at one site, stay for a while, and then mooch down to another. An understanding of the season and conditions is critical to finding shrimps, nudis, octopuses, and frogfish, which are just so incredible to see.

Considered some of the best sites at the time of writing are:

  • Rojos
  • Hairball 1
  • TK 3
  • Jahir
  • Pantai Pergi
  • Nudi Falls
  • Nudi Retreat

Be sure to explore these during your next Lembeh dive holiday.

Scorpion fish. Dive into Lembeh | Infinite Blue Dive TravelWhat Can You See Diving in Lembeh?

Over the last few decades, the list of incredible creatures in the Lembeh Strait has become increasingly longer. Currently, though, the species that top many divers’ wish lists are the:

  • Lembeh Sea Dragon
  • Hairy Frogfish
  • Hairy Octopus
  • Blue Ringed Octopus
  • Mimic Octopus
  • Melibi Colmani nudibranch
  • Hairy Shrimp
  • Tozeuma Shrimp
  • Coconut Octopus
  • Hairy Ambon Scorpionfish

Dive resorts with experienced guides will know where to find these species and keep an eye on their positions as they move throughout the seasons. At some dive resorts, you can submit a wish list before you arrive and the dive guides will do their best to show you what they can on your list. This special service started in Lembeh and has since been emulated at some other dive locations worldwide, such as Anilao, in the Philippines.

Mimic Octopus. Dive into Lembeh | Infinite Blue Dive TravelWhich Critters Have been Discovered in the Lembeh Strait?

Being such a hotspot of macro diversity, Lembeh has had its fair share of first discoveries that bring scuba enthusiasts back again and again, as well as international film crews to film them properly for posterity. Over the last couple of years, National Geographic has been staying at Dive into Lembeh while capturing footage of the Coconut Octopus and, on another occasion, a three-week sojourn for the Hairy Frogfish.

You can see some of their footage here:

Some of the very special species to look out for in the Lembeh Strait are the Mimic Octopus and the Wonderpus. Although I have been lucky enough to see Wonderpus elsewhere in Indonesia, Komodo actually, I have only ever had the opportunity to witness the remarkable mimic in Lembeh. Ensure you have an experienced dive guide to maximise this unique opportunity.

Is There Any Option to Combine Other Dive Locations?

So you have a bit more time, and why not? Getting to the area from many international locations can be quite extensive, so planning for more time to make the most of your travel is wise. Not only that but there are also other destinations, easy to get to from Manado, that also offer some of the best diving in the world, just a different type.

North of Lembeh, about a 45-minute boat ride from Dive into Lembeh, if you stay there, is Bangka Island. Bangka has world-class reef dives, gorgeous coral, fantastic macro, and the chance to spot large pelagics.

My favourite dive sites at Bangka are Batu Goso and Sahuang. Bangka is a great destination for a day’s dive trip. If you would like to spend more time in the area and explore some of the other 27 or so sites located around the main island, Gangga, and Talise, there are resorts that will cater to you.

Raja Ampat

You cannot mention diving in this area without discussing the majestic Raja Ampat. If Lembeh is the undisputed champion of macro and muck, Raja Ampat takes the crown for marine diversity and coral abundance.

The major town of Sorong is the entrance point to this bucket list destination. It is just an hour’s flight from the airport in Manado. Currently, two airlines service this route, making it very convenient to get there.

This wee blurb doesn’t offer enough space to cover the splendour of scuba diving in Raja Ampat, you can read more about that here.

Staying Connected in Lembeh | Internet, WiFi and Esim

It has become almost impossible not to remain connected and in touch with people. For better or worse ( I recommend attempting to spend less screen time), but for many, posting that underwater shot immediately on Instagram is now paramount.

Luckily, mobile coverage in North Sulawesi has improved markedly over the years. Now, with a local Telkomsel SIM, the internet is pretty much everywhere and also quick. I am typing this with a handsome download speed of nearly 65 Mbps, which was unheard of a few years ago.

The trick is to make sure you pick up a Telkomsel SIM, available at the airport, and they will register it. All foreign phones must have their EMEI number registered with the government. If you miss this step, your SIM will not be usable. Another option is to purchase an Esim in advance and register your phone with customs when you arrive. This will give you the best long-term internet coverage for Indonesia. You can check out the Telkomsel Esim here.

Lemon Goby in the Lembeh Strait | Infinite Blue Dive TravelHow Do I Find an Inclusive Dive Resort?

This is an incredibly important question. You want to find a dive resort that treats your individual needs as being just as important as those of the status quo. It is even better if you can find a resort that includes the marine environment on its list of things to be treated equally and respectfully.

For me, attention to marine conservation is of the greatest importance. This is not necessarily followed by, but also intertwined with, support for plant-based diets or vegan scuba divers. You can read more about my thoughts regarding this here.

Fortunately, some dive resorts in the Lembeh Strait actively seek to improve their interaction with the local environment and their level of inclusivity for guests. These resorts will not grumble or disappoint your ethical diver dietary choices.

As always, feel free to get in touch for our latest list of inclusive dive operators in the Lembeh Strait.

What Can I Expect From My Lembeh Dive Holiday?

What can you expect from your Lembeh dive holiday? An incredible dive experience. You can anticipate meeting loads of new critters and have the chance to capture some amazing images if that is your thing. You can expect a very high level of dive service and professionalism. There will be the opportunity to take your underwater photography to the next level. You can expect your dive resort to be inclusive and responsive to your needs and the marine environment. Just choose your dive resort wisely.

On top of all this awesomeness, you can combine your stay in the Lembeh Strait with some of the world’s other bucket-list dive destinations. Overall, you can expect you will assuredly want to return as soon as you have left.

To Wrap it Up

We started by explaining what Lembeh is and how to get there. We then covered what to expect when scuba diving in the Lembeh Strait and what to look for to ensure you get the most from your dive holiday. We discussed underwater photography, special species, and other amazing dive destinations within reach of north Sulawesi. It’s been quite a read.

Sometimes, there is a dive destination that takes hold of your spirit like no other, and you never want to leave. For me, the Lembeh Strait is one of those special, unique places. I hope you will also have the chance to experience it.

We have been diving Lembeh since 2009. Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions regarding your dive holiday to this macro and muck heaven.

Photo credits to Ben Sarinda, in house photo pro @ Dive into Lembeh

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