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North Sulawesi

"The town of Manado", wrote the well-known English zoologist Alfred Russel Wallace after a visit to the area in 1859, "is one of the most beautiful places in the East. It looks like a big garden in which rows of villas are built. Wide paths in between are streets, which are usually squared. Good roads split up in several directions to the hinterlands, with some rural houses, nice little gardens and rich plantations, jungle and fruit trees. In the west and south the area is mountainous, with groups of volcanic peaks with a height between 1800 and 2100 meters, which form high and picturesque backgrounds in the landscape... I had heard a lot about the beauty of this country, but reality has surpassed my expectations by far."

Travelling in Minahasa
Varied environment of Manado

Manado is the starting point for a number of roads, which all seem lead to interesting locations. Because the best hotels and fascilities are located in the city and most points of interest can be seen in a series of day trips, you can best stay in Manado and make your trips by chartered taxi, minibus or public transport. There are several possibilities for this; the routes which are given here, are just examples to a number of the most important places.

Swimming, eating and watching

A trip to Tomohon first follows the coast south of Manado and the beach of Tasik Ria. Next you go to Tanahwangko and then inland via Taratara to the city of Tomohon in the highlands. It's a beautiful combination of beach, nice food and spectacular views over coconut trees along the coast and clove plantations in the highlands. Tasik Ria, at about 30 minutes from Manado, is worth a stop to collect shells from the sea, have a swim in the warm Laut Sulawesi and to watch the fishermen. There is a tennis court and a playing garden; along the beach are houses for rent. Sundays are crowded. Manado Seaside Cottages, before Tasik Ria along the road from Manado, has good fish and other seafood.
The village of Tanahwangko, more south along the coast, has a deserted besach that matches perfectly with the image that most people have of a tropical paradise. At the southern tip of the village, just after the bridge, you go right over a small road. After two kilometers that road ends on a long sandy beach along a wide bay. It's good swimming here; quiet waves and many shells. Watch out for falling coconuts and pay attention at the unconfirmed rumours about small crocodiles. It is said that they live in the rivers which mouth in the ocean here.
Back at the northern end of Tanahwangko you enter the mountains; via Taratara there is a road through coconut plantations towards the town of Tomohon, which can be reached in 45 minutes. On your way, you will have a splendid view on Gunung Lokon (almost 1600 meters).


The village of Taratara at the southern foot of the vulcano is a regional center for traditional music and dance. In the open air theathre Kemer, you can see a performance at appointment.
The city of Tomohon at the top of the hill, locally known as 'flower city', is located in a small valley between two vulcanoes, Lokon and Mahawu. The climate is friendly and mild; fruit and a wide variety of flowers are grown here to supply the local market. The main street of the city is bordered by colorfull stalls: every meter seems to be dressed up with leafs, and the open spaces are planted with flowers as well. Horses pull beautifully decorated carts, known as bendi, which often leave little space for motorised traffic. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, you can buy rats, bats and dogs at the market, which are commonly used in the local kitchen. Tomohon is known as educational center; there is a big auditorium on Bukit Inspirasi, a hill with a remarkable view over the city with Gunung Lokon in the background.

Who wants to climb Gunung Lokon has to go back towards Manado on the main road and ask permission to the village head (lurah) in Kakaskasan, a village just north of Tomohon. The ascend starts just outside the village; every path to the vulcano eventually leads the a big quarry. From there you follow the lava stream until a big opening in the crater. At this point it looks like a lunar landscape. It takes about two hours (in good shoes) to reach the summit.
The trip back to Manado, half an hour, goes via a mountain road with spectacular views. In Tinoor, with a panoramic view over Teluk Manado, you will find cliif restaurants. Stalls along the road sell durian, langsat and other locally grown fruits, as well as dodol, a sticky sweet mix of palmsugar, coconut milk and nuts, wrapped in banana leafs.
Ahead is Pineleng, near a gate in obvios Sumatran style, a turn to the right, which ends at the Mausoleum of Imam Bonjol, the Islamic spiritual leader which lead the Minangkabau resistance against the Dutch in West-Sumatra. He was captured in 1837 and sent to Ambon and later to North Sulawesi. Bonjol died in 1864 in the neighborhood of the location of the grave.

Thousand orchids

For a next trip, take the main road towards the east from Manado to Airmadidi and Bitung. This road runs through coconut plantations along a big factory, P.T. United Coconut Tina Indonesia. This is a good location to see coconuts being processed. Every part of the coconut is used: oil, coal, cattle food, coconut milk and copra. Maybe it's possible to have a tour on the factory grounds.
Along this road, you will also find Taman Anggrek, an orchid garden with over 80 kinds from different parts of North Sulawesi. In the gardens there are over 10,000 flowers, among them 2,000 hybrids. All varieties only flower in a part of the year, at different times. Who is lucky can maybe see the rare Anggrek Hitam, a black orchid which normally flowers in November and can only be found here and on Kalimantan.

Sarcofagusses in Sawangan

Just past Airmadidi (30 minutes from Manado), a road towards the road leads towards the south to Tondano. The village of Sawangan, five minutes ahead, is the location of the biggest collection of sarcofagusses or waruga in the province. A small sign indicates the road. The graveyard contains 144 waruga with a different age and a small museum.
The waruga are square stone tombs with holes in the middle and prism-shaped lits. According to legends, people in pre-Christian times knew their death was approaching. Gifted by supernatural powers, they carried their own tomb, on top of their head, to their favorite location. The sarcofagus was put on the ground; the deceased was placed in it later, straight up on a porcelain plate. Tradition demanded that the body was decorated with precious jewelry; clothing was not permitted. The lit was placed on a layer of cealant. The temptation of the precious jewelry was often too big: many graves have been robbed.
In 1928, an epidemic in Sawangan forced the colonial government to disallow graves above the grounbd. In 1977, most waruga were removed to Sawangan; graveyard and museum were opened in 1978. The location for the wind from the village is said to protect it from bad smells and other bad things (spiritual) which emerge from the graves.

Each waruga is decorated with enscriptions with profession, cause of death or special things about the person. One grave, which shows a woman giving birth, is visited by women with fertility problems to pray for a child. During nights with full moon, the oldest resident of Sawangan leads a ceremony besides these waruga. All graves are in the direction of the rising sun.
The museum exhibits some resqued waruga, sometimes complete with contents. There is a traditional believe, that the old Minahasa used to be very big; the objects on display don't prove the opposite for sure.


Beyond Sawangan, the narrow road continues in the hills to reach the town of Tondano after half an hour. The road follows Sungai Tondano, with spectacular views on the gorge, and takes you close to a hydro-plant near Tanggari, which supplies power to the area. Just before Tondano you can see caves that were used in the Second World War by the Japanese to store ammonution. Before Tondano a sharp turn to the left, where the road turns right sharply, will bring you to the historically and culturally unique village of Kampung Jawa ('Jawa Village'). The name suggests that a part of the population descends from the warriors which were banned from Jawa by the Dutch during the Jawa War (1825-1830).
The mosque, built entirely in Jawanese style, which has been rebuilt on this location several times, has old pillars and a difficultly woodcarved chancel dating from 1868. The culture of the residents of the village is a fascinating mix; the language which they speak is Tondanese (with a small number of Jawanese words), but many rituals and forms of art originate from Jawa and Sumatera.
The road through Kampung Jawa and after that along the nearby Walauan, brings you to an Islamic graveyard with the mausoleum of Kyai Modjo, the leader of the people in exile. The mausoleum is built on a small hill, which offers a fascinating view over Danau Tondano and surrounding area. Tondano, governmental center of the Minahasa, is located along the northern banks of Danau Tondano. The small town, branded by straigt streets, is the place of birth of dr. Sam Ratulangi, an early nationalist leader - educated in Switzerland - , which was the first post-war governor of Sulawesi. In the north of the city is an impressive monument to honour him.
From Tondano there are smaller roads close to the banks of the lake; a trip around the lake offers different views all the time on nearby mountains, ricefields and the lake itself. In Remboken, at the western bank of the lake, there is a tourist complex, run by the government, consisting of a small park, swimming pool with hot water sources and a restaurant with a view on the lake. There are boats and small huts can be rented. Except for Sundays, it's very quiet there.
Not far from Remboken, beyond Kaima, is the village of Pulutan, where pottery is made. Inside the village gates is a small factory where you can see how they make pots, vases and such. You can also buy products there.
When you return to Remboken and go further south along the lake, the road will eventually bring you to Kasuang. A number of restaurants serves traditional dishes, prepared in bamboo over a big open barbeque. The Tondano indah Restaurant, along the eastern bank of the lake between Eris and Tondano, is also a good place to eat. Back in Tondano you can, instead of returning to Manado directly over the main road via Tomohon, take the picturesque route by following the small road from Tondano to the mountain village of Rurukan, fifteen minutes ahead. This is a beautiful trip along small coffee plantations and vegetable gardens. In Rurukan you go uphill by turning left towards a small area which is known as Temboan ('point of view'). It is just 100 meters; the bad road can best be used walking. The top of the hill offers one of the most spectacular views in the Minahasa: high, terraced vegetable gardens spread in all directions, with Bitung, Laut Maluku and Danau Tondano in the distance. From here there is a road towards Tomohon and Manado.

From Sonder to Watu Pinabetengan

The beautiful and varied natural environment on this third daytrip south of Tomohon is very worth while. There are some extra things however: a visit to the hot source and the most sacred place in the Minahasa.
The road south of Tomohon to Sonder first goes through Lahendong, where you can almost feel the energy just below the surface. A hut and a green sign to the right mark the start of a good path to the sources. They come with gorges and mud holes. The place with strong sulphuric odors feels like prehistory. At the biggest hot water source you can bathe.
After Leilem, known for it's beautiful hand-made furniture, the village of Sondor, which has the highest income per capita of all villages in Indonesia in the 1970's, appears. Many people got rich when they planted clove trees. In contrary to most Minahasa they spread their investments and survived the next price decline with not too much problems. The people in Sonder are known throughout the area as enthousisast traders; they are indeed involved in everything, from selling cookies in small villages to leading big companies in the city.
The nearby tourist resort of Toar-Lumimuut, a good place to relax after the trip from Manado, has a nice swimming pool with park. About 15 minutes south of Sonder and just before Kawangkoan are the Japanese caves: hand made tunnels made by forced labour, in which ammonution was stored during the Second World War. Who doesn't have a problem with pitchblack darkness and flying bats, the extensive network can be entered. A guide from the restaurant across the biggest cave can guide you with a flashlight.

'Stone of help'

From Kawangkoang, the trip goes south towards Langoon, where you turn right just beyond the Minaesa Technological Institute. A beautiful trip along terraced ricefields brings you to Watu Pinatentengan, the stone that is seen as the strongest spiritual place of the Minahasa. Through the centuries it has been proven that politics is also a blessfull point for the leaders of the Minahasa. Ratulangi met with other leaders here in 1939 to beg for support in their fight for independence from the Dutch. When that was reached in 1949, another meeting was organised to bless the newly formed republic.
The pictographic symbols on the stone have never been decrypted; most of them were covered in concrete when the government declared it a public monument. Especially at full moon, but also on other days and nights, ceremonies are held here. People come here to consult the spirits of their ancestors. A local old man is used as medium for that contact.
Back on the main road, just before Langoon, there is a turn to the left near the village of Toraget to Karumenga, where you can find baths with clear, sulphuric water from a hot source. A short five-minute trip on foor through the forest brings you to muddpools. You can make the trip back to Manado from Langoon via the picturesque banks of Danau Tondano.

Climbing Gunung Klabat

Gunung Klabat - 1995 meters, the sleeping vulcano directly east of Manado, is the highest point in Minahasa and offers a nice view over the entire northern tip of the peninsula.
Just behind the police station of Airmadidi, a good path starts. Those who want to climb the mountains, has to report first. They will be somewhat worried for those who don't take a guide and small kids will be send with you to take you to the start of the path. Here, you have to pay a small fee for your camera and a small tip for the children to leave them there.
Follow the path until the first sign, and take the path to the left, uphill. Halfway are some huts where you can shelter for a sudden rainstorm. You can reach the summit in seven or eight hours, but it's better to make a two-day trip of it. The first day to the summit and the next morning an early wake up to see the sunrise. Bring warm clothing, a good sleeping bag and enough water and food.
Climbing or descending in dark can be dangerous at some parts of the path because of heavy erosion. This is not recommended at all when you don't have a light on your head, because sometimes two hands are needed to climb. In the sometimes very dense vegetation, moonlight is not enough. Only at several locations, water is available. During weekends, you should expect some crowds there, as students spend their time climbing as well.

Tropical rainforest

The entire tip of the peninsula north and east of Gunung Klabat is a nature reserve which contains lush tropical rainforest. This area consists of 9000 hectares, varying in height from sea level to 1100 meters. This spectaculair reserve offers possibilities to see some of Sulawesi's unique animals and plants, but also a large number of corals and fish.
The most remarkable animal is the maleo The terrain offers good possibilities to see other animals as well, rare as well as common animals. The rare dwarf-buffalo appears at higher altitudes, but the babiroussa, is said to be extinct here.

There is a big variety of birds. Flying dragons are more common here than in Dumoga-Bone. You can see several spiecies of sea-birds in coastal areas.
However the reserve is located just 60 kilometers from Manado, entering the terrain is hard; you will need several days to see it completely. Who doesn't have enough time can enter the rainforest at Danowudu, along short but maintained paths. Danowudu can be reached to take a left-hand turn just beyond Girian, near Bitung.
After Danowudu, there is a small and dangerous path, consisting of vulcanic rubble, towards the north, through the village of Dua Saudara towards Batuputih, at the northern top of the reserve at the coast. In the dry season, this trip can be done by jeep; during the wet season, from November through March, it will be a three hour walk from Dua Saudara. You can also rent a boat in Bitung; the trip to Batupuith only takes an hour. In the neighborhood are only a few guesthouses and don't expect a good accomodation as well.


The seaport of Bitung has wide boulevards. The city is the proud owner of two bizarre replica's of the Eiffel Tower and a remarkable church. Bitung is the most important seaport of North Sulawesi; the perfect natural harbor is protected by Pulau Lembeh. This is also the center of commercial fishery in this area. There are several good restaurants which sell fish and seafood in Chinese style.

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