We spent January 2023 exploring four different resorts in Indonesia. This is Part One of our Trip Report on Lembeh Resort.
17,504 islands make up the nation of Indonesia, and it has the second largest coastline of any country – nearly 55,000 kilometres. The highest island peak, the youngest population on the planet, the largest volcanic lake, and over 700 languages and dialects are spoken. There are so many things that make Indonesia unique and special, and we spent the month of January exploring four different areas to see for ourselves some of what it can offer our clients.
Spoiler Alert – we bloody loved it!!
This recce was also one of our infamous Come Dive with Us hosted trips. New Year's Eve was spent in Jakarta airport after having flown from London via Dubai. We watched the clock on the flight announcement board click over in a very quiet airport before boarding our final flight to Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi in Indonesia.
Slightly jet-lagged and mostly hot and sweaty, we were met at Manado Airport by the staff from Lembeh Resort, and a very nice air-conditioned mini-bus. We set off for a 40-minute drive across the island. The newly opened road makes this a very easy journey. The last leg of the journey was then a 15-minute boat ride on one of the resort's dive boats, across the harbour and to the resort – a tiny bit of heaven in the beautiful landscape.
What first struck us was how very small the resort appeared – rooms dotted up and down the hillside, a dive centre with camera room – a PROPER camera room – and a central two-story building with reception downstairs, and the open-air restaurant upstairs. Lembeh Resort has a stellar reputation in the diving and underwater photography communities, so I suppose we can be forgiven for not realising how small and select this place is – with only 20 rooms (8 Premium Luxury Cottages, 5 Hillside Luxury Cottages and 6 Garden Rooms), even when fully occupied this is a very quiet and very special place!
Do the maths – 20 rooms (if full) so 40 people. MAXIMUM! With 5 huge dive boats, that’s 8 divers per boat, and with two to four guides per boat, this means very special, ‘privately guided’ diving! Our group had its own boat and 3 guides, sometimes 4, across the 9 of us. Complete with O2, life jackets, spare tanks and dive equipment, toilets, towels, cold water (and hot with tea and coffee on double tank outings) plus fruit and snacks, there isn’t much more than anyone could want from a dive boat. Easy access from the beach steps and dive centre, and the crew are the warmest and friendliest, and truly expert, people ever!
The dive centre area is well set up – a two-person open wardrobe with shelving and hanging for all things wet and dive related, big benches to sit on whilst kitting up, showers and even more towels – and being a mere waddle to the dive boats - this is some of the most civilised diving ever!
Cameras – it isn’t called Critters@Lembeh for nothing, and photography here is equivalent to F1 at Silverstone, Rugby at Twickenham and Cricket at Lords – this is THE place, so you would expect the facilities to be pretty spot-on, wouldn’t you? Expect a fully-fledged and secure camera room, with shelves above and below each camera desk, individual power supplies with adapters, camera towels and non-slip mats. Separate rinse tanks outside, airguns, together with the resident Backscatter Pro offering support, advice, spare parts and courses.
Our rooms were split across the group, with some in the beautiful Hillside Cottages. These really are on a hillside, and there are a good few steps up to them, but the climb is worth it! Beautiful with plenty of space, super-comfortable beds, lovely bathrooms, lots of storage and hanging space and spectacular views across the bay. Fluffy towels, shower gel and shampoo, conditioner and other such vanity items are provided.
Those of you who know me know that I am just a little bit broken from too many Saturdays spent on the rugby pitch in my younger years – therefore, we opted for a Garden Room. More a jungle than a garden, we were a stone’s throw from the main building, but nestled into the tropical greenery and both private and quiet. All the rooms are air-conditioned and have a fridge with snacks, plus bottled water and tea and coffee.
The open-air restaurant sits above the main reception area, and has huge vaulted ceilings with fans galore, keeping it as cool as possible. The food is fab – absolutely fab, and this comes from a self-confessed foodie!! Breakfast offerings included fresh pastries, fresh fruits, a range of cooked options (beans, mushrooms, bacon, hash browns, nasi goreng, noodles) and plenty of rijsttafel offerings too – Indonesian tapas for the want of a description. Overnight oats, fruit bowls, cold meats and cheeses and much much more – oh, and eggs too – omelettes to order and juices galore!
Lunch is a buffet offering with a huge array of choices. Salads, western style and local style foods, and a fresh ‘made to order’ station offering something different every day. Always a soup, and always a choice of desserts too, enabling you to make it as light as you want, or in my case, not! Dinner is very much an a la carte experience – a four-course menu every evening, offering again a great variety of local and Western choices.
And then there are barbecue evenings, afternoon snacks and some incredibly well-crafted cocktails, good wines and a selection of beers too, available at the Pool Bar or from the Restaurant. And in this day and age, it is important to note that all of the fish served is locally line-caught, vegetables and fruits are locally and organically grown by artisanal farmers, and any dietary requirements can be catered for by the Chefs.
So, in summary – a beautiful place, extremely well set-up, run and managed, lovely rooms with ‘to die-for’ views and some proper gourmet food……..lovely people, and big proper dive boats.
All that remains to tell you about is the diving!
Lembeh is well known as the ‘Critter Capital of the World’ so we went with a bucket list of things to see and tick off. We did a couple of boat dives each morning, and then hit the house reef shore dive in the afternoon – this was plenty for us, but more dives are available, and then there are night and dusk dives too!
We dived some beautiful reefs – typical structure was a plateau of coral reef, a sloping reef and down to a black sand sea bed for a bit of muck and critter-spotting. Both North and East Lembeh offer some stunning reef and pinnacle diving – lots of colourful corals and marine life, including sharks and other pelagics passing through, and we did a few very good dives like these, but, we were there for critters, so critter-hunting we went.
With both black sand and grey sand sites, offering totally different critters, we were spoilt for choice. Currents were gentle at their strongest (expertly selected by the dive boat captain) and the critter-spotting demonstrated by the capable dive guides was second to none. We could almost ‘order a critter’ in the dive briefing, and the guides would find it, although they did struggle with the request for a polar bear!
We saw pretty much everything we set out to see, and being in small groups, were able to relax and concentrate on taking photographs too. The list of critters is pretty endless, so here, we will let our pictures do the talking...
Lembeh is a VERY special place, and we are already planning a return visit. It really is that good!
Key Facts :
Getting there : Flights with Emirates Airlines to Manado depart from any major UK airport via Dubai and Jakarta or Singapore Airlines via Singapore and Jakarta. On Emirates from London Heathrow it was a 7-hour flight with a quick two-hour layover in Dubai followed by an 8-hour flight to Jakarta. We had a longer layover in Jakarta so we booked a room at FM7 Hotel, a quick 20 minutes from the airport for a much-needed shower and a kip. The comfortable double room was £36 and offers a free shuttle to and from the airport. Our final flight on domestic carrier Garuda to Manado was 3 ½ hours. 30 to 35kg baggage allowance is typical.
Air temperature : Tropical – average daily temperature throughout the year is 28-30°C, with the humidity at 85-90%. The rainy season is considered to be November to May with peak rainfall in January.
Water temperature : 26-29°C. A 1-3mm full suit or shorty will suit most.
Visa requirement : Tourist visa is purchased on arrival for £30 or IDR 500,000.
Health protocols : When we travelled, visitors were mandated to download an app “Pedulilindungi”. This required us to upload our proof of COVID vaccination and booster and approval was received within 24 hours. Upon arrival, we provided a QR code generated by the app, had our temperature taken and then we were off.
Currency : Indonesian rupiah, US dollars or Euros on resort. We often find the exchange rate is better at the destination country. ATMs and exchange desks are available at the airport. The resort also accepted credit cards to settle our bill quoted in rupiah.
Electricity : 230V with European style (round pin) two-prong plugs. Our adaptor worked without issue, and the camera room had extension leads with UK plugs.
Internet and Wi-Fi : Wi-fi is available at no charge at the resort. The best signal around the resort was at the restaurant.
Price Guide: Expect from £2499 per person based on two sharing a garden view room for a 7-night itinerary with full board and 10 dives. Return flights and transfers are included.
Our Advice: Stay as long as you can! With a long travel time consider at least a week or talk to us about adding on other Indonesian destinations.We travelled to Murex Bangka and Murex Manado Resort on the Passport to Paradise itinerary.Stay tuned for additional reports!!And with numerous routes from the UK to choose from, any duration can easily be arranged.
Tourist Visa : £30 purchased on arrival.
Food & Drink : Speciality drinks, adult beverages, sodas and snacks at Lembeh Resort. Fancy coffees, milkshakes, sodas, beers, wine, and cocktails were always available and affordable. The mini fridge in the room had a selection of drinks and snacks and was refilled daily.
Diving Extras : Three boat dives are offered daily along with the option to sign up for mandarin, dusk, night and blackwater boat dives. The house reef is available guided or unguided. We purchased a 2 dives/day package for our time at Lembeh and all options could be used. NITROX was an extra charge.
Tips : We would suggest a minimum of £15 per day to cover the dive centre and resort staff. Individual tips for special service are up to you!
Things to Pack :
Dry bag : A small dry bag for daily boat dives is always handy to keep your personal items together and protected.
Bug spray : When the sun went down, the mozzies came out!
Medicated or drying ear drops : On a long trip with lots of diving, our ears tend to get a little sensitive so we try to be prepared.
Rechargeable personal fan : Found on Amazon these have become a traveller favourite! Handy on the plane or in the airport when you’re adjusting to the temperature and humidity!
Refillable water bottle : Just want to note that you won’t need one. Lembeh Resort provided each of us with a refillable bottle to keep. Filtered drinking water is available all around the resort.