Northern Sulawesi consists of the provinces of North Sulawesi and Gorontalo in Indonesia.
- Manado - the largest city and main gateway to the north
- Tomohon - cool off in the central highlands
- Bitung - the main deep-water port and access to the Lembeh Strait
- Gorontalo - Gateway to the Togeans
- Bunaken - world-famous diving site
Inhabited by the Minahasa, Hulontalangio, Bantik, and Sangirese, much of Northern Sulawesi is a solidly Christian (mostly but not entirely Protestant) enclave in mostly Muslim Indonesia. A centre of Dutch settlement in colonial times the region still retains many traces of Western influence.
The local language is Manado Malay (bahasa manado), also known as Minahasa Malay.
Manado has an airport (IATA: MDC) with international flights from Singapore (by SilkAir), and domestic flights from many major cities in Indonesia, including Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, and Denpasar/Bali.
- Manado has a harbour with ships going to and from the more Northern Islands (Sangir Talaud area).
- Bitung is the major port of North Sulawesi and you can get on board a Pelni ship to sail towards other area's of Indonesia. Some of the larger cruise ships that travel from Australia towards Thailand or other Asian countries also stop at Bitung.
By car or bus
You can travel by car or bus from South Sulawesi towards Manado, however due to security issues in Central Sulawesi this is currently not recommended. So, if you plan on travelling by land, check the local situation first.
Rental cars are available in Manado, but like most other areas of Indonesia, hiring a car with driver is advisable because of traffic woes and knowledge of local conditions. That wiggly line on the map may or may not be passable. A bilingual driver with a car in condition may cost approximately Rp 500,000 per day, or self drive may cost Rp 300,000 per day.
You won't go far without seeing a torrent of light blue Mitsubishi Colts (aka bemos elsewhere) trolling the streets for customers. Although usually used within towns, you can take mikrolets intercity as well.
Scuba diving is the main draw for tourists to North Sulawesi. Popular diving areas are:
- Bunaken National Marine Park
- Lembeh Strait, for its good muck diving
- Bangka area, for its brilliant soft coral and diversity in dive sites (from beginner to very advanced)
You can also visit the Minihasan Highlands to climb some of the volcanoes in the area. Taxis can be arranged from your hotel in Manado to the town of Kinilow and Tomohon. From here it is easy to reach the nearby peaks. Also worth a visit is the local market in Tomohon, not for the faint hearted locals choose from delicacies dog, bat and the rather boring pig (North Sulawesi is largely Christian).
Minahasan cuisine from North Sulawesi features heavy use of meat such as pork, fowl and seafood. Woku is a type of seafood dish with generous use of spices, often making up half the dish. Ingredients of woku include lemongrass, lime leaves, chili peppers, spring onion, shallots, either sautéed with meat, or wrapped around fish and grilled covered in banana leaves. Other ingredients such as turmeric and ginger are often added to create a version of woku. Foreign colonial influence has also played a role in shaping Minahasan cuisine. Brenebon (from Dutch "Bruin" (brown) and "Boon" (bean)) is a pork shank bean stew spiced with nutmeg and cloves. Roast pork similar to lechon in the Philippines or pig roast in Hawaii is served at special occasions, especially weddings. Other unusual and exotic meats such as dog, bat, and forest rat are also regularly served in North Sulawesi region. Paniki is the bat dish of Minahasa. Manado is best known for Minahasan cuisine, but to see all irregular meat sales, go to Tomohon market, where they display all, dead or alive.
Being largely Christian in North Sulawesi Province, alcohol is a little easier to find than in some other parts of Indonesia. The local beer Bintang costs Rp 15,000 and 20,000 in resorts. Also worth trying are the local beers .
The ethnic strife in central and south Sulawesi has not really affected the north. The Philippine rebel group Abu Sayyaf are said to operate in the northern islands near the Philippine border, but no attacks or kidnappings have been publicised.