Sulawesi is the type of place that looks exotic even on a black and white map. Located just east of Borneo and shaped like a mythical beast from some old world coat of arms, it jumps out at you from the Indonesian archipelago, begging the intrepid to visit. The island’s most interesting nature reserve, Tangkoko, is located at the northeastern tip of Sulawesi. Several rare and bizarre creatures call this reserve home, from the Mimic Octopus to the Tarsier. It is a wild place, more National Geographic than Conde Nast.
Tangkoko feels like the end of the world. A gigantic volcano looms over the park, perpetually draped in thin narrow clouds. The dark beaches are scattered with crushed sea shells and Crested Black Macaques foraging for snacks. The dense rain-forest spreads out across Tangkoko, draping the park floor in a constant shadow and bumping up against the beaches that meet the savage sea. The waters surrounding the park hold a vast array of marine life. Sea gypsies live just offshore in stilt homes built around the reefs, dependent on the ocean’s bounty for sustenance. It is a land unchanged by modernity.
The animals of Tangkoko are a derelict crew. From carnivorous primates that live inside trees to Red Knobbed Horn-bills with wings like pterodactyls, the creatures are a menagerie of the curious. Among the most unique are the Tarsier, the Crested Black Macaque, the Giant Civet, and the Sulawesi Bear Cuscus. The Tarsiers live in family units inside gigantic trees, and hunt for insects under the cover of night. Each eyeball is the size of their entire brain. Perhaps most strangely, the carnivorous Tarsier cannot be kept in captivity, or it will commit suicide. The crested black macaque is a promiscuous old world monkey endemic to northern Sulawesi. They live in massive tribes of about twenty and spend their day foraging along the forest floor. At night, they retire to the rain-forest canopy. The Giant Civet is the largest mammal in Tangkoko, reaching about three feet in length. The medium sized cats have been known to ambush massive horn-bills on branches high in the cloud forest.
Getting to Northern Sulawesi is simple on Silk Air from Singapore. Silk Air flies the Singapore-Manado route nonstop on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday; it typically costs around 300 USD. It is also possible to fly to Manado from Bali on Garuda Air, though you must stop in Makassar en-route. Manado is the largest city in North Sulawesi and has many accommodation options. If you want to stay near the nature reserve, Pulisan Jungle Beach Resort provides basic beach-side bungalows with a great view across the water towards Mount Tangkoko. Utilize your guesthouse to make arrangements to visit the park. Other activities in Northern Sulawesi include climbing volcanoes, visiting the floral highlands around Tomohon, and diving the Lembeh Straits or Bunaken Island – two of the top dive sites in the world.