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Dive Review of Solitude/Solitude Lembeh in
Indonesia

Solitude/Solitude Lembeh: "If the diving is good, nothing else matters.", May, 2019,

by Diane Smith, CA, US ( 2 reports with 1 Helpful vote). Report 10922.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments Solitude Resort, Lembeh Straits, Indonesia May, 2019

ďIf the diving is good, nothing else matters. If the diving is not good, nothing else matters.Ē Old Rasta Divers saying.

The diving is great in Lembeh, and so is everything else. My husband Sherm and I returned to Lembeh with our BDF (Best Dive Buddy) and friend, Mark Leevan, because we all love Lembehís spectacular muck diving. We were worried because our favorite resort, Cassowary Lembeh, had changed ownership. We finally figured out that it was now called Solitude, and that it is part of a group of resorts and live aboards by the same name. We had never heard of Solitude, and were concerned that changes by new management might ruin what had always been our go to accommodation at one of our absolute favorite exotic dive destinations, Lembeh Straits, on the far northeastern part of Northern Sulawesi, in Indonesia. We had, by mistake, once stayed at another resort close by, with a similar name. Though very good, it couldnít compare, especially the dive operation. We checked with an agent, and it seemed likely that the resort was physically the same under new ownership. It is, but better. There are more rooms than before, and the dining room is now on the ground floor. The grounds are even more beautiful, with lush, well kept shrubbery, trees, and an upgraded Koi Pond. It drips with orchids and other tropical flowers, and has a cozy and lovely pool area. Through an agent, we managed to book the two best ďrooms,Ē villas 1 and 2, which have large balconies overlooking the straits. The villas are very spacious, comfortably furnished, and immaculate, with large bathrooms that stay warm if you keep the interior door to the bedroom closed, and comfortable if you donít. At least villas 1 and 2 have fabulous outdoor showers. We were more than satisfied with the accommodations. They were better than ever. Plus, the new owners seem to have controlled the former massive sized cockroach problem, that used to make life challenging and sometimes crunchy in the middle of the night. There were no vipers on the balcony either, this time, which is always a plus. There are lots of birds, and we were particularly thrilled to see a huge eagle hunting, and returning to nest with a good sized fish.

The new operation has only been accepting guests for a short while. We three were the only ones here for the first 2-3 days, when two more guests arrived. Until then, we had the whole resort to ourselves, and a private dive boat! While it was just us three, though, it was like being under ultra friendly surveillance, we got so much attention. I think the staff would have chewed our food, if they thought it would make us happy. When the two new guests arrived, it got more relaxed. It turned out that they, too, had been to the old resort many times.

The restaurant has fairly varied, and more than adequate menu, with several very nice choices, like cashew chicken, and egg drop soup. The kitchen also experiments with new dishes. One day, they made burritos with home made tortillas. They were very good. They were happy to substitute tofu for meat for me, and to fix things the way we asked.

The staff at the resort was wonderful. There is a very reasonably priced spa facility, and a huge camera room. We had been concerned about the dive operation, which has always been superb, personalized, and efficient. We shouldnít have been concerned; the new dive operation is great, with extremely personable, knowledgeable dive masters, though our old favorite dive masters are no longer here. The dive masters and crews of the dive boats could not be friendlier or more welcoming. And they, like their predecessors, find critters that would be completely impossible to spot without them. They even take requests for specific critters, and almost always deliver. They did not, however, find the legendary pigmy whale shark.

Lembeh Straits is the gold standard for weird creature features. The Lembeh Rule is, if you think itís an animal, itís an animal. If you donít think itís an animal, itís an animal. If you are sure itís trash (and there is a lot of thatóitís not called muck diving for nothing) itís either covering up an animal, or it is an animal. Our dive master picked up what we thought was a large handful of trash, and began, it seemed, to pick it apart, discarding wads of algae and miscellaneous things like limpets, barnacles, trash and weeds. After a few minutes of watching him gently pull off wads of yucky material, the trash moved its legs. It was a carrier crab that had gotten carried away with camouflage to the point it couldnít move. It had become a hoarder crab. He cleaned it up, put it down, and it walked away, still looking like a pile of trash, but with legs that could move. There are aliens on earth, and at least some of them live in Lembeh. There is little current, and at least in May, this trip, the water was cool but comfortable, around 79-80 F. Bring a wetsuit and maybe a vest to go over it when necessary, if you go May to August, when water is coolest. We have been there when the water was much warmer, and also when it was colder than this time. So plan to be flexible. Iím always cold, so I wore a 5 mil top, 3 mil bottom wetsuit, with a hooded vest over it, and was comfortable. Dives very rarely exceed 70 feet, with 50-60 the most common.

Unlike many areas, diving here is hazardous only due to the prevalence of many venomous and stinging critters. I wear gloves, and dive with a poker to avoid touching anything when getting up close. I donít think gloves would stop a stonefish spine, but at least they are protection against things like hydroids. There are many scorpionfish, including the nearly invisible and incredibly ugly devil scorpion fish, and lots of stonefish and bristle worms. There are also many cone shells, at least some of which are deadly. Cone shells have a proboscis that extends to inject venom. Several people a year are killed worldwide by cone shells that they put in their pockets, thinking the shells are empty. Putting your hand on any one of the poisonous animals at Lembeh can be a near-death experience, if you are lucky. Lion fish, poisonous octopuses, and various types of stinging coral and hydroids are also hazards if you are not careful. You have to remember not to touch ANYTHING, because you cannot easily see some of the critters even when a dive master points them out. Itís not a place to dive if you have poor buoyancy control. The animals are masters of disguise. You will not win. Most of them are not afraid of you, and as far as we can tell, all are very docile, except for the damsel fish, which seem even more aggressive than usual at Lembeh. The animals also often bury themselves in the sand, or get covered in silt, or trash. There are no big things, like sharks, mantas, turtles, or schools of barracuda.

The diving was great, but not equal in numbers or varieties of weirdnesses, to our many other trips to Lembeh, which were at different times of the year than May. But there were so many juveniles of so many species that, assuming everybody grows up, the diving should be spectacular later this year.

In Lembeh, the visibility can often be 4-15 feet (okay, 2 to 15 feet), and the bottom, with little coral in most areas, and the water very easily muddied by the fine silt. There is trash everywhere, and some is really bad trash, like discarded light fluorescent bulbs, half full, solidified paint cans, tarps, uniforms and plastic bottles. If itís cloudy, you will need a light in the middle of the day. But despite it all, you will still have a great dive. Itís unique. We are so jaded by fabulous Lembeh diving, that, unless we see entirely new stuff on a dive at Lembeh, we rate the dive 8 on a scale of 10. As with every other trip to Lembeh, we saw things this time that we have never seen before. Like a free swimming brittle star, and an elongate heart urchin. The place is incredible. Even though it is small, trashy, covered with black volcanic sand and silt, seemingly barren in some ares, and populated with critters who are entirely focused on not being seen, it could not be more fascinating.

No one should dive here without a guide, since if you do, you will not see virtually nothing. Even we and our dive buddies, all whom have been here many times, would not be able to find most of the critters without an experienced guide. I'm always hoping to find something unusual all by myself. Ha. Once on a dive at Lembeh, I saw a fascinating yellow mound that I figured was an animal, based on the Lembeh Rule. So I carefully and slowly swam up to it. It didn't move. I waited a minute, then touched it oh, so very carefully with my poker; it didn't move. I stuck my poker in the sand a few inches away, and very gently lifted it up from beneath. It was half a lemon.

Shrimp are everywhere in Lembeh: Anemone shrimp, eggshell shrimp, sexy shrimp, carrier shrimp, mantis shrimp [peacock and giant] cleaner shrimp, Coleman's shrimp); crabs: Porcelain crabs, carrier crabs, orangutan crabs, box crabs; beautifully colored and elegant flatworms, tiny purple hairy and other squat lobsters.

For the first time in our many trips to Lembeh, we did not see many octopuses, though we did see a coconut octopus stuffing itself inside a clam shell. We did see cuttlefish of various sizes, but mostly juveniles, and cuttlefish eggs with visible embryos. We only saw a very few very small frog fish. Usually the place is alive with frog fish of all types.

There were hundreds of types of spectacularly colored nudibranchs, mostly engaged in making more nudibranchs, lots of gorgeous nudibranch egg rosettes, many varieties of pipefish, sea snails, wasp fish, leaf fish, flounders (peacock and cockatoo), sole, box fish, razor fish, salt water catfish, sennets, Bengali cardinal fish, leafy filefish, giant trumpet shells and huge cowries. There were white eyed eels, snowflake eels, white bordered snake eels and black, yellow and blue ribbon eels. We saw magnificent adult and gorgeous juvenile batfish. The juveniles look like Halloween figures, about 18" tall, all black with almost iridescent orange borders. The sandy bottoms also sported both juvenile and mature cowfish. I love cowfish, especially the juveniles. They have little "horns" and are flat on the bottom. They bob around like corks on their tiny fins, and use their snout to blow water in the sand to find food, which, on a silty bottom, makes a big mess. But they continue dredging for food all day, leaving what looks like a trail of smoke behind them. We saw many seahorses, and, in the coral areas, Moorish idols, trumpet fish, and the usual array of reef fish miracles. At one point, I had a remora (shark sucker) attached to my wetsuit. In a pinch, anything will do, I guess.

We saw several types of dragonets, smallish fish that look a bit like dragons, to somebody, apparently, and millions and millions of tiny fry of some sort, which, if they all survive, will make Lembeh too crowded to dive. There were many, many eggs around. With all the spawning and egg laying, the future should be amazing at Lembeh!

There were puffer fishes, porcupine fish, big schools of mullet, various types of pipefish including ghost, stick, and various others. The coral is in excellent shape, in the non-sandy areas, and was generally out feeding, even in daytime. We saw a lot of bubble coral. Furry orange orangutan crabs live in the bubble coral.

Anemones and Corallimorphs were everywhere, in all permutations, and with different varieties of clownfish and pajama fish inhabiting each, along with tiny shrimps, porcelain crabs, and Banggai cardinal fish, who are also immune to the anemone's sting. Some of the anemones are here are so gorgeous it takes your breath away. There were spectacular crinoids, which look like ferns, in all different brilliant colors, sometimes even two toned. They are exactly like Velcro. If you brush one, it sticks to your wet suit and is difficult to get off without the crinoid losing some of its (many, many) arms, which then grow back. They are a close relative of starfish. They have tiny little skinny feet, and can walk around. They can also swim, waving their arms in a hilarious but effective way. Squat lobsters often inhabit crinoids. If you tickle crinoid feet with your poker, they open up their arms like a flower, just like when they are feeding.

Diving began with the usual two morning dives, lunch, then one afternoon dive. After a day so, we got it changed to two morning dives, lunch, then an afternoon dive. The dive sites vary between 5 to 15 minutes from the resort. Lembeh is a very small area. There is also shore diving right off the resort. We havenít ever done it, because boat diving is easier, but we hear it is very, very good.

We will be back. Again.
Websites Solitude   Solitude Lembeh

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving California, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, Maldives, Truc, Yap, Palau, Thailand, all over Indonesia
Closest Airport Manado Getting There Singapore to Manado. We flew to and out of Bali because....Bali

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy Seas calm
Water Temp 79-80°F / 26-27°C Wetsuit Thickness 4
Water Visibility 5-20 Ft/ 2-6 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks None Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles None Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 5 stars Large Fish N/A
Large Pelagics N/A

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities 5 stars
UW Photo Comments [None]
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