Avoid The Huge Crowds In Bali And Visit This Dazzling Destination Dupe Instead

Bali is one of the most well-known destinations in Asia, thanks to films such as "Road to Bali" and "Eat, Pray, Love." Its rice terraces, beautiful sunsets, beaches and Hindu temples all make for an exciting and relaxing visit. Bali is also quite easy to visit given the all-inclusive resort packages from multiple hotels on the island which range from widely affordable to more luxurious. However, its popularity is a drawback for those looking to escape the crowds or see a more untouched part of Indonesia. After all, Bali is just one of thousands of islands which make up Indonesia.

On a larger Indonesian island just east of Borneo is the coastal city of Manado. It is the capital city of Indonesia's North Sulawesi province. It may sound remote, but it is well-connected with international airlines and receives flights from other parts of Indonesia such as Bali and Jakarta. Manado is turning heads because of its culinary scene, vibrant underwater wildlife, and nearby volcanic mountains.

Snorkel in Bunaken National Marine Park

Food in Manado is distinct. The city's dishes such as klappertaart (a coconut custard dessert) have blended Dutch elements due to its colonial past. Regional favorites include pandan pancakes, pineapple biscuits, chicken satay, and barbecue fish with spicy dabu-dabu sauce. For adventurous travelers, Taste Atlas points to Rumah Makan Sate Pelmas Tanta Olla, also known as RM Sate Pelmas Tanta Ola. This restaurant serves paniki, a surprising dish made with fruit bats.

Manado's water is a haven for marine life. As one of the most biodiverse places in the world, the area is actually designated as the Bunaken National Marine Park. To reach some popular diving options, head to Manado's nearby island of Bunaken. Private charter boats for hire go between Manado and Bunaken, but public boats leave from the Dermaga ke Pulau Bunaken or from the terminal near the Puskesmas Wenang medical center between 2 and 3 p.m. 3WILL Bunaken Dive Resort on Bunaken takes its hotel guests out on boats to dive among the wildlife. Thalassa Dive & Wellbeing Resort on Manado's mainland also takes visitors to dive or snorkel in the park.

Find relaxing beaches in Manado and on Bunaken

Those looking for Indonesian outdoor adventures should head toward the middle of the North Sulawesi province to the Minahasa Highlands. These volcanic hills have everything from waterfalls to lakes to religious sites for multiple faiths. Among the religious sites is Bukit Kasih Kanonang, a grouping of five worship sites for different religions atop a steep set of stairs. If getting through this tropical paradise on your own sounds daunting, Highland Resort and Nature Tours doubles as a hotel and tour company just around 35 minutes from Manado.

If tropical relaxation is what you want to do, book a stay at Mercure Manado Tateli Beach Resort on the outskirts of Manado. The beach access enjoyed by the resort's guests is a significant reason to stay here, but the resort also offers a swimming pool and a spa. Beaches on Bunaken are conveniently near the boat terminal. As with resorts on the mainland, plenty of Bunaken's resorts have beach access too, such as Two Fish Resort and Raja Laut Dive Resort. As the name suggests, Raja Laut organizes diving and snorkeling trips as well.