Manembo Nembo Nature Reserve (sometimes called Gunung Manembo Nembo) is an area of protected forest in North Sulawesi. Not to be confused with the village of the same name near Bitung, Manembo Nembo nature reserve is located about 30 kilometres south of Manado. Despite this short distance the journey there takes around 2 hours. The reserve is home to birds and fauna including the spectral tarsier (Tarsius spectrum). Manembo Nembo is rarely visited and, to be honest, is not really set up for sustainable tourism yet.
Location: North Sulawesi
Time: 2 days / 1 night
People seen: None
Manembo Nembo Logistics
I organised my trip to Manembo Nembo Nature Reserve through Mountain View Tomohon. They provided prompt responses to my emails and arranged transport, an English speaking guide, a local ranger, and porters. The guide did a fair job of organising food and equipment (though you could easily bring your own). The tent did have holes in the mosquito netting though, which was a problem. Unfortunately in terms of wildlife spotting the guides were general unenthusiastic and at times seemed rather apathetic about being in the forest at all. On two occasions they stayed in camp to sleep while I went with the ranger alone. This is certainly very different to the enthusiastic guides I have encountered in places such as Tangkoko National Park and in national parks in Costa Rica. The forest ranger was somewhat better, but given my English-speaking guide’s reluctant to translate, communication was difficult. In dense jungles like this an experienced eye is critical to spotting wildlife, so the guides’ reluctant to get involved was really a let down.
Mountain View seem to be one of the few companies organising trips here. It is not really clear whether guides or a ranger are mandatory to visit the reserve. If I were to arrange the trip through Mountain View again, I would be extremely clear about what I expected from the trip and the guides, to avoid any issues later on.
Access to Manembo Nembo is harder than it might appear on a map. Although the northern edge of the boundary is only 30 kilometres from Manado, we entered from the south side. Turning off around 35 kilometres from Manado we headed towards a series of small villages where the roads quickly became dirt tracks. After a quick ‘registration’ in a seemingly random hut we headed up very bumpy dirt roads until the car could go no further. This was the first sign that my guides were inadequately prepared – attempting this road in their 2WD sedan was clearly a mistake. We jumped out and walked while our ranger and porters sped past us on motorbikes.
Manembo Nembo Nature Reserve
Manembo Nembo only has ‘nature reserve’ status rather than ‘National Park’ status – and unfortunately it shows. After hiking for an hour there were still multiple roads heading off in multiple directions, and we were walking through logged agricultural areas rather than forest. Eventually we moved into denser areas of forest – though these were still secondary growth. To my surprise my guides stopped us after about 30 minutes into the actual forest and suggested we set up camp for the night (it was 1pm). Their rationale was that this was a better camping spot, but in reality it seemed they didn’t want to walk the next uphill section. To my greater surprise, the forest ranger and porters then proceeded to chop down eight trees with their machetes to clear an area for our campsite. This was followed by clearing the leaf litter and building a fire in which to burn our garbage. Certainly a far cry from ‘leave no trace’ tactics and it is fair to say the place was left looking a disturbed mess when we left the next morning. Not to mention the constant cigarettes everyone was smoking, whose butts all ended up flicked into the forest…
On a more positive note, once actually inside the forest, it is beautiful. I always find forests very calming and peaceful, and this was no exception. Numerous clear steams flow through the south part of the reserve, and most of these were frequented by beautiful black and white butterflies drifting seamlessly overhead.
Overall, Manembo Nembo’s biggest draw is its proximity to Manado. However, unless you have spare time in North Sulawesi and have already visited Tangkoko National Park, I wouldn’t recommend it. Even then, you’d have to be a huge fan of the jungle to make the trip to here. Undoubtedly the trip would be significantly better with experienced and enthusiastic guides to help search for wildlife, but at the moment I’d consider this a mediocre trip at best.
National Parks (or reserves) always have potential for land use conflict. While evicting people from the land they may have used for decades is clearly not a solution, neither is loosely ‘protecting’ forests by allowing uncontrolled exploitation. Local people have valuable skills that could earn them a decent wage guiding and otherwise working in this type of protected area. This in turn incentivizes them to protect the forest. However, they clearly need training with regards to conservation issues too. Some simple ‘Leave no trace’ guidelines would be a good start. Clearing areas of forest, starting fires, and dropping litter is not the type of behaviour most tourists would expect from a guide. It encourages similar behaviour from some clients and puts off others from visiting – which in turn harms future chances of employment and protection of the forest.