Flat Bunaken Island and its southern beach at the front with volcanic Manado Tua behind
Bunaken is one of Indonesia's most famous diving and snorkeling areas and it draws visitors from all over the world. In addition to banana-shaped Bunaken Island itself, the 890 km2 of marine national park includes the neighboring islands of Manado Tua (a distinctive cone-shaped extinct volcano), Siladen, Mantehage, Nain, and Nain Kecil.
Some 20,000 local inhabitants make their living from the waters in the Bunaken National Marine Park, and this has inevitably led to some conflicts. By and large though, the co-operation between national and local government authorities, conservation groups, business owners and local communities has been very successful here. This has led many to cite Bunaken as a model example of how Indonesia should be preserving its natural marine treasures.
If you are a budget traveler, probably this is not your place (like most of Sulawesi).
The park is famed for the clarity of its water (35m visibility is common in the summer dry season), the abundance of coral and fish, and for the precipitous "walls" at some sites. Bunaken Timur, right off the east coast of the island and featuring all of the above, is rated by many as the single best dive site in all Indonesia.
In places the water is extremely deep - 1,500 m plus.
Bunaken is barely a degree above the equator and thus tropical. The wet season, from November to mid-April, brings frequent rains sometimes in storms lasting for several days which freshen the air nicely but also reduce marine visibility. The dry season is from May to October, when temperatures climb to a roasting 35° and visibility reaches a maximum.
Bunaken receives less rain than the north Sulawesi mainland and is well ventilated with sea breezes.
Bunaken is about 45 to 60 minutes by boat from Manado.
Most resorts will arrange transfers from the airport for their guests.
Alternatively, a public boat leaves daily except Sundays at 2-3PM from the canal on the north side of Manado market. The cost is Rp 50,000 one way for tourists(May 2015) and Rp 10,000 for locals. It returns to Manado from the jetty in Bunaken village around 8-8:30AM every morning except on Sundays.
You also can charter a private boat to bunaken in the Manado harbor (behind the Celebes Hotel.
As of September 2008, entry to the park costs Rp 50,000 per day or Rp 150,000 per calendar year. Children below 10 years are exempt.
Even though the fee is not automatically levied upon entrance to the park, it is the responsibility of all visitors to pay it and reputable dive shops & resorts will always charge this to their guests. As proof of payment, you will receive a waterproof plastic tag that must be carried at all times. Spot checks are not uncommon by the patrol boats.
The park is managed by a multi-stakeholder board comprising of government and non-government members to include representatives of the 30,000 people who live within the boundaries of the park. Though deemed by some as not being transparent and lacking in effectiveness, the management board together with the water police have, over the years, been able to stop cyanide fishing, dynamite fishing and more recently participated in the release of 700 napoleon wrasse that had been illegally caught in and around the park. Though not perfect and certainly having room for improvement, the management board does have an important role in the conservation of the area and this could not happen without the support of all visitors in adhering to the purchase of the entrance tag.
Tourism on Bunaken has been very much geared towards serious divers over the years but the trend seems to be changing. More and more casual snorkelers are visiting the area as are those who wish to just relax immersed in nature. Possible activities for landlubbers include:
Beach-combing, especially at low tide when the reef top is accessible.
Hiking to some of the secluded coves on the eastern and northern part of the island. Trails are poorly marked.
Fishing, but only outside of the park boundaries. Hire a boat or join one of the local fishermen.
Dolphin & Whale watching, either on diveboat trips or by hiring a boat privately.
The thing to do in Bunaken is dive, dive and dive. However, the steep walls and occasionally strong, rapidly changing currents mean that many sites cater more to the intermediate/advanced diver. There are beginner-friendly sites too and all dive shops can arrange introduction dives and Open Water Dive courses.
Dives cost approximately 30 euro each, usually including equipment. However, the diving spots can get very crowded, and you are more likely to spend the whole dive just avoiding other divers than watching pelagic animals.
The North Sulawesi Watersports Association  offers oodles of detail on diving in the park.
All dive shops in the park are affiliated with resorts, so see Sleep below for listings.
Snorkelling is fantastic in front of many of the resorts around the island, with an incredible amount of marine life inhabiting the shallows. Remember not to snorkel without fins as the currents can sometimes be strong and change quickly even when they are not. Pick a reference point on the island and do not stray too far unless you are a very confident swimmer. The reef is about 40m from the shore, so swim out past the mangroves.
Fish, fish and fish, usually at your dive resort. There are a couple of places in town with nasi campur, mie rebus and the like for less than 10,000Rp, but probably they will refuse to serve you unless you can communicate at least a little bit in Indonesian.
Most visitors choose to sleep at their resort, almost all of which offer full board packages. Accommodation on Pulau Bunaken is generally expensive for Indonesian standards, as the majority of people coming here are on a short holiday trip. There are no budget options for backpackers, unless you speak enough Indonesian to negotiate a homestay. In the village, try contacting Ope, next to the school.
Those resorts on the south and west sides of Bunaken Island are on a strip of coarse yellow sand beach whilst the frontage of those on the east side is a mixture of mangroves and small beaches.
Bunaken SeaGarden Resort, Bunaken National Park (east coast of Bunaken Island along Pangalisang Beach), ☎ +6281244738802 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Small and cozy resort with 7 spacious cottages build in the traditional Indonesian style. The Bunaken Timur reef, one of the most famous diving and snorkelling spots within the Marine Park is a few minutes swim away. Perfect for divers, snorkellers and of course underwater photographers. edit
Bunaken Beach Resort, ☎ +62 813 40037657 (email@example.com), . Dive resort, scuba diving and snorkelling. Has its own private beach and a beautiful sea view with mountainous mainland in the background.edit
Bunaken Cha Cha Nature Resort, (eastern side of Bunaken), ☎ +62 813 56930370, . 10 cottages all with en-suite bathrooms (hot water showers), large balconies, all superior cottages are equipped with A/C. Private white sand beach, "House Reef" with floating pontoon for snorkellers, massage treatments available. Restaurant above the beach, WiFi throughout the resort, PADI dive centre. Skype: bunakenchacha.Packages from US$80 per person/per night ; accommodation & dive packages from US$150 per person/per night.. edit
Bunaken Divers Seabreeze Resort, Bunaken white sands beach (a short boatride away from Manado), ☎ +62 811 439558, . edit
Bunaken Island Resort (firstname.lastname@example.org), Liang Beach (North Sulawesi), ☎ +31 6 2470 1673, . 2 villas (150 m²) and 6 bungalows (60 m²), all in the Indonesian Minahasa style and tastefully furnished. Balinese-style en-suite bathrooms with a hot shower tub and an open-roof shower, wifi throughout, A/C, grand balconies with large hammocks are standard. Tours can be arranged.Villas & bungalows from €55-79 per person/night including daily 3 meals, coffee, tea and drinking water. edit
Bunaken Kuskus Resort, Pangalisang Beach (10 min walking from Bunaken Village), ☎ +62 813 40000116, . checkin: 12 noon; checkout: 1PM or any desire time. Rp 150,000-250,000 per person/night. edit
Bunaken Village Resort, (Pangalisang beach on the east coast of Bunaken), . 8 cottages, restaurant, dive shop, beach bar, and swimming pool around a small landscaped garden.Rooms €35-40, 2 boat dives €45. edit
MC Bunaken Cottage, (at the edge of Bunaken village, facing to Siladen Island), ☎ +62 813 26335199, +62 852 55984558 (email@example.com), . Bungalow with beach view, economy pricing, and delicious food.€20 per person. edit
Cakalang Bunaken (firstname.lastname@example.org), Pangalisan beach (A 10 minute walk from the village), ☎ +62 811 4302018, . checkin: free; checkout: free. A Small resort, only two rooms and two bungalows. Simple and clean. All buildings designed in a modern Minahassa style. Open since April 2012. The resort has its own diving school and is on the beach sheltered by the mangroves and the jungle. Price includes all meals. Free Wifi, water coffee and tea. 2 dives are 59€, but equipment is old, there are no briefings about the diving sites, and sometimes they change the sites without telling you in advance20 Euro per person. Min. 2 per room. (1°36'9.94N,124°46'50.93E)edit
Cicak Senang Resort (Happy Gecko), Liang Beach, ☎ +62 852 9806 4906 (email@example.com), . Five comfortable wooden bungalows on a hillside with spacious bathroom and sea views. Beachside restaurant and bar. Good snorkelling right in front of the resort. Dive center on the premises. Daily dive trips, PADI courses, snorkelling tours and dolphin watching tours. Families with children welcome.€22 per person/night fullboard. edit
Froggies Divers, Liang Beach, Bunaken, Manado, ☎ +62 812 4301356, +62 812 4301464 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . A PADI dive resort in the middle of the Bunaken National Marine Park; 12 cozy wooden bungalows with veranda, all facing the sea, ventilator, western type bathrooms with hot & cold water showers, free wifi, free laundry service, Indonesian specialty food, return transfer to airport. 3 new wooden dive-boats; max 2-4 divers per guide. Belgian GM and a PADI instructor who speaks Dutch, English, French, German and basic bahasa Indonesian. Friendly atmosphere and personal service.edit
Living Colours, ☎ +62 812 4306063, . Diver-oriented resort run by the shop of the same name. The bungalows are spacious and clean.Rooms €35/person including three meals. edit
Lorenso's Bungalows, (5 min down the coast from Living Colours; about 20min walk from the port), . Basic bungalows for Rp 150,000-250,000/person. edit
Panorama Resort. The food is very good, comes in large amounts, and usually includes fresh fish, pasta, fruit salad, rice, and various vegetarian side dishes. Fresh water, tea and coffee are available anytime in the common area. Very friendly staff, large amounts of very nice food and patient and friendly German Dive instructor. Heince Pontoh as a divemaster shows you all the little stuff, including the Pontoh seahorse that he discovered himself!From Rp 135,000. Rooms for Rp 150,000 have a view on the sea but are quite basic. edit
Raja Laut Dive Resort, Pangalisan Beach (email@example.com), ☎ +62 813 4060 8933, . checkin: 11AM; checkout: 9AM. Small cosy eco dive lodge with a family atmosphere on the east side of Bunaken Is. Good views, no mangroves on the seafront and direct access to the beach and reef. Accommodation in 60 m² wooden Minahasa style bungalows. King size beds, mosquito nets, big terraces, hammocks, ceiling fans, hot water, guest towels. Diving is in small groups with one dive guide for every 2-3 divers. All dive equipment is included and in new condition, comfortable 15 m diving boat. PADI dive centre with courses of every level. Roberto is an Italian marine biologist and underwater photographer and will help to classify species and giving tips for better shots and special attention for macro photographers. Dive packages with 2-3 dives daily. Restaurant on the beach with fresh fish and an Italian influence. Water, coffee, tea, seasonal fruit included and available all day long. Dolphins, fishing, whale watching and snorkelling trips can be organised. 2 dives are 70€Rooms €25-45 (Full Board), single dive €30. edit
Two Fish Divers, ☎ +62 811 432805, . Small PADI Gold Palm IDC Resort based on Bunaken Island. Cottages are basic but comfortable, and are right in front of the mangroves. The food is reliable, if monotonous. Offers fun dives for experienced and inexperienced divers, with small groups of 2-4 divers per dive guide. Also offers a full range of PADI dive courses from Open Water Course through to Instructor.Rooms from €40/person.. edit
Daniel's homestay, (Bunaken Village). The accommodation at Daniel's Homestay is basic but spacious bungalows fringed by mangroves, and backed by fantastic coral for snorkelling. Attached to Immanuel Divers. It is run by locals, and is good value. Three meals a day, and unlimited tea coffee and drinking water included. 2 dives are 55€Rp 200,000/person (Oct 2014). edit
Luca's, (Two brightly coloured rooms and more to come. Located just 2 minutes past Lorenso's, about 20min walk from the port. Brand new and still without a sign. Lucas and his family are very sweet.). Basic bungalow with bathroom for Rp 150,000/person (Oct 2014). edit
La Merry Resort, Tarabitan Village (located at Tarabitan Village ,Likupang District), ☎ +62-811-188-1542, . Start from US$150.00/night, Facilties Air Condition, Water Heater, and TV, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Free (Sea Food Menu), Pick-up From Airport to Resort.We also provide for Diving Package Only US$900.00 for 4 day 3 night, Facilities: Airport Transport (2 ways), Room Accomodation (Deluxe Room, 3 Meals per day (Sea food Menu,Diving (include Dive guide and Equipment Rent) edit
Onong Resort, Siladen Island, (firstname.lastname@example.org), . A boutique dive resort operated by Celebes Divers. 7 individual cottages, all with A/C and 24/7 electrical power. Indonesian and Italian cuisine, full service dive shop and a serious marine biology research centre.edit
Siladen Resort & Spa, Siladen Island, ☎ +62 811 4300641, . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 10AM. Boutique resort aimed both non-diving visitors and keen divers. The resort offers 5 individual beach view and 10 garden view villas, a traditional spa, a large salt water pool, dining and in-house PADI diving centre offering a full range of courses.(1°37'54''N,124°48'7''E)edit
There are no unusual health risks in the park, aside from the standard set of easily avoided venomous marine critters. Stinging jellyfish are found only occasionally, primarily during the change of the seasons in spring and autumn.
Bunaken is considered to be a malaria-free zone. Nearby areas of North Sulawesi are malarial though (but not rampantly so).
Saltwater crocodiles may be encountered close to river mouths and mangroves, although no official populations survey has been done in quite some time, making it impossible to know whether or not they still exist in the area.
Back to Manado which is well connected to all major cities in Indonesia.
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