Bunaken National Marine Park  is off the coast of Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia.
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.
Bunaken was formally established as a national marine park in 1991.
Mangroves on the east coast of Bunaken
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.
Flora and fauna
Bunaken has a quite stunning biodiversity including:
- No less than 70 different genera of coral
- five species of sea turtle
- an extraodinary range of fish - 70% of all fish species that exist in the Indo-Western Pacific Ocean are found here
- white tip and black tip reef-sharks are common
- wonderful resident dugongs
- barracuda and tuna make regular appearences from more pelagic waters
- occasionally saltwater crocodiles
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 30 to 60 minutes by boat from Manado.
Most resorts will arrange transfers from the airport for their guests.
Alternatively, 4 public boats (Stella Maris, Batera, Sumber and Karunia) leave daily except Sundays at 2:00 PM from the harbor "Kalimas", behind the Celebes Hotel. The boats are often delayed. The cost is Rp 50,000 one way for tourists(June 2019) and Rp 20,000 for locals living on the island. It returns to Manado from the jetty in Bunaken village (in front of Arto Moro Bunaken) or from the beach in front of the church at 9:00 AM every morning except on Sundays. Location of departure is depending on the tide.
You also can charter a private boat to Bunaken Island at the Manado harbor (Kalimas, 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. . 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.
Pathways connect the various settlements around Bunaken. Many are effectively impassable after rain.
Ojeks are the motorised from of transport around the island but visitors are encouraged to walk.
Watch out if walking along the coastline, as the beach may disappear when the high tide rolls in.
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 diving and snorkeling. 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 30/40 euro each equipment not included. There are around 20 dive spots around the island so there is enough space for all the dive schools on the island and the mainland. You might see some other divers under water but it never gets crowded.
The North Sulawesi Watersports Association  offers oodles of detail on diving in the park.
The island has a lot of dive shops. A couple of independent locally operated dive shops are situated within Bunaken Village. Most resort run their own dive operations and shops which are open for non-resident guests as well. The resort operated dive operations pay better attention to safety regulations and have fully licensed staff.
Snorkelling is fantastic in front of many of the resorts around the island especially in front of the Village, 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. The safest and cheapest way to access all snorkeling spots is by kayak. When the current changes or gets too strong you climb back on the kayak and paddle elsewhere. The kayak always gives a place to rest with and the boats can see you. There are two kayak rental places in the village, roughly in front of the church. * kayaking, (in front of the church on the beach), . 50.000 rp halve day rental. edit
The Visitors Centre on Liang Beach sells handicrafts, t-shirts and general souvenirs.
Recently the village started developing more and more. The village now has quite a few paces were you can get a meal. Ranging from simple street food like nasi campur, fried chicken, bakso to restaurant level with Indonesian and western style meals.
Dive resorts usually serve buffet style meals, mainly fish & rice.
There is no natural potable water on Bunaken. Insist on bottled water at all times and ensure that coffee and tea is also made with bottled water.
The local spirit Cap Tikus (literally rat brand) is a distilled palm wine and is actually quite nice on the rocks with a slice of lemon.
Bintang is the number 1 beer in Indonesia and is widely available cold at beach bars, restaurants.
Wine is also become more and more available at the high end Resorts on the island, both imported and also local balinese wines made from imported Australian grape juice.
Bunaken Island has a wide range of different accommodations. From very simple and low-budget home-stays to top of the range luxurious resorts. Most
resorts offer full board packages. Most places are present online for direct bookings and inquiries.
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. The main village of Bunaken features a nice sandy beach and most of the best snorkel- and dive locations.
- Arto Moro Bunaken - Boutique Hotel, Bar & Restaurant, Jl. Lingkungan 1 no. 37 (village of Bunaken next to the Jetty), ☎ +6282236636021 ([email protected]), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Beach front location in the village of Bunaken, 3 beachfront rooms with Air-conditioning,en-suite bathroom with Hot Water and a balcony with full beach seaview on the first floor. On the ground floor Arto Moro Bunaken features a relax area with a restaurant (Indonesian and western style dishes) and a bar. Arto Moro offers a wide variety of tours and diving courses trough partners for very affordable prices. Contact directly for good discounts on packages for long stay and or in combination with diving courses. (1°35'46.7N,124°46'53.6E) edit
- Bunaken SeaGarden Dive Resort, Bunaken National Park (east coast of Bunaken Island along Pangalisang Beach), ☎ +6281244738802 ([email protected]), . Small and cozy resort with 7 spacious cottages and 2 family houses 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.
- Bunaken Beach Resort (""address="Pangalisang), ☎ +62 813 40037657 ([email protected]), . 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 ([email protected]"), . 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 ([email protected]), 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 protected]), . Bungalow with beach view, economy pricing, and delicious food. €20 per person. edit
- Cakalang Bunaken ([email protected]), Pangalisan beach (A 10 minute walk from the village), ☎ +62 811 4302018, . checkin: free; checkout: free. A Small resort, only two rooms and three 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€ 20 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 protected]), . 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. €24-32 per person/night fullboard. edit
- Froggies Divers, Liang Beach, Bunaken, Manado, ☎ +62 812 4301356, +62 812 4301464 ([email protected]), . 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 €50-60/person including three meals. edit
- Lorenso's Bungalows, (5 min down the coast from Living Colours; about 20min walk from the port), ☎ +62 852 5697 3345, . Basic bungalows for Rp 150,000-250,000/person. edit
- Panorama Resort, ☎ +62 813 4021 7306, . 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 protected]), ☎ +62 812 4286 8793 +62 812 1974 2053, . checkin: 12AM; checkout: 11AM. Small cosy eco dive lodge with PADI 5 Star Dive Resort rating, 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, free and fast wifi. Diving is in small groups with one dive guide for every 3-4 divers maximum. All dive equipment is included and in new condition, comfortable 15 m diving boat. Highly professional 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. Amedeo is an Italian economist, a passionate diver and careful and patient dive instructor. Dive packages with 2-3-4 dives daily. Restaurant on the beach with fresh fish and an Italian influence. They are also very flexible for vegetarians/vegans and do some great gado gado, stuffed tofu, fried tempeh, pasta and the only original Italian pizza oven in North Sulawesi. Water, coffee, tea, seasonal fruit included and available all day long. Dolphins, fishing, whale watching and snorkeling trips can be organised. 2 dives are 70€ Rooms €25-45 (Full Board), single dive €30. edit
- Two Fish Divers, Pangalisan Beach ([email protected]), ☎ +62 811 432805, . PADI 5 Star IDC Resort based on Bunaken Island with 12 cottages, hot water, wifi, full board and free water, coffee and tea. Other facilities include 18m swimming pool, beach cafe, book swap and large restaurant. Dive packages available with 2, 3 or 4 dives per day for experienced and inexperienced divers, with small groups of 2-4 divers per dive guide. Full-time instructors offer the full range of PADI dive courses from Open Water Course through to Instructor. Rooms €25-50 (full board), 2 boat dives €70. edit
- Daniel's Resort Bunaken, (Bunaken Village), . The accommodation at Daniel's 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
On Siladen Island
- Bobocha Siladen Cottage, Siladen Island, ([email protected]), . Bobocha Siladen is a beachfront boutique-resort on the small island of Siladen in the Bunaken National Marine Park. It's a small resort with seven cottages in total, including one two-bedroom family cottage. All cottages are a stone’s throw away from the water’s edge and the house-reef. Offering SPA, diving, different kind of guided tours edit
- Onong Resort, Siladen Island, ([email protected]), . 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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