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North Sulawesi : Bunaken
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Bunaken National Marine Park [12] is off the coast of North 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, Montehagen, 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 here - 1,500 metres 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.

Get in

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 25,000 one way for tourists and Rp 10,000 for locals. It returns to Manado from the jetty in Bunaken village around 8 to 8:30AM every morning except on Sundays.

You can also charter a boat either way at anytime.


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.

Get around

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 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.

The North Sulawesi Watersports Association [13] 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.

Snorkeling 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 Visitors Centre on Liang Beach sells handicrafts, t-shirts and general souvenirs.


Fish, fish and fish, usually at your dive resort.


There is no natural potable water on Bunaken. Insist on bottled water at all times and ensure that coffee and tea are is also made with bottled water.

The local spirit Cap Tikus (literally rat brand) is a distilled palm wine amd is actually quite nice on the rocks with a slice of lemon.

Bintang is the number 1 beer in Indonesia and is available cold at many of the resorts.


Most visitors choose to sleep at their dive resort, almost all of which offer full board package offers. 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.

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.


On Bunaken Island

  • Bunaken Cha Cha Nature Resort, +62 813 56930370 (), [2]. On the eastern side of Bunaken; 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 snorkelers, massage treatments available. Restaurant above the beach, Wifi throughout the resort, PADI Dive Center. Skype: bunakenchacha. Packages start from US$75 per person/per night ; Accommodation & Dive Packages from US$165 per person/per night..
  • Bunaken SeaGarden Resort, (Pangalisang beach), +6281244738802, [3]. On a beautiful location at Pangalisang Beach, a small and cosy resort with spacious cottages built in a traditional style. All cottages have nice veranda and modern style bathrooms. Right in front of the resort you wil find the Bunaken Timur Reef. The high tide creates a long natural swimming pool along the resort and at low tide a shady and sandy beach appears. From €15 inclusive all meals, coffee, tea and water.
  • Bunaken Village Resort, [4]. Located along the Pangalisang beach on the east coast of Bunaken. 8 cottages, restaurant, dive shop, beach bar, and swimming pool around a nicely landscaped small garden. Rooms €25-28, 2 boat dives €45.
  • Cicak Senang Resort (Happy Gecko), Liang Beach, +62 852 5665 0099 (), [5]. Five wooden bungalows on a hillside with spacious bathroom and a beautiful view. Breezy beachside restaurant and bar. Good snorkeling right in front of the resort. Snorkeling tours and dolphinwatching tours are offered. The owner Jerry is a Bunaken original who knows a lot about the island and he is happy to show you around. Families with children welcome. Rp 250,000 per person per night fullboard.
  • Froggies Divers, [6]. A high quality dive operator with comfortable bungalows and excellent food.
  • Living Colours, +62 812 4306063, [7]. Diver-oriented resort run by the shop of the same name. The bungalows are spacious and clean. Rooms €35/person including three excellent meals.
  • Lorenso's Bungalows, [8]. 5 min down the coast from Living Colours, offering cheaper but more basic bungalows at Rp 125,000- 250,000 per person
  • Panorama Resort. Cheapest room is 135,000 Rp. The rooms for 150,000 Rp have a nice view on the sea but are quite basic. The food is very good, but you have to buy your own drinking water. Tea and coffee are only available at mealtimes and if you ask for it. Staff here tends to be quite rude. The beach on this side of the island is not very nice and the corals are mostly dead.

  • Two Fish Divers, +62 811 432805, [9]. Small and friendly 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. Vegetarians are usually offered fresh grilled fish in place of meat dishes. 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 €12 to €25 per person..

On Siladen Island

  • Onong Resort, Siladen Island, [10]. A boutiue dive resort operated by Celebes Divers. Seven individual cottages, well fitted out and all air-conditioned. In house restaurant plus full service dive shop and a serious marine biology research centre.
  • Siladen Resort and Spa, Siladen Island, [11]. Luxury resort aimed at non-diving visitors as well as keen divers. Spa, restaurant and in-house dive operation. Individual beach view or garden view villas.

Stay safe

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.

Get out

  • Back to Manado which is well connected to all major cities in Indonesia.


  • Indonesia's Official Tourism Website [14]

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