Bunaken is one of Indonesia's most famous diving and snorkeling areas and it draws visitors from all over the world. Bunaken is close to a big city, making it easy to visit. 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 established as a national marine park in 1991.
The park is famed for the clarity of its water (35-m 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 - over 1,500 m.
Flora and fauna
Bunaken has a quite stunning biodiversity including:
- at least 70 genera of coral
- five species of sea turtle
- an extraordinary 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 appearances from more pelagic waters
- occasionally saltwater crocodiles
Bunaken is barely a degree above the equator and tropical. The wet season, is from November to mid-April. Storms sometimes last for several days, which can reduce marine visibility. The dry season is from May to October, when temperatures climb to a roasting 35°C and visibility reaches a maximum.
Bunaken receives less rain than the north Sulawesi mainland and is well served by 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 14:00 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 09:00 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. Prices vary depending on the number of passengers and type of boat (Rp 400,000- 1 million.)
Fees and permits
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 form 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.
You can book a motorbike in advance. Useful if you stay further in the island and want to explore. Be aware that some paths are still dirt paths and after rain are very slippery.
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:
- Beachcombing, 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 or 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 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.
The Visitors Centre on Liang Beach sells handicrafts, T-shirts and general souvenirs.
As of 2019, the village has quite a few places where you can get a meal, ranging from simple street food like nasi campur, fried chicken and bakso to restaurant food, 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.
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.
- 1 Arto Moro Bunaken, Jl. Lingkungan 1 no. 37 (village of Bunaken next to the Jetty), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Boutique hotel, bar & restaurant on the beach. 3 beachfront rooms with air-conditioning,en-suite bathroom with hot water and a balcony with full sea view on the first floor. Relax area with a restaurant (Indonesian and western style dishes) and a bar on ground floor. Offers a wide variety of tours and diving courses through partners.
- 2 Bastianos Dive Resort, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Full service dive resort.
- Bunaken Beach Resort, Pangalisang Beach, ☏ , 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.
- Bunaken Cha Cha Nature Resort (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 snorkellers, massage treatments available. Restaurant above the beach, Wi-Fi throughout the resort, PADI dive centre. Skype: bunakenchacha. Packages from US$70 per person/per night; accommodation & dive packages from US$150 per person/per night.
- Bunaken Divers Seabreeze Resort, Bunaken white sands beach (a short boatride away from Manado), ☏ . lat=.
- Bunaken Island Resort (firstname.lastname@example.org), Liang Beach (North Sulawesi), ☏ . 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, Wi-Fi 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.
- Bunaken Kuskus Resort, Pangalisang Beach (10-min walk from Bunaken Village), ☏ . Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 13:00 or any desired time. Rp 150,000-250,000 per person/night.
- Bunaken SeaGarden Resort (Dive Resort), Bunaken National Park (east coast of Bunaken Island along Pangalisang Beach), email@example.com. Small and cozy dive resort with 7 spacious cottages built in a traditional Indonesian style. For €20 per person you already have a nice cottage inclusive good meals, coffee, tea and drinking water. Right in front you will find one of the best dive and snorkel spots of the island. Non divers are also welcome.
- 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 €60.
- MC Bunaken Cottage (at the edge of Bunaken village, facing to Siladen Island), ☏ , , firstname.lastname@example.org. Bungalow with beach view and delicious food. Rp 200,000 per person.
- Cakalang Bunaken Resort and Diving (Cakalang), Pangalisan Beach (A ten-minute walk from the main village), ☏ , email@example.com. A Small resort, only two rooms and two bungalows. Simple and clean. All buildings designed in a modern Minahasa style. The resort has its own diving school and is on the beach sheltered by the mangroves and the jungle. Price includes all meals. Free Wi-Fi, water coffee and tea. €20 per person/night full board min 2 pers..
- Cicak Senang Resort (Happy Gecko), Liang Beach, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Five comfortable wooden bungalows on a hillside with spacious bathroom and sea views. Beach side restaurant and bar. Dive center on the premises. Daily dive trips, PADI courses, snorkeling tours and dolphin watching tours at budget prices are available. €24 per person/night full board.
- Froggies Divers, Liang Beach, Bunaken, Manado, ☏ , , email@example.com. 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.
- Living Colours, ☏ . Diver-oriented resort run by the shop of the same name. The bungalows are spacious and clean. Rooms €35/person including three meals.
- Panorama Resort. Off the road on the west side of Bunaken Island. The food is good, but you have to buy your own drinking water. Tea and coffee are only available at mealtimes and if you ask for it. Patient and friendly German Dive instructor. Heince Pontoh as a divemaster shows you all the little stuff! The house reef is okay.
- Raja Laut Dive Resort, Pangalisan Beach, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 11:00, check-out: 09:00. 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. Rooms €25-45 (full board), single dive €30.
- Two Fish Divers, ☏ . 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 €15/person..
On Siladen Island
- Onong Resort, Siladen Island, email@example.com. 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.
- 3 Siladen Resort & Spa, Siladen Island, ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. 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.
- 4 Tantaa Moon Luxury Villas Siladen Island (Siladen Villas of Tantaa Moon) (Arrive in Manado Airport, go to Manado Harbor and take boat to Siladen Island), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. Rp 2,079,000.
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.
If it's dark and you walk the roads outside well-lit areas, turn on a flashlight in your mobile phone. Motorbikes can seemingly appear out of nowhere and it can be difficult for them to see you.
- Back to Manado which is well connected to all major cities in Indonesia.