Surrounded by colorful coral reefs just off the coast of Manado in North Sulawesi is the island of Bunaken. It is one of the most popular dive sites in Indonesia. Shallow coral reefs stretching out like tentacles into the crystal clear waters surround the ocean. The reefs drop off suddenly into vertical coral walls that drop down 50 meters into the deep ocean. It’s a divers paradise.
Our guide to Bunaken covers everything you need to know to arrange your trip to the island. I’ve split the guide into the different sections. You can just press on a link below to jump to the relevant section of the post. Should save you some time.
- Bunaken-Manado Tua Marine National Park
- How to get to Bunaken
- Best Time to Visit
- Where to Stay
- How Long Should You Stay
- Best Dive Spots around Bunaken
- Cost of Diving and Activities
If you’re not pressing a link we’ll start from the beginning. Let’s get going!
Bunaken-Manado Tua Marine National Park
Bunaken is part of the Bunaken-Manado Tua Marine National Park. The conservation area was setup in 1991 and covers 890 km2. Indonesia has submitted an application for the park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, though the outcome is pending.
There are five islands in the Park; Siladen, Mantehage, Nain, Manado Tua and of course Bunaken. Around 35,000 people live in 22 villages on the islands. Conservation efforts try to limit the impacts of human settlement on the ecosystem. The park faces significant threats from coral mining, cyanide and dynamite fishing, damage from anchors and coral bleaching.
Yet despite these problems, Bunaken has an incredibly diverse marine eco-system. The waters surrounding the islands are incredibly diverse with around 300 types of coral and 3,000 fish species (from huge Hammerhead Sharks through to tiny Pygmy Seahorses).
How to get to Bunaken
It’s easy to get to Bunaken. All of the major Indonesian carriers operate domestic routes to Manado. You can catch domestic flights to Manado from major transit hubs like Jakarta, Makassar and Bali with Garuda Indonesia, Air Asia and Lion Air. The city also has an international airport with direct flights to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
From the airport you can catch a taxi to the canal on the North side of Manado Market. If you’ve made arrangements with the resort (more about accommodation a bit later), they normally arrange the transport for you. Otherwise you can catch a public boat to the island.
The public boats to Bunaken leave 1 pm or 2 pm, depending on the tides, except for Sundays. It takes around 45 minutes by boat to reach Bunaken. Tickets cost Rp 50,000 for international visitors and Rp 20,000 for locals. You can purchase the ticket from the ticketing office. The public boats are how most locals travel from Bunaken Island to Manado and do their daily groceries. The return trip from Bunaken leaves every morning around 8 – 8:30 am, except on Sundays.
If you have a big group, at most 30 passengers, you can rent a private boat for around 1,000,000 IDR. You can arrange boat rentals behind Celebes Hotel at Manado Harbor. Remember there is no night service to and from Bunaken. If you arrive late in Manado you will have to stay in the city.
Best Time to Visit
The peak season for tourism in Bunaken is from July to August. This is the dry season and overlaps with the school holidays. Resorts on the island quickly fill up in the high season so it’s worth booking ahead. The temperature in the dry season is around 35° C with water temperatures between 27° C to 30° C.
If you want to avoid the peak season, but still want some good diving, visit either side of the high season (May-June to September-October). The temperature is still scorching hot and you have good visibility. Accommodation is often a little cheaper.
Where to Stay
There are settlements on four of the five islands in the Bunaken-Manado Tua Marine National Park. However you can only find resorts on the islands of Bunaken and Siladen. Bunaken is the most popular island for tourism, yet there’s a lot going for Siladen.
Staying on Siladen
Siladen is a lot smaller than Bunaken. There are only a few resorts on the island and they are all-inclusive. The cheapest place to stay is Tante Martha Cottages. The homestay doesn’t have a website and there’s no obvious way to book online. You can find plenty of reviews of the homestay on Tripadvisor. The easier budget option is Bobocha Siladen, a 2 star all-inclusive resort that starts from €60 a night for two people.
There are two luxury resorts on Siladen; the exclusive Siladen Resort and Spa and Tanta Moon Luxury Villas. Both resorts require a minimum 3-night stay. Accommodation in a beach side villa at Tanta Moon starts from €195 a night. You’ll need to fill in a form on the website to make an enquiry. You can find the website for Tanta Moon Villas here.
The Siladen Resort and Spa starts from USD 1,000. You can book your stay through Booking.com. Make sure to select 3 nights otherwise it will show fully booked. Guests at the resort have a chance to join activity workshops, for example free diving and underwater photography. You can find the official website for the resort here.
Staying on Bunaken
There are 13 resorts and homestays on Bunaken ranging from guesthouses to homestays and luxury resorts. Only a few of the resorts on the island are listed on booking sites like Agoda. Accommodation at listed resorts starts from around Rp 600,000 a night for all-inclusive stay at a homestay. Jonath’s Bungalow, Bunaken Beach Resort and Bunaken Kuskus Resort offer all-inclusive packages for this price.
At the top end there are several luxury resorts on Bunaken. The best resort on the island is Bunaken Cha Cha Nature Resort. Villas at the resort start from Rp 3,500,000 a night and are for full board. The other resorts on the island are priced between these two extremes.
Keep in mind you need to pay 50,000 IDR per day or 150,000 per year as an entrance fee to the marine park. Some hotels include this fee within the price. Make sure to check if your hotel does.
How Long Should You Stay
With direct flights to Manado Bunaken is the perfect place for a weekend escape. A lot of travellers do this. A weekend on Bunaken gives you some time for snorkelling and maybe some diving, but your itinerary will be a little rushed. I’d recommend spending a minimum of three days on Bunaken or Siladen.
Bunaken is the kind of place that you come to just get away from it all and relax. Apart from the diving and snorkelling, which is amazing, there’s not much to do on Bunaken and Siladen. If you have a hyper-active personality, a bit like me, you’ll get a bit bored after three days. But there is a lot of opportunity for diving…
Best Dive Spots around Bunaken
There are over 50 dive sites around Bunaken-Manado Tua Marine National Park. The dive sites cater to all experience levels from beginner through to experienced divers. The best resource on dive sites I found online is this article. The map looks like a pin cushion. The number of dive sites listed is overwhelming, but it offers a good paragraph on each site.
This map by Asia Divers is a lot more manageable. Instead of showing all the possible dive sites it focuses on the most popular ones that you are likely to visit. Some of the best dive sites around Bunaken include Lekuan 1, 2 & 3. During a dive at Lekuan 1 you can see blacktip sharks, turtles, bannerfish, Napoleon Wrasse, and schools of Pyramid Butterflyfish. Lekuan 2 has a vertical wall covered with hard and soft corals, which is why it’s famous for wide-angle photography.
Cost of Diving and Activities
Most resorts on Bunaken and Siladen have onsite dive operators. If you already have PADI Certification then the price for a single dive is somewhere around Rp 400,000. Nitrox dives are also available for experienced divers. At the other end of the scale, you can do Discover Scuba Dives. These are for people who have never dived before and don’t have any certification. They are a bit more expensive at around Rp 600,000 for a dive.
Dive centres also offer PADI Certification courses from Open Water, the entry level course, to the more advanced courses (you can find more information about Padi courses at the official site). If you are interested in doing a diving course I would recommend contacting the resorts directly. A lot of resorts offer packages prices for diving and accommodation. Looking into this could save you a bit of money.
I hope this article has provided you with everything you need to know to arrange your trip to Bunaken. I’ve tried to cover everything that you’d need to know about the island and the National Park. If you have any tips or other feedback leave it in the comments. I’ll be regularly updating the article with useful information to keep it up to date.
Have you visited Bunaken? What did you think about the diving, your visit to the island or anything else (like tips on where to stay)? Let me know in the comments below.