Bunaken, North Sulawesi

Bunaken is an 8.08 km² island in the Bay of Manado, situated in the north of the island of Sulawesi. Bunaken forms part of the administrative city of Manado, capital of North Sulawesi. The marine park around Bunaken is part of the National Park that also includes the ocean around the island of Manado Tua – or Old Manado, Siladen and Mantehage.

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Within the Bunaken Marine Park, visitors will find strange and colourful marine life along its sea bed. To reach this park, you can take a motorboat. The journey from Manado takes around 40 minutes.  The entrance fee is 25,000 rupiahs per person per visit. 

The translucent waters surrounding Bunaken enable people to clearly view numerous sea biota. There are 13 species of coral reefs in this park, dominated by edge ridges and block ridges of rocks. The most attractive view is the vertical coral reef that plunges down as deep as 25-50 metres.
Feast your eyes on 91 types of fish found in the Bunaken National Park, including the locally-known gusimi horse fish (Hippocampus), the white oci (Seriola rivoliana), yellow-tailed lolosi (Lutjanus kasmira), goropa (Ephinephelus spilotoceps and Pseudanthias hypselosoma), ila gasi (Scolopsis bilineatus) among others.

Divers may also encounter mollusk like the giant kima (Tridacna gigas), goat head (Cassis cornuta), nautilus (Nautilus pompillius) and tunikates/ascidian.

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For those who enjoy scuba diving, this is a great place to explore the underwater world. With around 20 dive spots to choose from, divers have ample opportunity to swim and frolic below the sea while admiring the sea creatures.

Getting There
The island of Bunaken is easily reached from Manado by motorised boat, departing from Manado harbour, Molas, Kalasey and Tasik Ria beach. Ferries from Manado to Bunaken leave daily around 2pm (depending on the tide), except on Sundays when they leave from Pasar Jengki near the Manado harbour. The return journey from Bunaken to Manado usually departs early in the morning at around 7-8am.

There are also charter boats that depart in the morning and return in the late afternoon. These are usually reserved for trips organised by agents or hotels.

Getting Around
You can also explore the island on foot or take a boat to move from one dive site to another. Simply walking around the beach is an enjoyable experience.

To Do
Most diving takes place near Bunaken and Manado Tua due to the many excellent sites. The following are impressive dive spots in the area.

  • Lekuan Walls (I, II, III)
    This long wall at Bunaken is divided into three sites: the Lekuan I, II and III. Together they make up the park's best. Steep walls are marked with deep crevices, sea fans and giant sponges. The shallows are filled with fishes. The wall, often protected from stronger currents, is frequented by bumphead parrotfish, turtles, and Napoleon wrasses.
  • Mandolin
    Mandolin has a knockout reef crest and a wall that attracts thousands of fishes like schooling fusiliers, surgeonfish, unicornfish, and bannerfish. They are familiar with divers and easily approachable.
  • Bunaken Timor
    There are strong currents and lots of fish on this long wall. The shallow reef isn't as spectacular as some but there are turtles, sharks, eagle rays, and other big fish in the blue. Overhangs and small caves mark the wall.
  • Tanjung Kopi
    Tanjung Kopi is a nice wall with a small school of barracuda and lots of sweetlips. Visibility in the shallows is not terrific but the number of fish species makes up for it. Nudibranches and fire gobies are easy to spot here.
  • Siladen Island
    Siladen has a beautiful wall of soft corals that bloom when the current is running. The shallows are nice with lots of fish and schooling snappers.
  • Muka Gereja
    Muka Gereja is a pretty site with thousands of fish in the shallows and deeper canyons that lead to the wall.
  • Barracuda Point
    Barracuda Point, on northwest Montehage, is one of the furthest sites. A school of giant barracuda are regulars along with jacks and tuna.
  • Manado Wreck
    This 60m (200ft) long German merchant ship sank near Molas Beach in 1942. It sits upright with the bow at 23m (78ft). The ship is split near amidships back to the stern, exposing the wheelhouse and cargo holds. Dives finish up on a nearby shallow reef. Expect 10-15m (30-50ft) visibility.

In addition to diving enthusiasts, ornithologists and amateur birdwatchers are also likely to be entertained during a visit to the Tangkoko Dua Sudara Nature Reserve.

Tips

  • The best season to visit Bunaken is from May through August, when visitors can explore the Park to its fullest. Be sure to make a reservation in advance during July and August as this is peak season.
  • Entrance tags and tickets can be purchased through marine tourism operators based in Manado and in the Bunaken National Park. They can also be purchased from one of three ticket counters in Bunaken and Liang villages on the islands of Bunaken and Siladen.
  • Try to hire equipment from larger firms as these are more reliable, but remember the responsibility of checking the equipment is ultimately your own.
  • If you're one of the more adventurous, you can try diving in Raja Ampat and Wayag Island in Papua.