Since 1991, Bunaken National Park has been enthralling scuba diving enthusiasts looking for deep waters and unspoilt biodiversity. Located north of Sulawesi, the park comprises of a group of five islands (Siladen, Bunaken, Manado Tua, Nain and Mantehage) and is home to around 20,000 locals. What really stands out is Bunaken's continued preservation of its marine treasures, in particular the quality of its reefs, which attracts droves of scuba divers as well as marine biologists each year.
Bunaken Island is located around 45 minutes from the capital city of Manado. The good news is that Bunaken is a diving hub, home to half of the national park’s dive sites. You can catch a ton of action in this diving paradise!
Even the most extensively traveled divers find something new to see in the clear waters! A stunningly diverse variety of fish, coral and echinoderms awaits you. Particularly exhilarating is the chance to see rare and endangered animals like sea turtles, dugongs, coelacanths, dolphins and whales. The rare macro species and interesting critters that abound in the waters are of great interest for underwater photographers. It’s a great idea to bring a camera along on all your diving adventures in Bunaken.
The results of a 2012 study of the park's waters by marine biologists found that Bunaken was an extremely diverse site. In general, a single dive site is said to be a very high diversity site if it has over 200 fish species. Six of the nine sites surveyed in Bunaken were home to 200 fish species, and two had over 300 species!
Asian Diver magazine has named Bunaken as having the best walls in Asia. The north side of the park has many steep walls covered with hard and soft corals, huge sponges, whip corals and fan corals. Moving along the steep vertical walls often shelters you from water currents. Observe the small caves and cracks in the walls carefully to spot camouflaged creatures and bizarre marine life. On the south side you can see dugongs with their young, seahorses, octopuses, sea slugs and scorpionfish.
The waters of Bunaken National Park are more than 1500m deep in places. The sharp drop-offs at some reef walls is nothing short of exhilarating, offering the opportunity to spot eagle rays and sharks in the blue waters. The drop-offs start at about 5m deep and beyond that, they turn into an endless steep. The water current can be light to strong, and once you're underwater, there's a magical marine world to marvel at.
The diving experience is really something else at any time of the day – early morning, late afternoon, or late evening as the light begins to fade and fish start feeding in full swing. If you're partial to night diving, you can observe interesting species of night critters, from the mimic octopus, ghost pipefish to an array of frogfish species and cuttlefish. The walls are lit up with a countless variety of crabs and crustaceans. You can encounter reef sharks strolling in the waters or spot turtles catching forty winks in the crevices.
Changing tides make Bunaken an excellent site for drift diving. Current during dives is a common phenomenon. Having said that, beginner divers have a vast choice of dive sites without any currents. Though the matter of a wetsuit is entirely a personal choice, a short tropical wetsuit will suffice. You can also do nicely with a double 7mm wetsuit.
Bunaken is home to a number of resorts and guesthouses. Most resorts have their own diving schools or have tie-ups with the area's diving schools. Some diving trips provide you a personal guide to carry your accessories.
Owing to a sheltered location and a very large depth of the bay, the winds are mild and the sea rarely gets rough, making year-around diving possible. Visibility can hover between 20m-36m, and water temperatures range between 27°C-30°C in the dry season from April to October. In the wet season from November to April, the waters can get a bit choppy due to the west winds from the open sea of Manado Bay. While this affects sailing, it does not impact scuba-diving. The monsoons are not as severe as other areas of south east Asia but they can reduce water visibility. The overall temperature is pleasant. This is also the time when the forests and highlands are at their verdant best.
If you don't have time constraints, it is best to plan your scuba holidays to Bunaken between May and October. Within this time frame, July and August are peak season months when it can get very busy. Most resorts and dive operators have their books full, so don't risk a walk-in, and book in advance.
You can get to Bunaken National Park by speedboat or a rented boat from Manado. You can also catch a public ferry operating five days a week (Sunday off) between 2 and 3 PM which leaves the Jengki rivermouth next to the Bersehati market. A one-way trip will cost tourists about 50.000rp per person. The public boat returns to Manado at 8-8.30 AM on all days, except Sundays. If you'll be staying at a Manado resort, they may arrange transfers from the airport. You can charter a private boat in the harbor behind the Celebes Hotel, which can cost you about 300.000rp.
Note: The easiest way to get to Manado from overseas is an air flight from Singapore. Another option is to catch a domestic flight from within Indonesia.