Bunaken – North Sulawesi

After spending a month in Sri Lanka, we had a really specific plan about doing our PADI Dive Master course on a small Island called Bunaken in the North Sulawesi region of Indonesia.

It took some time and effort to get to Bunaken from Colombo. First we had a flight from Colombo to Bali via Kuala Lumpur, then a domestic flight from Denpasar (Bali) to Manado in North Sulawesi. Worth mentioning, if you are travelling with scuba gear (like we are) the Indonesian airline Garuda Indonesia allows you to take scuba equipment for free (actually any sporting equipment)! Top points for Garuda Indonesia for this!

After arriving in Manado, you might need to stay there over night depending on what time you arrive. At the moment there was only one public boat to Bunaken from Manado around 2PM (note Indonesian time concept). However there are plenty of speedboats that will take you to Bunaken (they will likely charge you in the range of 350000 – 500000 IDR for the trip and you can get one from the harbor masters office (Location of harbor), but those boats are not going after dark either. As we had a late evening flight, we ended up staying over night in Manado and then finally taking a speed boat to Bunaken in the morning (Note that there are no public boats on Sundays either).

Finally we had reached the final destination and it looked like this: This was going to be our home for the next month!

We stayed at simple but lovely Lorenzo cottage in one of those cottages in the picture. Note that there is not wi-fi, and electricity runs only some hours in the evening. By the way this is not a bad option for the social media detox.

At Lorenzo Cottage meals were served to us three times per day and we made fiends not only with Lorenzo and his staff, but also with Lorenzo’s lovely pets: three dogs and two cats.

The main reason for us to come to Bunaken was for our Dive Master course. Bunker is one of the top diving destinations in Indonesia and possibly the best spot for diving in North Sulawesi (Depending a little on your preferences). Visibility during the dry season will often reach 30+ meters and for the month we were there, we only had 1 or 2 days when visibility was less than 15-20 meters. The waters surrounding Bunaken are one of the richest when it comes to species of coral, fish, marine mammals, turtles and other sea creatures. It is claimed that you can find over 70% of all the known Indo-Pacific fish species in Bunaken National Park (we cannot verify this with only 1 month’s diving experience here unfortunately). So a trip back there is definitely needed.

We must give a shout out to everyone at Living Colours Diving Resort for hosting us for the month! We made great friends here and had such a great time with everyone at the resort, the diving team and especially with Instructor Petra! If you are heading diving on the island, make sure to check out Living Colours. They are the most experienced team on the Island when it comes to the local environment!

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT?

Bunaken mainly consists of “all-inclusive resorts” for all budgets, so there isn’t too much of a restaurant scene to explore outside of your resort. your bungalow most likely includes 3 meals a day and you will be fed a variety of local dishes. Being a fishing community, be prepared to eat fish on most days. A special mention for those who might be interested in some nightlife too, Deco Stop (a.k.a. Reggae Reggae bar) near to Seagarden resort is one of the few places for a drink outside of the resorts. We had a couple of super fun nights playing and singing together with local musicians. Head here for a couple of beers and you’ll be sure to end up being part of the band at some point of the night.

There is a wide range of options for your accommodation on the island from homestay style housing in the village, budget and mid-range bungalows and also an exclusive/luxurious resort (a newcomer to the island). You best option for rates is to contact the resorts directly so you avoid any booking fees. If you wish to stay with Lorenzo, he will be always in the harbor to meet people arriving by public boat or you can find his sisters homestay in the village (Novita Homestay) for info.

A special thing to take note of is that there are literally no shops on Bunaken Island (apart from some souvenir shops on one small beach where mainland locals come for weekend trips – try to avoid this place). So anything you imagine you could need during you stay from hygiene products, medicine, clothes etc, will have to be brought with you when you arrive. As mentioned food and drink are provided by your resort and if you require something specific you are best checking with your resort before hand if they can provide you with it (e.g. a special diet). The only exception to the lack of shops is the daily(ish) ice-cream truck (motorbike with a cooler). You are certain to learn the tune of it quickly.

TOP 3  tips for Bunaken:

  1. Go diving or at least snorkeling. The marine park here has the widest range of life in the region and you will be forever amazed of the beauty and diversity of life in the oceans. You will likely also discover a deep appreciation for this amazing ecosystem that supports life on planet Earth. I bet you didn’t know that 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes directly from plants and plankton in the oceans!
  2. Try to go plastic free for your entire trip! Plastics and especially single us plastic such as water bottles, shopping bags, drinking straws, plastic wrappers and small items such as ear buds are filling the oceans around the planet with waste. Not to mention the vast amount of resources we use to produce it all. Make an effort on your next trip to be plastic free. Bring a refillable water bottle (all resorts have water filling stations with mineral/purified drinking water). also ask your resort to cut down on waste and use of resources.
  3. Get to know the locals. The local community on the island is one of the most welcoming we have seen anywhere in the world. Always smiling, always singing and always ready to tell you a story or two about the region, the island and the people. You will learn a whole lot from the local lifestyle.
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