Indonesia Travel Guides

Bunaken National Park: Travel Guide

Pulau Bunaken is a tiny coral-fringed gem at the tip of North Sulawesi, in the heart of Bunaken National Marine Park. The island is just a stones throw from the developing city of Manado and is easily accessible. Yet it is only really known to the discerning scuba community and vacationing locals visiting at weekends. The main call being it’s crystal clear waters and some of Indonesia’s most famous dive sites.

Since the surrounding seas of Bunaken are protected, there is an impressive array of coral and fishlife to be found. And with visibility up to 35 meters during dry season, it is firmly on the Indonesian scuba circuit. Charming dive resorts and rustic bungalows are dotted along its banana-shaped shoreline. The only way to get around is on foot or by motorbike, but many ‘roads’ are unfinished and you will soon find yourself on a dirt track or lost in the jungle.

At its heart, the people of Bunaken are some of the friendliest you could ever wish to meet. Our Bunaken National Park Travel Guide will hopefully give you a deeper insight into travelling to this lovely little island.

Our 3 favorite things to do in Bunaken

  1. Bunaken National Park travel guide

    Snorkel and Dive There is not much else to do here except snorkel and dive. But Bunaken is a turtle lovers paradise. On an average session, expect to see at least 3 or 4. Snorkelling is accessible from the beach, and it is easy to jump on one of the many dive boats if you wish to go further afield.

  2. bunaken island bike hire

    Rent a motorbike and get lost on the island It won’t take you long to get off the beaten track on Bunaken, and exploring this intriguing island by bike is really fun. Pass through vibrant villages, jungle backdrops and crazy viewpoints whilst dodging wild pigs, snakes and the odd tortoise!

  3. Bunaken island dolphin whale watching

    Dolphin and Whale watching Arrange a boat trip with your resort around the Marine Park to see dancing pods of dolphins or if your lucky, a migrating pilot whale or two!

Other things to do in Bunaken

  • Take a PADI dive course – It would be hard to beat Bunaken as a place to take your open water and there are a number of PADI certified resorts to choose from. If you already dive but want to take things to the next level, why not try out the advanced, rescue diver or master scuba diver course.
  • Hike Manado Tua – If you are in need of some on-land activity, consider an early morning hike of Manado Tua, the inactive volcano next door. A boat from Bunaken will take around 30 minutes and it is easy enough to find a local guide. Enjoy spectacular dawn views of North Sulawesi’s volcanoes and islands below.
  • Sunset and snorkel at Liang Beach You’ll see all kinds of critters underwater at Liang Beach around sunset. Once your done, watch the sky change color as the sun goes down over Manado Tua, Bunaken’s neighboring dormant volcano.

Top 5 Bunaken Dive Spots

  1. Sachiko I and II – You will find wire corals, Napoleon wrasse and plenty of green turtles.
  2. Lekuan II – An impressive vertical wall that is home to macro and large life alike.
  3. Pangalingan – This thrilling site offers a chance to see schooling snappers, fusiliers and other reef fish while ducking and diving around the current.
  4. Bualo – More relaxed than Pangalingan, this dive site features a few great overhangs and chances of spotting pelagics as well as small stuff.
  5. Siladen Wall – A gentle current pushes divers along this panoramic wall with characteristically good visibility.

Top 5 Bunaken Snorkel Spots

  1. Lekuan II – Great overhangs from its vertical wall, covered in soft corals combined with crystal clear water make Lekuan II a world class snorkel spot.
  2. Pangulisang Beach – The best off-shore snorkelling can be found here on the East Coast, between the main jetty and Lorenso’s Cottages. Your guaranteed to see turtles along this stretch.
  3. Siladen Point – The reef top has a huge variety of colourful hard & soft corals, and the water clarity is second to none.
  4. Bunaken Timur – This site offers the highest coral biodiversity in the entire area. If you are lucky, you can spot turtles and eagle rays swimming in the blue.
  5. Sachiko’s Point – A vertical wall with amazing soft and hard corals. Thousands of red tooth Triggerfish can be seen in the blue. There are also plenty of critters including moray eels, sea snakes, scorpionfish, nudibranchs, crabs and shrimp.

Where to stay in Bunaken National Park

For Snorkellers

It is possible to snorkel from the shore at both Liang Beach and around Pangulisang Beach, so if you enjoy making your own plans and avoid paying extra for boat trips, try staying at one of the resorts or bungalows around either of these areas. Liang Beach offers sunsets and sand, whereas Pangulisang has arguably better snorkelling but isn’t really ‘beachy’

For Divers

There are options to suit all budgets. At the lower end of the spectrum, expect to pay around 380,000 IDR per night for a basic bungalow. For something more luxurious (or 5* PADI certified) you’ll be looking at around 1.5 mil IDR per night. But don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of places in between!

There are a couple of guesthouses and homestays on the island too, if you prefer to keep costs to the absolute minimum. Starting prices are 165,000 IDR per night.

Bunaken is a small island and there are no real amenities (bars, restaurants, ATMs etc) just a few small shops and eateries in the main village, so there is no particular need to be close to the centre of things. Most hotels offer an all inclusive board basis including three meals plus unlimited tea, coffee and water.

Our Recommended Accommodation

Panorama Backpackers / Panorama Dive Resort

Situated on the quiet end of Liang Beach, Panorama offers the best of both worlds: affordable lodgings with backpackers in mind, and more high-end bungalows at their beautiful resort overlooking the Celebes sea. It is one of the longest standing family-run resorts on the island. All accommodation includes 3 delicious traditional Indonesian meals each day. And their dive operation is first class!

Prices start at IDR 250,000 up to IDR 550,000 for a deluxe bungalow.

Arto Moro Guesthouse

Arto Moro can be found in the main village, looking directly out to the pier. It is a new establishment run by a friendly Dutch man and his Indonesian wife. Arto Moro offer bed and breakfast board, with very cheap comfortable and clean rooms. If you prefer somewhere a bit less rustic but on a budget, then this is an excellent option. Try the breakfast pancakes, they are heavenly! Tours and snorkel equipment rental can also be can be arranged here.

Prices start at IDR 280,000 including breakfast.

Where to eat in Bunaken

Pretty much all resorts and hotels in Bunaken offer full board basis, as you won’t find any real conveniences here. There are a couple of little places in the central village to grab a snack, but these are our recommendations:

Liang Beach Market

Opposite the pier at Liang Beach, there are a number of food and souvenir stalls, run by locals geared towards the day trippers coming from Manado. It’s a great little place to stop by in the morning or late afternoon for some local snacks when it’s quiet.

Arto Moro

If you are staying at Arto Moro, or if you fancy a night off from the resort buffet, you must try the food here. It is possibly some of the best we’ve eaten in Indonesia. Every meal is cooked to perfection (from scratch) and the menu is very reasonably priced. It’s also a great place to unwind with a cold Bintang, watching the world go by.

How to get to Bunaken National Park

Bunaken national park map

Bunaken island is only a 1 hour boat ride away from the city of Manado, North Sulawesi. The international airport in Manado (MDC) is easy to reach, with regular flights to and from Singapore, Jartaka, Bali and other airports within Indonesia.

Manado to Bunaken Island

There are a few options in getting to Bunaken Island from Manado, but you will first need to get to the harbour of Manado (Pelabuhan Manado) which is behind the Celebes Hotel on Jl. Rumambi.

To reach Pelabuhan Manado harbour, take a taxi.

Top tip – As a cheaper alternative, hop on one of the many blue mini buses and let the driver know where you’d like to go. They’re quite fun (if you don’t mind crazy loud music and little or no headroom!

Expect to pay IDR 20,000 per person.

Option 1: Public Ferry

It is possible to catch the public ferry to Bunaken from the harbor of Manado. When you arrive at the harbour, you will be taken to a small office to pay for your ferry ticket. Expect to be accompanied through a bizarre maze of market stalls and alleys until you reach the ferry, which is nothing more than a traditional wooden boat crammed full of locals, produce and the odd diver!

Don’t plan on the ferry leaving on time and be prepared to get very hot. It is advisable to have a bottle of water to hand. The ferry drops you off in the main village of Bunaken. Arrange a pick up with your resort prior to arrival, as you may struggle to find transport otherwise.

Public ferry schedule: Manado to Bunaken between 2pm and 3pm every afternoon, Bunaken to Manado between 8am and 9am every morning.

The Ferry (small local boat) ticket is IDR 50,000 per person.

Option 2: Hotel Transfer

Many of the high-end resorts offer a free shuttle service for their clients at scheduled pick-up times via a private boat transfer. Check with your hotel to see if this is possible. We have heard that some even arrange collection directly to and from the airport.

Option 3: Chartered Speed Boat

If you speak to the friendly locals at Manado Harbor, it is possible to charter a private boat to directly to your destination on Bunaken.

This could set you back anything in the region of IDR 250,000 to IDR 600,000

Best time to visit Bunaken National Park

Bunaken is almost an all-year round destination! The dry season is from May to October, where the water visibility is at its best. The rainy season starts from November and lasts till April, but the monsoon is much less pronounced here than in other parts of Southeast Asia. The rains can affect water visibility, but snorkelling and diving can be enjoyed all year round here.

Money Saving Tips

  1. If you are a snorkeller – Bring your gear, and hop onto one of the dive boats for the day! We paid 50,000 IDRper person at Panorama Dive Resort and snorkelled alongside the dive group at 4 different locations.
  2. Opt for a budget dive resort or a guesthouse – That way you can put more money towards diving and snorkel trips.
  3. Speak to the locals at Liang Beach – Many of the locals here have their own boats and will be more than happy to take you out on snorkel trips, dolphin watching or even to Manado Tua for hiking. Negotiate hard, you’re guaranteed a bargain.
  4. Take the public ferry – It only takes an hour or so, and it’s a humbling and authentic experience.

We hope you have enjoyed our Bunaken National Park Travel Guide, and found this information useful. If you have any further questions please feel free to ask us in the comments below!

Would you like hear about the time Lion Air lost my bag enroute to Bunaken? Read our rather entertaining travel tales from life on the road in our blog!

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