Bunaken

Bunaken National Marine Park is off the coast of Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Understand

Flat Bunaken Island and its southern beach at the front with volcanic Manado Tua behind

Bunaken is one of Indonesia's most famous diving and snorkeling areas and it draws visitors from all over the world. Bunaken is close to a big city, making it easy to visit. In addition to banana-shaped Bunaken Island itself, the 890 km2 of marine national park includes the neighboring islands of Manado Tua (a distinctive cone-shaped extinct volcano), Siladen, Mantehage, Nain, and Nain Kecil.

Some 20,000 local inhabitants make their living from the waters in the Bunaken National Marine Park, and this has inevitably led to some conflicts. By and large though, the co-operation between national and local government authorities, conservation groups, business owners and local communities has been very successful here. This has led many to cite Bunaken as a model example of how Indonesia should be preserving its natural marine treasures.

One problem of Bunaken is garbage from Menado city. Garbage has washed from Menado into Bunaken for years, but this problem has become severe recently (as of 2015), and as a result, some frequent travellers have reduced their visits to Bunaken.

History

Bunaken was formally established as a national marine park in 1991.

Landscape

Mangroves on the east coast of Bunaken

The park is famed for the clarity of its water (35m visibility is common in the summer dry season), the abundance of coral and fish, and for the precipitous "walls" at some sites. Bunaken Timur, right off the east coast of the island and featuring all of the above, is rated by many as the single best dive site in all Indonesia.

In places the water is extremely deep - 1,500 m plus.

Flora and fauna

Bunaken has a quite stunning biodiversity including:

Climate

Bunaken is barely a degree above the equator and tropical. The wet season, is from November to mid-April. Storms sometimes last for several days, which can reduce marine visibility. The dry season is from May to October, when temperatures climb to a roasting 35° and visibility reaches a maximum.

Bunaken receives less rain than the north Sulawesi mainland and is well served by sea breezes.

Get in

Bunaken is about 45 to 60 minutes by boat from Manado. Most resorts can arrange transfers from the airport for their guests.

Alternatively, a public boat leaves daily except Sundays at 2-3PM from the canal on the north side of Manado market. The departure times are depending on the tide. The cost are Rp 50,000 one way for tourists and Rp 30,000 for locals. It returns to Manado from the jetty in Bunaken village around 8-8:30AM every morning except on Sundays. You also can charter a private boat to Bunaken in the Manado harbor (behind the Celebes Hotel). Price is around 1.000.000 Idr for boat up to 30 passangers.

Fees/permits

As of September 2008, entry to the park costs Rp 50,000 per day or Rp 150,000 per calendar year. Children below 10 years are exempt.

Even though the fee is not automatically levied upon entrance to the park, it is the responsibility of all visitors to pay it and reputable dive shops & resorts will always charge this to their guests. As proof of payment, you will receive a waterproof plastic tag that must be carried at all times. Spot checks are not uncommon by the patrol boats.

The park is managed by a multi-stakeholder board comprising of government and non-government members to include representatives of the 30,000 people who live within the boundaries of the park. Though deemed by some as not being transparent and lacking in effectiveness, the management board together with the water police have, over the years, been able to stop cyanide fishing, dynamite fishing and more recently participated in the release of 700 napoleon wrasse that had been illegally caught in and around the park. Though not perfect and certainly having room for improvement, the management board does have an important role in the conservation of the area and this could not happen without the support of all visitors in adhering to the purchase of the entrance tag.

Get around

Pathways connect the various settlements around Bunaken. Many are effectively impassable after rain.

Ojeks are the motorised form of transport around the island, but visitors are encouraged to walk.

Watch out if walking along the coastline, as the beach may disappear when the high tide rolls in.

See

Tourism on Bunaken has been very much geared towards serious divers over the years but the trend seems to be changing. More and more casual snorkelers are visiting the area as are those who wish to just relax immersed in nature. Possible activities for landlubbers include:

Do

The thing to do in Bunaken is dive, dive and dive. However, the steep walls and occasionally strong, rapidly changing currents mean that many sites cater more to the intermediate/advanced diver. There are beginner-friendly sites too and all dive shops can arrange introduction dives and Open Water Dive courses.

The North Sulawesi Watersports Association offers oodles of detail on diving in the park.

All dive shops in the park are affiliated with resorts, so see Sleep below for listings.

Snorkelling is fantastic in front of many of the resorts around the island, with an incredible amount of marine life inhabiting the shallows. Remember not to snorkel without fins as the currents can sometimes be strong and change quickly even when they are not. Pick a reference point on the island and do not stray too far unless you are a very confident swimmer.

Buy

The Visitors Centre on Liang Beach sells handicrafts, t-shirts and general souvenirs.

Eat

Fish, fish and fish, usually at your dive resort.

Drink

There is no natural potable water on Bunaken. Insist on bottled water at all times and ensure that coffee and tea is also made with bottled water.

The local spirit Cap Tikus (literally rat brand) is a distilled palm wine and is actually quite nice on the rocks with a slice of lemon.

Bintang is the number 1 beer in Indonesia and is available cold at many of the resorts.

Sleep

Most visitors choose to sleep at their dive resort, almost all of which offer full board package offers. Accommodation on Pulau Bunaken is generally expensive for Indonesian standards as the majority of people coming here are on a short holiday trip. There are no budget options for backpackers.

Those resorts on the south and west sides of Bunaken Island are on a strip of coarse yellow sand beach whilst the frontage of those on the east side is a mixture of mangroves and small beaches.

On Siladen Island

Stay safe

There are no unusual health risks in the park, aside from the standard set of easily avoided venomous marine critters. Stinging jellyfish are found only occasionally, primarily during the change of the seasons in spring and autumn.

Bunaken is considered to be a malaria-free zone. Nearby areas of North Sulawesi are malarial though (but not rampantly so).

Saltwater crocodiles may be encountered close to river mouths and mangroves, although no official populations survey has been done in quite some time, making it impossible to know whether or not they still exist in the area.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, January 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.