Bunaken: A Quick Capsule Guide to Island Life in Sulawesi

Nestling in the Celebes Sea to the north of Sulawesi, Bunaken is an island quite unlike any other.

An ideal counterpoint to the hustle and bustle of nearby Manado – which is where most likely visitors will be arriving from – it exudes a quiet calm and easy, unrelaxed pace of life which is sure to appeal to seasoned and new travellers alike.

As a world-renowned diving and snorkelling site Bunaken National Marine Park – encompassing Bunaken, the extinct volcano Manado Tua, Siladen, Mantehage, Nain, and Nain Kecil – offers plenty of scope for underwater adventures, while visitors keen to relax will feel at home amongst the island’s distinct mangrove forests and pristine beaches.

Why go

Because you like peaceful island living or you want to experience one of the finest exponents of the art.

Time seems to evaporate as Bunaken works its subtly magical charms. The welcoming atmosphere is instantly appealing and stays can often extend from days into weeks as travellers become locked into Bunaken’s peaceful rhythm.

Read more: How Surabaya Got Its Name, Part 1: The Shark and the Crocodile.

The timeless island settings are all accounted for – bamboo huts, wandering troubadours with acoustic guitars, palm trees, motorcycle taxis (ojeks), hammocks and fine food – and there are few better feelings than sitting, Bintang in hand, watching the colourful sunset.

What do


Bunaken is one of the world’s foremost diving destinations. Due to its semi-remote location it attracts divers keen to escape the more crowded waters of Bali and Thailand.

Rumours of passing Manatee and Mola Mola are mostly unfounded. However, the ocean depths provide a great many delights. Sponge crabs and seahorses wind their ways among the beautiful corals, while barracudas and reef sharks roam the currents.

A number of fine schools operate on the island; Two Fish Divers is especially well-regarded thanks to its 5-star rating from professional diving association PADI. Expect to pay 400,000R to 1,170,000R for dives.

For those after a more relaxed – and slightly cheaper – experience, snorkelling could be the way to go. A day spent trawling the waters around Bunaken is a day well-spent. Head out towards the ocean wall where all kinds of colourful critters float by. Rental of masks and fins cost about 60,000R for a couple of hours.

Where stay

Accommodation is attached to Bunaken’s dive resorts, with a variety of homestays and guest houses also available.

Try Lorenso’s Cottages, a 15-minute walk from the dock. A genuinely communal affair with bungalows spread around a mangrove forest on the water’s edge, guests can expect an easygoing atmosphere.

The man himself is a garrulous host. He often holds court with tales of life on the island and Sulawesi’s native Minahasan tribal culture.

Three meals a day, as well as water, tea and coffee, are provided. A four-person bungalow costs 200,000R in the low season (October to May). Expect to pay much more in the high season (June to September).


When go

Divers should be aware that Bunaken has a tropical climate. The wet season from November to April brings frequent rain and greatly reduced underwater visibility.

Temperatures rise rapidly for the rest of the year, with barely a cloud in the sky.

How get there and away

Public boats leave daily from Manado’s Bersehati market at 2.00pm with a one-way ticket costing 50,000R. The return trip leaves at 8.30am. Arrange transport with your resort. 

(Curious Editor: Perhaps this has piqued your interest in Sulawesi. If that’s the case, please enjoy these brief guides to Tomohon and the north of the island.)