Scuba Diving Bunaken National Park
About 90 species of fish live in the waters of the park. It is claimed that this park has seven times more genera of coral than Hawaii, and more than 70% of all the known fish species of the Indo-Western Pacific.
The Bunaken National Park is a marine park in the north of Sulawesi island, Indonesia. The Park lies off shore from Manado, and covers a total surface area of 89,065 hectares, 97% of which is covered by sparkling clear, warm tropical water. The remaining 3% of the park is terrestrial, including the five islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Mantehage, Nain and Siladen. Although each of these islands has a special character, it is the aquatic ecosystem that attracts most naturalists.
A very rich coral ecosystem covers most of Bunaken National Park, dominated by fringing reef and barrier reef corals. There are about 390 species of coral recorded as well as many fish, mollusc, reptile and marine mammal species. A distinct feature is a 25-50 metre vertical coral wall which is inhabited by 13 coral genus. The park is also abundant in different species of fish, marine mammals and reptiles, birds, molluscs and mangrove species.
The waters of Bunaken National Marine Park are extremely deep (1566 m in Manado Bay), clear (up to 35-40 m visibility), refreshing in temperature (27-29 C) and harbor some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Pick any of group of interest – corals, fish, echinoderms or sponges – and the number of families, genera or species is bound to be astonishingly high.
HIGHLIGHT DIVE SITES
Diving in and around Bunaken is mostly wall diving and drift diving, but also includes several beautiful coral slopes. The variety of both fish and soft coral is outstanding, making this area one of the top places in the world with regards to biodiversity.
Arguably the best sites around Bunaken are Lekuan 1, 2 and 3. These are really the same site, but with so much to see are separated. With more shelter here and lots of large nooks & crannies to explore, you are more likely to find larger fish like Napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish along with sea fans, giant sponges and turtles.
Lekuan 1 – Another long beautifully covered reef, located in front of Bunaken Island, which seems impossible to be done in one dive. With visibility often 30 to 40 meters, sightings of larger species such at blacktip sharks, turtles, and schools of trevally and Napoleon wrasse are very common. Start on the sandy slope, which slowly get into the wall part of the site. Bannerfish and Napoleon Wrasse are resident in this famous diving spot including school of Pyramid Butterflyfish. Small whitetip reef sharks can be found sometimes here sleeping in crevices.
Lekuan 2 – Continuing the first part of the famous long reef located in front of Bunaken Island is Lekuan 2. It is a vertical wall covered with different types of hard and soft corals, which have beautifully decorated this site and welcome a wide array of marine live. Great overhangs and small caves covered with soft corals combined with it’s crystal clear water are one of the main reason for wide-angle photographer’s to visit this site. Napoleon Wrasse and big Green Turtles often visit this area. It is also a good place to find Purple Dart and Sailfin Gobies.
Lekuan 3 – One of Bunaken Best dive sites, as it starts with a nice sandy slope with underwater pinnacles and continues to a wall, which drops to over 200m. Groups of Jacks and Barracudas are often found. Not to miss the small creatures that are resident to this site too, like cleaner shrimps, a nice variety of Nudibranchs and Flatworms to name a few. Gorgonians and big sponges decorate the wall in a magnificent way and complete it with a huge range of colorful fishes.
Celah – Celah (Cracks) – This site offers a deep wall with large cracks everywhere. A great site especially with a bright sunlight passing through and brightens up the blue water. It is one of the favorite areas for photographers, due to its “lunar” landscape.
Mandolin – …tops out near the surface, with a wall that is alive with fishes such as fusiliers, surgeon fish, unicorn fish and bannerfish. Mandolin is named after the same traditional musical instrument due to its shape from a bird’s eye view. Small schools of Reef Fish, Angelfish, Bumphead Parrotfish and Gobies are there for your enjoyment. Not to forget the groups of large sized Barracudas, together with different colors and types of sea fans. In the deeper part, there is possibility to see Blacktip Reef Sharks.
Bunaken Timur – This area of Bunaken is always protected from the big thunderstorms of the bad season, and it permits an unusual growth of many species of hard and soft corals. This is the point with the highest coral biodiversity all around the area. Spectacular also for snorkeling, if you are lucky can spot also turtles and eagle rays swimming in the blue.
Mike’s Point – Located on the north west of Bunaken Island, this site was named after well-known underwater photographer, Mike Severns. A wall covered with a great variety of different, colorful corals is a home for a huge range of tropical reef fish, which makes it perfect for fish portrait photography. Big fishes are common guests to this site too, as it often has a strong current that is affected by the tides. The reef floor is covered in different types of Sponges that make it a great area for deeper diving.
Muka Kampung – It is located exactly in front of the village of Bunaken. Strong current are prevailing in the area caused mostly by the location of the site. However, it is an interesting drift dive to cover a lot of area. Numbers of large Sea Turtles are common residents here. The site itself is well decorated with hard and soft corals along the wall with some overhangs and crevices where the small critters will draw your attention. School of Jacks and Barracudas can easily to be found as well as humphead parrotfish, napoleon wrasse and big Dogtooth tunas patrolling along the reef. The top of the reef is a perfect place for the safety stop, with depth around 4-5 meters.
Aluang Banua – This site has excellent macro objects to offer. One thing for sure is that you have to pay attention on the disguised creatures. Leaf fish, Ghost pipefish to name a few creatures, which have been seen here. The wall also offers beautiful caves, which often became a sleeping place for white tip reef shark. Sea Turtles and Eagle Rays are something that you may also see.
Fukui Point – Located on the southwest side of Bunaken. Named after a Japanese dive instructor who first described the site in the 1980’s, Sandy slopes leading to patches of hard and soft corals. This is one of the dive spots around Bunaken Island with no deep wall reef. Going down to around 15 meters only, there are 3 Giant Clams that are placed in a row, always surrounded by loads of Butterflyfish that are not shy to approach divers.
Raymond’s Point – South from Mike’s Point lays a beautiful wall covered in sponges, with hard and soft corals. The rich environment of the wall has its own charm. This site also has a large cave and due to the strong currents often present, is the Bunaken site richest in Wire corals.
Ron’s Point – A sandy slope site with occasional visitors such as Tuna, Jacks, Barracudas and not to forget Whitetip Reef Sharks and even occasional sightings of Gray Reef Sharks occur. The coral covered reef is not to be missed and observed as you can find Ghost Pipe Fish, Leaf Fish and also different type of anemone and Clown Fishes.
Sachiko’s Point – A very steep Reef decorated with amazing soft and hard corals in the shallower areas of the reef. It is a vertical wall on the northeast side of Bunaken, with visibility frequently in the 30 to 40-meter range. In midwater, away from the reef, there are literally thousands and thousands of schooling red tooth Triggerfish. Large Gorgonians can also be found in the area. The slight current here means larger pelagics such as sharks, turtles, barracuda, and Napoleon wrasse, frequent the area other critters typically found here include moray eels, sea snakes, leaf scorpionfish, nudibranchs, crabs and shrimp.
Siladen Point – Siladen Island is a small island surrounded by a beautiful white sandy beach. The southern side of Siladen Island, Siladen has a vertical wall in large steps. The reef top is spectacular with a huge variety of hard & soft corals, and it is therefore an excellent spot for snorkeling. The colors of the corals here are just amazing – it is always amazing to find up to 10 different-coloured feather stars attached to a single large sponge. the sandy bottom offers lots of tiny creatures to be observed. White tip Reef Sharks are regular visitors as current is often present on this site.
Manado Tua Island
The dive sites around Manado Tua have steep vertical winding walls with many cracks, canyons and small caves. You can enjoy beautiful hard and soft corals, reef fishes, turtles and reef sharks.
Panggulingan – Located in the Eastern part of Manado Tua Island, This site starts off with a slope going down to 30m and then continues to a vertical wall with a large reef flat rising to about 5m. Large Schools of big sized Barracudas, Batfish Napoleon Wrasse, schooling Banner fish and Butterfly fish can easily be found in this area. There are quite strong prevailing currents on this site, which make it a good place to see Sharks and Spotted Eagle Rays.
Muka Gereja (Church Front) – The site is exactly in front of a Manado Tua Church. The waters around Muka Gereja are generally calm and offer excellent visibility with moderate to strong currents. It features an interesting, beautifully covered wall, with big barrel sponges, some of them almost 1 meter in diameter. The fascinating thing about this dive site is not only about what it has to offer underwater; the great volcano is an amazing sight when you surface. Another “fish Dive” – a real aquarium!
Negeri (Country) – The site is situated towards the east of Muka Gereja. Currents are very much depending on the direction and strength of the wind. With the same great visibility, there is the possibility to see Silvertip Sharks, on its sandy slopes around the 30 m mark. Around the wall, which is decorated with a huge variety of beautiful soft corals, resident habitants like the Banded Pipe Fish, Angelfish and other Schooling fish are almost certain to be seen.
Manado Coast and Manado Bay
Tanjung Pisok – The dive site on the coast of the mainland which is called Tanjung Pisok has a reef flat sloping to 15-20 meters depth, and is very rich with large tabular sponges, reef fishes, nudibranchs, ribbon eels and unusual green tree corals.
Molas Shipwreck – There is also a diveable wreck, the Japanese Cargo named Molas, which from what we can discern, takes its name from the village of Molas, on the more Northern side of Manado. The history books are not too clear about its fate, but we again have good reason to believe it was torpedoed around 1942. Sitting upright starting around 10m the propeller sits at 40m. Although not safe for penetration, remember to bring your dive light. You can opt to “sit out” the wreck and explore a reef close by instead.
Batu Hitam (Black Rock) – This site is the continuation of the Molas wreck reef slope in an easterly direction. It is a gentle dive with hardly any currents and great for macro lovers. The reef consists of a sandy slope with coral patches and finishes off as a little wall. Great for critters like ribbon eels, rare nudibranchs, leaf fish and frogfish, crocodile flatheads and such. It is a perfect dive to do in combination with the Molas wreck.
City Extra – Located exactly in front of a well-know seafood restaurant, this sandy area offers tons of critters to be spotted. Ghost pipefish, mimic octopus, Ambon Scorpionfish, Seahorses, Boxfishes, Flamboyant cuttlefish just to say some. And if you are lucky, this is the right place to see the Dugong.
BMJ – When you will go down in this site, the first impression would be something like “where the heck am I??”… Site directly exposed to bad season storms, present a lot of broken coral and rubble areas. However, it’s a paradise for nudibranchs and many other critters like ghost pipefish, boxer crabs, mantis shrimp and many more.
South of Manado
Critter Circus 1 – 2 – 3 – Located right in front of Tasik Ria Resort & Tasik Divers, these three sites run into one to another. Critter Circus is a gently sloping continuous reef with interesting critters to be found whereas Reef Balls got its name from those artificial concrete Igloo shaped structures, which have been dropped on the sandy slope and have become a perfect habitat for a wide range of interesting critters, including different types of pipefish, leaf scorpion fish and flatheads. The most amazing part of this area is the extensive sea grass beds in the very shallow area. Literally hundreds of pipefish can be found here, fingered dragonets, clown and warty frogfish, sea snakes, and nudibranchs.
Popo Betlehem – A wordplay coming from “Better than Lembeh”, describes this site perfectly well. A true “muck” dive like those found in the Lembeh Straits, but with warmer water and better visibility. In the shallow water extensive beds of Sea grass are found, where you can find different kinds of moray eels, pipe fishes, sea snakes, nudibranchs as well as seahorses and Frogfish. The black sandy slope has hardly any patches of reef but is full of concrete and sand filled bags with ropes attached, which hold the Oyster farm in place, which floats above water. Those offer excellent hideouts for an amazing array of critters and the ropes are used by big schools of long finned squid to attach their eggs. The whole range of “special” critters can be found on this site and photographers can easily dive here for days and days.
Carlos Point – Just 5 min navigation from the TR house reef, another gently sandy slope of patchy corals and black sand. Ghost pipefish, lager groups of cardinalfishes, and sandy dwellers like jawfish and lizardfish are very common.
Tanjung Kelapa – Who said that wonderful coral walls are only around Bunaken? Tanjung Kelapa starts with a white sand slope that continues in a vertical reef with hard and soft corals, gorgonians, and schooling black snapper all around. A must-see of the area.
DIVING SEASON: It is possible to dive year-round. But Best time is around April – October as it is dry season. Rainy season is from November to March.
VISIBILITY: Always good visibility, average 20-35 m. (66-120ft).
WATER TEMPERATURE: In general the water temperature is consistently between 80-86F (27-30C) year round.
SKILL LEVEL: Dives for all diver skill levels are available.
ACCESS: Boat diving from Bunaken and Manado Dive Resorts.
TYPE OF DIVING: Mostly wall diving, drift diving
MARINE LIFE: Healthy reef life. Many creatures here are year round, such as the amazing array of giant clams and nudibranchs. Resident dugongs as well as barracuda and tuna appear throughout the year. June is a good months for sharks, July for dolphins and whales. Sperm whales migrate through the region to calf in the Sangihe region in March and July/August.
Bunaken National Park (divers and non-divers) Entrance fee – All visitors to the Bunaken National Park (divers and non-divers) are required to pay an entrance fee, for foreign visitors is Rp 50,000 per daily ticket (approximately US$6), or Rp 150,000 (approximately US$17) for a waterproof plastic entrance tag valid for the full calendar year.
CLIMATE: Indonesia has a tropical climate with just two seasons. The dry season starts in April and lasts until October, which is the best time to travel, though monsoon season, from November and March is fine to travel as well.
LANGUAGE: Bahasa Indonesia is the national and official language in the entire country.
ELECTRICITY: Electric power supply is 220 volts in all regions. So be careful with your 110-volt electronic equipment. The sockets will only fit with with two pins rounded-tip plugs (technically known as Type C, E, and F) or use adaptors.
CURRENCY & CREDIT CARDS: The Indonesia Rupiah (Rp) is also called IDR. IDR and US$ are the most acceptable currencies. Most tourism resorts have money changer facilities. Credit cards are only acceptable in big hotels, restaurants, shops and traveling agencies. When you are traveling to remote areas it is advisable to use local currency. Many small vendors require cash, either rupiahs or US dollars.
GRATUITIES: Most hotels add a 10% service charge to the bill on top of the 10% tax. In restaurants where service charge is not added, a tip of 5 to 10% on the bill will be appropriate depending on the service and type of establishment.
PHONE & INTERNET SERVICE: Country code +62. Most hotels and many restaurants in large cities provide internet connections or WiFi. Pre-paid telephone cards, internet, and facsimile machines are available in the cities and larger towns.
VISA & PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS: All travelers to Indonesia must be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of arrival, and have proof (tickets) of onward or return passage. Visa upon arrival is $35 Payable by USD cash only. Please check with your country if you are eligible for visa upon arrival. Visa-on-Arrival are valid for 30 days and are extendable with another 30 days to be applied at Immigration offices in Indonesia.
CUSTOMS: Maximum items allowed by customs when you visit Indonesia, 1 liter of alcoholic beverages, 200 cigarettes OR 50 cigars OR 100 grams of tobacco, Reasonable amount of perfume per adult, meaning if you arrive drenched in perfume the customs probably will not mind you carrying loads of bottles, Cameras, video cameras, portable radios, cassette recorders, binoculars and sport equipments are admitted provided they are taken out on departure. They must be declared to Customs.
DEPARTURE TAX: Airport tax must be paid in Rupiah cash. Manado airport tax, domestic flight IDR35,000; international flight IDR100,000.
GETTING THERE: There is an international airports in Manado, Sam Ratulangi International Airport (MDC)
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