Bunaken National Park, Sulawesi

Bunaken National Park, off the coast of north Sulawesi, was one of the first marine parks to be created in Indonesia, and while of course no management scheme is without its flaws, it must be said that Bunaken remains a shining example of how a country can preserve its natural resources. It was established to protect the astonishing levels of biodiversity which can be found in the depths between the five islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Siladen, Mantehage and Nain, and today the park is still widely regarded as one of the finest destinations on the planet for scuba diving and snorkelling.
There are some 20 dive sites around the park, reaching to varying depths down to around 1,340m. Most are found off the crescent-shaped Bunaken, where vibrantly coloured walls plunge steeply down, and Manado Tua. The islands are of volcanic origin, and can be reached in just 30 minutes by speedboat from Manado on Sulawesi, though many trips will accommodate people in pretty luxurious resorts on Bunaken or Siladen.

Bunaken National Park marine wildlife

There are almost 400 species of coral, hard and soft, found in Bunaken National Park, that support a spectacular array of marine life which ducks and dives among barrel sponges, anemones and fans: green and hawksbill turtles; pilot whales; dolphins and stingrays; lobsters and giant clams; triggerfish, butterfly fish and bannerfish and many endangered species that pass through on their migratory routes. For scuba divers, the chances of disappointment here are very low.

If you arenít certified to dive already, you can spend an introductory day on arrival learning the basic theory and how to use the equipment with a pool session and one ocean dive. For that you donít need any experience, just the ability to swim and reasonable health. More advanced diving requires an appropriate qualification.
But of course not everyone likes to dive, or wants the hassle of getting kitted up and having to take a boat out all the time. So there is also substantial scope for snorkel safaris in Bunaken National Park, the clarity of the water exceptional. Siladen in particular is ideal for snorkelling, with an undulating sea grass meadow just off its white sand beach where you might encounter octopi, moray eels, stingrays and even relaxing dugongs. The advantage of snorkelling here is that you can go out at any time of day without being dependent on the tides, as you are on other islands. Bunaken Island is best for seeing turtles, which gather in large numbers, but they do need air, so snorkellers can often see them close to the surface.

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Sulawesi holiday, 13 days

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The Coral Triangle

Encompassing a vast area that takes in sections of Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, the Coral Triangle is often known as Ďthe Amazon of the seasí for the extent of its biodiversity, and the section protected by Bunaken National Park is an undisputed highlight. One of the most important regions for marine conservation, the Coral Triangle unfortunately, like so many other ecologically sensitive areas, faces a multitude of threats from climate change to coral bleaching and overfishing. Many of our holiday companies work with local partners in efforts to combat these treats, such as by working with resorts that pay local people to conduct beach cleans, and organisations that create artificial reefs to help coral recover.

Many Sulawesi holidays will spend at least a few days in Bunaken National Park, perhaps in the case of a snorkel safari making it the focus of the trip. In July and August the resorts and popular dive sites become incredibly busy, so itís worth avoiding the peak season if youíre able.
Kate from our Sulawesi travel specialists Selective Asia on exploring Bunaken National Park: ďAll the resorts that we work with offer a range of beginner diving options, from introductory dives to full PADI Open Water courses. These can be booked in advance. Our team on the ground monitors dive companies for their sustainability, and the resorts themselves also undertake many environment-focused initiatives. Whilst the main draw of Siladen and Bunaken is the diving and snorkelling, if you donít want to do that then it is also a great place to spend time relaxing on the beach. Siladen Island arguably has the better beaches so I normally recommend here if people are not dive focused but want some RĎníR after their time exploring southern Sulawesi. It is also possible to arrange dolphin and whale watching tours from either island as well as land experiences (on the mainland) such as in Tangkoko National Park for tarsier spotting.Ē
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Christian Gloor] [Top box: Christian Gloor] [Turtle: Christian Gloor] [Kate - diving tips: Christian Gloor]