Family Snorkeling in Bunaken Island, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Bunaken is a small island north of Sulawesi in Indonesia, part of Bunaken National Park. It has been ranked in the top 10 world's best snorkeling destination by Forbes, and this is well deserved... This is the best snorkeling destination we have done in the last 20 years ... The diversity is amazing. You will not swim with whale shark and manta rays, but pretty much with everything else. It has a few drawbacks though.
But first, in a nutshell :
Where is it and how to get there ?
Reaching Bunaken Island is actually pretty easy, compare to many great snorkeling destinations in Indonesia (such as Raja Ampat, Komodo or the Alor Archipelago).
You need to take a plane to the city of Manado. There are flights from Singapore (Silk Air), Jakarta and Denpasar (Garuda, Lion, Air Asia). From the airport take a taxi to the seaport and take a fast boat to Bunaken village. Or do like us and ask your resort to arrange all this for you.
Where is ithe best snorkeling ?
Bunaken island is surrounded by a wonderful coral reef with dramatic drop off. Luckily, most of the diving sites are also excellent snorkeling spots. You should mainly snorkel from spot 4, Kampung, to spot 10, Mandolin. Spots 11, 12 and 13 on the northern part of the island are subject to stronger currents and waves.
The other side with spots 14 to 17 are also good, but more waves when the eastern wind blows. And frankly, not as nice as Mandolin, Fukui and Lekuan spots. Cela-Cela, spot 6, is very nice and easily accessible from the beach.
Because the main issue is that, at low tide, those snorkeling spots are not so easily accessible from the beach. Getting in and out of the water without cutting yourself on the coral is a challenge. You will see why in the pictures below.
Views from Fukui spot
The best snorkeling can be seen at the reef, but this can be a long swim up there .....
At low tide, you need to walk on many rocks and cutting coral. I advice you take booties ..... But then what to do with those once you reach the water and put your fins on ?....
To get into the water at low tide without booties is to cut yourself for sure...
(especially with young children, if you are looking for easy snorkeling from the beach)
So basically, the snorkeling is superb, but not always easy to reach from the beach at low tide ... At high tide you can swim to the barrier reef but you should be comfortable using your fins. It also means that this can be difficult for young children. The best option is really to take the boat tours organized by the resorts and hotels. Really worth it. But for those looking for a great snorkeling from yhe beach, it is not the best place ...
For party animals however, you should keep in mind two things :
- there is nothing else to do on the island but to Snorkel and Dive
- Bunaken is not a beach destination (no beach at high tide and small one at low tide)
Here are the picture of the marine life we have seen. HD version of those pictures can be found in the Wallpaper page of this site.
What about the resort ?
We stayed in a very nice resort, the Bunaken Cha Cha. This resort is on the East side of the island. You can see this on the snorkeling map above. Raf and Riko, truly wonderful people, are the two owners running the resort very nicely and you really feel at home there. Over the years, they build a beautiful resort starting from a few bungalows. It has pros and cons however.
The price is per person and is full board. The resort is very comfortable and family friendly. Our 3 kids had a comfortable bungalow for them, and this is a key criteria for us. We really appreciated was the quality of the meals. The food is really good, especially the diners. We are French for a reason ....
You can organize there snorkeling and diving trips. Rent all equipment. Raf can organize for you the Manado airport transfers.
The only drawbacks of Bunaken Cha Cha are :
- it is isolated on the East part of the Island. Nothing around, but then very good to unwind from everything....
- although this is one of the high end resort of the Island, prices are quiet high, especially the snorkeling and diving trips. If you come outside July and August, send an email to Raf and ask for a better price than on booking.com ....
- no Aircon from 23h to 6h as the resort runs then on generator. It was a bit hot at night but opening the doors made the trick....
- no beach
- snorkeling the house reef is very nice, but from the resort at low tide, it is diificult to get into the water, especially when there is surf because of the eastern wind. I would not recommend for family with young kids (all the adults who tried cut themselves on the coral, including me...)
My ranking would be as follow
Only reason I do not give 5 stars is because of the price a bit high, especially for the snorkeling trips a 30USD per person. The service is very good, but when you are a family with kids, things can get a bit pricey....
There are a few others good resort / bungalows / hotels you can find on Trip Advisor. I found a video made by Living Colors, one of the resort (that I did not check), which has good reviews as well.
Here are a few pics of the resort and the surroundings :
As a conclusion, we loved our snorkeling at Bunaken. But our kids are now teenagers and very good swimmers. With young kids, it would not have been the right place. The snorkeling is superb, you will not be disapointed...
Bonus : I found a few interesting blogs about Bunaken, where you can find more infos. You can click on the links below :
- the blog of Phil from Germany, who had a great time but also bad surprise with a Jelly Fish (we had none when we were there ...)
- a French blog of Franck and Richard, giving practical advice, for those who can read French....
- the nice Blog of Carl, with beautiful pictures
Here are also few videos I found on youtube. A presentation of the resort and two snorkeling videos :
Value for price
Our favourite spot is clearly Fukui. The scenary is stunning, with the view on Manado Tua island. This spot is also well sheltered from the waves and the current. The drop off here is less impressive than at Lekuan spot, but it can be better for those who are impressed by this kind of deep blue vision... Most of our marine life pictures are coming from there.
Our second best spot is Lekuan. Here more curent and the drop off is impressive. But the coral reef is at its best and there are so many turtles that we stopped counting .... (the turtle pictures below are coming from this spot)
The spot 4, Kampung, is also very nice and worth a look. Coral is beautiful there. But be careful of the current and ... the boats !
Ride to seaport is about 30 minutes from airport and then boat to Bunaken about an hour. Further infos can be found on the Bunaken Travel Guide
So actually, snorkeling is best at high tide, or, by taking a boat. Morning boat tours are plenty and can be arranged by the resorts between 15 and 30 USD.
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