Bunaken: Of Blue Seas & Anonymity.

My first memory of Bunaken is that of sitting on the roof of a speedboat, riding the waves of a turquoise blue sea, and gazing at the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen.

why Bunaken: We chose to travel to North Sulawesi in Indonesia to get past the touristy temptation of Bintan & Bali, and were pleasantly greeted by a world yet to be discovered and commercialized. Our base was Manado, a city-town in North Sulawesi, and the closest airport to Bunaken – which lay a boat journey away, untouched.

getting there: The public boat from Manado, used mostly by locals and extremely cheap, dropped us at the jetty at Bunaken Island. We were immediately greeted by the locals, who we first thought to be touts but soon realized were genuinely helpful and extremely friendly. That warmth of the people saved us the disappointment of realizing that this part of the island was more of a wet swamp than a beach.

Panorama Resort, where we intended to stay, was fortunately on the other side, and we managed to arrange scooter (two-wheeler) rides with the locals – a bone-chilling experience that took us through dirt roads and made us feel so unsure of where we were headed! Panorama’s side of the island turned out to be a pleasant surprise after the initial impressions we formed of Bunaken!

the island: The view from the balcony of our chalet was picture-perfect – beyond the white sand was a deep blue sea and in the distance, a volcano partially covered in mist, with clouds descending and rising from its peak every now and then. We spent a good deal of our stay just lying on the hammock in the balcony, watching nature as its loveliest!

bunaken, indonesia, sulawesi, sunset, volcano, misty
Sunset at Bunaken
Believe it or not, the only tourists that have ever stayed at Panorama before are either from Germany or the UK, and we met many during our stay. In fact, the diving instructor at Panorama is a German guy called Sven, married to a local Indonesian girl and settled in Bunaken. So, the best part about the island is its obscurity – it’s only popular among divers in the west – as a result of which it is scarcely inhabited (beach resorts are the only business) and even basic establishments like restaurants are nowhere to be found (food comes with the beach resorts)!

Like me, everyone who chances upon this beauty must regard herself as an explorer and discoverer, and a very lucky one at that!

must do: Snorkeling in the sea surrounding Bunaken was a stunning underwater experience with fish & corals that people come to study from far off places – and that amateurs like me can only gawk at in wonder! Add to that the most picturesque sunset seen from the open seas, a night sky sprinkled with stars, and some locally brewed alcohol – Cerang Onsari (which I won’t necessarily recommend any more than a sip, simply because you must try everything!)

Bunaken is such an undiscovered gem – that’s perhaps what makes it so beautiful, so memorable and so worth a visit.

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  1. manchitra says:

    Shivya, I am so happy to see you after a long break. I used to come here very often but then…. it’s a long time and I see here quite a few posts about your travelogues. i read one and shall be back to read more. Loved the pic. of volcano with a cloud hovering on top.

    1. Hi Manchitra, welcome back 🙂 Yes, I’m trying to get my blog & blogroll out of hibernation! Good to see you here again.

  2. Hi Shivya,
    since more than 10 years I see the volcano “Manado Tua” nearly every week because I live here. It was a wonderful view till the locals ruined the coast with buildings and experts from the US found out, the coral riffs too. So it’s sad to see how the locals have no feeling for the tourist potential of the region which is well known as a very good diving place but without of any significant and living culture.

  3. Hi Tom,

    I must say you’re really lucky to be living close to a place as beautiful at Bunaken. Perhaps we can take it upon us to educate the locals about the tourism potential of places close to Manado. I reckon their lack of understanding is based on the fact that they don’t see many tourists anyway. But that’s also the charm I’d hate to spoil by giving the place a touristy feel 🙂 It’s a trade-off I guess!

    1. 2010 Manado was World-Tourism-Town and till the middle of the year there were less tourists than last year. Locals dream of converting Manado to something like Singapore and Bali but they have no understanding about what’s the difference and how Singapore became what it is now. And educating them … well, they don’t really like that. I only do it for self-defence.
      Salam hangat from

  4. Backpacking through Sulawesi I met a guy (in-fact the guy’s name was actually Guy :P) who ran (runs?) a dive shop in Bunaken. He spoke about the place with such passion, I almost ditched my itinerary for a scuba lesson with him. Almost.

  5. It’s a great destination for snorkelling / diving. Great for a long weekend from Singapore or as the last step of a vacation in Sulawesi (Tana Toraja is an amazing place!). We went in 2012 and loved it. We climbed the Manado Tua but were a bit disappointed as you can’t see much when you reach the top (the view is blocked by trees). However, what we saw under the sea was simply amazing! I hope that people soon realize that this place needs to be protected. If you want to go, check out this page to find more info: http://bit.ly/19My7T0 Have a great trip

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