Accommodation and Scuba Diving on
(updated in March 2013)
Bunaken is one of the best dive
sites in the world and you can spend wonderful holidays on
this island. But if you book directly online, you should exercise
great care, not to meet with disappointment.
During the past 2 years a lot of things have changed again. Also a few Resorts have came into being, some of them rather attractively with regard to their price-performance relation. In the meantime, thus there is not any more only one single Resort on the whole island with air-conditioned rooms. The competition in the so-called Luxury class has finally led to the fact that one need not pay over 60 euros for a bungalow with air-conditioning any more.
with a very low budget still find accommodations on Bunaken,
if they don't make any particular demands with respect to
comfort and hygiene.
In the past years I have gained the impression that the standard
has increased in comparison with a couple of years ago. But
there are also some well-known Resorts whose managers must
recognize , that it won't do with a impressing web page alone.
Some of them seem to spend most of their time for publicity
and have no time left to take care personally of the guests
and their needs. About an until recently very much known dive resort (which I had recommended up to now) it was even reported to me recently that not only one guest, who had booked before, has been kicked out by the Indonesian owner. The success had apparently gone to this man's head that now he believes that he can treat his guests with arrogance.
The following information, dear visitor to Bunaken, may protect you
from unpleasant surprises, which I have experienced or watched
in the past 10 years. Many of these surprises you undergo not
before you have checked in or before presentation of your
Moreover it is not unusual in some resorts on Bunaken, that
the conditions are changed depending on the present occupancy
of the bungalows. For instance three years ago we experienced
a rather dangerous situation, when the price negotiated for
the rent of a boat increased to the triple, and we refused
to agree. Therefore be on the watch! The tourism has already
made many a habitant of Bunaken avaricious.
First I will make a couple of general remarks and then let
follow concrete advices, especially for scuba divers .
If you arrive as a backpacker...
As soon as you have arrived on Manado
airport and are waiting for your luggage, you are surrounded
by a number of porters, taxi-drivers and so-called "guides"
and each of them would like to take you to a homstay or a dive resort,
of which he claims that it is the best one on Bunaken. There you
would get the best meal and the cheapest accommodation of the island.
Of course it is clear to you that these kind of helpers, who as
a rule are employees or partners of a dive resort, do not advise
you out of the goodness of their heart. You will finally sit in
a taxi or the privat car of a resort and be brought to the port
of Manado and then with the public or a private boat to your new
"home" on Bunaken. ( If you are lucky. If not, you are too late, the public
boat has already left and you must charter an expensive private
boat or spend a night in a Hotel).
Just arrived in the homestay on the island you will choose one of
the free cottages, move in and take a shower. If something displeases
you at first sight now, though, you will stay, because you don't
like to plod along from homestay to homestay with your heavy luggage
in the tropical heat. In brief, someone, who has just settled down,
as a rule will not change the place within the next few days. Even
if he is not quite pleased or if he has learned from other travellers
in between, that an other accommodation/divecenter at a distance
of 2 km or on the other side of the island would rather comply with
However I could watch also single backpackers who strove from Homestay
to Homstay trying to find the cheapest Cottage or a putatively better cuisine.
You've got information on the Internet?
You, however, belong to the ones
(otherwise you would not have reached this site) who surfes the
net. You type the keywords "Bunaken" or "Sulawesi"
and "diving" at Google or Yahoo and already see the addresses
of many resorts listed. One klick and you will land in a "picture
book" with beautiful tropical fish and traditionally built
cottages surrounded by blossoming gardens. Colourful online-leaflets
which try to convey an impression to the visitor, as if these fish
only could be seen, if one dives with this unique divecenter and
as if the lovely sunset is only to experience living in this homestay.
All-to-easily too, you are impressed by the promise "Cottages
with sea view". This of course is not the untruth, however,
may only apply to few cottages which then may already be occupied
if you arrive there. Also, of course, the chance to experience the
unique world under water in the Bunaken National Park can be offered
to you by every Dive Center because at the end of the day each of
them visits with you the same dive spots. How then, do they compare with each other?
I was often asked whether I can recommend an "good" and "inexpensive" Resort/Homestay on Bunaken. Then usually I had laboriously to investigate in an extensive e-mail correspondence the different wishes and to find out which price the guest is willing to pay. Others wrote very detailled about their previous diver's life and where they already have travelled around. Possibly believe some of them that I am a travel agency or a pensioner who has no other more interests, than to sit daily on its computer reading and replying e-mails. - No, this is not the case!!!
Now I want to give you some assistance. Read over the following carefully, so that you know what expects you on Bunaken.
Differences among resorts regarding their offers
Broadly speaking there are on the island three kinds of offers :
- Simple Homestays for backpackers or "globetrotters"
- Resorts with upper standards for the guests who would like to stay for about 1-2 weeks on Bunaken and want to enjoy unforgettable holidays while this relatively short time.
- A very attractive, inexpensive offer for groups
Between the simplest lodging without particular demands on dinner, hygiene and furnishings up to the luxury resort with elegant ambience, demanding cuisine and special offers like 24 hours of electricity, warm shower, equipment for UW photographers or even air-conditioning there are on Bunaken many stages with the adequate prices. I would suggest that you answer first of all the following question:
How much am I ready to pay (per night / person inclusive 3 meals; prize margin)?
On your financial opportunities depends of course which demands you can make to your lodging or the dive centre. At the choice of your resort you will then have to come to a compromise. Hence, it is important that you understand about your priorities, before you collect information. Read through the following food for thought and follow then my links further below to read my experience reports.
Here a few possible questions:
- Is the big variation between prices in
- Is a certain additional service for you of importance
- Are you a beginner and look for a very competent
dive inctructor, …or
- Are you an experienced diver with own equipment
so that a low price for you is more important then new sets
of dive equipments?
- Are you looking for a dive center/accommodation
where one speaks in your language?
- Are "Wellness" , sandy beach and hotel
atmosphere for you important?
- Do you like contacts with natives or other guests
or would you rather like to find restfulness and seclusion?
- Are you an underwater photographer attaching
great importance to competent support and the possibility of
loading your accumulators 24 hours a day?
- Do you like to get spoiled also on board of
the diving boat by helpful staff or you do not mind if you must
put on your fins or even carry your tank at low-tide over the
reef to the boat yourself?
- Are you pleased about tea, coffee and a little
snack with fruits between the dives or is it o.k. for
you to drink from your water bottle brought along?
- Do you set value upon a well kept new bungalow
with European toilet and warm shower?
- Do you need reliability regarding price and
performance and would not like to experience unpleasant surprises
Depending on your wishes and the
price there are all sorts of offers available for you. They
are different in the following essential points:
location of the Resort is very important to many a guest. This generally
is not dependent on the price. Almost all of them are located near
the beach. There are both cheap and expensive Resorts or Homestays
with clean beach and lovely house reef. However,
there are some on the other hand with a beach which is soiled particularly
after strong rains with garbage having been washed up. Some Resorts
make every effort to clean the beach again. Some of them dig holes
in the sand and let the collected rubbish disappear there. Everybody
can guess what happens at the next high tide... Most resorts lie
close to each other. Some can afford it to have the beach cleaned
by its employees daily. Some cannot. So can happen to you that you
go on a clean swath to the beach, but you mustn't turn your view
to the right or to the left on the way. I have already met some
visitors who told me the diving had been unique, but they would
not come again because the beach is so dirty "on the island".
I could only reply them that they had chosen wrong accommodation.
There are also many places with beautiful, clean sandy beach and
shady trees on Bunaken.
is also important to snorkellers that their house reef is not frequented
too much by fisherman or excursion boats. Who rather loves the seclusion
and quiet will be
very disappointed, if he has landed in a resort at whose beach an
active weekend tourism (tripper from Manado) takes place. Of course
there wasn't to read about it, neither in the travel brochure nor
on the web page in question.
Many guests also attach importance
to the location of their bungalow within the Resort. Then the clear
view over the sea from the balcony may be very important for them.
Since all cottages naturally cannot stand in front, one must already
book very early in well frequented Resorts. Otherwise one "enjoys"
the view of the rear part of the neighbour cottage if one is unlucky.
Resort has a restaurant, almost always in an exposed location with
sea view, bar often integrated. The beach bars are popular, particularly
with young guests. Events frequently take place there with live
music and common singing. These parties produce a certain noise
level especially around midnight. The tired not participating diver
then has problems with falling asleep in the directly neighbouring
cottage. Who attaches importance to his night's rest, should rather
choose a bungalow with a sufficient distance to the bar. In some
resorts the problem is solved quite well. The dwellings are there
located in sufficing distance from the beach on a hill. One has
both advantages then: View at the sea and quiet and seclusion. A
little disadvantage is connected with that, though. One must overcome
the difference in altitude by climbing stairs repeatedly everyday.
However, one can regard this also as a sports.
Another point of view should be the
distance to the neighbour bungalow. Who often stays in hotels during
the whole year, this one will not want to live in his holidays wall
to wall with his neighbour either.
A quiet clean private beach has a high importance for non divers
and guests with children particularly. In other words, they prefer
a beach directly in front of the Resort in seclusion, where one
is not permanently ogled or annoyed by dealers or by locals. Unfortunately,
there is a beach section on Bunaken where a guest sunbathing in
front of its "hotel" must exhibit himself involuntary
this way. At smaller local homestays the compressor and the generator is often in an immediate neighbourhood to the cottages so that one
permanently is accompanied by the noises.
and their Furnishing
were built by the mostly local owners
themselves, as a rule, made of the wood of the coco. The roof consists of coconut mattings
and is more or less rain permeable, depending on age - or of corrugated
sheet metal. The ceiling is made of plywood. Usually a bedroom with
a double bed and a small cupboard with mirror stands for living
at the disposal. On the walls there are often nails, on which you
can hang up your clothes. A ventilator provides cooling in the night
and a mosquito net offers protection against gnats and other intruders.
If you are lucky, the net is not yet damaged. Otherwise you better
install one of your own or you mend the available one with clothes-pegs,
sticking plaster or the like.
As a rule, only one electrical outlet
is in the room. You should therefore rather carry with you an electrical
outlet strip of your own for your electrical devices. Caution is
always advised with the electrical installation because it got also
carried out by themselves or by "expert" relatives. It
is frequently faulty and dangerous. Therefore a thorough check has
to be recommended before moving in. The beds are often do-it-yourself,
too. The mattresses have frequently hollow like deepenings in the
place where the "pre-tenants" have lain. Fleas or mites
have settled in it from time to time, cause cleaning particularly
with infection means or a ventilation in the sun after the statement
of a guest only seldom takes place.
A bathroom with toilet is next to
the main room. Both are separated by a door which is closeable with
a latch or hook. This room is accessible from the outside by a 2nd
door. From there the water for shower is deliverd. A balcony is
located in every hut with a little table as well as two chairs or
armchairs. These are often self-made or of coloured plastic. The
ceiling lighting consists in the simplest case of a socket with
light bulb. There frequently already are energy-saving lamps, too.
It is clear that you cannot demand high standards to a tasteful
equipment paying for a back-packer hut only 20 euros per night and
person, inclusive of 3 meals. They are seldom renovated or equipped
with new furniture, because for investments hardly any money is
From 30 euro upward...
you can expect quite beautiful, spacious bungalows with pure furniture,
western toilets, shower and running water. The furniture is solidly
built. Some are even decorated tastefully or imported by Bali. There
are shelves, cupboards and wardrobes for the clothes and contents
of your suitcase. Bigger balconies enlarge the bedroom with shady
roofs, clean hammocks and armchairs. Some Resorts offer bungalows
for families with 3 beds or an additional side room with single
bed. Spring beds protect the guest from a backache. It is
more difficult to find hot-water or even rooms with air conditioner at this price range.
Only a few dive resorts on the island
are equipped with 24 h electricity and special facilities for uw-photographers,
such as compressed-air spray guns, rinse tanks onboard etc. and
not least computer with card reader, CD writer and photo editing
software. Who carries his own laptop, finds offers with internet
access and Wireless local area network in a few resorts. And who
has already experienced that the sensitive electronics of the diving
lamp or the laptop computer was destroyed because of the often strong
current fluctuations sometimes, will by sure greatly appreciate
a stabilized current regulator in his bungalow or in his resort..
I was pleasantly surprised, when I watched the kitchen staff thoroughly
cleaning the table with a disinfection spray before every meal.
Some guests do not care. Main thing for them is that the table is
not dirtier than their ownT-shirt. In this point exist nice distinctions.
You often find great differences
in the kitchen. Look in when you are there! Also the behaviour of
the kitchen staff is different.
Are e.g. the employees clearly conscious of the fact that Western
people don't appreciate to watch Indonesians spitting on the floor
or picking their nose? But this is by no means a question of the
price but a question of the awareness of the management.
the freshness of the used foods is decisive for the taste of the
meals. Since not sufficient enough foodstuff is produced on Bunaken,
its condition depends on how often the owner of a homestay goes
shopping in Manado. Furthermore how are meat, fruit and vegetables
kept? In the refrigerator (in resorts with 24 h current) or in any
corner of the kitchen? For hygiene and taste furthermore is very
decisive, whether it is shopped in a supermarket with cooling installations
or in the local market, where the foods were often exposed to the
heat and the flies for hours. Also, whether the food is cooked with
aqua (filled drinking water) or with water coming out of the own
Fish, however, is fresh everywhere
on the island.
my first stay on the island a lot has already changed there. Nowadays
also in most of the cheaper homestays you will find western toilets.
The only difference is, whether the flush is carried out automatically
or by you using a scoop and whether toilet paper is available or
not. In most of these bathrooms there are still basins or plastic
buckets with water for taking a shower ("mandi").
The water is filled up again and again as soon as the container
is almost empty. This usually happens without a thorough cleaning.
Of course this method always entails the danger that germs can establish
and increase. After my last serious infection which had developed
from a small unnoticed injury we always have a disinfectant with
us, when we stay in very cheap homestays. With this we clean thoroughly all couple of days our bathroom,
before all the water tank .
One finds running water at the wash basin or from the shower only
in the Resorts of the more elevated price range. As said in another
place already, fresh water is particularly rare on the island in
the dry season. Only some resorts have a well of their own with
sufficiently salt-free water. For the rest the water must effortfully
be bought and transported from Manado or from the village. Only a few Resorts offer
you hot-water (most continuous-flow water heater). The bathrooms can
be tiled, be provided with natural stone walls or only consist of
concrete and plywood sheets. This is not only matter of taste but
also a criterion for hygiene. Important for you too may be, whether
the bathroom is cleaned daily or whether one must take over this task
atmosphere depends essentially on the management and the crew. On
the websites mostly the complete staff is shown and everyone smiles
friendly. Unfortunately, the reality on the spot then does not always
correspond to these impressions. What real hospitality is, usually
will turn out, when e.g. the resort is full or if you live there
for some time. You then can learn how your hosts behave, if e.g.
you criticise the service once. Of course it also depends on you
yourself, whether you are treated friendly or coldly, also whether
small surprises or attention which is not part of the duty circle
of your hosts (photo) is granted to you. Last but not least it is
important to people coming from industrial countries whether one
can rely on agreements.
Some guests appreciate it, if one
grants your special desires and if the Indonesian employees are
instructed to helpfulness by the management. Also important is:
Do they keep the necessary distance? It was reported to me by a
guest that the employees of an homestay watched him at night while
sex by the cracks of the walls .
I have also made the experience that some female guests are expecting
erotic adventures with Indonesians on Bunaken. Since this, however,
is not the rule, one should expect restraint from the male staff
in this respect. In some rather cheap Resorts it is also not unusual
that male guests rent a cottage together with an Indonesian acquaintance,
not primarily, to go diving...
This example may already bring to
mind that the atmosphere also is marked by the guests who live in
the homestay or Resort in question. Is it frequented mainly by backpackers
and students or rather by holiday-makers of middle age and better
situated? Are there in the majority younger people who like to listen
to live music in the evening and to participate in parties in the
late night? Or are there mainly people who prefer to enjoy the quiet on their holidays? One also should know, up to what extend one is
ready to tolerate excessive consumption of alcohol by the employees (particularly the dive crew), before booking.
The dive instructor always has a
special position in every dive resort, also because he is a model
for his staff. He contributes fundamentally to the well-being or
to the discontent of the guests by his way to treat them. There
are competent and experienced dive instructors also on Bunaken who
authoritarianly and arrogantly handle their customers, though. What's
the use of the most beautiful bungalow and the fantastic sub-water
world then if the mood was spoiled by a guy like this?
atmosphere of a Resort not least is also determined by its size.
Some people love a hotel similar atmosphere with guests as numerous
as possible in their immediate proximity. Others rather love a smaller
Resort with privacy. The free air restaurant is usually a place
of the sociability there to which one can go or also avoid - depending
on mood .
The atmosphere finally depends on your partner, however, too. But
this is another chapter.
service you can expect, depends not only on the number of the staff
but also on the competence and readiness for work . Of course! Who
asks only € 20 per night from his guest, can hardly afford employees and does all work from the kitchen up to hut cleaning and garden
care himself. I do not have to describe you what this means, when
the homestay is fully occupied. Total occupation is by the way an
advantage in one respect: The choice of the food is then usually
I had a look at some rather new and
not quite cheap homestays during my last (two month) stay in Bunaken.
I wondered, why some of the bungalows were not occupied and
found out the answer quickly. The externally beautiful buildings
proved to be untidy and dirty inside. The employees nevertheless
loafed lazily in the area without being conscious of their actual
are often little things that can spoil you the stay, e.g. a hammock which is still visibly sweat-soaked by your predecessor. Or one,
that is sufficiently big for an average Indonesian, but in which
a European can take his nap only in embryonic position. Very disgusting
are also pillows in some cheap backpacker homestays, which are not
cleaned or aired sufficently and therefore stinking strongly .
It is also a lack of consciousness
of both the managements and the staff, when in some restaurants
the food is served on tables which either were not cleaned sufficiently
or on which real coloumns of ants have formed. By the way, animals:
In good resorts dogs do not have access to the restaurant or to
the bungalows. There are also taken measures against disturbing insects (not only mosquitos), particularly in the evening.
On the other hand there are also
Resorts where the owner has devolved the control to a local manager.
Once, I have not been able to sleep for many nights in such a one
because the pups howled constantly. My complaints were fruitless
because obviously the dogs of the manager had a higher importance
for her. Enough the examples!
Think twice, which kind of service you expect while choosing your
Good, varied meal i.e. not only
Extra preparation of a vegetarian
Aqua (fresh drinking water for
self-service) all day available
Any time cold drinks (particularly
a cold beer) (Bir Bintang) available
Regular cleaning of accommodation
Hammock(s) on the balcony
Barbeque at the beach
Depositbox for your values
Audiovisuals in the classroom
Computer with burner and film/photo
24 h current
prices for a dive vary from approx. € 25 to approx. €
38 per boat diving. Some dive resorts require extra charges for
the equipment, some not. Everywhere you pay extra for night dives
(+ torches) and excursions to remote diving places. As a rule, you
dive two times a day, either twice in the morning or once in the
morning and once in the afternoon. The planning is usually carried
out in the evening before. Depending on interest a night dive or
dawn dive takes place.
There are pretty differences between the dive resorts and they are
not only dependent on the price. Therefore you should consider what is important to you before
Some dive centers are too parsimonious
in the acquisition and maintenance of diving equipments . The wetsuits
then often are not available in sufficing number in the respective size there. Every diver knows what it means, if he must squeeze
into a too tight wetsuit or when his feet are painful after diving
because of the all too small booties.
It is also annoying, when you notice
your valve bubbling after the jump into the water, because the O-ring
is leaking. A substitute then should at least be available on the
boat and the staff should be able to execute small repairs on board
itself. Any diver also knows the significance of a regular maintenance of the compressor for safety and well-being.
Talking of safety: The existence
of first-aid box and oxygen kits is not a matter of course on all
dive boats yet. Some Resorts even have, however, a "Speedboat"
for case of a necessary transport to the hospital in Manado with
re-compression chamber. It is also decisive that the diving staff
is trained well in the assessment of accidents and can take up the
corresponding first aid measures.
Even the most sporting diver will
appreciate it very much if the transport of his equipment over the
reef (particularly at low tide) to the boat is done for him. Everybody
also likes to be supported on board while preparing his gear. The
diving pleasure is not least dependent on the number and size of
groups under water. Everyone of the mostly local dive guides is
very experienced. Their behaviour is often very different, though.
Some run ahead of the group, to be able to point as much as possible.
They often do not have any feeling, that some divers would rather
stay a little at the place. Only a few meet the individual requests
of UW photographers with competence as well. For the latter there
are some specialized dive resorts, which have also the necessary
facilities on board, e.g. a fresh water basin for rinsing the cameras
and a place for drying them.
Some boats carry drinking water,
tea and coffee to the self-service, a few also offer fresh fruits
or even a little snack after the dive.
Not least is the qualification and
character of the dive instructor of great importance. Who includes
a diving course in his plans on Bunaken should already know before,
which courses are possible. The linguistic competence of the dive
instructor and his patience could also be an important issue (primarily
for groups and families: Diving, Snorkelling, fishing etc. on your
During or latest stays on Bunaken
(October/November, 2008, 2009 and 2011) we have been using a very attractive way
of enjoying our holidays with friends or alone. That
could also be interesting for you - particularly with regard to
the financial aspect:
We rented in a foursome a boat incl. boatcrew, diveguide and scuba
equipment and drove this way independently diving, snorkelling,
fishing, delphine-watching, whenever and whereever we wanted. Fuel
was paid depending on consumption. The number of the filled tanks
was also charged extra. For little money a local dive guide accompanied
us . Our resort gave us the catering for day trips . Where we liked
the beach best, we had a picnic or barbecue. The boatmen cared about
preparation and execution.
With its two 40 hp engine it is also
possible to drive with this
boat from Bunaken to the neighbouring islands or to Lembeh in order
to live and dive there.
If you are interested, then ask FERDINAND, the owner of the boat in Manado, a Duch friend
of mine to make a detailed offer to you. And, if you liked, this
also includes a fitting accommodation for you.
His e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org; however, I urgently advise you to point out your mail to him at the same time by an SMS, because he has not received e-mails.quite often. His mobile phone number is: +62 811 4302018.
You can find a detailled description here.
Here a few concrete recommendations for your vacation in Nordsulawesi or on Bunaken:
During the 8 weeks of our stay in October/November 2011 we lived every week in another Resort. I can recommend five of them to you because of their very good price-performance ratio.
If you plan your vacation in North Sulawesi and if you are confused of that many great Internet sites (self-advertising of the Resorts) , it may mean a little help in reaching a decision, to read my report about that (Diving) Resorts in which we have felt very well in every regard. Because we could afford not only expensive accomodation during the long period of two months, our experience refers to different price ranges. With a click you can read about our experiences in these Resorts .
Cheap accomodation up to 30€ p.person
Accomodation up to 80€ p.person
Luxury accomodation up to 180€ p.person
I advise you to book at least 1-2 months before your planned arrival. Because in my experience the most popular and most inexpensive Resorts are booked up already more than 2 months before.
If you want to pass a small comment on this web site or if you like to write about own experiences, then take a little time for my guestbook . You may help other travellers by this.