Anna’s Favourite Warm Water Dive Destination #3 – Siladen & Bunaken Islands, Indonesia
Siladen & Bunaken Islands, North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Where are Siladen & Bunaken Islands and what’s so special about them?
Siladen is a tiny speck of an island to the east of its larger, busier sister island of Bunaken, a stone’s throw from the bustling city of Manado at the very north eastern tip of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Both islands are within the 5 island cluster comprising Bunaken National Marine Park, one of the first marine parks in Indonesia, established in 1991. One of the other notable and photogenic islands is Manado Tua, an impressive volcano rising directly out of the ocean, a great point of reference dominating all the dive sites within the Marine Park.
Why should I dive there?
The bathymetry – underwater topography – is unique here. Aside from the shallow areas perfect for snorkelling, the coast drops off impressively directly down to the sea bed, providing incredible wall diving, which also serves as a migratory route for many animals. At its deepest, a drop of 1360 metres was recorded between the volcano of Manado Tua and the neighbouring island of Mantehage. When I dived here in 2019, orcas had been spotted, dolphins, sunfish, and turtles were in abundance, cruising the blue, or tucked into niches on the wall for a nap, oblivious to passing divers. The water is warm (28-28C), clear (30+m vis) and home to one of the highest levels of biodiversity worldwide; unsurprising then that this is the very centre of the coral triangle with the convergence of the Molucca and Celebes seas bringing an incredible abundance of marine life. What’s more, I experienced the best night dive of my life here – an hour and 10 minutes of astounding sealife within 10m of the surface. It’s no surprise that Divemasters hailing from North Sulawesi are in great demand in places like Lembeh, Ambon and the dive mecca of Raja Ampat – they are incredibly talented at seeing the small stuff! Peacock mantis shrimp, inquisitively on their guard, sea snakes, the mesmerising mimic octopus, several species of seahorse, technicolour spotted guard crabs, the beautiful swaying dance of the ribbon eels and countless species of nudibranch (Shaun the sheep nudi anyone?) in abundance to name a few.
When to go?
June to September are great months that’ll give you the least rain, the most shine and the best chance of sharks, dolphins and whales.
What to take?
Switch up space and weight in your luggage by taking a compact and lightweight rashguard or a Sharkskin (my favourite) rather than a bulky wetsuit, and invest that weight and space in a camera – the Olympus TG series (4,5,6) is incredible.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
Consider the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy for holding your position whilst spotting a seahorse on the wall, or keeping steady to watch a long arm octopus on the night dive. Definitely look at investing in a good underwater camera with housing and light for both night and wall dives and get to know your way around your rig with the PADI Underwater Digital Photography specialty.
Where to stay
There are several lower budget options on Bunaken but….
I stayed at the incredible Kuda Laut on Siladen (Kuda – horse, Laut – Sea). You can walk around the island in an hour and a half, grab yourself a free smoothie by bagging any trash you find, dip in the pool after your dives. The beachfront cottages are beautifully appointed and the attention to detail is fabulous – freshwater showers, music station and a/c if you really need it over and above the sea breeze. Food is amazing and they’ll do all they can to accommodate your preferences (tell them ahead of time though…. treat any island stay like a liveaboard, there’s not always a local shop just round the corner).
It’s just an hour from the airport. Getting there from the UK is with the highly recommended Cathay Pacific, Qatar air or Singapore Air and Garuda Indonesia via Doha, Sinagpore or HongKong and Jakarta.