Anna’s Favourite Warm Water Dive Destination #3 – Siladen & Bunaken Islands, Indonesia

Anna’s Favourite Warm Water Dive Destination #3 – Siladen & Bunaken Islands, Indonesia

Created: 2021-01-19

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….

 

Splurge

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). 

 

Bonus  

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. 

 

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Ocean Turtle Diving
Ocean Turtle Diving
WIth a return to the water imminent, now is the time to make sure everything is in good working order and serviced in line with manufacturers' recommendations. Bring us your regs, BCDs, computers and tanks - we offer a 2 week turnaround time for most servicing so that will ensure your gear is safe and ready to use by the time we can resume diving. We are open on Thursdays from 10am until 5pm, for a kerbside drop off and collection service, but please ensure your visit is part of an essential journey in line with current guidelines.
Ocean Turtle Diving
Ocean Turtle Diving
Not to be outdone by BoJo, here is our road map.

We will remain closed until 12th April 2021, with the exception of click and collect / kerbside service as before. For these, we will continue to open every Thursday from 10am until 5pm, with no appointment necessary.

We hope to commence outdoor in-water training from 29th March assuming our inland dive sites are classed as outdoor leisure facilities. We then aim to commence indoor in water training from 12th April when indoor leisure facilities are allowed to reopen.
Ocean Turtle Diving
Ocean Turtle Diving
As the end of lockdown appears to be within touching distance, we come to the 8th in a series of Anna's favourite warm water destinations.

RAJA AMPAT – WEST PAPUA - INDONESIA

Where is Raja Ampat and what’s so special about it?

Although technically you wouldn’t be wrong to say that Raja Ampat is situated roughly halfway between Madagascar and Mexico, and is an archipelago made up of the four (Ampat) Kings (Raja) islands (pulau) of Misool, Batanta, Salawati and Waigeo, in reality, there are more than 1500 islands here, with a total population roughly the same as the town of Salisbury in the UK. You can spend a week anywhere here and spend time with pretty much only the people you’ll dive and stay with, either on a liveaboard or on land (I spent a week on Gam, one of the smaller islands. No roads, no mains electricity, no noise, no light pollution. Marvellous). Other advantages include its considerable and stunning marine life biodiversity and a reef system agreed as housing the richest ecosystems on earth. This area is also home to the incredible Birds of Paradise (for your entertainment – watch “Dancing with Birds” on Netflix, narrated by Stephen Fry).

Why should I dive there?

See above. What other reason would you need. You won’t run out of dive sites, nor things to see. Absolutely incredible. You will likely see the Tasseled Wobbegong shark, Giant Clam, Bumphead parrotfish, pygmy seahorse and many kinds of frogfish. Raja is also known for some fierce currents, so get some diving practice in before you go to fully appreciate it. All the islands will offer spectacular diving – Misool is considered the crème de la crème as it really is so much further (and less explored/busy).

When to go?

October to March has the calmest waters if you’re doing a liveaboard. Having said that I was there in November and some days were pretty choppy, but not blown out. Visibility is superb, and the water is always warm.

What to take?

There’s a fair bit of flying involved, so definitely trade out the heavy wetsuit for a dive skin. My favourite is the Sharkskin, it’s super light to pack, windproof, warm, quick drying and neutrally buoyant. A reef hook. Do NOT be tempted to buy one there or any other dive related item for that matter, you will pay double or triple UK prices. Take a camera and learn how to use it before you go! If you’re going to be island based, particularly homestay, do take some snacks and favourite foods like apples, oranges, snackbars, as the food can sometimes get a little samey (in my experience), drinking water is in good supply but don’t forget your reusable water bottle, and a good supply of electrolytes! Try to take as little packaging as possible, or plan to take it away with you.

Preparation, preparation, preparation !

It takes time to get there, so plan your time appropriately. You’ll fly into Sorong, and if you’re land based will need to take a speedboat to your accommodation. It’s very easy to arrange one (just tell your accommodation and they’ll pick you up), but not particularly cheap (too many variables to list here – the exchange rate at a glance is…. Knock four zeroes off the end and divide by 2 e.g. 3,000,000 rupiah  3,000,000 300  £150 approximately.) If you’re land based, you may need to pay cash (the bigger resorts will take cards, homestays don’t), and hence you’ll need to plan a larger than normal zipped bag/Ziploc to carry around your wad of notes.

Where to stay

You can choose to spend as much or as little as you wish, from high end luxury liveaboards (the Dewi Nusantara, anyone?) which will give you a fabulous selection of incredible dive sites throughout a week or 15 nights, to basic beachfront homestays (from around £25 a night upwards, including board), up to beautifully appointed dive resorts (Raja Ampat biodiversity Resort for example). One salient point to note… the liveaboards boast photos of white billowing sails atop romantic Phinisi schooner style yachts… you may get a last morning photo op with the sails up, but don’t be fooled – you’ll be motoring around the dive sites, not sailing. Homestays are all grouped and managed under the “stayrajaampat” website since they’re remote and don’t all speak English/ have internet. It’s a great website for info on all the islands and their attractions: https://www.stayrajaampat.com/ultimate-raja-ampat-guide/raja-ampat-islands/ It’s also run by volunteers who do an amazing and fair job.

Splurge.

Raja Ampat is definitely a splurge destination – but as much as you want to spend all your time underwater, do plan for a few days on land exploring the jungle and the magnificent birds of paradise on Waigeo or plan to go further afield down to Misool which is 4+ hours by speedboat from the airport town of Sorong and may set you back over £300 (round trip) on top of your accommodation. You may want to plan a trip to the highly picturesque Piaynemo island lookout (below is a picture of my friend and dive guide Tommy precariously showing off there).

How to get there?

Sorong airport is your destination whether land or liveaboard based (there’s a smaller airport in Waisai but isn’t that useful for transfers). You get there via Jakarta, Makkasar, Manado, then a ferry (huge, busy, cheap, relatively comfortable, air conditioned, fascinating if you’re a people watcher) to Waisai, then a small boat to your destination. It’s a long, long trip and you will know you’re on the other side of the planet by the time you get there. Plan the length of your holiday accordingly. I only had an hour and a half flight from Manado but the transfers took all day from Sorong to Gam (see map below) and vice versa.

Good to know?
Overweight luggage isn’t actually that expensive on the local airlines.
Get your cash before you get to Indonesia, preferably! ATMs limit you to 1,000,000 at most (£50).
Bring a good first aid kit and make sure you have insurance (Dive and travel). Dive conservatively. There is a deco chamber in Waisai, but it’s expensive and doesn’t guarantee 24/7 operation. The nearest DAN approved chamber is in Manado (see above for my trip times to and from Manado).

I stayed at Yenros Homestay and dived with Raja Ampat Biodiversity Resort next door, on Gam island.

Photo Information:
Map Source: Wikipedia
Piaynemo islands. Photo Credit: Tommy Milton
Ferry from Sorong to Waisai. Photo Credit: Anna Williams
Tiny frogfish. Photo Credit: Anna Williams
Dive dock at Gam island. Photo Credit Anna Williams
Ocean Turtle Diving
Ocean Turtle Diving
This week Anna is transporting us away from the grey skies of the UK, to the crystal clear Caribbean Sea!!!

The Elbow – Turneffe Atoll – Belize – Caribbean Sea

Where is Turneffe Atoll and what’s so special about it?

Turneffe is one of the only four atolls in the Western Hemisphere, three of which are in Belize (sandwiched between Mexico and Honduras). Almost every diver will be familiar with the Maldivian atolls of the Pacific– typically a ring shaped coral rim, a chain of islands surrounding an extinct volcano that has eroded leaving a central lagoon. Turneffe Atoll is almost 50km long, 30km off the mainland, and is the largest atoll in the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef System with over 200 mangrove cayes (islands). What is more, it’s been a Marine Reserve for nearly 10 years, has no permanent inhabitants and is largely littoral forest and mangroves – great news for both marine fauna and us divers!

What is The Elbow?

The Elbow is one of the most well-known dive sites in Belize, but whereas most of the dive sites are generally known for being calm, easy, shallow and colourful with no current, the Elbow is famous for being a true drift dive (with occasional currents running like a train!). Situated at the southernmost end of Turneffe Atoll, the current here rages towards the south, and divers are scooped up on a kind of marine motorway, shunted out into the blue, down the coast and spat out where the eastern and western drifts meet at the atoll tip. More info on Turneffe and its other dive sites here:

https://ambergriscaye.com/pages/town/diveturneffe.html

Why should I dive it?

Big currents mean big pelagics, big schools and the big wide blue. The current whisks divers out into the blue, where I’ve seen runs of 20+ huge eagle rays, schools of Horse eye jacks and cruising turtles before drifting back towards the wall. It’s huge thrill “armchair diving” and watching the canyons and coral formations scroll beneath you.

When to go? Between November and April/June is “tourist season”, do your homework on the “shoulder” season though for fewer visitors and better prices (October, July). The Elbow dive is most definitely dependent on conditions including weather, swell and tides so it’s best to stay at the Atoll to make sure you get to dive at optimum conditions. Blackbird Caye Resort is a well-established 5* PADI dive resort right on the ocean’s edge.

What to take?

If you’re a photographer – it’s your wide angle kit you’re going to need at the Elbow.

Preparation, preparation, preparation!

The Elbow is most certainly an Advanced Open Water Dive/ Deep Diver spec – for the depths (up to 30+ metres), and the drift (Drift Diver recommended). You’re likely to be doing a negative entry (buddy teams descending together directly from the boat without surface wait) and each diver should be very comfortable sending up their DSMB. Preparation makes the most of your dive!

Insider tips….

There are weeks and weeks’ worth of dives here at Turneffe, so it makes sense to stay on the atoll to take full advantage. Turneffe is also home to the rare Whitespotted Toadfish endemic to Belize. Listen for it, you’ll hear and feel its grrrrunt in the pit of your stomach before you see it. (Like a mobile phone vibrating on a glass table).

Splurge.

Blackbird Caye is the only resort on Turneffe to have its own airstrip. Do splurge, Turneffe from the air is breathtaking! Do not miss treating yourself to a few days inland either … I highly recommend Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle lodge where you can float upriver and visit a Mayan spiritual site deep within the caves, before relaxing in your rooftop bathtub under the stars and palms. Un-Belizeable!

Bonus

Belize is English Speaking and tiny. You can get from the mountains to the bottom of the sea in a couple hours. It’s also absolutely stunning.

Fun facts

Turneffe Atoll has been touted as the actual location of Peter Pan’s NeverLand according to a theory published in 2018. An attempt to drum up business was subsequently made by the Belize Tourism board, offering a free holiday at Turneffe to randomly selected applicants with the names Wendy or Peter. News and video here:

https://www.breakingbelizenews.com/2018/05/10/is-turneffe-atoll-the-geographic-location-of-peter-pans-paradise/

Whitespotted Toadfish. Photo Credit: www.reefguide.org