Village Bunaken, Bunaken Indonesia November 2016
This was my third visit to Bunaken in about 10 years. This was my first visit to The Village Bunaken.
The Village Bunaken is located on the east side of Bunaken, Indonesia about 3/4 mile (1.3km) north of the village. Bunaken is easy to get to once you land in Manado airport in North Sulawesi. Grab your bags and a car will be waiting for you outside to take you to the Village Bunaken’s boat for a quick crossing. The day we arrived the trip to the boat took a bit longer due to using a different dock due to the extremely low tide. The boat used for the transfer is a Modern style boat that was comfortable and fast. In years past, you would commonly be picked up in an older style traditional Indonsian boats that made the crossing much longer.
The Village Bunaken is an excellent value for a scuba based vacation. The resort is fairly well maintained and it is extremely close to some of the best dive sites in Bunaken. Bunaken is a small island so really all the resorts are close to the great sites. What I thought was a bit strange is most of the guests were not scuba nuts or divers who will dive 3x per day. The resort was far from crowded as we were there at the beginning of the rainy season (It only rained one night). Most who stayed there snorkeled or only did one or two dives. I consider this a top area for diving and having very small groups worked out well for us.
The Village Bunaken
The resort is located in a fairly flat area of Bunaken behind some mangroves. If you are going for a beach vacation, this would be an issue for you. As a diver, this had no negatives.
The water around most of Bunaken is a shallow shelf that slowly reaches 6 ft (3m) after about 100-200 yards (100-200m). The reef then drops off with a dramatic wall. With this in mind, none of the resorts on Bunaken are going to have a great swimming beach. At the Village Bunaken at low tide requires a long walk in 12 inch deep water to reach an area that keeps the boat afloat. There is no dock as the extreme tides would make it somewhat useless.
The grounds around The Village Bunaken are heavily shaded and also protected from the winds. The lack of sun is good for those who burn easily, but the trees and mangroves limited the breeze that would keep your room comfortable at night. The Village Bunaken does have rooms with AC for a significant premium as they would have to run generators due to the very limited power on the island.
The restaurant is behind the pool and it mostly served buffet style meals that were a blend of local Indonesian dishes and continental dishes. The food was good to very good and there was always a nice selection of Indonesian dishes. I think they toned down the spice levels for European tastes, but they also had side bowls with the local hot sauces to spice things up a bit. Meals are served on a regular schedule 7 am, 1 pm and 7 pm which followed the dive schedules. Meals are a single seating event. Breakfast had toast and cereal and a choice of 4 continental choices that did not change. Lunch and dinner were typically served buffet styles where you would have some choices. The staff would join you for dinner on most nights.
The small pool had a few chairs in the shade and also a few outside that would occassionally be in the full sun. Areas of sun were constantly moving as the angle of the sun moved. If you wanted to bake yourself in the sun, you would have some work. Personally, I enjoyed the shade that the trees provided. I tried to make 3-4 dives per day, so there was little if any time to hang out by the pool.
The Rooms at The Village Bunaken
The rooms are individual bungalows scattered around the property with adequate space for privacy. Ours was a beach front (view of mangroves) with no AC. It did have 2 small windows on either side of the bed (with no screens) that would allow a small amount of cross breeze. The front was all glass with a vent above the doors. The room could be a bit stuffy on low wind days as the protection of the mangroves and trees severely limited any breeze. After about 2 days I was acclimatized to the environment and this was not an issue.
The room did have a small desk which ended up being my camera table. The room has very limited power outlets for charging batteries. One by the desk and one by the bed. Water in the bathroom as not potable and they provided a pitcher of drinking water on the desk. If you needed more, it could be refilled in the restaurant area. The water seemed to be slightly salty.
One opposite side there is a small wardrobe / dresser
The room was very clean and fairly well maintained. We did have a few roaches in the bathroom. While this may put off some, this is the tropics and it is close to impossible to have a roach free environment. The resort was shutting down the week we left for annual maintenance of painting and repairs. Considering we were there before the work was done, it was if fairly good shape for a tropical destination. They obviously have done a good job of keeping things up over the years.
The bathroom was a decent size and the shower was semi-outdoors. Be aware that some resorts will still have Mandi style bathrooms in this area (Mandi Style means no running water and no flush toilets – splash bath with a scoop and a bucket of water). No issue here, sink, toilet, and shower all had water. The room had its own hot water heater and it provided plenty of VERY hot water. Toilet rules are typical of the area. Place all toilet paper in the bin, not the toilet and the bin is emptied daily. Expect to have this rule in most locations that are out of the cities.
The front porch had a nice touch for divers. There was a decent sized drying rack that you could hang any gear to dry that was not being taken care of by the resort. Plenty of room to dry towels, bathing suits etc. It is amazing that so many resorts lack this basic thing that divers need. Things did not dry quickly here. Very little breeze combined with high humidity and shade prevent things from drying.
The Diving at the Village Bunaken
This is the main reason we went. Bunaken USED to be a marine park This was disbanded years ago as there were issues about how the marine park fees were being spent. When I was here 10 years ago the reefs were in slightly better shape. But overall, the reefs are still quite healthy and beautiful. The main distraction is trash that enters the water from Manado. This will be more dramatic in rainy season as the rains will flush out the trash that is on the streets into the water. Currents will then push the trash past some of the dive sites. It is not that uncommon to see plastic bags floating by during your dives. The trash does not seem to accumulate on the reef as it is a dramatic wall with no place for the trash to land except well below recreational dive limits. I would not let this deter you from going as the walls and especially the tops of the walls are incredibly beautiful.
All of the diving is done by boat and most boat rides were 10 minutes. Put on your gear, back roll in and let the currents push you right or left and enjoy your dive. As is typically in most locations, dives are limited to 60 minutes, but many were longer as they had confidence in your air usage. The hyperbaric chamber in Manado was down, so they frequently reminded you to keep depths to less than 100 feet (33m). There really is no reason to go much deeper than 60-80 feet. Most of the best areas where in the 10-60 foot range. Currents varied DRAMATICALLY from mild to extreme ripping currents. Buy a reef hook before you go and be prepared to use it. On one dive I estimated the current to be 5-6knots. There is no way you can swim in that. All dives are drift dives and the boat was always there to pick us up with in 1-5 minutes of surfacing. The crew takes care of your gear loading it setting it up, breaking and down and bringing it back to shore. Bring boots with good thick soles as many of the dives will require a walk to the boat or back to shore. The tides are extreme and the water is shallow and many times the boat can not make it all the way back to the resort.
Another highlight of diving with The Village Bunaken is their flexability in diving. Many resorts require a minimum of 3 divers for night dives. Not here. I did not dives and sunrise dives with them as the only diver. They were always there to take you out diving without complaints or comments. I highly recommend doing the sunrise dives. Sunrise is about 5:30am so you will be on the boat by at least 6am. At this time you will be the only divers in the water. I was able to see the mating dance of the H. pontohi seahorse which happens slightly after sunrise.
While I was at the Village Bunaken, one of the guests was quite upset about the diving at Bunaken (he only made 2 dives) as he read on the internet that there are Manta Rays in Bunaken and he saw none. If you have read this, beware. It is extremely unlikely that you will see whales, whale sharks or Mantas here. Bunaken is known for its beautiful walls and good macro life, not large sea life. While it is possible to see these things, it highly unlikely and may require 10 years of daily diving to see a manta here. This is not a zoo, you will see what lives here and swims by. It is a GREAT spot to visit as an add on if you are diving Lembeh or other location if you are passing through Manado. Lembeh will give you lots of critters and almost no coral (they may tell you there are reefs…. but trust me it is macro muck diving with very little coral) while Bunaken will allow you to see beautiful corals, walls and LOTS of TURTLES. There are 2 resident and VERY large turtles that were here 10 years ago. Over the years the number of turtles has increased and you will see the two big ones and plent of smaller ones.
There is also some decent macro life from soft coral crabs, pontohi dwarf sea horses (discovered here), Shrimps, squat lobsters and more.
Do not expect to see much larger sea life. Plenty of clownfish, gobies, and other smaller finned fish.
10 years ago there seemed to be alot more nudibranch. While there are some here, the numbers and varieties are much less.
Overall, I highly recommend The Village Bunaken and diving Bunaken. While it may not be the highlight of your trip, it does have excellent diving and the prices are very reasonable. On this trip, the second half was a liveaboard in Raja Ampat. Raja Ampat was significantly more expensive and much more difficult to get to and while the diving in Raja Ampat is better, it is not that much better.