Unbiased Scuba Vacation Reviews

Sulawesi

Area includes Bunaken, Lembeh, Manado and Gangga islands in more.

Area contains some of the top diving in the world

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.

View of the Village Bunaken from the water. Completely hidden by Mangroves

View of the Village Bunaken from the water. Completely hidden by Mangroves

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.

Grounds at the Village Bunaken

Grounds at the Village Bunaken

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.

Dining area of the Village Bunaken

Dining area of the Village Bunaken

Dining area of the Village Bunaken

Dining area of the Village Bunaken

Pool area of the Village Bunaken

Pool area of the Village Bunaken

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.

Desk in the Room Village Bunaken

Desk in the Room Village Bunaken

 

One opposite side there is a small wardrobe / dresser

Dresser / closet Village Bunaken Room at the Village Bunaken

 

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.

Shower at the Village Bunaken Village

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.

 

porch at the Village Bunaken

porch at the Village Bunaken

 

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.

Wall at Bunaken Indonesia

anemone at Bunaken Indonesia

soft coral at Bunaken Indonesia

 

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.

Turtles in Bunaken

Turtles in Bunaken

Turtles in Bunaken

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.

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Lembeh Resort September 2007

Lembeh Straits and Lembeh Resort 2007

Lembeh Resort was the second stop on our Indonesia Trip.

We First Spent 9 days at Gangga Island and we transferred to Lembeh via Gangga Islands Dive boat. Gangga charged an extra $50 for the trip, but it did include 2 dives in Lembeh Straight.

This trip started out less than perfect. Singapore Airlines lost all of our check baggage due to an error at the beginning of our trip.  American Airlines check us and our bags to Singapore, but they were unable to check us onto the Silk Air flight to Manado. After trying to board the Singapore flight out of New York, we realized there may be an issue.  Singapore required a Singapore Airlines boarding pass as they would not accept the one printed by American Airlines.

During our layover in Frankfurt, we approached a Singapore Airlines agent about our baggage. They assured us that they have attached a note to check our bags through to Manado. When we departed the plane in Sinapore an agent was there with a sign with our name, (not a good sign). We were told to go to the transfer area to take care of the baggage problem.

There is a pre-check person at the transfer area. They checked the computer and told us everything was in order.  We did not beleive it as the bags were not labeled. We returned to the transfer area 1 hour later to check with another employee and we got the same answer.

Upon arrival in Manado, no bags, what a suprise! They gave us 600,000 rupiha ($66 USD) to buy anything we may need to get by for 2 days as there are only flights every other day to Manado. The staff at Gangga picked us up and took us to the resort with the impression that there was a “Store” on the island to buy things. They have a small Boutique that did not have much to help us. So I went barefoot with 1 bathing suit and a t-shirt for 2 days until our baggage arrived.  We used Ganggas Rental gear which was charged to Silk Air .

In addition, my camera housing was damaged on the way out to this island and I was unable to get any scuba photos during this trip. I tried to get parts shipped in, but being in this part of the world, nothing happens fast or and nothing is reliable. I will be going back in October of 2007!

The US embassy website rates Indonesia as a somewhat risky place. We felt safe the entire time. The locals were friendly and outgoing. I feel more unsafe in US cities than I did in Indonesia. Northern Sulawesi is a mix of Christians and Muslim. My un-official Mosque to Church ratio was about 15 churches for every Mosque. Our exposure was also very limited during our stay. Normally you arrive via van from Manado Airport.  The trip takes about 1 hour.  We arrived via boat from Gangga Island.

Lembeh Resort is a very pretty resort on a VERY hilly area of Lembeh. Expect lots of stairs. If you have problem with stairs, you may want to avoid this resort or at least request rooms 5-8. Rooms 9-12 have many stairs to climb every day. Room 7 is the closest to the Kitchen and you will hear them every morning, but it is also one of the shortest walks.

Lembeh Resort

Lembeh Resort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rooms are large and clean but they are trying to be a 4 star resort so the rooms could use a little more attention to cleaning to achieve this. Lembeh is a black sand area and it is more of a jungle type of environment. It is therefore harder to keep clean.

The food is a combination of authentic Indonesian food which is spicy noodles and currays. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style. Dinner was ordered at lunch time off of a menu. Food overall was excellent. Drinks such as beer, wine, mixed drinks, sodas etc, were extra. Lembeh Resort is isolated so there are no other restaurants and thus no exploring local foods.

Lumber Resort Restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lumber Resort Dive Boat

The diving was done from their Indonesian style wooden boats (all resorts in this area use the same style boats). The boats are not the most comfortable but in this area of the world you have no choice. Entries are via a giant stride or a back roll and a ladder to return. There were no camera rinse tanks on the boats, but none are really needed as the boat returns to sore for the surface interval. There were very large rinse tanks on shore dedicated for cameras. All gear was brought onto the boat and care for by the staff.

There is no dock for the dive boats, so entries and exits from the boat are wet. They have one dock used when you arrive. There are shore showers, rest rooms and a dive locker dress area within 50 feet of the boats. Your gear is stored here. Everyone gets suited up BEFORE boarding the boat. Most dive sites are 10 to 15 minutes away.

Lembeh is world famous for its muck dives. However, they do have reefs too. Most of the people come to Lembeh for the muck diving and thus very few dives are done on the reefs.

The photos shown below were taken in Lembeh in October of 2007 on a second trip

Most of the Lembeh muck dives were black sandy slopes that varied from 10 feet to 80 feet. There was a fair amount of trash, bottles, cans, wood, burlap sacks and such. There were small coral areas. However, the critters were incredible. I have never seen so many frog fish, scorpion fish, and pipe fish in my life. After a few days frog fish were boring and you start looking for better things. It does get better. The amount of unique and strange critters that are in such a small area is amazing. Many of the fish life looks like it was made for a Star Wars Movie.

Diving was fairly easy with the dive guides being excellent. They were excited about the sea life and were very good at finding it. They were very respectful of the sea life and I never saw them rough handle anything. The only problem was a video diver who beat the hell out of the reef trying to video the Rhinopias. I saw this guy break more coral with his fins on one dive then I have seen in 300 dives. He even knocked over a 2 foot tall sponge! I complained to the dive staff and they pulled him aside and counseled him about this. The remaining dives with him, the dive guide spent the time to assure he would do no more damage.

Things we saw: Rhinopias, Giant Frog Fish, baby Frog fish, clown frog fish, pygmy sea horses, sea horses, Ornate ghost pipe fish, banded pipe fish, leaf fish, crocodile fish, at least 20 different nudibranch, ribbon eels, sea wasps, flying gurnards, sweet lips, cockatoo wasp fish plus much more. What we did not see (but we wanted to) but other divers saw: wonderpus, mimic octopus star gazer.

All dive guides have slates that they write the names of the critters they find. Our dive guide would even write in Japanese for the Japanese guests!

 

 

The house reef is worth diving. It is an easy dive to about 60 feet and has a fair amount of life. Lembeh divers allow one free shore dive for every 2 boat dives. The first one is guided.

Overall, I give Lembeh Resort the highest ranking for their great dive operation. It was one of the best operations I have seen yet. I still don’t know how many days of muck diving is too much. After 4 or 5 days I think I would be ready to see a health coral reef with no garbage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do the monkey tour on your last day to off gass.  You will get very close to the Macaca Nigra and the worlds smallest primate

SULAWESI DIVE QUEST Bunaken 2007

BUNAKEN, Indonesia SCUBA TRIP REVIEW

Sulawesi Dive Quest Bunaken is a VERY budget resort located on Bunaken Island located about 45 minutes by boat from Manado, Indonesia.

Sulawesi Dive Quest is probably the cheapest scuba diving anywhere. Room, Food and 3 dives per day is only $100! With this in mind you do get what you pay for at this resort in accommodations.

I went during the off season or rainy season.  It rained daily in Manado, but no once in Bunaken.  The resort only had 1 other guest! They would do night dives with only 1 diver.

The Resort

The resort is a very small resort located on a hill on Bunaken. There is no dock, so the entry is a wet entry.; Bring shorts to change into before leaving the airport as you will get your feet wet as you disembark from the boat.

 

Sulawesi Dive Quest Bunaken has 6 rooms with a maximum capacity of 12 divers.  The rooms are very basic with a double bed with mosquito netting. 1 small table, 1 shelving unit and a bathroom.

The room has 1 low wattage bulb in the bedroom and 1 low wattage bulb in the bathroom.  The room has 1 plug. The generator is run from 6 am to 6 pm. The room is very dark at all other times. The windows in my unit did not provide much sunlight. They will run the generator to charge batteries, but the power is only in the restaurant area. Indonesian Mandi Style which I personally did not know what that meant. This is basically a room with a toilet and a bucket. There is no separate shower area. The rooms DO NOT have running water. There are 2 large buckets of water in the bathroom with ladels in each. Showering is splash style Flushing the toilet requires ladeling water into the toilet. There is no sink. The room has 1 low wattage bulb in the bedroom and 1 low wattage bulb in the bathroom.

The room has 1 plug. The generator is run from 6 am to 6 pm. The room is very dark at all other times.  The windows in my unit did not provide much sunlight. They will run the generator to charge batteries, but the power is only in the restaurant area.

 

 

 

 

The bathroom

The bathroom is Indonesian Mandi Style which I personally did not know what that meant. This is basically a room with a toilet and a bucket. There is no separate shower area. The rooms DO NOT have running water. There are 2 large buckets of water in the bathroom with ladels in each. Showering is splash style. Flushing the toilet requires ladeling water into the toilet. There is no sink.

They are in the process of adding running water. Pipes have been run, there is a hand held shower head and a wall faucet that are all brand new. Once the water system is finished it will be a bathroom with no shower stall and no sink.

There is no maid service and the rooms were not that clean. The floors in the room did not look like they have been swept in quite some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you get over the bathrooms, the resort is otherwise quite nice. The landscaping is attractive and the view is wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The food is very basic but adequate. You do not have a choice of a menu, but the cook will make a meal and it is usually served buffet style. On the first day that asked about food preferences such as vegetarian. Food consisted of chicken and local fish a vegetable and rice. Food was not spicy as much Indonesian food is.

The main reason to come to Bunaken is the diving. The resort is minutes from the walls of Bunaken and 30 minutes from Sulawesi dive sites. The diving was wonderful. Bunaken is a Marine Reserve with areas designated for locals to fish (no commercial fishing), diving and off limit recovery areas. Every 15 years the off limits areas open and the open areas become off limits. The next change will occur around 2017.

Bunaken is one of the few areas that has huge schools of fish. The other areas of North Sulawesi are severally over fished. The walls are also home to 2 huge sea turtles. They are both about 6 feet long! Other sightings of interest was a Ornate Pipe Fish, Nudibranches, Cuttlefish and a Crocodile Fish. The dive guides were excellent. Other guides in the area are too rough on the reef. Giovani, our guide, was very respectful to the reef and very low impact. He was very good at pointing out the interesting life while still giving the divers the freedom to dive their own profile.

Overall the diving experience was excellent. The size of the resort, 12 maximum divers, the excellent dive guides and the close proximity to the reef made for wonderful diving. Combine this with being off season and only having 2 divers at the resort resulted in wonderful diving. Going during rainy season maybe a little risky, but I think the risk is worth it considering the dive guide to diver ratio and many of the other resorts being empty as well resulting in very private diving without any crowds.

Things to remember, bring a power strip if you wish to use several chargers. Currents can be quite strong in some areas around full moon and no moon as the tides are significant. The tide is so low in the morning a 1/3 of a mile walk to the boat is required as the water is too low for the boat.The rooms are quite hot during the day. There is no shower….yet. Excellent guides and diving!

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 October 2009 15:28