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Introducing Pulau Bunaken

This tiny, coral-fringed isle is North Sulawesi’s top tourist destination but (so far) it’s managed to avoid becoming resort-land and maintains a rootsy island soul. Tourist accommodation is spread out along two beaches – other than that, the island belongs to the islanders; these friendly folk have a seemingly endless reserve of authentically warm smiles. There are no hassles here, just laid-back beachy bliss.

However, most people come to Bunaken for the diving. The marine biodiversity is extraordinary, with more than 300 types of coral and 3000 species of fish, so when you first get your head in the water and see the abundant corals, sponges and phenomenally colourful life all around you, it’s a life-shaking experience. The 808-hectare island is part of the 75,265-hectare Bunaken Manado Tua Marine National Park (Taman Laut Bunaken Manado Tua), which includes Manado Tua (Old Manado), the dormant volcano that can be seen from Manado and climbed in about four hours; Nain and Mantehage islands; and Pulau Siladen, which has some more accommodation options.

With the developing and expanding city of Manado right next door, Bunaken is becoming more and more accessible. Within two hours of arriving to Manado from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or most parts of Indonesia, you can be in a bamboo beach shack on Bunaken watching the sunset. Unfortunately, this proximity also means that the huge amounts of garbage generated by the city can sweep onto Pantai Liang, turning the picturesque tropical beach into a refuse heap. The scarcity of fresh water has limited the island’s development, and villagers must import their drinking water from Manado. Washing water is drawn from small, brackish wells.

Prices from accomodation to a Bintang are much higher than in mainland Sulawesi and some of resorts discriminate against nondivers, either by charging higher accommodation prices or turning them away.