Snorkeling in Bunaken

by | Jan 19, 2017 | Asia, Indonesia, Snorkeling in Bunaken | 2 comments

Are you ready for an adventure?


If you are going to work half way around the world for a couple of months, you need to pack a spirit of adventure. A big draw for me to go to Indonesia was the opportunity to snorkel every weekend in tropical waters in the Coral Triangle.

The Coral Triangle, the global centre of marine biodiversity, is a 6 million km2 area spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.


Within this nursery of the seas live 76% of the world’s coral species, 6 of the world’s 7 marine turtle species, and at least 2,228 reef fish species.

I stayed in Manado, the gateway coastal city to Bunaken National Marine Park, the centre of the Coral Triangle. It is on the tentative list for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Divers travel great distances and spend thousands of dollars to dive in the waters where I went every weekend for $15.

I joined a group of Sunday snorkellers. We each paid $15 to rent a boat for the day. Lunch of fresh fish and rice was included in the price.


The fish don’t care if you spent $15 or $500 to see them!

Getting to Bunaken is an adventure in itself


It is a bit of an adventure to get to Bunaken.

We would meet at the harbour where we boarded a boat for the 45 minute trip over open waters. Navigating the harbour was an adventure in itself. To board the boat, we had to walk up a wooden plank. At least I never went barefoot like the labourer in this photo!

If you look at the background in the photo, you will see a road to nowhere across the harbour.


Safety standards are different in Indonesia

We walked up the makeshift gangplank to board the boat. I don’t know if there were life jackets on the boat.

We did not have a guide. We did a head count and hoped not to lose anyone in the open water of Indonesia! (We did not lose anyone).

The waters are warm and crystal clear


Once we arrived in Bunaken, we were happy to jump into the water. We usually did a morning snorkel and an afternoon snorkel.

This is a picture of Ianita, my co-worker in Indonesia


The waters are very shallow until you come to the coral wall….and then it is a sheer drop into nothingness.

You can see from this picture that we did not stick near the shore when we snorkelled. We usually swam along the edge of the coral wall. I actually never swam over the edge. It just seemed too scary to stare into nothingness below.

You need fins when you snorkel. The currents are deceptively strong. If you get caught in a current, it feels like you are floating down a lazy river. It takes no effort at all and you simply float over amazing coral and fish. However, you can travel a great distance in a short time and find that you are separated from your group …. far from shore …. in the open waters of Indonesia.

Stick with your group when you are snorkelling!

I am not adventurous enough to dive


Divers love Bunaken for the coral wall. They dive down along the wall.

Snorkelling on the surface is all the adventure I need.

I treated myself to a weekend at the Siladen Resort


There are five islands in Bunaken Park. The coral walls surround these islands. Divers who go to Bunaken generally stay at resorts on these islands.

I had a wonderfully decadent weekend at Siladen Resort. I met divers from all over the world who had come to spend a week in Bunaken. I became friends with an American woman who plans a diving holiday by herself every year. Her husband does like diving so she goes alone.


Would you go on a vacation by yourself?

Would you take a shower in the jungle?


I had my own little cottage on the beach at the resort. It had an outdoor shower. The water was hot and it felt glorious to be showering outside with the jungle overhead.

Gangga island is very remote


My trip to Gangga Island tested my spirit of adventure.

Since I was already half way around the world, I wanted to see a few remote places that I would not otherwise see. I planned an overnight trip to Gangga Island. It is home to a fabulous 4-star resort.

However, the wharf for Gangga Island is a two hour drive through the jungle. I had a driver who spoke no English. As we drove deeper and deeper into the jungle, the paved road gave way to a dirt path. A few times I muttered to myself that I did not want to get lost in the jungles of Indonesia. Just as I thought that I had left all civilization behind, we popped out at a wharf where a boat was waiting to take me to Gangga. The waters were very choppy and I began to think that I did not want to drown in the waters of Indonesia. However, I made it safely to Gangga and was immediately enveloped in luxury.


The food was good everywhere in Indonesia but at Gangga, it was absolutely superb.



This is my little cottage on the beach. It was fully air conditioned.

Gangga Island is a beatuiful and remote tropical island


I went snorkelling with a guide at Gangga. It make a huge difference. First, I felt safer. Second, he pointed out fish that I would have missed.

However, the snorkelling was not as good as in Bunaken. The waters are deeper and choppier.

The sunset on Gangga was outstanding


I took a dozen photos. I couldn’t believe the array of colours.

The resort has a lovely pool if you have time to relax


After my one night of luxury, the boat took me back to the wharf where my driver was waiting to make the return trek through the jungle. This time I was not nervous as I knew he would get me safely back to my hotel-home in Manado.

For the remainder of this post, you can see some of the hundreds of underwater photos I took in Indonesia. It is not easy to get a good photo of fish. They are very camera shy. I have dozens of blurry pictures of tails as they darted away.

The best spot to see exotic fish is along the coral wall

I hung out near the wall …. but never on the side of abyss

Finding Nemo


Most of the time, I stayed in shallow waters.


Can you find Nemo in this photo?

Nemo and Mom


Nemo’s Mom found Nemo! She does not look really happy that she spent the day looking for Nemo. Nemo looks like he knows that he is in a bit of trouble. How do you ground a fish?

Can you spot the sea snake in this picture?

Here is another sea snake


He blends in with the rocks.

This is a poisonous sea snake. We made a joke if we saw a snake. It is only poisonous if it bites. Luckily sea snakes are not aggressive and no one was bitten.

This is a lionfish

They are very pretty. However, lionfish is a venomous coral reef fish in Asia. It was accidentally introduced to Atlantic waters and is now an invasive species in the Caribbean Sea and along the East Coast of the United States.

Lionfish has no known predators.

Turtles are very shy in Bunaken


Bunaken is well know for turtles but this is the only one that I saw. He was more luminescent than this picture can convey.

Sometimes I was surrounded by thousands of fish.

My favourite schools of fish are the little pink ones. They are everywhere in Bunaken

The coral fish come in every colour of the rainbow

This is another picture of pink fish at the coral wall

This vibrant blue coral was the size of a huge pumpkin


I did not take this picture. My guide at Gangga took it for me. The waters are deeper in Ganga. My guide tried to show me how to hold my breath and dive to get a picture. I just kept bobbing back up to the surface. He took my camera, dove down, remained completely still and snapped the photo.

After taking the photo of the blue coral, my guide snapped a picture of me, floating above on the surface

Other than my grand adventure in Gangga, I was content to look at little fish in shallow waters in Bunaken

I loved the colours on these fish but they did not cooperate for a group photo

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish …

These tiny and vibrant blue fish only hang out in very shallow water

This is a puffed up puffer fish. I saw quite a few of these in different colours

This black fish with florescent blue dots is the same colour as the coral

These little fish hung out just long enough for me to snap a picture


You can see from this small sample of photos that the fish in Bunaken come is all shapes, sizes and colours.

I spent many enjoyable hours in the waters in Bunaken.

I made lots of new friends in the snorkelling group.


Next week, we will wrap up our tour of Indonesia with a post on working abroad.

See you next week!

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray

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